Open. Close. Repeat.

Open Close RepeatI’m writing today’s post from Row 2 at the LUMA Digital Media Summit in New York. For those unfamiliar, LUMA is the investment banking firm that produces the “LUMAscape” charts that aim to make sense of the confusing nature ad technology and distribution (and has run many of the significant M&A deals in our world.) The first topic called out for the day by CEO/emcee Terry Kawaja was “The Digital Duopoly: Open vs. Closed.” There are lots of implications here for anyone selling ad services, technology, data or services in digital marketing.

The details are horrendously complicated, but the core concept is surprisingly simple: Will the data-driven, multi-touch marketing funnel be an open ecosystem or will it be controlled by a couple of parties – Facebook and Google – who are constructing closed technology and service stacks? Will marketing look like the Euro-zone or will it be dominated by a couple of large, highly controlled economies?

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by comScore. Are you getting skewed? If you aren’t taking NHT out of your measurement – including viewability and in-target numbers – you may be. comScore can help you keep it real. Learn more about the difference that sophisticated NHT, audience and viewability measurement can make to your bottom line: www.comscore.com/Why-NHT-Matters

Tim Armstrong appeared this morning via video hook-up talking about how the AOL/Verizon deal was about creating the world’s largest open platform, while Brian O’Kelley of AppNexus claims that AppNexus will be the wide open platform that allows all the players to play well together. Dave Jakubowski, head of ad tech at Facebook, gamely assured the audience that Facebook was all about giving publishers choices about how to monetize their content. Ay yi yi!

This may seem like one of those “Clash of the Titans” moments when we little people accept that we have no control. . I make no moral or value judgments about open and closed, but every day there are lots of little decisions that get made every day that matter a lot. Do we use Facebook, YouTube or neither for distribution and monetization of our video assets? Do we double down on DoubleClick, Atlas or neither as our display serving solution?   What active decisions do we make about who gets access to our first party data and what business rules do we put in place to govern those relationships.

Since the days of Netscape vs. Microsoft, we’ve been predicting that two big players would ultimately own everything. Today those players look like Facebook and Google. But we’ve also seen a continuous cycle of consolidation leading into the next cycle of openness and on and on. Open. Close. Repeat.

I always like to say that great companies all have one thing in common. They make active choices. And you and your company have active choices to make in the weeks and months ahead. Open? Closed? Good luck with that.

You’ve Got Phone!

You've Got PhoneVerizon buying AOL for $4.4 billion is…. Well, it’s the biggest thing to happen since America Online acquired Time Warner for $182 billion in stock and debt 15 years ago!   Sure, I know these ancient history lessons are only so instructive, but this one is rich with irony.   In 2000, Time Warner was the company with the content and America Online (which is what AOL was still commonly called then) had the digital distribution. At the time, CNN Money (no impartial observer) breathlessly said that the “largest deal in history” combined “…the nation’s top internet service provider with the world’s top media conglomerate.” Now AOL is the company with the content, and Verizon is the acquiring party with the distribution. Distribution always seems to win, doesn’t it?

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by comScore. Are you getting skewed? If you aren’t taking NHT out of your measurement – including viewability and in-target numbers – you may be. comScore can help you keep it real. Learn more about the difference that sophisticated NHT, audience and viewability measurement can make to your bottom line: www.comscore.com/Why-NHT-Matters

While $4.4 billion may not seem as cool as $182 billion, it appears the money may actually be real this time. And the deal validates a point that can no longer be disputed: Mobile IS the game now. And the shift to mobile-first thinking will be as jarring and disorienting to first generation digital execs as the shift to digital thinking was for magazine publishers and broadcasters.

The initial strategy at times like this is always to re-purpose what you already know how to do for the medium you don’t yet understand. The first TV shows were radio shows in front of a camera. The first MTV videos were claustrophobic, single set performances by rock stars. The first websites were magazine pages with hyperlinks. And our first pass at mobile has been to throw banners and interstitials and short form videos at the smaller screen. And soon we’ll look back at this era like a long-forgotten photo from our youth. (“I can’t believe I ever thought THAT haircut was cool!”)

So Verizon’s here. They don’t think like we do. But they get the needs of a mobile consumer better than we do. AT&T’s here as well. Remember last year when they bought DirecTV? Keep that little deal in mind alongside this one. The world of media and advertising lives inside a snow globe and it’s just starting to get a good shake. Anyone who thinks the Verizon-AOL deal was just about Verizon and AOL needs to think again. It’s about all of us and the future we must confront sooner than we know.

Can you hear me now?

Panel Moderators: Suck No More!

Panel Moderators Suck No MoreIt’s perpetually conference season in our world.  And the panels are perpetually underwhelming.  So here’s a repeat of my post from 2011.  Audiences, you’re welcome!

Industry conference season now seems to stretch roughly from Martin Luther King’s Birthday to Winter Solstice, and there seems to be a new entrant (or four) vying for our time and attention every month.  And the attendees who move from summit to summit like migrant farm workers trooping from field to field all share one central opinion:  Boy, there are an awful lot of crappy panel discussions!

