What Si Newhouse Taught Me.

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It highlights my age and number of years in the media business to say that I overlapped with a few of the great names in media – names that understandably don’t mean that much to today’s 30-year-old media executive who’s orientation is all about the present and future. But the fact that I’ve worked for titles led by Helen Gurley Brown (Cosmopolitan), Jann Wenner (Us, Rolling Stone) and Louis Rossetto (Wired) is something I wear with a great deal of pride.

Which leads me to Sunday’s passing of S.I. “Si” Newhouse, Jr., the legendary chairman of Condé Nast. Newhouse was controversial, iconoclastic, painfully awkward and sometimes ruthless. But few can argue that he called the tune on the golden age of the magazine business in the 80s and 90s. And even though Si could never have picked me out of a lineup during my five years at CNP, he nonetheless left a mark on me. So here’s a short appreciation in three parts.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Digital Remedy, a digital marketing and technology solutions partner to publishers, advertisers, and influencers. Digital Remedy delivers performance-based and cross-channel solutions to increase monetization and operations potential of any organization while exceeding standard KPIs. Visit Digital Remedy to learn more.

Part One: He paid a ridiculous amount of attention to the details.  Despite being one of his day’s wealthiest Americans and overseeing titles like Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Vogue, Si famously arrived at work before dawn and read every page and noted every ad in every single one of Condé Nast’s titles. On a yellow legal pad he’d scrawl notes to publishers with a 49-cent Flair pen and staple them to ads he appreciated seeing – or to those he thought should be running in your pages. Even I got one.

Part Two: He played the long game. Some found fault with Si’s willingness to absorb years of losses on magazines he thought were important. But more often than not his bets on editors and concepts paid off, creating a halo of quality and a baseline of creative assets and brands that commanded premium prices, became must-buys for key advertisers and became the centers of gravity for the worlds they covered. As a sales guy at the launch of Allure, I saw first-hand how he didn’t hesitate to push off the magazine launch by months, then call for a major redesign after just a few issues… setting up Editor Linda Wells for more than two decades of success.

Part Three: He understood the difference between price and value.  Si was notoriously quiet and reclusive. The only time I got to hear him speak in a small group setting was when someone asked him why Condé Nast never, ever negotiated on price. (Something that has changed in the intervening decades, but that was legendary in its time.)  His answer was short and meaningful and something I repeat constantly to this day. “My father used to tell me that you can talk about price or you can talk about value,” he explained. “But you can’t talk about both at the same time. We just don’t let our people talk about price. So they have to talk about value.”

Si Newhouse’s legacy is undeniably complicated. And he was very much “of his time.” But some of what drove him is still timeless.

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Scatter Market Forever.

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One of the media world’s most stubborn legacies is The Upfront.  It’s best known as a way for big advertisers and their agencies to commit “upfront” dollars to networks in exchange for price breaks on the shows and demos they most desire.

We like Upfronts.  We like them so much that we make up excuses to stage them all the time. By now we’ve all heard of the Digital Media “New-Fronts,” the fortnight in late spring where we show off cool “programming” and ideas and try for up front commitments.  I’m for anything that allows digital media providers to strut their stuff, but…

But can the Upfront concept – a fixed, date-centric marketplace – survive in a world of unlimited “inventory” and constant technological change? Or will Upfronts go the way of “The Fall TV Season,” an event that used to mean something but that is now manufactured to gin up attention from buyers?

Welcome to the age of abundance.  Welcome to the Forever Scatter Market.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Digital Remedy, a digital marketing and technology solutions partner to publishers, advertisers, and influencers. Digital Remedy delivers performance-based and cross-channel solutions to increase monetization and operations potential of any organization while exceeding standard KPIs. Visit Digital Remedy to learn more.

I’m not naïve and I understand completely why Upfronts exist.  But the vast majority of us would be better served by committing to the skills and strategies needed in a permanent scatter market…. A market in which we must create or own opportunity, find our decision makers and – often – identify the budgets that might fund the things we create.

