Hiring ad monetization experts: Insights from a Zynga director

October 18 · Nick Schultz · 9 Min read
In the fast-paced mobile gaming market, hiring proficient monetization experts is crucial. Zynga's Senior Director of Ad Monetization talks about the need for practical experience over theory, the importance of adaptability, effective recruitment strategies, and more.

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The rapid growth of the global gaming market is no secret. When your industry is primed to rake in $175 billion and touch two out of every five people on the planet, the cat is out of the bag. 

With that kind of growth comes a great deal of demand for mobile gaming professionals. And it’s not just the need you always hear for engineers and designers, but monetization teams too. 

Ad monetization keeps the lights on, so it’s critical that your team is composed of experts. These folks possess strong communication and collaborative skills as well as the analytical chops to create a cohesive gaming experience. 

So how do you hire the best monetization experts for your mobile gaming business? We could think of no one better than Zynga’s Senior Director of Ad Monetization Matt Frankenstein to share his experiences and what he looks for. 

Matt manages more than 30 people including a monetization team he built himself that handles everything from trafficking to ensuring the right kinds of ads are being served within Zynga’s games. He also oversees business development and contract negotiations for different SDKs. 

“I’ve hired people for all kinds of monetization roles, and with each segment, I’m always looking for something a bit different,” he explains.  

What to look for in monetization hires

The hardest part about hiring monetization people is that, unlike other industries, you need someone with mobile gaming ad experience. 

“When you’re hiring an ad-ops person, for example, you shouldn’t hire someone straight out of college,” says Matt. “Beyond maybe knowing how to put together Excel pivot tables and plot graphs that you learn in school, almost everything else is role- and company-specific. There’s no ad campaign or monetization class you can take in school. Everything you learn happens on the job.” 

Monetization candidates should know about mobile gaming metrics and be able to identify when a certain part of the game is not hitting those metrics. 

“Learning metrics on paper is easy, but actually working with and understanding them is a different story. So I ask candidates what they think banner eCPMs should look like and what’s a healthy ARPDAU in a game. Without this experience, candidates aren’t going to be able to catch when something goes wrong.”

Industries that translate seamlessly to mobile gaming

Even though it’s ideal to hire candidates with a gaming background, finding them can be prove challenging. 

In absence of a candidate with the perfect background, other industries can offer similar skills that translate to monetization roles. Running social media campaigns for user acquisition, for example, is the counterpart of ad monetization. 

As Matt points out, “A lot of social media campaigns are focused on getting people to click on a website or engage with content. People from those roles learn a lot of different metrics, strategies, and analytical skills through social media campaigns or by trafficking ad campaigns.” 

The overlap lies in comprehension of: 

  • Data sets 
  • Reach 
  • Impressions 
  • KPIs, such as cost per action and install 

With gaming, specifically, ad monetization candidates should understand how to build up supply and how users interact with ads and games. 

What to look for when you hire 

Looking at a resume and understanding what they’re capable of is the challenge for any company, regardless of industry. 

Matt uses standard protocols for finding candidates, such as using pertinent keywords to find potential candidates on LinkedIn. 

Mobile gaming involves unique business dynamics that must be considered, including management of external partnerships and internal studio teams. 

“Candidates have to know how to work with people who are trying to sell to you from an external standpoint. Then, they have to sell ads and grow internally. In other words, you have to know how to receive a pitch and how to give a pitch.” 

Folks who know how to work both sides usually possess certain personality traits. Matt looks for people who are “more type A,” hyper-organized, extroverted, and well-spoken. “If candidates are on the quieter or introverted side, they’re likely to have a really hard time succeeding in the role.” 

Think about your needs. What part of your business will be best served by people who possess certain personality traits? Will you be best served by those who don’t take “no” for an answer? Conversely, are you likely to find more success with someone who can internalize and complete analytical work quickly and efficiently? 

Carefully observe candidates when they’re pitching themselves in the interview. Do they seem confident in their abilities? Do they talk themselves up and are they proud of what they’ve achieved? 

