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So Long, My Friend.


While I always write The Drift from a very personal point of view, over the last 18 years I’ve perhaps only used this space three times to speak about something truly personal. This is one of those rare occasions.

I invite each of you reading this post to think of someone in your career who somehow changed its course. For me, that guy was Ed Gazich, and he died last Friday. I wish you all could have known him.

As a 22-year old college student I interned at a regional ad agency south of Los Angeles where I met Ed, 25 years my senior but with the outlook and enthusiasm of a teenager. On my very first day at the shop, Ed took me under his wing and – quite simply – made me fall in love with the advertising business. A seasoned “account guy,” Ed started his career in the halcyon days of the 1960s, working legendary campaigns for Volkswagen at Doyle Dane Bernbach. When we met, he and his wife Barbara were the kind of fully-committed Californians that only ex-New Yorkers can be. But he was my connection to Madison Avenue and the golden age of creative. Before advertising was a science – perhaps even before it was a business – it was a creative playground informed by art and Hollywood and commerce and real-world experiences. It was all bigger than life, and so was Ed Gazich. The stories of legendary pitches melded into celebrity commercial shoots and always seemed to end with side-splitting laughter. Our business could use some of those stories today.

Like many kids in their 20s, I was adrift and wondering what the hell I would do with my life. Ed and Barbara’s house in Laguna Beach was my second home, and over cold Dos Equis (our account) we’d talk about the future and what might be. On one of those endless evenings, Ed was the one who told me I’d be a very good magazine rep – the exact conversation that started me on the path that brought me here. Without Ed Gazich and his kindness to a clueless kid from suburban LA, maybe I don’t end up here, writing and sharing with you. There’s no way to know. But I do know that my life is less interesting and my passion for advertising is less intense without him.

In recent years, our friendship continued mainly over email. To the end, Ed never stopped sharing his humor and stories and railing about what was not right in the world. He talked too loud, told jokes that were not always appropriate, laughed from the bottom of his feet and shared anything and everything he had.

Why am I telling you all this? Because not all who make a difference end up recognized and eulogized. Because this was a life that mattered, and that had a profound and lasting influence on mine. Because as I try to share completely with those I teach and mentor, I know that I learned some of that from a guy named Ed Gazich.

You should have known him. He’d have loved you.


The End of ‘Advertising.’


Accountable direct response ad sellers would often say “Selling is like shaving: if you don’t do some of it every day, you’re a bum.” It was a handy way for DR sellers to contrast their work with that of the ad sellers out there peddling branding – which they dismissed as no more than a con.

But today the slogan takes on a deeper meaning for all ad sellers, publishers, tech and marketing service providers. The jig is up, the news is out, the fatted calf has been picked clean. For generations, we’ve organized our businesses and revenue models around helping advertisers and their legion of agencies spend their money… perhaps a little more accountably, responsibly, efficiently or viewably than the next guy. We’ve all been citizens of ‘the Capital-A-Ad Business,’ and we spoke its language and observed its customs. But no more.

Is your sales team describing instead of selling? You win business one serious, well-planned meeting at a time. Can your team do that? A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

Fundamental change doesn’t always break down the door. Often it creeps in on tiny cat feet. And while we were busy arguing and negotiating over how much of that big pile of ad money would go to digital or TV or something else, marketers have been under siege from direct-to-consumer competitors, a collapsing retail channel, online shopping and more. In the face of this existential crisis, they’ve fallen out of love with advertising.

Well… to put a finer point on it, they’ve fallen out of love with advertising for the sake of advertising.

Which leads me back to the new premise. Today we must all help the marketer sell – we must attach ourselves to business outcomes, become co-marketers…lest we be dismissed as bums. To survive and thrive in what used to be called the ad sales business we must all go back to school and become fluent in the language and customs of marketing. Someday soon our talk of rating points, viewability and attribution will sound as anachronistic as the Latin mass.

The 21st century ad seller is a business problem solver. She doesn’t wait for budgets, she helps create them. She avoids the watering hole where the herd gathers for RFPs and planning cycles. She hunts alone. She knows more about how the client’s business works – how he sells his products, who he sells them through and what gets them bought – than anyone but the client.

She sells. Every day. But she doesn’t sell ads. She helps the customer sell product.

Lightly edited, this post originally ran in 2017. Perhaps more relevant still today.


Shake it Off!


Snap out of it! 

Yeah… you know who I’m talking to: You there in the Slanket about to launch your Netflix queue. Like many others in the digital ad business, Q1 2019 has been a hazy sleepwalk of stalled budgets, consolidation, sheepish buying and general malaise. But it’s not just you. And it’s not fatal. And it ends now.

Today’s Drift is our collective wake-up call. Here are a few ideas and themes to get your motor going and shake off the cold of Internet Marketing Winter.

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: The 300×250 dominates as mobile continues to grow. The ad unit’s share of mobile revenue increased to 59% in 2019, while its share of revenue on desktop dropped to 19%.  Join STAQ Industry Benchmarks.

Start with One Short List. Getting your business back on track seems overwhelming because of the hundred choices and tasks littering your desktop and inbox. Get all that shit out of your way by consolidating into one short list. If it’s not something that’s going to get you closer to a customer or drive a revenue opportunity forward, table it.

Default to Action. Make sure your short list includes a lot of action verbs like write and call and propose. These will be your triggers to act.  Don’t fall prey to wimpy non-actions like follow up and touch base. The feeling of getting important things done has a massive psychological impact. You move the ball and simultaneously blow your funk out of the water.

