Blame It on Culture.

Blame it on CultureWe tend to think of business and sales cultures for how they enable, elevate and extend our work. A strong culture gives our people clarity on the mission, helps them make appropriate decisions and level sets the expectations around behavior and tone. Good culture provides a platform on which a lot good things can be built.

But culture can – and our fast-growing digital marketing world, often does – fulfill a darker purpose. If left undeveloped, company culture can be the low ceiling that shackles your people, stymies your growth and assures that the potential of your people and technology will remain unfulfilled.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic, who provides a Marketing Automation Platform for Publishers (MAPP).  It empowers publishers with a single view into their advertiser relationships, across every screen, channel and format.  Through workflow automation, real-time analytics and yield management, PubMatic enables publishers to make smarter, faster decisions that drive revenue and streamline operations. To learn more, please click here.

Over the past two decades I’ve had the chance to work with hundreds of digital media and technology companies, big and small, and have been exposed to hundreds more. Patterns repeat and familiar scenarios play out in a continuous loop. Well-meaning CEOs and compliant leadership teams fail to recognize the warning signs that their “culture” has become little more than a license to perpetuate bad behavior and poor decisions. Here are a few of the more toxic cultural models and how they could be holding your business or sales team down.

Flat and Leaky. Having started the company with an idea, three other guys and a dog, the CEO wants to stay accessible to everyone – despite the fact that the company may now have scores or hundreds of employees. The illusion of an “open culture” obscures the fact that he’s undermining all of his managers and department heads and sowing confusion and generally gumming up the works.

“Watch How Cool and Busy We Are!” You just think you’re a culture of multitaskers equipped with all the latest digital tools. You are actually a culture of clueless tools incapable of providing full attention and respect to people and ideas. Perpetually late for meetings, constantly doing email at the expense of those in the room. If you don’t start calling out and ostracizing this boorish behavior it will kill your company.

“Bro!” A closet full of hoodies and Adidas shower shoes does not make you Mark Zuckerberg. But beyond the stunted sartorial choices, “Bro-Culture” can cause some serious problems. Ask the women in your organization how welcome and empowered they feel in the office every day? And when you invariably hire the inevitable second wave of experienced sales and tech pros, watch how the bros close ranks.

“We Got This!” The one quality most likely to cripple a company culture? Self-congratulation. It’s great to have confidence in your technology, but craving the certainty that we have “the right answer” can easily bleed into “we’re right about everything.” To succeed, you need a company of seekers; an openness to well-meaning dissent. Hire the curious and weed out the absolutists.

Peter Drucker famously said that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”   Ask what your culture is swallowing that might better be used to nourish your team.

Why They Sell. Why They Don’t.

Why they sell why they dontMy friend Joe Pych of Bionic Ad Systems sent me this thoughtful, evocative Harvard Business Review article on sales compensation, and I think it’s a must-read for anyone running a business who needs great sales people doing great work for you. (OK, so that’s pretty much everyone.)

What I love most about Doug Chung’s take on “How to Really Motivate Salespeople” is contained right in the title: it’s a truly curious take on motivation.   I don’t consult directly on compensation with my clients, but I end up in a dozen conversations a month about motivation and all the ways current compensation plans aren’t achieving it. So to my ear, Chung’s ‘advice’ at the end of the article is sweet music.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic, who provides a Marketing Automation Platform for Publishers (MAPP).  It empowers publishers with a single view into their advertiser relationships, across every screen, channel and format.  Through workflow automation, real-time analytics and yield management, PubMatic enables publishers to make smarter, faster decisions that drive revenue and streamline operations. To learn more, please click here.

  • Don’t set caps on what truly high-performing sellers can make – or if you must set them for political reasons, set them as high as possible.
  • Keep it simple – you can have multiple motivating triggers within a plan while also still keeping it easy and logical. Take the plan away from your CFO and have a liberal arts major read it.
  • Stop all the knee-jerk resetting of quotas – just because someone crushed it and got a big paycheck doesn’t mean their quota was set too low.

