Online Advertising


Last week in this space I offered the hope that publishers, advertisers, agencies, platforms and ad tech companies would make better choices now that the much-abused Cookie was being taken out of service. I suggested that someone should be in the room advocating for privacy and honesty. I also hope we’ll reconsider who we serve and how we think about them.

Consumers? Impressions? Unique IDs? Traffic? No. Citizens.

Several years ago, an adtech and data firm asked me to moderate a panel on privacy at one of their conferences. I agreed, provided we could populate the panel with actual people – civilians who visited our websites, watched our videos, looked at our ads, bought stuff. Setting aside the fact that this was first time many in the audience had ever discussed privacy with anyone outside of our business, the insights were remarkable.

Most sellers end their meetings right before things get good. Prime information and qualification don’t happen until a closing question gets asked. In a short, time-efficient workshop, Upstream Group can walk your team through the process and role-play the very-real-life scenarios they face in the market. Reach out today. The consult is free.

“Who said it was OK to target me?” asked a business owner from Nassau County. “What am I getting out of that deal?”

“Don’t tell me the internet is free,” said a teacher from Queens. “I pay money every month to get online.”

“I get it and I’m OK with ads,” offered an electrician from Jersey. “But don’t you think you guys are overdoing it and poisoning the well?”

These were not Luddites or radical consumer activists. Just Citizens who’d been overlooked and taken for granted for one hell of a long time. They’d been treated like numbers on a spreadsheet, anonymous cogs. And they were fed up.

Something remarkable happens when we begin framing the people at the center of our world as Citizens. We start to grasp our responsibility for giving them a decent environment. We become stewards. We make fewer careless assumptions about what we can get away with and start asking what’s the right thing to do.

I haven’t kept in touch with the Citizens from that panel. But I would guess that they, like so many others, are spending a bunch more time on Facebook and Instagram – in spite of the fact that scores for trust and privacy on those platforms are bottoming out.  They probably reason that if they’re going to get jerked around they may as well get jerked around in an efficient, predictable environment.

Now we’ve got a chance to start again. We can win those Citizens back. As the amazing Rishad Tobaccowala writes in Restoring the Soul of Business, we can close out the age of Too Much Math, Too Little Meaning. No more carpet bombing with the same dumb ads. Less content and more facts and real information. No more careless use of data. No more thoughtlessness about the environment we steward. 

That’s no way to treat Citizens.

If you’re a qualified sales leader and want to talk about the next era in our business, you might like to attend Seller Forum on Wednesday March 18th in New York, reach out now for your invitation.

Better Choices.

Pssst… Hey… Cookies are going away. Pass it on…

OK, so maybe this has been the longest goodbye since BREXIT. But now, given the announcement by Google that Cookies will be made obsolete on the Chrome browser within two years, we’ve finally got some punctuation. The “sell-by” date on cookies has been made plain.

There are thousands in our business – with much bigger tech chops than mine – who can debate and discuss the technical minutiae and micro-implications for the winners and losers. My purpose here is not to debate those questions, but rather to try and influence the next set of technology decisions.

Most sellers end their meetings right before things get good. Prime information and qualification don’t happen until a closing question gets asked. In a short, time-efficient workshop, Upstream Group can walk your team through the process and role-play the very-real-life scenarios they face in the market. Reach out today. The consult is free.

The Cookie was invented on the fly for a rather innocuous purpose. The dumb old web servers of yore had no way of distinguishing one server request from the last or the next. Without each browser having this “sense of state” the server could not tell whether it was ten separate users or the same user doing ten things. Without something like the Cookie, online commerce and other everyday functionality were largely impossible.

But then something very predictable happened. Either ignorant or unconcerned about the potential for misuse, the tech community hugged the flag of libertarianism and disavowed any moral ownership for what they had built and continued to build upon. Did anyone ever step up and ask, Hey… is this really OK? We had essentially created a surveillance technology that covertly monitored and recorded the online travels and behaviors of a few billion people. But no, nobody ever asked that question.

