Online Media

Stop. Drop. Roll.

The irony about our work in digital advertising and marketing is that our automated business is built on the back of a million human dependencies.  Whether you’re involved in ad tech, content marketing or something in between, you rely on a set of intricate, demanding relationships.  And even when all is going well, things can get tense and relationships can fray.  I’ve seen this kind of breakdown destroy teams and sour talented people on the business.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

Just over a year ago I saw a simple but life-changing talk by the very talented Marcus Weston, coach, speaker, mentor to business leaders and rabbi in the Kabbalah sect of Judaism.  The core message was very straightforward:  Most interpersonal conflict occurs because of how we react immediately in the moment. We read an email or hear a comment…we feel slighted or hurt…and we immediately lash back.  A destructive cycle thus begins and rapidly escalates.

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But as Marcus tells us, we are only very rarely responding to what others do or say.  We instead are responding to the story our ego is telling us about what’s been done or said.  Someone seems distracted and not paying attention to you in a meeting:  your ego says They don’t respect you!  How arrogant! But your ego may be an unreliable narrator.  What if that person was dealing with a very ill child or parent?  Someone else chimes in on an email string and seems to dismiss the concern you’ve raised.  Out to get you?  Undermining your value?  Or is she attempting to calm everything down but her note loses context as an email?

With credit and apologies to Marcus, I’ve paraphrased the coping strategy he gave us to make it accessible those who may be struggling to maintain relationships in our overheated atmosphere.  Yes, it’s the same cadence you follow when you find yourself suddenly on fire.  This is intentional.

STOP!  Simply don’t respond.  Hit the pause button.  Give your super-ego time to step in and assess the situation.

DROP!  Drop the current story line.  Just refuse to accept it.  No, that’s not what’s actually happening.  I won’t accept that explanation.

ROLL!  Roll out an alternative explanation and an alternative response.  Hey Stacy, it seems like we may have crossed wires back there.  I know we’re all moving pretty fast and juggling a lot.  Tell me a little more about your take on things so I fully understand.

It’s a simple recipe for using generosity to defuse potential conflict.  It’s a mindful, intentional response to situations where we otherwise lose our heads.  And it just might be the key to living and succeeding in our highly inter-dependent world.

Native vs. Naive.

TOSHIBA Exif JPEGLots of hate brewing lately for native advertising.  We’ve all seen John Oliver’s hilarious 12 minute rant on his HBO show, “Last Week Tonight.”  More recently, on Digiday, we learn – courtesy of JWT Atlanta’s Todd Copilevitz – that “Native advertising is further proof we’ve lost our way.”

I’m going to shortchange Todd’s otherwise thoughtful commentary by pointing out what I think are its wobbliest pillars.  The first is contained in the headline:  the idea that advertising and media ever really had a “way” to lose in the first place.  The old rules about church and state worked about as well on Madison Avenue as they did in Tudor England.   Advertisers have been trying to crowd the lines and occupy the editorial and entertainment spaces since long before Don Draper was shaking down patrons for change in that Pennsylvania whorehouse of his youth.

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The article also calls for a re-commitment to our various roles in the mix:   advertisers make great brands and products, editors write great articles, while agency creatives pen masterful ad messages. But this agreement that we’d all stay in our lanes and swim our hardest was, in truth, nothing more than a convenience.  That advertising would live in little fenced-off pods and boxes while content would stay outside those lines was simply a delivery arrangement; in the world of TV it’s still a darned good one.  Online we’ve seen the rapid commoditization of those pods and boxes matched by consumers studied willingness to ignore and avoid them.  So the arrangement breaks down more rapidly.  No big surprise.

A third point in the piece is that marketers and agencies are just not doing a good enough job of storytelling.  This is a myth we’ve told ourselves about advertising for generations, and we’ve embellished it with creative award shows and the annual Super Bowl beauty pageant.  There are some ads that are more clever than others, but what it comes down to is just whether they are effective (or not) at doing what they’re supposed to do.  Storytelling is far too big a concept to be contained in banner ads, 30-second spots and full page ads.  Marketers will use every channel available – packaging, publicity, events, public relations, retailer relationships, infomercials and, yes, native advertising.

