Doug Weaver

Expect? Or Engage?


The good news: if you’re selling digital advertising and marketing services today, you are in a position to make both a huge difference and a very good living. The bad news: it’s a hell of a lot of work.

In digital sales workshops I teach sellers the research, strategy, critical thinking, patience and discipline that it takes to compete in our confusing, asymmetrical world – a world with no closing or air dates… a world of incomplete information… a world where people don’t call you back or tell you why you didn’t get the deal. I tell them how it often takes eight or nine quality messages to engage a decision maker. I tell them about the insight-driven, structured approach needed to run a successful meeting with a senior customer. I tell them about all the other budgets out there that don’t have the words digital or media attached to them. And I tell them about how many people they’ll need to generate the kinds of quality opportunities and long-term loyalty needed for long term success.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to bionic-ads.com/seller.

How they respond tells me a lot about who they are and how they’ll do. They tend to fall into two camps.

The Expecters. This group tends to respond with a lot of whens and ifs. To them the future is a bunch of contingencies. When we have better tools. If the customer could only see the value. When measurement catches up. If I only had a better list. With every pivot toward expectation and deferral comes a new level of disempowerment. The market is too consolidated. The duopoly is too powerful. My company’s management is not making the right moves. It is, of course, a self-fulfilling set of prophecies. At their best, the Expecters will be as good as reality — when reality, itself, is really good.

The Engagers. These sellers lean much more into whys, hows and whats. Why does this customer need us? How can we do something great for them? What’s the best place to start? To the Engager, there’s no someday, only today. They don’t allow themselves to get caught up in meaningless speculation about company politics or the horse-race of venture funding or bright shiny objects. As the name implies, their natural inclination is to engage: with the tools at hand…with the problem or opportunity… in the quest. If I need to do all that stuff and see all those people to be really good at this… well then, shit, I better get started.

There are probably many reasons why someone turns into an Engager or an Expecter. Life experiences, personal psychology, past work history and more. But I believe that it often comes down to something quite simple: a choice.

So choose. Decide if you are going to be an Expecter or an Engager. Then be what you decide.

We are currently booking a limited number of team workshops for late Q4 and Q1 2020. To discuss what you might want for your team, reach out to us today. The consult is free.


The First Week of the Next 25 Years.


As we began the second quarter-century of digital marketing on Monday, I’m choosing to republish an essay I was invited to write for the University of Florida’s “Captivate” program 5 years ago. Only the date context has been edited. It’s a longer read than you are used to in The Drift, but I hope you’ll feel it’s worth it.

It’s an interesting wrinkle in time for the colliding worlds of advertising and digital empowerment.

Exactly 25 years ago I was part of the team that sold the very first banner ads on the World Wide Web. On 10/27/94, Wired Magazine flipped the switch that lit up HotWired, the “cyberstation” that ushered brands like IBM, Volvo, MCI, Club Med and – famously – AT&T into the digital age. From the humble origin of a dozen brands paying $15,000 per month for static banner placement with zero analytics, web advertising is closing in on $50 billion in annual spending.

At precisely the same moment, the banner ad (and related forms like the 15-second video pre-roll and the mobile display ad) has become a social touchstone that evokes a firestorm of condescension and condemnation at every turn. Indeed, the 20th anniversary of web advertising has mobilized the kill-the-banner crowd like so many pitchfork-wielding peasants out to stop Dr. Frankenstein. To the casual observer this all may seem a bit schizophrenic: Can the digital ad business really have been built and sustained on top of such a flawed delivery vehicle? And if web advertising techniques are really so ham-handed, why are they now being co-opted by the behemoth of television in the forms of screen overlays, dynamic ad serving and programmatic distribution?

Interesting questions indeed. But they are also the wrong questions.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to bionic-ads.com/seller.

Over my 22 very active years serving media companies other digital and traditional advertising players, I’ve had a front row seat for a show that is consistently mistranslated, misdiagnosed and misunderstood. Digital advertising was born to an internet that people read and watched. During that seminal period of tiny gif images and narrow, scrolling columns of type we started calling those who put content on the web “publishers” – a role that was even then retiring to a world of hagiographic nostalgia. And advertising – well, that was a science to be grafted onto the web from other forms of publishing and broadcasting as technology and bandwidth allowed. Those first crude banners were nothing more than outdoor ads writ small. That they gave way eventually to larger, more picturesque ‘magazine’ ads and then to TV-style video spots meant more and more growth, but it also continued to miss the larger point that defines the true value of digitization – and lights our path for what happens now.

