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Road Trip 2019


As each year ends and we plan for the next, we try to start with an idea – a belief, actually – that will inform our work going forward:  Seller Forum discussions, The Drift, workshops, coaching conversations…everything.  So with one of our final posts of 2018, I want to be clear about what we believe here at Upstream Group.

We believe that the future for publishers and agencies is diversified.  Anybody relying on one product or one channel can start numbering their days.

We believe that marketers have finally chosen to believe their media agencies.  You’ve been telling them media is a commodity for 15 years and now they’re on board.  Media is a cost center now…we know the rest.

We believe there is no silver bullet.  Only more bullets.

We believe that it’s all strategy now.  Those who focus only on execution and tactics are the unskilled labor force of the next 20 years.

But we also believe that those who believe strategy is about a future that’s months or years away will fail.  We believe the immediate future will be won by those who can live well in the moment.

We believe that pivoting is not just for companies.  It’s one of the most critical personal skills any of us can possess.

We believe that success in our business is not a destination.  It’s an endless journey, a perpetual road trip.  Stop building your dream home and start thinking about what you’ll have room for in your car.  Those who keep moving, changing and experiencing will define success.

We believe that any good road trip depends on knowing the terrain, packing the right cargo, keeping the right fuel in the tank and choosing your passengers well.

It’s with these beliefs in mind that we are devoting our entire 2019 Seller Forum series to one single theme: “On the Road:  Marketing Navigation in a World of Perpetual Change.”  Though we’ll work to deliver a great standalone experience at each Forum, we’re thinking in terms of stages in the same uninterrupted journey.  Part One: Departure on March 6th… Part Two: Acceleration on June 5th… and Part Three: A New Gear on October 23rd.

Maybe you and your company have been part of the Seller Forum community in 2018 or for many years before that.  Maybe you’ve never experienced it.  But if you’re a qualified sales leader who wants to invest in yourself and your most valuable team members – your most critical passengers – we’d love to have you in the car with us.

Reach out to us if you’d like to know more or go to www.thesellerforum.com.

We look forward to riding with you.


Don’t Just Say Thanks.


Veterans Day 2018 brought familiar reminders to those of us in the general public – non-veterans – of the service of others.  Who can miss those Camo’/faux-military hats and warm up jackets on the sideline of NFL games?  And then there are the military themed TV ad campaigns and the reminders that this retail chain or this coffee company proudly hire veterans.  And all over social media and – sometimes – in person, we say Thank you for your service.

Nothing particularly wrong with any of that.  Except that quite often saying thank you is all we end up doing.  I recently saw an interview with Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, former helicopter pilot who lost both legs in a crash in Iraq.  She said near the end of the segment that what veterans like her really want to hear — far more than Thank you for your service — is the simple phrase Never forget.

Never forget is more than a feel-good catch phrase. It’s a challenge. Far too many veterans do feel forgotten for much of the year.  And those who probably feel it most are our wounded warriors and their families and the kids and spouses of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice – Gold Star families.

As we all break for Thanksgiving, I’d like to appeal to those of you who read The Drift to not only Never forget, but to act on that value right now.  For the past 12 years I’ve been involved with The TD Foundation, a 100% volunteer group that gives 100% of the funds we collect to the families of those veterans who can least afford to be forgotten. We help make mortgage payments, have car engines rebuilt, send children to camp, buy soccer equipment. Sometimes these small acts of support are enough to keep a family from losing their home;  other times they just make a kid with a wounded or missing parent feel like – a kid.

On Thursday evening December 6th, near the World Trade Center site in New York, we’ll be hosting our annual fundraising event.  Click here to go on our website and buy your ticket.  Even if you can’t attend, go ahead and make the donation.  You can do it on the same page.

Yes, there are many people in the world and in our own country who need our help.  But I’m asking your help for a particular group of Americans that should never be forgotten but who too often are.

I thank you for your generosity and wish you and your families a blessed Thanksgiving holiday.

Never forget.


Nothing Sells Itself.


Next month I’ll be speaking at Programmatic I/O in New York about selling programmatic technology and audiences.  No, selling programmatic isn’t a typo, nor is it a contradiction in terms like jumbo shrimp or amicable divorce.  I believe the seller has an active role in an automated marketplace.  That the role hasn’t been fully realized yet doesn’t make this any less true.

The person who first said this technology (or algorithm or data set) sells itself was clearly not tasked with selling it.  We must believe in our solution, the logic says, and if it’s good all we should need to do is get it plugged in…get the tags up, get the master services agreement signed. The market will respond appropriately and it will provide, we tell ourselves.  But then, too often, it doesn’t.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

This is where the seller makes a difference.  As I’ve previously said in this space, there’s a big difference between selling and simply describing stuff.  So how, then, do technology sellers earn their keep and drive the business forward?

Draw Sharp Contrasts.  Only by understanding the deeper business and audience needs of the client accounts can the seller draw sharp contrasts between the quality and depth of their solution and the rest of the market.  Broad banalities like brand safe and premium don’t get it done.  There’s a lot of crap out there:  if your offering has real value to the advertiser’s business, you have to own that narrative.

Be Radically Curious. Far too many sellers are just happy to be included. They settle for just being in the game, which explains all those non-producing PMP deals and under-producing programmatic streams.  Until something happens, nothing happens. Strong sellers have hard conversations about how things work.  Who do we need additional support from?  How will planning and investment teams express demand?  Any rep who has just one or two points of programmatic contact is vulnerable.  And if you find yourself frequently waiting for stuff to happen, you’re in trouble.