One other bit of wisdom that comes out in the article centers on the competitive nature of the seller: “Sales reps work harder for the chance to earn a reward than they do after receiving one.” The sellers who I’ve met – the ones worth keeping and investing in, at least – genuinely want to perform well in the eyes of their managers and their peers.   So if you accept this premise, better to look for what might disincent them from pursing that level of performance. Here’s my take:

  • Too many reps go well into the first quarter – or even the second quarter – without clarity around the comp plan. My guess is that this happens because the company wanted to work out all of its other priorities first and compensation was a trailing issue. Not good.
  • Compensation ends up completely divorced from the behaviors that ladder up to performance. Good comp plans reward the outcome, but they also focus on engineering and reinforcing positive “interim outcomes.” Understand what will get you there, define it, measure it, then reward it.
  • In life, in business, in sales, and in designing your comp plan, complexity is the enemy. If you couldn’t explain it in a few sentences at the local Chamber of Commerce Meeting, it’s probably going to quickly feel irrelevant to your team.

What’s the answer? Chung has some good ones. But I’d rather focus for now on the right question: Why? Ask why your sellers make the decisions they do and why they might become disaffected or unmotivated. Now you’re dealing in motivation: now your path becomes clearer.

Mind Your Verbs.

Mind Your VerbsWe live in a world of nouns and adjectives. Our platforms are transparent, our audience segments are discrete. Most of us in the digital ad business generate enough nouns and adjectives to crush the spirit of the most ambitious high school English teacher. But when it comes to the verbs, we get really wimpy.

Rather than approaching sales situations with boldness and conviction, our verbs tiptoe in on little cat-feet.  Ask a digital seller to describe the objective of a sales call with a would-be client and you won’t hear disrupt, close or persuade. You’ll hear him talk about educating, sharing our story or evangelizing. Is he there to sell something? Perish the thought! No, better to just try to be top of mind when they need us later.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic, who provides a Marketing Automation Platform for Publishers (MAPP).  It empowers publishers with a single view into their advertiser relationships, across every screen, channel and format.  Through workflow automation, real-time analytics and yield management, PubMatic enables publishers to make smarter, faster decisions that drive revenue and streamline operations. To learn more, please click here.

You may think I’m a little obsessive at this point, but I can live with that. I know that words matter. And salespeople rarely act bigger on sales calls than the verbs they use to describe their actions.

If you’re a manager, how are you going to hold your seller accountable around soft verbs? “So you went in to educate them? How’d that go? How much more educated are they now than they were last week?” And please tell me what the desired outcome is for evangelizing. I’m assuming it must have something to do with customers falling to the floor and speaking in tongues, which seems fairly rare.

If you’re a seller, ask yourself an important question: “Why am I avoiding verbs that mean something?” Do you not talk about selling and persuading to avoid being rude or to avoid being accountable?   It’s gut check time; time for us each to own why we’re in our jobs, in front of customers, in this business?   We’re there to change the outcome. To ask hard questions. To persuade. To secure commitment. To sell.

Next time you’re talking with your manager or seller, listen to the words you’re using. Get the verbs right and you’ll be amazed how clear and compelling your sales picture becomes.

We’ve just opened registration for the next Upstream Seller Forum, June 29th (Dinner) and 30th (Forum). If you lead a media sales organization, this unique peer-to-peer events was built by and for people like you. Request your invitation today.

Generations.

GenerationsI offered some keynote remarks yesterday at a major media company sales conference in Manhattan, and was asked a very thoughtful question during the Q&A that followed. “How have the media salespeople in your workshops changed over the (18) years you’ve been doing this?” The answer came to me very quickly, but the question and its implications have been rattling around in my head ever since.

When I started working with digital media sales teams back in 1997 the root languages that everyone spoke were media and advertising. These were the dominant businesses and intellectual models of the 80s and 90s. Managers at that time were virtually all expats from broadcast, cable or print media companies, and the “digital agencies” were little more than departments within bigger Madison Avenue shops. Young sellers were deeply influenced by this bias: we create content, attract audiences and make ads available on the margins to advertisers who want to reach our readers/viewers/users. The business quickly got a lot more complicated, but the orientation itself persisted.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic, who provides a Marketing Automation Platform for Publishers (MAPP).  It empowers publishers with a single view into their advertiser relationships, across every screen, channel and format.  Through workflow automation, real-time analytics and yield management, PubMatic enables publishers to make smarter, faster decisions that drive revenue and streamline operations. To learn more, please click here.