Let’s be honest in admitting that we haven’t really been all that much of a literary culture for much of the last 50 years and the internet doesn’t change that. You’re now just over 400 words into this essay: statistically, it’s already one of the longest things most American’s will read on the internet today. Over these two decades, the web has become something everyone does – not something they watch or read. We look for answers, we pass jokes back and forth to one another, we settle arguments. We preen and strut, we compare and buy, we “snack” on short bits of video. We organize things, we plan projects, we opine. Does this mean that content no longer matters? Or that it matters more than ever? The maddeningly simple answer is that it matters when it matters; when it’s closely aligned with the experience the consumer is living at that moment in time. And not for its own sake.

This leads me to the crossroads confronting those who aim to create the next $50 billion of revenue through “digital advertising” and for the advertising industry as a whole. The rocket ride from 1994 to 2014 has been driven by a combination of shifting consumer behavior (the increased time spent on browsers and devices is inescapable even to the staunchest traditional media die hard) and our ability to efficiently “tag along” with the experiences consumers are choosing to create for themselves digitally. Always on, always in our hands, the internet has become an extension of us as people. But advertising, mostly, has not kept up.

Two dominant trends in digital advertising today are data optimization and the programmatic trading of advertising display opportunities. In the first, we are overlaying information to identify and make decisions about those who we might show our ads to. In the second, we are building the technology and functionality to trade “ad futures” with one another. Both of these are critically important, “hard trends,” and they’ll continue – to some point – to usher more dollars into digital channels. But they are also both exercises in division and reduction: help me show my ad to fewer of the people who don’t matter; help me buy fewer of the ads that don’t work or don’t’ matter.

So what, then, will create the next great wave of growth for the advertising business? I believe it will happen only by confronting the truth that advertising in a digital world matters most when it least resembles advertising. Google and (to a lesser and less consistent degree) Facebook start the value creation at the point of consumer action and intent. The form that “advertising” takes is malleable and built into the experience: a helpful suggestion via some text as they answer my search query; a post from a marketer on a topic around which I’m already active. Buzzfeed has made a huge splash by helping marketers create just the kind of snackable content-McNuggets that we already like to trade with one another across the very platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr – where we already trade them.

But this is the tip of the iceberg. Many current techniques will look as archaic in 2024 as the earliest banners look today. But the companies and leaders who will endure and thrive are those who consistently answer a different set of questions:

What is the consumer doing today with digital tools and how can I help her do it better?

How might we create new value by blending discovery, commerce and productivity into a new experience shared by consumer and marketer?

If there were no such thing as an “advertising budget,” how would we create a connection between consumers and brands, companies and products that can bring new value into the consumer’s life?

These are the questions to be confronted not only by “digital advertising” leaders; after all, what advertising will not be digital by the time we reach our next ten year milestone? No, this is the existential moment for all of what used to be called Madison Avenue and “the Media.” Because when Wired flipped that switch 20 years ago they also set in motion a chain of events that prompts the re-imagination of all advertising.

From this point forward, don’t call any of it advertising. It will either be something much, much bigger – or it will be background noise.


What We Believe.


Today’s Seller Forum in New York coincides with the 25th anniversary of web advertising.  During the event, I’ll be interviewing Blackbird CEO Ross Martin who consults with major brands and media companies on developing belief systems — taking clear positions on issues facing their industries, society and the world.  It inspired me to offer up my own. Here’s what we at Upstream Group believe.

  • We believe that transparency, accuracy and fairness are not deal points.  They are the beginning of our conversation with the consumer and the marketer.
  • We believe that it’s the marketer’s money that fuels our entire ecosystem.  When in doubt or dispute, we should always default to that which creates real value and progress for the marketer.  We have a fiduciary responsibility to do what’s right for the marketer.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to https://www.bionic-ads.com/seller/

  • We believe that the consumer is a valued human being, with rights.  Reducing him or her to a target, an impression or a data profile begins a process of moral abdication.  Caring for and valuing the consumer as we ply our trade is good business;  without their long-term participation, we have no future.
  • We believe that more is not always better. The relentless pursuit of scale has led us into a world of fraud, non-viewable or repetitive ads, and a devolution of value for both the marketer and the consumer.  We must do better.
  • We believe that those who think sales teams are only motivated by money will reap what they sow.  By failing to imagine and build sales cultures around values and longevity we sentence ourselves to a permanent talent crisis.
  • We believe that as an industry we must look like the world we serve.  Recruiting, developing and hiring people of color is our shared responsibility.  And while women are beginning to occupy leadership positions in our business, there is far more work to do in terms of equal pay and true parity.
  • We believe that there is no way our industry can be a benign presence in the world.  With regard to social justice, economic and environmental issues, if we are not doing good then we are doing ill.  We must own the responsibility for what we create.
  • We believe the best is yet to come.  We haven’t seen anything yet.