Todd is right in saying that native isn’t a brand new concept.  But it is a timely acknowledgment and codification of a practice that’s going to be increasingly needed in today’s asymmetrical world of marketing and media.

Flopping Into the Future.

Flopping Into the FutureIn looking through my business and creative library for ideas for this fall’s Upstream Seller Forum Leadership event, I came across The Imagination Challenge by Alexander Manu, which my good friend John Durham gave me a decade ago.  I immediately recalled one of the great stories of innovation contained in the book.

For a couple of millennia, the high jump had been pretty much executed the same way.  The jumper would approach the bar straight on and then execute a straddle jump, in which the lead leg and arm are thrown over the bar and the back leg and arm follow.  The jump would end with the athlete landing in a shallow sand pit. If you saw film of such a jump today it would look archaic – much like the underhand free-throw or the straight on placekick.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Adroit Digital.  Adroit Digital unlocks the combined power of unique data, media and technology to deliver intelligent performance.  Our programmatic experts leverage our proprietary dataset and media-buying savvy to create results driven programs for modern marketers. Adroit Digital’s experts help agencies and brands craft solutions to the challenges facing today’s multi-channel advertisers.

In the early 60s, foam rubber was developed and, in a nod to athlete safety, sand pits were replaced by foam landing pads in the pit.  To most jumpers, this meant fewer sprained ankles and broken wrists.  But one jumper – Dick Fosbury – took a deeper look at this innovation: he asked, “What is now possible?”  Fosbury realized that the new landing surface would also prevent broken necks, allowing for an entirely different approach to the bar.  Inventing what was then called “the Fosbury Flop” – and what’s now simply “the high jump” – he ran to the bar, turned his back on it, cleared it backward, kicked his trailing legs up, landed on his back and neck in the foam pit – and blew apart two thousand years of a sport’s conventional wisdom.

What relevance does this story have in our world?  More than you might imagine.  We are constantly confronted by massive innovation:  real-time, data enabled marketing…programmatic audience buying….cheap and plentiful broadband access…social and sharing technologies.  These are the foam rubber of our age.  A great many of us take these innovations in stride, going about the business of what we already know and do.  Some wring their hands or curse the fates for bringing so much unwelcome change.  Other might make some subtle changes or adjustments to the new reality, all with the goal of protecting their own status quo.

Rare, though, is the modern day Fosbury, who looks at the newly disrupted landscape and asks, “What is now possible that wasn’t before?”  Innovation and disruption are not the sole province of the Jobs, Gates, Pages and Brins of the world though.  We can all stand a little reinvention…and we’re all capable of it.  Take the leap.

If you’re a CRO, EVP, SVP or VP in a digital media sales organization and would like an invitation to the fall Upstream Seller Forum in New York on October 28th, drop me a note. We’d love to have you join our unique, peer-to-peer community.

The Media Agency: Life After Leverage

Agency Life After LeverageAgency business veteran Mike Drexler said a mouthful in his column on recently. In just a few hundred words, Mike encapsulates many of the trends and issues that are “Turning the Advertising Agency Business on its Ear,” and those of us on the seller-side of the desk should pay close attention; the way in which we sell to media agencies may very well hang in the balance.

Drexler, former CEO of Optimedia and Worldwide Media Director at Ogilvy, illustrates the ferocious fight for primacy, identity and profits within the agency ranks.  And he’s particularly insightful on the crossroads facing the media agency; it can no longer fall back on its financial leverage as a selling point.  “The old shibboleth about agency media “clout” never really was entirely accurate because most media deals were based on client spend not agency spend … And the really big advertisers aren’t happy about using their leverage for the smaller accounts at the agency.”

If the media agency can no longer just flex its muscles and kick sand in the face of weakling publishers and broadcasters, it’s got to become more of a true athlete:  nimble, fast, multi-skilled.  “What if the full service media agency becomes the lead? What if media agencies start adding “creatives” to their organizations as employees or strategic partners?” he asks, adding that the trend may be inevitable because “the digital world has also made media and creative almost inextricable.”

