In a note sent to GroupM staff today, GroupM Chairman Irwin Gotlieb wrote, "Ari was a pioneer and innovator, brashly demanding higher standards, better performance, and accountability. He did this not to benefit himself, but to improve the industry he loved and helped to create. Ari changed the lives of literally thousands of people in our industry who attribute their success to his principles and his relentless pursuit of truth in digital advertising."
Despite his position of power at GroupM, Bluman advocated for humility and a beginner mindset.
"I say it a lot: 'Perfection for the moment,'" Bluman told AdExchanger in a 2012 interview. "I believe that as soon as you pat yourself on the back and believe you did a job well done, you're already well behind. I'm not sure I'll ever personally believe that I have succeeded in anything, but I certainly have KPIs."
Bluman was not afraid to take controversial and often tough stands. In 2014, he made waves in programmatic circles when he stated that GroupM would migrate away from open exchange buying, preferring to focus on direct deals. It seemed an outlandish goal to some, but later turned out to be prescient.
Later, in partnership with client Unilever, Bluman took a stance on viewability that was dramatically tougher than the industry-wide standard. The move angered publishers, but Bluman didn't blink.
Gail Tifford, VP Media and Digital Engagement at Unilever North America, recalls, "He was a force in our industry driving for more accountability in the digital ecosystem than anyone else. And always with a sense of humor. As a client, most agency personnel probably feel the need to always be nice. Always diplomatic. Not Ari. He always said it like it was. And I loved him for it."
Wenda Harris Millard, President and COO of MediaLink, also remembers that bluntness.
"Ari did indeed make his mark in the industry -- is there anyone who didn't know him?" she said. "One of the characteristics I most admired about Ari was that he was a man of conviction; he lived his beliefs. He was a thinker, a student of the issues and once he had considered multiple alternatives, he chose a path to go down. And he stuck to it. It wasn't always fun if you were on a different path than the one he chose, of course. But it was always a thoughtful discussion. You had to admire him."
AdExchanger also reached out to a Facebook exec for comment, but because "there were so many people that worked with Ari here," the company asked to share a statement instead: “[Ari] redefined the word 'radical candor' -- you always knew where you stood with Ari, good, bad or indifferent. He was generous with his time, treated people with respect and cared deeply about moving the digital industry forward. His no BS attitude was refreshing in a world often full of corporate jargon. Our thoughts are with his family, his WPP colleagues and the industry at large who lost another great person."
Bluman was discharged from the hospital Monday, after which time more than 200 family members, friends, colleagues and clients visited him to honor his life and contributions.
Below is the full-text of Irwin Gotlieb's email to staff:
Friends and colleagues,
As some of you may have already heard, it is with the greatest regret that we inform you of the passing of Ari Bluman.
Many of you will be aware that Ari has been terribly ill for many months and know that he has been brave, almost beyond imagining, in the face of circumstances that few could tolerate.
Ari's contribution to our business survives him. His work on bringing order to chaos in digital marketing led the industry and created unique value for us all. Ari was a pioneer and innovator, brashly demanding higher standards, better performance, and accountability. He did this not to benefit himself, but to improve the industry he loved and helped to create. Ari changed the lives of literally thousands of people in our industry who attribute their success to his principles and his relentless pursuit of truth in digital advertising.
We can only hope to leave a similar legacy as business people and friends. We can only hope to live our own lives with the same determination and effect.
The passing of a friend is always tragic. It surfaces emotions that are profound and personal. This could not be more true than today.
Today we honor Ari Bluman. We mourn his passing, we cry for his wife, the indefatigable Deb, his family and we celebrate all he did with us, for us and what he leaves us.
There will never be another Ari Bluman. He was “always working,” but more importantly, always leading, and always improving the people around him.
Ryan Joe contributed.