Happy birthday to our business.  May we continue to believe, and to live up to our beliefs.


The Wrong Question.


As standard media has become more and more commoditized, publishers and media sellers have diversified their offerings. Rather than racing to the bottom on prices for banners and pre-roll videos, we’ve clambered up to the high ground of content creation,video programming, events, social optimization and data engineering.

The switch can be a jarring one. The work is harder and more detailed, involves more people (account management, client services, creative, production et al), eats up more time and is far more expensive. The uninformed, unqualified RFPs that used to aggravate us in the banner age are devastating us today. Too many sales teams take the bait and engage in a full-blown idea-fest, spinning out fully-baked programs, proposals and bespoke ideas… great work that ends up going nowhere 80-90 percent of the time.

There’s a better way.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to https://www.bionic-ads.com/seller/

For starters, when we start the value creation process for a client brand, we almost always start by asking a question that begins with what: What are we going to sell them? What should we build? What do we include in the program? Instead, we should be starting with why: Why do they need us at all? Why are they not selling enough of their product? Why do their best customers not understand their value? 

Asking these why questions early in the process helps you quickly expose the fatally flawed RFP and cattle call invitations. Often the understaffed and undercompensated agency planning teams may not even know the answers to these questions. They too are focused on what. As well-intentioned as they are, the planning team is at best an unreliable narrator in a process that is causing publishers to swing at too many bad pitches, bankrupting their bottom lines and alienating their internal teams.

The second big change that must be made is quite fundamental. Accept that this kind of work must be proactive, early stage, left of budget. We must be the ones who identify client marketing issues, approach them with strong points of view, and create our own white spaces. Since we can’t count on decent RFPs in this new age, we have to start writing them ourselves.

Clients have told us what’s important to them. Real data. Real contextual integration within meaningful content. Real solutions to real marketing problems. They really mean it, and they really don’t care who brings them the fresh take on their situation and offers the fresh idea.

All we have to do is believe them. And act accordingly.


It Ain’t Showbiz.


If I asked most Drift readers what they do for a living, they’d offer up a job title like chief revenue officer, account executive or regional director. If pushed for a more concrete job description, eventually most would say they sell advertising, technology or services to marketers and agencies.

But I don’t think that’s what you do at all. At best, selling describes an outcome, a result of other actions you take every day… at least, if you’re doing it well. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of observation and introspection to get there, but I think I’ve nailed what great sellers do: they engineer experiences. The mediocre ones? They’re the ones who get all caught up in the performance they’re giving, the lines they recite, and the slides they flip through.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to https://www.bionic-ads.com/seller/

A sales call isn’t a golf shot or a piano sonata. But so many of us prepare and act as if it is. We drill ourselves on our lines, memorize key points, practice the voice-over for the 37 slides we’ll show, test the demo to make sure it purrs like a kitten. We believe that if we only perform well enough and hit all of our high notes, the power of our words will impress and persuade.

Only it doesn’t work that way.

Now, reframe the sales call as a shared experience. You and the customer are both living in that moment together, and now it’s your job to engineer that experience… you’re no longer the funniest guy at the party, but rather the host who’s creating an awesome environment for his guests. What will you do differently?

You’ll attend. As in, the root verb in attention. Ironically, attending is also the same as being present. Get it?

You’ll know something about your guests. There are no strangers. You can always know enough to make the other person feel interesting.

You’ll draw people out and make connections. Use what you know to bring the other person into the experience. This is the opposite of bludgeoning them with your own story.

You’ll have a plan and watch the clock. Great hosts pay attention to time and pace. They know when things are starting to drag, when people start to disconnect.

You’ll rewrite the plan when you need to. If things are petering out and nobody’s connecting, change the plan. It’s your plan; you get to do that.

Sales is not performance art. It’s about creating a fertile space where trust, emotion and opportunity can grow. Too many of us become tone deaf from listening to the sound of our own performances. Let it go. Be interested. Engineer a great shared experience and watch how everything changes.

Including you.

Originally posted in 2014, but still well short of the expiration date.