Online Media

Adaptation.


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 bionic-ads.com/seller.

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.

 


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 First Thing You Say.


Two weeks ago in this space I wrote about the general malaise and episodic funk that many in our industry seem to be suffering under.  (The New Normal, February 7, 2019.)  As a manager, I believe one of your greatest callings is re-framing situations and market conditions for your sellers and returning them to a centered, productive mindset.  In confusing times, that’s not easy.  OK, it’s never easy.

In both private manager coaching and management workshops, I tend to elevate one truly vital piece of advice.  Without it, all of your logic, strategy and motivation will end up going nowhere.  It goes like this:

Pay close attention to the very first thing you say.

STAQ is proudly underwriting this week’s Drift. STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provide insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace. This week’s insight: Despite PMP CPMs being up 31% YOY, the steep decline in PMP impressions (-40%) makes overall PMP revenue (-21%) a smaller part of the overall programmatic marketplace so far in 2019. Join STAQ Industry Benchmarks.

When stressed or challenged, sellers and other team members tend to (1) come to their manager interactions very hot, (2) come seeking immediate answers and gratification, and (3) they want to dump the problem or situation in your lap.  And as managers, we tend to walk right into the trap by responding immediately and factually.  We believe that if we just answer the question or supply the information right now, then the situation will magically resolve.  But it just doesn’t work.

Your strategy shouldn’t be about dispensing answers, but rather posing questions.  You shouldn’t immediately assume the responsibility for the situation, but instead transfer the responsibility or resolution back to the employee in an empowering way.  That’s why the first words out of your mouth in these situations are so critical.  Next time the heat gets turned up, try rolling out some of these phrases and see what a difference they make in the quality of your interactions (and the quality of your life!)

  • I know what I’d do, but I really want to hear your thinking.  Give me two alternatives on what you think we should do in this situation.
  • Let’s slow down and make sure we’re solving the right problem.  Tell me what we’re not considering right now?
  • Let’s break this down into the things we can and can’t control. What do you think we can really change?
  • Tell me how I can help you get refocused on the things that are going to help you succeed.
  • I can tell you’re struggling with this.  I’m more than willing to let you blow off steam for a little while.  Then I think it’s time for us to break this situation down together.
  • I believe in you and I know you’re better than the conversation we’re having right now.  Tell me how you think this turns into a victory?
  • I’m not sure we have all the information we need to make the right call right now. You’re closer to the situation:  What else is important here that we haven’t looked at?

Spit back answers all day and you create dependent followers. Push the responsibility back to them – put the authority where the information is – and you empower confident leaders.  Every one of us wants to have great conversations with our employees and team members.  And we will.

But only if we start them the right way.


Frenemies: A Review.


It’s not often that I’ve used this space to review or comment on business books.  But the blend of industry perspective and salacious beach reading found in Ken Auletta’s Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else) is irresistible.

Auletta, longtime communication columnist for The New Yorker and author of Three Blind Mice and The Highwaymen, attempts to frame the collapse of the modern advertising business over the past two decades of technological displacement, radical shifts in media consumption and the shape-shifting and land-grabbing by technology platforms, consulting firms and media owners – the aforementioned Frenemies.

I say he attempts it because Frenemies is ambitious but flawed.  It’s also absolutely indispensable.

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What makes the book so readable is also what limits its perspective.  Auletta anchors his narrative on a handful of big personalities – then-WPP head Martin Sorrell; GroupM architect Irwin Gotlieb; R/GA founder Bob Greenberg; Facebook sales chief Carolyn Everson; and most heavily — and controversially – on MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan. (Full disclosure: My company Upstream Group has featured MediaLink executives at our events, and I have spoken at a MediaLink internal meeting.)  Reviewers have called Frenemies “DOA:  Dated on Arrival” because Sorrell was pushed out at WPP prior to publication.  But to me a bigger issue is that Auletta relies on the Great Men school of history; in a search for the modern-day heirs to Burnett, Bernbach and Lois, he tells his story through mostly older white men (Full disclosure: I am one.)  Everson, in her mid-40s with two decades of business experience as the book was written, is too often described as mentee and protégé.  While the featured subjects are noteworthy, none seem to really fill the shoes.  Or perhaps that’s just the point: advertising companies no longer have people’s names on the door.

What the book does extremely well – and what makes it required reading for younger executives in our industry – is to conjure up the disarray and displacement of today’s advertising establishment.  You get a clear picture of the absolute free-fall that holding companies and agencies are experiencing.  It’s a story of recrimination, confusion and customer abandonment that many in the industry have failed to see fully even as they’ve lived through it.  Like the proverbial frog in the pot, they’ve not fully felt the heat as it’s gradually increased.

This displacement and disarray prepares the ground for Kassan, who with no small amount of help from President and COO Wenda Harris Millard, has made MediaLink the glue in the fractured, fragmented world of media, marketing and communication.  Kassan gets far more ink in Frenemies than any of the other protagonists, and in its pages – as in the industry – we find MediaLink at the center of every meeting and the heart of every deal.  If Frenemies comes across as Kassan’s biography, it’s not an uncritical one:  Auletta presents him as a mashup of Chicago’s Billy Flynn and Tom Hagen from The Godfather.  But perhaps the prominence of a character like Kassan  – a fixer in a broken world – speaks volumes about the state of advertising today.

Perhaps that’s the point.

 


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.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

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.