Marketing

This MIT Ph.D. Optimizes Media for Alibaba and Beyond Meat


At the end of her time at MIT, where she received a Ph.D. in material science and engineering, Olivia Hentz realized she wanted to pursue a career in a field that had a more immediate impact than research and chemistry. That’s when she discovered data science

“I came directly to Known from graduate school, where I studied defect migration in a novel solar cell material,” she said. “While the world of media and advertising was new to me when I joined Known, my time as a graduate student taught me how to think critically about complex problems, work independently and drive projects from ideation to conclusion.”

In her current role as manager of data science, she has spent two years applying the scientific method to opportunities and challenges in business for clients including Beyond Meat, Alibaba, Rockefeller Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC).

“I am most proud of the 2020 summer media campaign for MSKCC, which was planned, executed and launched in just a few days, to respond to a drop in patient volumes due to Covid-19,” she said. “Not only was the campaign turnaround unprecedented, but it was a unique opportunity to work directly with the [chief marketing and communications officer] of MSKCC, Roxanne Taylor, on a campaign that truly saved lives.”

Given the increasingly complex nature of advertising during Covid, Hentz plans to help clients navigate this terrain and develop media plans and strategies for 2021. In fact, she called the media component of her role a happy coincidence since she has been able to apply her skills in analysis and strategy.

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Longer term, she hopes to help build out Known’s IP to “push the industry limits of ad optimization, attribution and data-driven planning.”

“I always strive to provide the highest quality of work and do not settle for good enough,” Hentz said. “Coming from a scientific background, I have the rare ability to provide a truly holistic view by bridging the gap between the most technical aspects of a campaign and the strategic and business-focused objectives.”

Big Mistake

Hentz said her biggest mistake is being too hard on herself when things don’t go perfectly in a campaign.

In the first few weeks of one campaign in particular, when performance was below what she had hoped for, Hentz said she found herself questioning audiences, placements and creative pairings. But, in retrospect, there was nothing really wrong.

Lesson Learned

Hentz noted she quickly learned to scale her expectations for how quickly she can optimize any given budget. And the smaller the budget, the more patience you have to have for optimization. She also learned to trust herself—and her team.

“Learning to accept that there will always be ways to improve on the next one has been one of the most valuable lessons of my career so far,” she said.

How She Got the Gig

Hentz got the job thanks to a graduate school classmate whose sister worked at Known and made an introduction.

Pro Tip

“Have a healthy skepticism when working with data,” Hentz said. “Using data to make advertising decisions can be extremely powerful, but this only works if you know what your data means and how to use it to its fullest.”

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