Catalyze Activation. Once a programmatic buyer says yes to a PMP or other automated relationship, their attention and enthusiasm wane noticeably.  Strong sellers push back on what happens next – How do we get set up? Exactly how the money will begin to flow? Who will make the downstream decisions that will affect revenue? – and puts appropriate pressure on the buyer organization to get things going.  Many a promising business relationship ends up stillborn simply because the integration was never prioritized.

Merchandise Your Offering.  Someone once told me that you have to merchandise programmatic inventory and tech.  Indeed.  Just like the person in the supermarket who makes sure their product is at eye-level and supported by in-store signage and coupons, you have to constantly make sure your inventory or solutions are constantly in view of planning and investment teams.  We can’t just be supply sellers…we must also be demand generators.

Nothing sells itself.  And when we count on the technology to do the selling, that’s exactly what we end up with:  Nothing.

Look for me on Monday October 15th at Programmatic I/O in New York.  If you haven’t yet made plans, you can find out more here.


Things No Customer Has Ever Said.


I’ve often threatened to write a book filled with “Things No Customer Has Ever Said.”  In honor of this final short week of summer, here’s a short look at what might be on the first few pages. 

“I just wish there had been more PowerPoint.”

“That was great!  Could you play that sizzle video one more time?”

“So, you’re really that much bigger than your competitors?  Who knew!”

“Wait…don’t leave yet.  I haven’t really committed to anything.”

“Forget what I paid last time…let’s start fresh.”

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

“Would you look at all those logos!  Wow, if those companies are buying from you then I’d better get on board too, right?”

“Oh absolutely!  Bring a whole bunch of your managers to the meeting.  It’ll be so much more productive that way.”

“Wait…you mean you’re the leading company in your space?  Heck, I had no idea!  That changes everything!”

“You know, we’re just talking way too much about our issues. This is feeling a little too much about us.”

“Hey Jenny…call everyone in here please.  This guy brought in his general presentation and I don’t want anyone to miss it.”

“I’m sorry, but there just weren’t enough acronyms and buzzwords in this for me.”

“Are you sure those are all the products you have?  I’ve got more time.”

“Would you mind flipping back to that slide with the map of all your offices?  I forgot whether your APAC headquarters was in Singapore or Hong Kong.”

“I’m actually just telling you that we’re waiting on direction.  You actually don’t have a chance in hell to get this but I just hate when things get awkward.”

“I was confused but those cylinders, arrows and triangles really sorted things out for me.  Thanks!”

“Tell me more about your founder!  He sounds like a fascinating guy!”

“You’re launching a new site?  Well by all means come on over!”

“You say your CEO is in town?  Shoot, that hardly ever happens!  Of course I’ll make time on the calendar.”

“Wait…that’s it?  It’s over already?  Are you sure you don’t have a couple more slides?”

We’ve just released the working agenda for our final Seller Forum of 2018.  If you’re a qualified digital media sales leader and would like to attend, request your invitation today.  There are just 12 seats remaining.


Death by the Half-Hour.


OK, so maybe it’s not actually one endless internal meeting that’s consuming your entire business day, draining your company’s resources and crushing the spirits of those around you.  But it can sure feel that way.

In most of the companies I work for, meeting culture is out of control.  Unnecessary meetings are needlessly scheduled, badly planned and horribly executed.  Instead of providing clarity and moving critical initiatives forward, meeting culture creates even more confusion and uncertainty.  Its principal outcome is more meetings.  As a public service, here are a few rules and questions to help you end the madness of meeting culture and make the meetings you do end up holding productive and empowering.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

Do We Even Need a Meeting?  The best meetings are sometimes the ones we don’t have at all.  Many of your meetings are automatic:  the weekly update, the kickoff meeting for the project and so on.  Before hitting send on that calendar invite, ask the question:  can we accomplish what we need to do without bringing everyone into the same physical or virtual space?  You’ll be surprised how often the answer is yes.

Don’t Use Meetings to Convey Factual Information.  If you can write it down briefly and clearly, don’t call a meeting to tell people the exact same stuff.  And here’s a tip:  if they won’t read your emails, they’re probably not going to really hear you in the meeting either.  The problem may be your own.

Answer “Why?” With a Verb.  Always ask “why are we having this meeting” (especially for the automatic ones) and challenge yourself to answer with an action verb.  Meetings should be about doing stuff.  Deciding.  Planning.  Prioritizing.  Choosing.  If the point of your meeting is to get everybody together or make sure everybody understands, then you’re setting up a pointless gathering.

Does It Have to Be a Half-Hour?  And Do We Need to Sit Down?  We always assume half-hour blocks for meetings, and we always book conference rooms.  A ten-minute stand up meeting can force clarity and action you won’t get around a conference table.

No Electronics.  If you simply have everyone leave their phones and laptops behind (or put them in a basket upon entering the meeting) you’ll have shorter, more productive meetings and breed a culture of respect and attention.  Knowing that no one else in the meeting is accessing their devices actually creates a sense of calm resignation.

No Hop-Ons.  There are almost always too many people in the meeting, and the reason they are there is too often political or based on fear of missing out.  Keep meetings as small and tight as possible.  And don’t be afraid to invite yourself to not attend a few of them.  You’ll be delighted by the new time you find on your own calendar.

This Drift was originally posted in May 2016.  For other ideas on how to reform your culture and recharge your organization, join us for The Seller Forum on Wednesday March 17th at the Viacom Building in New York.