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic Advertising Systems, an advertising technology company focused on delivering innovative software that streamlines and automates media workflow for marketers, their advertising agencies, and publishers.

But what does all this arcane political maneuvering by agencies have to do with the media seller?  Plenty.  In the dozen-plus years that I’ve written The Drift I’ve spoken many times about the opportunity we have to bring new capabilities and new vitality to the agencies we sell to.  I’ve advised that we stop treating agencies like indiscriminate ATM machines, and even suggested we give them a hug now and then.   Truth is, at the very moment – this moment – when media agencies need most to evolve and diversify, they struggle with thin staffs and even thinner margins.  Media companies and other sales organizations, by comparison, are relatively swift, deep and closer to the consumer experience.  Forget the marriage of creative and media agencies:  it’s the marriage between publishers and media agencies that’s the potential match-made-in-heaven.

So why doesn’t it happen more often?  One reason is that sellers get mixed messages from their agency contacts.  The “big idea” conversation turns into a big lie.  “Partner” has become a code word for patsy. But sellers share the blame.  They take virtually all their cues from the overworked junior media planner and waste countless hours hammering away at a dying RFP process.

Look harder.  Spend a few less hours chasing your spot on the shrinking RFP list and a few more working to connect with agency leadership.  There’s a promising future in a peer-to-peer relationship between the creative media company and the expansive media agency.  And just a little time left to realize it.

How We Interview…and Why It Sucks.

How We InterviewIf human talent is the killer app in our industry, why do we suck so badly at attracting, evaluating and retaining the best people?  And how does a flawed candidate manage to slip through the interviewing gauntlet that you and the rest of your management and HR team have set up?  Clearly these are huge topics worthy of books, not blog posts.  But I’ve never met a topic that I couldn’t try to oversimplify, so here goes:

Your interviewing process is misguided, your execution is awful and you’re focusing on all the wrong things.  But please, let me elaborate…

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Interviews are Not about Fact-finding:  Make your minimum standards on skills and experience clear to your HR team or recruiter.  Then leave the candidate’s resume in your desk.  Too many interviews end up being about the facts on the page (“…so you worked at AOL?”)  You’re wasting a lot of time confirming data points, which could be better spent on higher order discussion.

Focus Instead on Understanding the Candidate’s Process:

  • Tell me about an important deal or achievement at your last company:  what would not have happened if you hadn’t been part of it?
  • Tell me about the last time you had to deliver really bad news to a customer:  how did you handle it and where did things end up?
  • Tell me about a time when you’ve had to manage conflict with someone in your organization:  were you able to turn the situation around?

Seek Beliefs and Core Values:  The best hires and most-durable employee relationships are always built on the overlap between what a candidate believes and what the company stands for.  But we learn very little about what our candidates truly believe because we don’t ask.

  • Tell me something you believe in very strongly that’s not about religion or family.
  • Looking out at the next 10-15 years of our industry, what’s a trend or behavior that you’re bet your career on?

Stop Acting Like Lawyers:  (Please no hate mail from the Bar Association.) If you ask a dozen lawyers to review a document or agreement, each will find something to disagree with or object to.  Likewise, if you subject your candidate to a dozen different interviewers, each will only feel valid or whole if he or she finds a flaw.  First cut down on the number of interviewers; after a certain number, the evaluation doesn’t get bigger, it gets worse.  Second, make it OK for other interviewers to say “neutral” or “nothing to add.”

This is Not a Democracy:  Try to get everyone to agree on a candidate and you’ll end up with a very safe, very vanilla, compromise candidate.  No edge, nothing strong, nothing special.  Agree ahead of time who “owns” the hire and who he/she should truly consult with. (Hint:  who will be economically dependent or physically close to the new hire?)

Listen for Intent:  There’s one more thing we also fail to ask potential hires:  Do you want to work here?  Of course it’s probably not smart to signal your own intent to hire this person, but you can certainly find out whether they’re really into you – of if you’re just “one of their safety schools.”

  • We’re not there yet, but if it all came together tomorrow and the package and responsibility lined up, would you jump at the chance to work here?

Notice that this is the only “yes or no” question I’ve suggested.

I’ll be eager to hear how your next interview goes.  Happy hiring.