Scatter is about acting, not waiting.  It’s about the broader business or marketing problem, not about the narrow focus of the media plan.  It’s not about big showy presentations and product demos, but rather about the intimate, collaborative meeting at the whiteboard.  Upfronts are about what will be bought and for how much.  Scatter is about how the marketing or storytelling problem gets solved.  The Upfront is about the advertising business.  Scatter is about business solutions.

Banking on the Upfront is about fighting the last war… a war of fixed battles and well positioned armies….a war that’s perhaps already been won by a handful of superpowers.  Scatter is asymmetrical, guerilla engagements….it’s house to house and hand to hand.  And we’d all better start honing the strategies and skills we need to compete.

Scatter selling is here.  And it’s forever.

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The Conference Imperative.

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As I write this post, a few hundred of our industry’s best are at Dmexco, which folds right into New York’s Advertising Week which – before you know it – turns into CES and SXSW and Cannes and …. You get the picture. But it’s not just the big tent-pole gatherings; there are scores of smaller meet and greets peppered throughout the year from the likes of Digiday, ad:tech, iMedia, Digital Storytelling and even Upstream Group’s own Seller Forum. In a recent MediaVillage post, the value equation/boondoggle-factor of such events was briefly questioned.

Yet even as “can you believe how many events there are these days?” remains one of the most popular cocktail topics (at these very same events) the market value of human gathering is beyond question. Simple economics tells us so. If sponsors and attendees weren’t willingly ponying up the cash, many events would simply wither and die off. Yet here they are – again – blooming like dandelions. I’ve got a theory about why.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Digital Remedy, a digital marketing and technology solutions partner to publishers, advertisers, and influencers. Digital Remedy delivers performance-based and cross-channel solutions to increase monetization and operations potential of any organization while exceeding standard KPIs. Visit Digital Remedy to learn more.

The popularity of human focused events has grown in direct inverse proportion to the decline in day-to-day human contact between people who buy and sell stuff. In other words, the more that “connecting technology” – email, voicemail, texting, hangouts, shared documents – keeps us physically apart, the more we crave the handshake, the few minutes of eye contact, the nod of the head. Bitch all you want about whether a given event was “worth it” or not, human contact is at a premium and we will continue to pay that premium.

Now…to get your money’s worth out of any given event…

1. Have a plan. You’d be surprised how many people and companies don’t. Who do you aim to meet? How will you structure your time? Can you secure a formal or informal meeting spot? If you just show up, you’re just part of the crowd.
2. The first shall be first. As you attend parties or panels, get there first. Hosts and panelists remember the early arrivals. Then leave a little early to get a jump on the next one. No one will miss you at that point.
3. Spread out. People from the same company often stick together at conferences like 7th graders at the first middle school dance. If there are two of you in every conversation, one of you is irrelevant.
4. Write shit down. Give out a hundred business cards and collect two hundred. After each exchange, scribble a note on the back of a card. If someone doesn’t have a card, ask to take picture of their name badge with your phone, then text a copy of the photo to yourself with a short note. No matter how important the conversation or the customer, the connections are ephemeral unless you make sure they’re not.
5. Marketing, meet Sales! So often marketing and sales live in silos. Marketing buys a sponsorship and a bunch of passes to an event and then doesn’t get confirmation from sales about who’s attending until a few days before. Wasted dollars, wasted opportunity.

Human-to-Human matters more than ever. Make it count.

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How the Idea Survives.

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Pushed out of the multiplex by Big Hollywood’s parade of CGI superhero vehicles and gross-out comedy sequels, Little Hollywood – the creators – responded with a creative programming renaissance in cable, OTT and streaming channels.