I know that, in light of Facebook officially sanctioning lies by political candidates, a pair of shoes following you around the web may not seem like much. But it was the same civic blindness and moral ambiguity that drove both decisions… and will drive many more in the future. Is there a place in the boardrooms and billion-dollar campuses for moral and ethical questions? Who will raise the values on which our best decisions will be made or call out the social and ethical implications of shortsightedness?

Just because we can does not necessarily mean we should.

At our next Seller Forum gathering we’ll be discussing the specific implications for publishers; how they can pursue richer, more truth-based businesses in the post-Cookie era. I believe there’s a very real possibility that this is another step in a march toward authenticity, first-party relationships and the value of the publisher/reader/programmer/viewer relationships.

I also believe that we too quickly forget our bad decisions and the bad decision-making that generated them.  I hope there will be someone in the room to advocate for privacy and honesty. I hope someone is there to ask the hard questions.

If you’re a qualified sales leader and might like to attend Seller Forum on Wednesday March 18th in New York, reach out now for your invitation.


Working Forward.

I decided to give myself a New Year’s gift: the control of my days and bigger measures of satisfaction, productivity and closure. And in this first Drift of 2020, I’m sharing it with you.

I’m calling the idea Working Forward. It’s perhaps a little bit scientific, but mostly it’s just highly logical and intentional. Here goes.

Starting this week, I am breaking my days into three uneven blocks of time. My first block in the day is 90 minutes long; it’s blocked on my calendar and labeled Writing, Proposals, Productivity. Any work that requires analysis, creativity or detailed writing happens in this block. Specifically excluded from this block are email, phone calls, texts and meetings. Behavioral science tells us that we are all more productive, creative, strategic and analytical early in the day. So, if I have a proposal to write, a workshop to plan, employee reviews to draft – or this edition of The Drift to produce – it happens in this block.

Most sellers end their meetings right before things get good. Prime information and qualification don’t happen until a closing question gets asked. In a short, time-efficient workshop, Upstream Group can walk your team through the process and role-play the very-real-life scenarios they face in the market. Reach out today. The consult is free.

Then I cross off or reschedule the work I’d planned for Block One and move onto Block Two… the longest part of my day. Labeled Communication and Engagement, Block Two is where I start doing scheduled calls, engage with my inbox and work with my team, both in scheduled meetings and ad hoc. This is when I’ll follow up on outstanding proposals and pick up stalled communication. It’s the part of my day that probably looks the most like yours, but with a twist: I go into this work having already been significantly productive. I’m fresher, more confident, more energized going into the back and forth of the day. As I move through Block Two, I’ll invariably commit to producing stuff that takes time and thought. You guessed it: that stuff gets marked for upcoming Block One time.

The closing chapter of the day, Block Three is critical. I save the final 30 minutes of the day to schedule the next day’s Block One.  I start each day with a plan for what I’m going to build or create, and then start building and creating right out of the gate.  Then I close the book on today and do the important things that renew and refresh…. have dinner with my wife, talk on the phone with a friend, read a book, watch something good. I’m betting that Working Forward is going to help me be more present and enjoy my off-time that much more. I hope it does the same for you.

But why Working Forward? It’s because most of us go at things in the wrong order. We meander into our days by wading into a swamp of email. We lock into a reactive posture that we never recover from. We delay getting important stuff done until we’re tired and worn out – and it’s too late. Our days bleed into our evenings and we’re never fully committed to the task – or the person – in front of us.

I believe we deserve better. And today I’m acting on that belief. I hope you do as well. Happy New Year.

The Watering Hole.

Occasionally someone asks about the origin of our company name – Upstream. I could go on about its deeper meanings, spiritual implications and more. But for purposes of today’s post, there’s a simpler meaning: Upstream is the opposite of the watering hole.