In recent years, though, our people have changed. The immigrants to this industry now come from far flung places. They came of age in a world dominated by Google, not Time Inc. They’re more likely to have studied engineering or statistics than advertising and marketing. Ask them if they even consider themselves part of the advertising business and you’re liable to draw blank stares. If you’re in my generation (north of 50) you may feel more than a little disconnected to digital execs in their 30s. That’s not their problem; it’s ours. The leaders of media companies, agency holding companies and brands should take heed: it’s our job to reframe our thinking around the new generation and the one after that. The alternative is not for us to impose our worldview and orientation indefinitely; the alternative is our own irrelevance.

What to do? Get up every day and challenge your own conventions. Ask yourself what you must purposefully forget in order to keep up. To learn from history is one thing. To be shackled to it is quite another. I for one am excited about all I’m going to learn in the decade ahead.

Doing is Believing.

Doing is BelievingOne thing that’s certain about this business of ours: everyone is so damn smart. No matter your personal opinion or experience with just about anyone in digital marketing, the first thing you’ll say is “Well….he’s really smart….but….” Smart is to the digital ad world what blond is to Scandinavia. It’s certainly a high class problem, but there is one big downside. We tend to over-think, over-analyze and over-talk just about everything.

In recent months I’ve been coaching managers at many leading companies in our space and they describe very common – and frustrating – interactions with their team members. When they take the time (as good managers do) to really connect with and listen to their sellers and other staff it can get messy really fast. Employees (they’re really smart, remember?) want to discuss and debate all the history and fine points behind decision and policies. They want to feel heard on the minute details on the difficulty and danger of their accounts lists. They want to open up long closed issues and directions. And the well-meaning, evolved, new-age manager ends up spending a lot of time and energy trying to manage how her reps feel and what they believe.

There’s a better way.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic, who provides a Marketing Automation Platform for Publishers (MAPP).  It empowers publishers with a single view into their advertiser relationships, across every screen, channel and format.  Through workflow automation, real-time analytics and yield management, PubMatic enables publishers to make smarter, faster decisions that drive revenue and streamline operations. To learn more, please click here.

Yes, people in sales organizations want to feel heard. And they may think they want their hands on the levers of policy and management – right up till the day they actually own them and ask “…and why did I want this?” But what they really thrive on is clarity. They want to know their management and leadership is taking in good information (including theirs) and then they want a decisive manager to say “this is where we’re going and here are the guidelines on getting there.” And then she says no more.

Hear the voices of your team members but don’t let them turn you into a weathervane that changes direction with the wind. Empathize and identify with the lives and aspirations of your employees, but don’t become their career grief counselor. Above all, shift your focus from what your people think and believe to what they do. With every interaction, have a list of specific measurable actions for the employee(s) to take. And be ready to say: “I understand your position…what is it specifically that you’d like to see me do right now?

We can hold salespeople and ourselves accountable for discrete actions. Actions breed a culture of clarity and consistency. Take enough steps and you have direction. You can’t manage or control what’s in someone’s head…only what they do. So shut down the endless cycle of reflection and debate and start getting stuff done. You’ll be amazed at how much better everyone ends up feeling.

The Real Deal.

LEVIS RED TAG 550 JEANSOver the last decade the digital marketing business has lived through a personality crisis. On the one hand there’s the relentless march of programmatic automation. On the other, native advertising — or sponsored content or branded entertainment or whatever else we’re calling the opposite of commoditization. Throughout this whole tedious game of semantic Twister, we’ve ignored the quality we should all be striving to embody; a quality that strengthens customer commitment, forges employee loyalty and gets us all closer to purpose-driven business marketing.

The quality – and the word – we’ve been grasping for is authenticity.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic, who provides a Marketing Automation Platform for Publishers (MAPP).  It empowers publishers with a single view into their advertiser relationships, across every screen, channel and format.  Through workflow automation, real-time analytics and yield management, PubMatic enables publishers to make smarter, faster decisions that drive revenue and streamline operations. To learn more, please click here.