Indeed there are.  Some conference organizers have gone so far as to impose an outright ban on panels.  But blaming the panel is like blaming the chicken and carrots and rice for being a bad meal.  Somebody was in charge (or, too often, not in charge) of its preparation.  Having moderated scores of them over the years, I’ll take a stand:  there are no bad panels, only bad moderators. As a service to the industry, I’m offering free advice to both conference producers and would be moderators.  Please accept it.  Then go forward and suck no more.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by comScore. Are you getting skewed? If you aren’t taking NHT out of your measurement – including viewability and in-target numbers – you may be. comScore can help you keep it real. Learn more about the difference that sophisticated NHT, audience and viewability measurement can make to your bottom line: www.comscore.com/Why-NHT-Matters

Rule #1:  Being on Stage is a Privilege. If you’re running a conference, you are doing the moderator a favor by allowing him or her to run the panel.   Establish clear expectations and hold the moderator responsible along the way.  (Side note: If you’re choosing moderators or panelists based on who’s sponsoring your conference, you’ve painted yourself into a corner.)  Talk to your moderators about the level of preparation and scripting you expect.

Rule #2:  The Moderator Works for the Audience. You’re not up there to make the panelists feel good.  (See Rule #1: it’s a privilege for them to be on stage too.)  Be an advocate for audience rights:  the right not to be bored, not to have their time wasted.  If you think a panelist is opaque, confusing or off topic, fix it.  As the follow up question; challenge; redirect.

Rule #3:  The Opening Always Sucks.  Skip it. Those brief two-minute self introductions you let the panelists do are the beginning of a bad panel.  Either introduce them and their companies yourself in 20 seconds or less (and of course NEVER read anybody’s bio!) or just put their names and companies up on a slide.  The audience you work for (Rule #2) only cares if the panelists are insightful, useful or entertaining.  Get on with it.

Rule #4:  Do the Work. Individual pre-conference conversations – or at very least an email exchange – with the panelists should be mandatory.  These exchanges are followed by an email to the group outlining the themes and questions you’ll be including.  The best panels are the continuation of a conversation, not the initiation of one.

Rule #5:  Have a Point of View. Who says the moderator has to be moderate?  Be a flash point instead.  Bring your own views to the panel.  Lay them out and ask the panelists for reactions.  You’re not a potted plant.

Rule #6: Don’t be fair.  Be good. Too many moderators go “down the line” and give every panelist a say in every question. Nobody wants to hear hair-splitting nuance and incremental improvements on points.  Direct questions to specific panelists then move on.

Rule #7:  Look, Listen, Interrupt. Good moderators don’t look at their panelists all the time; they’re constantly looking out into the audience.  This forces their panelists to do the same and keeps eye contact between the panel and the crowd.  Also truly listen to the answers – then probe, challenge and expand on them.  When a comment is sharp, reinforce it.  When it’s lame or meandering, interrupt and redirect.  (See rules 2 & 6)

With all the scary smart people in our business, it’s a tragedy that our primary vehicle for learning from them is so terribly broken.  Next time you’re seeking refuge on your iPhone or Droid during some panel that’s going nowhere, use the time to forward this post….to the moderator.

Binge-Watching Programmatic.

Binge Watching ProgrammaticI don’t know how we’d mark the beginning of the programmatic age in our business – I’m sure someone must have a record of the first time the word was uttered. But whenever it was – six, seven, eight years ago? – it marked the beginning of us all watching the story play out episodically; in weekly installments over many seasons. We saw story lines rise and fall; characters come and go. And if any of us went back and watched season one today we’d barely recognize the cast and would be a little jarred by the production design.

Let’s imagine for a moment that the whole programmatic saga – multiple seasons – were available for download on Hulu Plus or Netflix and we got to pull up the covers and binge-watch the whole thing over a long weekend. I wonder how differently we’d see the story.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by comScore. Are you getting skewed? If you aren’t taking NHT out of your measurement – including viewability and in-target numbers – you may be. comScore can help you keep it real. Learn more about the difference that sophisticated NHT, audience and viewability measurement can make to your bottom line: www.comscore.com/Why-NHT-Matters

A loosely connected and lightly organized network of quants emerges from the backrooms of the soon-to-be-doomed ad networks with a radical plan for stripping away the romance and illusion from advertising and selling in a purely mathematical, algorithm-driven approach to buying, selling, informing, distributing and attributing value to ads on the web. A fever-dream of wild financial speculation follows in which venture capital flows in to irrigate a world driven by real time bidding. Agencies organize experimental business units that draw a lot of interest and attention. Incremental programmatic companies spring out of the ground like mushrooms after a soaking rain.

Then we wait as not that much really happens for a few episodes.

Real time bidding on open exchanges suddenly loses all the steam it ever seemed to have. Everyone who’s ever run a trading desk ends up walking away from the model, and the big agency holding companies explain that it never really was about having a trading desk anyway. We decide we never really liked that whole relationship with big open exchanges anyway – it gave us all sorts of icky infections like non-human traffic and non-viewable impressions that we still can’t shake. Private exchanges (or was it private marketplaces? Oh who remembers?) Now that’s what we’ve really been talking about all this time. We’ll just buy and sell the good shit and use lots of data to help us make it even better!

Then we wait a little more over a few episodes that seem to lag and get a little confusing.

We get a little nostalgic about the early episodes and so we start to re-introduce some old story lines. If you liked the early days of programmatic display, wait till you get a load of programmatic video….programmatic mobile….programmatic native (really.) And you know, while we’re grooving on the oldies, let’s go way, way back: Turns out that content is really pretty cool after all. No, no…not the garden variety come-to-my-website and see what I wrote kind. Custom content and branded content and viral content and socially-optimizable content… can you give me a scoop of programmatic with that?

All caught up now. We can’t wait for next season, but we just know we’re going to hate watching just one episode a week!

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?

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