In any mature industry, the watering hole is the agreed upon place where we all drink. It’s the settled, transactional hub. It may be crowded, noisy, smelly and dangerous, but it’s the place we know and feel we understand. The upfront buying season is a watering hole.  So is the established advertising campaign and its most transactional component, the RFP. Today we have a new watering hole in the establishment of an ongoing programmatic marketplace. We have in turn complained about all of these watering holes: the levels are too low… the quality of the water is suspect… some members of the herd are getting unfair advantages. But we largely accept that our only options are to make incremental improvements to the watering hole experience: to clean it up a little… set up rules for consumption… better organize the herd.

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

But today there are significant questions around the future of the watering hole and the survival of the average member of the herd.  Larger beasts that have never historically belonged to the advertising species (FB, G, A) have set up their own private watering holes, diverting much of the water before it ever gets downstream, to the place we traditionally drink. And those who have always been the source and tributaries – marketers and brands – are questioning the necessity and wisdom of even filling the watering hole anymore. The noisy, crowded, confusing spectacle downstream can seem increasingly disconnected from the intricate and timely work of brand marketing and product sales.

Upstream it’s different. The conversations there are not about spending the budget, they’re about creating new opportunity and wealth. Upstream we have specific business conversations and speak the language of the brand. We aim to solve problems and accelerate business success. And we’re rewarded with our own fresh water supply for doing so. Upstream we don’t spend time and energy cursing the darkness or arguing with the refs. It’s a place for doing. It can get lonely and treacherous upstream because the herd isn’t there and there are no established maps or rulebooks.

Upstream isn’t completely separate from the rest of world; the watering holes and herds still exist, on the periphery. It takes hard work and discipline to start spending time upstream, but individuals and companies make the journey every day. We help them.

Living and operating upstream from the watering hole and the herd is also a decision…a choice you make if you want to impact policy and strategy.  If you need motivation to make that choice, take a hard look at the watering hole that’s rapidly drying up right before your eyes.

We’ve just announced the schedule for the 2020 Seller Forum Series.  We’ll be gathering on March 18th, July 15th and October 21st, all in the beautiful Reuters space overlooking Times Square.  If you’re a qualified media sales leader, reach out today to request your invitation and learn more about setting up a season pass for your company.


The world has already changed. The scientists have invented, the consumers have decided, the marketers are voting with their checkbooks. It’s only us – those who sell and buy advertising – who cling to anachronistic systems and practices.

Reading that first paragraph you may think I missed the programmatic decade. I didn’t.

Programmatic automation of commodity media buying was the asteroid that struck our genteel, structured world, forever changing the climate for agencies and publishers alike. But a dozen years after the big programmatic strike, most agencies and publishers still have the automation walled off and operating in its own island ecosystem. Meanwhile, the principal members of the tribe – the expensive sellers, buyers, creatives, account managers and others – have resisted the kind of radical species adaptation that the altered world demands.

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

For one thing, we still – for the most part – rely on the anachronistic rhythms of a rapidly disappearing business. Languid planning cycles, RFPs, campaigns and annual upfronts were relevant in a world of closing dates, air dates, a fixed number of media providers and a predictable pool of available inventory. Today, everything that’s standard, known or predictable is transacted by machines – or soon will be.

Challenged to now manage more strategic and complicated marketing services – content creation, influencers, content marketing, events – many media shops have simply gone back to the much-maligned RFP. And while simultaneously railing against it, many publishers build their entire strategy – a strategy of waiting and responding – around this archaic system. Add to this our collective failure of imagination about how to integrate programmatic and high-touch solutions into harmonious programs. It’s not a pretty picture.

To radically adapt our professions as buyers and sellers would be to abandon the campaign mentality and embrace a perpetual cycle of problem solving and iteration. It would lead us to dismiss the illusion of budget stability and the silos and swim lanes it fosters. It would drive us to create and commit to new processes and structures for operating in what’s now a mostly-unstructured world. Our professional lives will be spent proactively, left of budget and in service to marketers, the products they sell, and the customers they serve.

Adaptation is hard. But extinction is permanent.

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.