What we all do for a living may remain ridiculously complicated, but the answer may be just this simple. What consumers want from their bourbon, their coffee houses, their granola and their politicians – authenticity – may be exactly what marketers and agencies and publishers desperately crave in our world.

Whether you make blue jeans or offer DMP services, being authentic doesn’t mean that you’re the only one who makes what you make or does what you do. It means being clear and open about your process, your motivations, your beliefs. No matter how right or left brain your company is, there is something authentic and genuine about how you build your product or deliver your service; why you’re in business at all; and in what you believe as a company. Or at least there should be.

Look at two of the world’s most powerful technology companies – Apple and Google. Despite hugely complicated technology stacks and a sometimes confusing morass of products (most of which, in the case of Apple, are mass produced overseas), both companies still seem authentic to the customer. “Don’t’ Be Evil.” “Think Different.” “Designed by Apple in California.” Should any of our companies aim for less?

The thing about authenticity is that you can’t outsource it. Too often the world-class engineers who invented your product or the visionary CEO who got the company funded simply hand off the job to the marketing professionals, the copywriters or the ad agency. Too often those who sell to and service our customers are given talking points or white papers and left to fend for themselves.

Authentic isn’t what you say. It’s who you are. So who are you, then?

Six Questions for Mitch Weinstein.

Six Questions for Mitch WeinsteinAlong with Angelina Eng of Merkle and Mindshare’s Jon Hsia, Mitch Weinstein of IPG Mediabrands and Magna Global will be taking part in a thoughtful and compelling discussion on viewability at Seller Forum tomorrow in New York. The event’s been sold out for some time, but here you can read some of Mitch’s thoughts and perhaps expand your own views on the issue.

Mitch, you’re deeply involved in the viewability discussion.  Is it really all that contentious or does it just look that way online?

I wouldn’t say it’s contentious. But rather it’s an important conversation we are having with media partners, where we all have the same goals and are trying to get to the same place – better quality inventory for all of digital media.  The bottom line is we are looking to achieve the highest level of success for our clients, and the only way we can do this is by working together …it’s just that in some cases we have different ideas of the timing involved.  But overall, we’re making very good progress.

If you were explaining the ruckus to your 85-year-old aunt at a family gathering, how might you sum it up?

“You know those ads you see on the internet? No, not those annoying pop-up ads – we haven’t run those since 1999…the ads that show up next to news articles and content, and sometimes run before those YouTube cooking videos you like….Well, we only want to pay websites when those ads are seen, and we don’t want to pay for the ads that are hidden in the areas of the screen you never visit. Makes sense, right?  Pass the Jello mold.”

Does your quality inventory stand out in programmatic? Are you getting full value for those impressions? Programmatic has a trust issue, and comScore has the solution. comScore Industry Trust is a multi-phase initiative designed to enable trusted programmatic transactions of quality advertising between buyers and sellers. Learn more today.

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that guaranteeing 100% viewability on a given campaign is, for now, technically impossible.  True?

Completely False.  If a publisher can guarantee that 70% of the impressions we’re buying are viewable, why can’t they simply guarantee that all of my impressions will be viewable?  They can sell us fewer impressions – that’s ok. But what they sell us has to be viewable.  Publishers will have to recalibrate how they sell, and start including only what they know they can deliver as viewable on each IO. This shouldn’t be a problem if the publisher has been doing their due diligence and testing with different viewability vendors on all of their inventory. 3MS (Making Measurement Make Sense) was launched in 2011, so there has been ample time to test. Overall, it’s a shift in mindset and process more than it is a technical issue.

So does it come down to just paying for the impressions that are viewable?  That seems simple, right?

Yes, that’s exactly it.  We completely understand that not every impression will be viewable, totally get that. However, we only want to pay for those impressions that are viewable.  And by the way, we will rely on your chosen measurement vendor to tell us what is viewable and what is not, which will eliminate the entire issue of discrepancies. That should make things easier….

We don’t want this whole interview to be just about one issue.  What else is obsessing you these days?

We are focusing heavily on dynamic ad serving, and using external triggers (e.g. weather) to determine which version of an ad to run. Basically, a customized message each time the ad serves. It’s a straightforward concept, but very complex to deliver effectively since it involves a combination of efforts between media, creative, ad tech, analytics, and data. But it’s proven to be very effective in driving performance, so we are devoting a lot of resources to it.

