Digital Ad Pioneer Ari Bluman Passes Away, Helped WPP Navigate Tectonic Media Changes

ari-blumanAri Bluman, a highly-regarded digital media exec whose passion was only rivaled by his bluntness, has passed away after a long fight with cancer. He was 44.

To those who knew him, Bluman was a "man of conviction" who "lived his beliefs" and practiced "radical candor" in order to "improve the industry he loved and helped create."

Bluman's career vaulted as quickly as the young medium he helped pioneer. He was most recently chief digital investment officer at WPP-owned GroupM, where he helped chart the media network's path in mobile and programmatic. Before that he held a wide range of roles at 24/7 Media, including president of the North America region.

Rob Norman, chief digital officer at GroupM, said, "Few people are involved at the genesis of an industry and fewer shape its future in a way that brings order to chaos. Few people combine intellectual capacity with belligerent determination. Few people have a degree of humanity and capacity for love and fun that touches everyone. You can’t replace Ari Bluman but you can remember him, learn from him and learn from the love and devotion of his family, friends and careers. Our thoughts are with them."

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. 

2 Comments

  1. Ann Soranno Carro

    It is with great personal sadness that I send my condolences to the Bluman Family on the passing of Ari. I was fortunate enough to have been Ari's Social Studies teacher at Half Hollow Hills High School East, as well as that of his brother Seth and sister Robin. Ari was a deep and compassionate thinker as a teenager, always pursuing deeper responses. As I read his Obituary I discovered that all of those who came into contact with Ari, were blessed by his special goodness. Thank you Ari for coming into our lives.

    Reply
    • Dan Leav

      I am heartbroken over the loss of my golfing buddy Ari Bluman. He was incredibly smart, witty, blunt, and a hell of golfer. He was courageous in his battle with cancer these past 2 years. I will miss him deeply. As an aside, I read the moving tribute from Ann Soranno Carro who, coincidentally, was also my high school Social Studies teacher (I am quite a few years older than Ari) - and she was a wonderful influence on me . I share her feelings in this time of mourning.

      Reply

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