Pushed off the digital media plan by Big Platforms and the relentless growth and consolidation of Big Programmatic, Little Publishing – our creators – have responded with their own creative programming renaissance.  Custom events, podcasts, influencers, social optimization, content marketing – I’m sure the list of possibilities has grown just since I began this post.  Publishers new and old have become more creative than ever before in all aspects of their businesses.  Except one:  Sales.

Promotional Message:  Tired of the pessimism and helplessness born out of a consolidating digital ad market?  Ready for some actionable strategies and meaningful alternatives to help your team sell more and better?  Our final Seller Forum of 2017 is happening on Wednesday October 11th in New York, and if you lead a sales team and want more from and for them, request your invitation today.

In boardrooms and bullpens all around New York and Silicon Beach, execs at creative companies are scratching their heads, puzzled at why their amazing creative ideas are not fetching the attention and premiums they often deserve.  The answer is deceptively simple:  you are feeding those ideas directly into a transactional ad buying system that was built to manage cost against standardized ad units.   Dress that business up in the language of creativity and ideation – hire gurus, launch divisions – and it’s still the same buyer (with the same calculator) on the other side of the table.

As content and experience have become multidimensional, sales has doubled-down on transaction.  And the results have been predictably underwhelming.  The challenge for the next generation CRO – the “moonshot” of the next 2-3 years – is to reinvent digital and integrated media sales; to make the sales process as intricate and creative as the ideas it represents.  This is going to call for four big intellectual and behavioral shifts:

  1. Embrace enterprise selling. The standard call to “go see the client” is not enough. We need to break out of the advertising channel entirely and sell broader and deeper within the client organization.
  2. Find new budgets. Why do we always start with “the digital ad budget?”  What we do has as much in common with PR, sales promotion, shopper marketing, research, compliance…you get the picture.
  3. Learn to love Scatter. Planning cycles, campaigns and RFPs are looking more than a little tired.  They exist because media agencies need them to exist.  Those who will win are those who will set their own pace and not rely on inclusion in a process that’s getting less relevant by the week.
  4. Think like a producer. The old questions were “How am I going to win a spot in this campaign?” and “How can I sell them this product?”  The new question is “How can I get my project funded?”

Your ideas aren’t the problem.  They just need a new marketplace.

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Meet Your Competition.

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Working with scores of companies in the digital ecosystem, I end up being the go-to guy on a persistent question:  “How do we compare with the other guys?”

Individual sellers and whole sales organizations demonstrate a serious need to be benchmarked.  There are great companies out there who offer this as a service:  they’ll tell a given company whether they are number one, two or twenty-three in the eyes of agencies or marketers.  Or you can always fall back on whose is bigger (comparing revenues, page views, video streams….whatever.)

But nevertheless, they ask me the question, because I’ve spent close time with many of the companies they perceive to be competitors.  And they really, really want to know how they stack up.

Promotional Message:  Tired of the pessimism and helplessness born out of a consolidating digital ad market?  Ready for some actionable strategies and meaningful alternatives to help your team sell more and better?  Our final Seller Forum of 2017 is happening on Wednesday October 11th in New York, and if you lead a sales team and want more from and for them, request your invitation today.

The answer is simple, if also a bit frustrating:  If you’re measuring yourself against any competitor, you’re embracing ambivalence and courting failure.   Give power and currency to someone else and you immediately make it all about a company and a sales team and issues that you have no control over.

The right approach is to localize the questions:  Given our resources, skills, voice, capabilities, scale, etc., what is the best we can possibly be?  How might we become indispensable to this customer at this critical time in their business?

Tell your team (or tell yourself) to stop comparing your insides to other companies’ outsides.  The more you obsess about your ‘competitors’ the more you stop paying attention to the customers whose money you hope to earn.  Your competition is you….your benchmark is your potential value to the marketer.  All the rest is noise.

When a member of her staff would ask Oprah Winfrey about the latest guest that Jerry Springer or Arsenio Hall or Sally Jesse Raphael had booked, she always offered the same admonition:  “Let them do them.  We’ll do us.”

Priceless.

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