 Fill in the blank:  “If media sellers only understood _____ they’d end up doing a lot more business with agencies like mine.”

“…how important good quality, brand-safe, viewable inventory is to our clients”

 

Viewability, Made Clear.

Viewability Made ClearAt the upcoming Seller Forum on March 12th, I’ll be moderating a thoughtful and – hopefully – productive discussion on the latest thorny issue in our digital greenhouse: ad viewability. Over 50 senior sales leaders will be in the room, and this particular discussion will feature three key stakeholders from the agency world – Mitch Weinstein of IPG Mediabrands, Merkle’s Angelina Eng, and Jon Hsia from Mindshare. The pithy headline of this post notwithstanding, we all know there are no simple answers on viewability. But we can and should be sure we’re asking the right questions. Here are the questions that I think will move us to a better place.

Who wants to be the last one defending the idea that an advertiser should pay for an ad that has no chance of being seen? I don’t think I’ll get any takers on this. So let’s assume that we all agree on a common destination where the currency we exchange is based on viewable ads.

Does your quality inventory stand out in programmatic? Are you getting full value for those impressions? Programmatic has a trust issue, and comScore has the solution. comScore Industry Trust is a multi-phase initiative designed to enable trusted programmatic transactions of quality advertising between buyers and sellers. Learn more today.

What are the true motivations that drive the positions that clients, agencies, publishers and others have taken in this discussion? If we answer with words like greed, laziness, stupidity or arrogance, we’re guaranteeing that we’ll end up making bad decisions en route to bad policies. Underestimating or oversimplifying motivations in a complex negotiation is a tragic mistake.

Do we all really understand the words we’re using? What’s measurable is a subset of what’s served. What’s viewable is a subset of what’s measurable. It’s complex even for those in the thick of it. Before we rush into the technical minutiae or defend our various positions, what might happen if we took the time to say: “Tell me exactly what you mean by that term? I want to be sure I understand.”

Might there be a better way to optimize publisher business outcomes? Our assumptions have always been based on volume. More pages. More ad calls. More streams. In the rush to more, we’ve settled for less. Less quality. Less control. Less trust. We’ve tried building strategies around abundance: should we give scarcity a shot?

Does anyone not think that 17 different “accredited” viewability solutions is too many?   It’s possible that there’s a great new option out there – a fresh idea that nobody’s considered – but I think we have to consider whether the cost of further iterative innovation outweighs the benefit of just settling on one set of referees. TV decided on who would provide ratings 40 years ago, and I think they’ve done relatively OK.

Who benefits if nothing changes? I’m trying to imagine a legitimate marketer, agency, publisher, creative producer or additive technology whose positive future is tied to “more of the same.” There is going to be short term pain and a rethinking of financial expectations all around in the meantime. But maybe it’s time to realize that the only “wrong” choice is no choice at all.

There are just 3 seats left for The Seller Forum.  If you are a qualified national media sales leader and want to be part of this discussion, reach back to us today. 

Six Questions for Terry Kawaja

Six Questions for Terry KawajaLUMAscape architect and dynamic investment banker Terry Kawaja is joining us at The Seller Forum on March 12th to talk about the consolidating video marketing world. To prep for his talk at the Forum, six questions:

 Is the Video LUMAscape starting to significantly consolidate? Some examples please.

We’ve seen 29 transactions across the Video LUMAscape just in the last 18 months starting with Aol/Adap.tv. These transactions range from content plays (e.g. Disney / Maker, Amazon / Twitch and AT&T / Fullscreen) to monetization platforms (e.g. Comcast / FreeWheel, Facebook / LiveRail and Yahoo / BrightRoll). These deals are reflective of the continued growth in digital video but also the coming convergent TV sector.

 Do all those YouTube videos help Google run the table and own web and mobile video or is there hope for others?

Video does not quite have the same network/scale advantages of search so it should proliferate to all publishers. YouTube ‘s strong position (nearly 40% of all video views in 2013) has new competitors (Facebook, Amazon, Vessel) and we will likely see the viewership splinter over time.