The hardest roles to fill

Candidates who manage a lot of analytical work sometimes have a difficult time showcasing their portfolio of previous work. 

“Even though candidates will say they’re pros in Excel, analyzed multiple sets of data, and built Tableau dashboards, I don’t get to see the actual work or how they analyze data,” says Matt. “You’re not going to get that in an interview.” 

This gets at the heart of the issue we posited earlier: how do you know what a candidate is capable of during the interview process? 

Make sure your interview questions get at: 

  • How testing is used. 
  • What methods have worked and why? 
  • How did they double-check their work? 
  • Sharing examples of previous projects that they’ve worked on and the outcomes. 

For harder-to-fill roles, such as yield roles, Matt searches other industries with transferable skill sets. “There are yield and analytical roles in every single industry.” 

He asks candidates to provide guidance or next steps based off of a mock data set. He then asks them to go deeper by explaining how they process the information. 

Networking, LinkedIn, and headhunting 

When an open role is created, Matt already knows who he wants to hire. “I’ve been at Zynga for six years and have gone to a lot of industry events.” 

Developing relationships with your colleagues, peers, and top performers in the industry can go a long way. For Matt, certain people he’s crossed paths with have stuck with him. He recalls meeting a particular individual from a publisher at a networking event. She had a vibe that drew people to her. 

“Immediately, I liked her energy and passion for monetization and just, everything. She had a strong ability to connect with people on a personal level but knew how to draw the line and make it business.” 

When a client-facing role opened up on his team, Matt reached out immediately. 

Networking is one part of the recruiting process; LinkedIn is another. On the professional social network, keywords are vital for finding the right candidates and companies. If you work with recruiters, don’t shy away from having conversations to help them understand what kind of person and personality you’re searching for. 

Matt says soft skills — such as how they communicate and interact with others — are important in finding the right candidate. 

Advice for smaller gaming studios looking for monetization talent 

Competing with larger gaming studios and companies can be particularly challenging. If you’re on the smaller side, Matt advises examining your incentives and setting a competitive salary for the role. 

To hire the best talent, figure out what makes your organization special and get clear on what you’re offering. 

  • Are your salaries competitive in relation to bigger companies? 
  • How about your health benefits?  
  • Are there real opportunities for hires to grow their career?  
  • Is your team global? If so, what are the expectations around collaboration and meetings? 

“If you need to scale quickly, hire experienced people. Junior hires require learning on the job and take time to master the skill sets. Mobile gaming in particular throws way too many changes in your path to expect a junior hire to navigate.”

These changes don’t just include revenue fluctuations but also seismic shifts such as IDFA regulations. IDFA transformed how advertisers bring products to their players’ attention. One report predicts that up to a third of mobile gaming businesses will close due to this change. 

This is why it’s critical for new hires to stay on top of these industry changes and understand how they impact the organization and their specific role. 

If your budget is limited, see if you can allocate a portion of it to an outsourced team to handle more of the daily routine tasks. That way, new hires can devote time and energy to higher-lift activities. 

Final thoughts

Hiring the best monetization people means understanding the industry well. Mobile gaming in particular is fast-paced and prone to change on a dime. 

Another key ingredient in the recipe for finding the right talent has to do with people who gravitate to routine versus those who are flexible. 

“A lot of people get caught up in their processes and documentation. They want a very repetitive Monday through Friday. This industry doesn’t allow for that,” says Matt. “We might have a project that we’re focusing on today, but tomorrow something happens in the market that requires us to pivot and focus on something completely different.” 

Look for people who you think are capable of rolling with change and quickly adapting to new KPIs. 

Finding the person who has the right experience is like detective work. Ask candidates about their thought processes in solving problems, whether it’s giving an example data set to work through, or a take-home assignment. 

Growing your team takes time. Despite all of his experience and network connections, it can take Matt up to a year to fill a role, so be patient, always refine your interview process, and find the right questions to ask. 
Step one on your journey to hiring better candidates: stay on top of all the latest industry news on our blog and visit Chartboost.com to learn how we can help with your ad monetization needs.