Tell us your name and a little about yourself.
On the dotted line, I am William Ammerman. But in the digital age, my name has morphed into “Wammerman,” the combination of my first initial and last name that I use for my email, social media accounts, and web address. It’s become a sort of nickname. I’m currently the Executive Vice President of Digital Media for Engaged Media Inc., where I oversee digital publishing for a dozen consumer magazines. Previously, I worked in executive roles at Tribune Broadcasting, Hearst Television, and Capitol Broadcasting. I’ve managed digital advertising for hundreds of television stations, including their websites, mobile apps, and connected television (OTT) platforms. I have a master’s degree from the UNC School of Media and Journalism, and I recently completed post-graduate work in artificial intelligence at MIT.
What exactly does your company do?
I advise leaders and businesses about marketing in the age of artificial intelligence, which is the subject of my new book, The Invisible Brand (McGraw-Hill Education; June 2019). I’ve spent over two decades in digital media, employing all of the tactics of programmatic advertising and marketing automation. I wanted to help consumers understand how advances in artificial intelligence are impacting all of us. Essentially, my book pulls back the digital curtain to allow the public to see what’s going on, so we can all make more informed decisions.
People are increasingly aware that they’re being watched through their computers, their mobile devices, their cars, and their smart TVs. To a degree, we’ve all traded aspects of our privacy for the convenience of having products delivered to our doorsteps, accessing movies and music on demand, and asking our cars for directions to the nearest Thai restaurant. But as we engage more deeply with brands, politicians, and governments through digital technology, we must also acknowledge the real risk of being exploited and manipulated.
My book’s title, The Invisible Brand, is a reference to these hidden interests, operating invisibly through technology to change how we act and what we buy, and even who we are. I want people to see the Invisible Brand operating in their own lives and to understand the opportunities artificial intelligence offers us. But I also want to equip people with the knowledge they need to protect themselves from the risks it poses.
What were the biggest challenges you have faced, and how did you overcome them?
I am not a disciplined writer. I have moments of inspiration where I sit down and knock out four or five pages at a time. But those moments are often followed by days, and even weeks, where I can’t force myself to write. Taking on the challenge of writing a book about a subject as complex as artificial intelligence was important to me personally, but it proved to be extremely difficult. I have a job, a marriage, and three children, and balancing the demands of everyday life while juggling publisher deadlines was overwhelming. I was my own biggest challenge, so I got help.
I engaged a researcher to help me with the book, and that changed everything. We had a great working relationship; I would ask for his help in summarizing a business report or an academic study, and he would turn it into a few paragraphs, complete with citations, in a day or so. I would then stitch those paragraphs into a chapter I was struggling with, and suddenly I felt unstuck. I discovered that I am more productive as a writer when I’m not facing the dread of plowing through an academic paper or fiddling around with citations. At first, asking for help felt like cheating, but it was liberating to overcome my weakness and realize that writing doesn’t have to be a solitary exercise.
What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
I graduated from college before the worldwide web was invented, and I’ve had a front-row seat to unbelievable technological advances. But in some cases, I was timid about diving in too deep or too fast. I like to say I’ve been in digital media longer than anyone who isn’t a billionaire. I’ve certainly had my fair share of success, but if I could go back and coach the 20-year-old me, I’d say, “Don’t be scared to fail. Be an early adopter of new technology. Learn about it and find ways to apply it quickly.”
Who are your biggest influences and people you admire and why?
I met Kurt Vonnegut by chance in Ann Arbor one fall afternoon during my junior year in college. He was my favorite author, and I had a ticket to see him speak that evening. As I was walking toward campus, I saw him strolling up State Street toward me, all by himself. I tried to think of something intelligent to say, but all I managed to do was blurt out, “Kurt!” while sticking my hand out for a handshake. His hair was tangled, and he was wearing a grey suit that looked slightly rumpled. He stopped and shook my hand, and with a gentle smile asked, “Do I know you?” I told him I was looking forward to his lecture that evening. We stepped into a little coffee shop nearby called the European Café; after a half-hour conversation, he excused himself and went on his way.
I never managed to say a single intelligent thing during the conversation, but the experience of meeting him left a big impression on me. In some ways, that brief encounter planted a seed that grew into my desire to write a book.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
My wife, for putting up with me.
What do you see as your greatest success in life?
Raising three children has been, by far, my greatest success. Nothing comes close to the reward I’ve experienced from pouring my heart and soul into these young people. I encourage you, wherever you are in life, to find someone—a relative, friend, neighbor, or colleague—and to selflessly pour yourself into helping him or her. Don’t expect anyone to give you a cookie or a participation trophy. Your reward will be knowing that you helped, and, at the end of the day, that’s enough.
Please list your social media URLs
Author website: https://wammerman.com/
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