Does your quality inventory stand out in programmatic? Are you getting full value for those impressions? Programmatic has a trust issue, and comScore has the solution. comScore Industry Trust is a multi-phase initiative designed to enable trusted programmatic transactions of quality advertising between buyers and sellers. Learn more today.

 What’s surprised you most in the video picture of the last 12 months?

The pace of Facebook’s growth has been staggering and surprising: in October 2014, Facebook actually saw more video views that YouTube. YouTube is more akin to a portal (and people don’t navigate to portals) whereas Facebook’s video discovery is in the feed and shared socially. This will be interesting to watch.

I’ve heard that those crazy young people are streaming their favorite shows over the web now. Are we going to show them commercials like we do on the web or like we do on regular old TV?

The TV ad experience and inherent value proposition is based on interruption. Viewers put up with (or ignore) ads in return for their desired content. I believe that this value proposition has to change in a mobile context and that may threaten the mobile video pre roll or interstitial. Ad creative has to be better (a good thing) and the value proposition may need to change to facilitation, not interruption.

 Deal that looked big but wasn’t? And under the radar deal that’s really significant?

So far the $45 billion Comcast / TWC deal looks threatened. I mused that Comcast could have used the same $45 billion to instead buy a basket of tech unicorn startups that included Uber, Dropbox, Snapchat and Box. One year later, the TWC deal has gone nowhere and the basket is now worth over double! I think the Telstra / Ooyala deal, while under the radar, is interesting because it represents a new entrant buyer (in this case, a monopoly foreign telco) that has set its growth sights on digital video and has more deals to come.

When you did your cameo on Mad Men was Jon Hamm nice to you?

Unlike the character he plays, it turns out Jon Hamm is a super nice guy. He treated the cast and crew very well.

There are just 15 open seats left for The Seller Forum on March 12th in New York.  If you lead a national media sales team, you won’t want to miss key insights on video, viewability, talent, first half outlook and more.  Request your invitation today.

 

The Trading Desk is Dead: Long Live the Trade!

The Trading Desk is DeadThe great thing about writing 500 words about our business every week is that occasionally you end up looking smart in hindsight. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then. Last Friday afternoon – as most of us had already started bugging out for the long holiday weekend – Publicis quietly pulled the plug on programmatic buying at Vivaki.   In an October 2013 post (“Letting Go of the Tiger’s Ears”) I wrote…

…I believe the agencies …did themselves a huge disservice by playing out of position over the last 4-5 years in the run up to “the programmatic age.”…First, there was the decision to create standalone business units in the first place. Might it not have been better to let a thousand flowers of automated trading bloom within the daughter agencies rather than concentrate it all at the holding company level? Perhaps they missed the chance to strengthen ALL the pillars of their business rather than devoting so much time and effort to explain yet another corporate brand and operating model to increasingly skeptical clients?

Does your quality inventory stand out in programmatic? Are you getting full value for those impressions? Programmatic has a trust issue, and comScore has the solution. comScore Industry Trust is a multi-phase initiative designed to enable trusted programmatic transactions of quality advertising between buyers and sellers. Learn more today.

I’m certainly not the only one to predict the demise of the holding company trading desk model: I said as much in that 2013 post:

“….I’ve heard people stand up at conferences and say that the holding company level trading desks will go away within a couple of years; that they’ll be replaced by client side operations (like P&G’s Hawkeye) and by a migration of programmatic bidding to the individual media agency level. Such a monolithic assessment is almost surely going to be right and wrong at the same time. These are wildly different businesses who are making different decisions. For one thing, there’s a lot of work ahead helping clients manage the nuanced business and buying decisions within private marketplaces.”

So now as we edge into 2015 the land grab abates and the real work of programmatic has begun in earnest: figuring out complex private marketplaces and programmatic direct deals and determining how programmatic lives symbiotically alongside the high margin native, branded content and video advertising. This is not work to be done in a silo by a handful of holding company execs. There’s plenty here for all of us to do.

There are fewer than 20 open seats left for The Seller Forum on March 12th in New York.  If you lead a national media sales team, you won’t want to miss key insights on video, viewability, talent, first half outlook and more.  Request your invitation today.

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