Turn Down the In-House Noise. Has anybody ever bought anything from you on Slack? I didn’t think so. Yet we allow ourselves to let an endless string of email chains, slack discussions and internal meetings eat our days. Just say no. Put an internal out of office message on that says I’m on client business right now: text or phone me with any specific, urgent items. Then go back to your list.

Aim for the Middle. The CMO isn’t going to see you and the media planners can’t help you. But there’s a whole lot of people in the middle who can. Client advertising managers and marketing staff; agency media directors and group VPs.  Reach out to them with some We were thinking about your business today notes that cite a potential business problem, missing audience segment, storytelling problem… whatever. Ask for a short phone meeting with screen sharing (it’s less threatening and easier to schedule.)

Generosity is Fuel. Right now, you might be hung up on your need to sell something. Anything! This is exactly the time to be generous. Internally, do a favor or pay someone a public compliment. With your customers, think about doing something cool for their businesses. Generosity gets you out of your own head and breaks the negative loop you’re stuck in. Don’t just make a deal, make a difference.

Ask Unreasonable Questions. Are you open to having us earn a million dollars by solving a problem for your client? What would it take for you to open up the budgeting process and consider improving your plan? What would get us immediate approval to go to contract on this? 

Expect Nothing. Blame No One. Do Something. You are the one you’ve been waiting for. There are a million mopes out there who will only ever be a little better than the worst break they’ve had. Overcoming adversity and being better than your circumstances starts with a positive choice. Make that choice now and start acting on it.

Could your sales team use a boost? We build and deliver custom sales strategy and process workshops with a deep understanding of digital advertising, motivations and the fundamentals of selling. Visit www.upstreamgroup.com/workshops or reach out directly to learn more.


MVP 3.0


Who’s the MVP on your sales team?  And more importantly, why?

Through Upstream Group, I’ve gotten to work with thousands of digital sellers and managers over the past 21 years.  And I can guess why your team MVP is winning the award.  It’s for very different reasons than you might have awarded the prize ten or fifteen years ago.

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: The 300×250 dominates as mobile continues to grow. The ad unit’s share of mobile revenue increased to 59% in 2019, while its share of revenue on desktop dropped to 19%.  Join STAQ Industry Benchmarks.

In 2004 your MVP was probably a lone wolf… a rainmaker with a Rolodex, charm and boundary issues.  It was a wide open, upwardly mobile time in the business.  The name of the game was revenue.  Full stop. Just get the deals… put numbers on the board…prove the concept… satisfy the investors or the markets. You didn’t have a separate rule book for your MVP, but you might as well have.  Don’t worry about profit or sustainability… you make the numbers, we’ll make the business.

By 2009 the world had changed, and you judged MVP 2.0 by a different measure.  He or she was a part of the system… could work the machine, whether that machine was a trading desk or the RFP rhythms of an agency media team.  While MVP 1.0 knew which ears to bend, 2.0 knew which buttons to push.  If digital selling was a game, she’d have been the one who bothered to read the inside of the box.  Don’t worry what the machine is actually producing… run it well and make it work in our favor.

Ten years later we live in yet another very different era.  Clients are demanding real outcomes with real customers based on real data.  Digital media and marketing are exponentially more complex and layered, and sales success is more interdependent than ever before.  MVP 3.0 gets the award today because she’s able to lead others to excellence.  He can sit at the middle of a project and organize, inspire and reward those around him.  She makes her teammates better even as she navigates them toward success for the client – a client who has infinitely more choices but is likely to be spending more with fewer vendors.  Don’t just make the numbers…make them work for the client and for us.  Margin matters and so do our people.  Make them both better.

On April 4th at the 212NYC Gala at the Edison Ballroom on Times Square, I’ll be presenting the third annual Weaver Awards for Digital Sales Excellence.  One award will go to a manager and the other to an individual contributor who are defining excellence in the New York market.  If there’s someone on your team who improves the lives and the success of those around them – someone who moves your whole organization that much closer to excellence – please take the time to nominate him or her today.  (Then be sure to tell him or her that you did!)  We’ll take nominations through Tuesday March 19th and will contact and interview finalists shortly after.

There’s an MVP 3.0 on your team.  There are scores of them at work in our industry every day.  Thanks for taking the time to recognize yours and showing our peers what excellence looks like.

Tickets and company sponsorships are still available for the 212NYC Gala.  Whether you are attending or not, you’re free to nominate a colleague for recognition. 


Tear Down This Wall!


At yesterday’s IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Phoenix, Chairman/CEO Randall Rothenberg doubled down (again) on the direct brand economy and how it’s flipping marketing models and gutting sacred cows of publisher strategy.  There was a ton of great information and examples, but there was one subtle point (Play #5 in the IAB’s new DTC Playbook: “How to Build a 21st Century Brand, Part Two”) that really grabbed my attention:

For Disruptors, branding must perform – and vice versa.

STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace. This week’s insight: CPMs are down YOY from escalating impression volume. Are publishers increasing ads per page? Is more direct converting to programmatic?  Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today and get these details.

This really spoke to me.  For all of the 35 years that I’ve been in media and 25 I’ve spent in digital, we’ve labored under the artificial and counterproductive divide between brand and performance advertising.  To performance advertisers (we were told), media was just so much raw material to be processed in getting to the number.  And brand advertisers (we were told) only cared about reach and audience and shooting beautiful commercials and visuals.

Now (we are told) the wall is coming down.  And disruptor/DTC brands are the ones holding the sledgehammer.  The myth that your solution must be either brand– or performance-focused has finally been exposed.   The answer to branding or performance is now – simply – yes.

In the same IAB Playbook (Play #3) we learn that Storytelling gets more acquisitions more cheaply.  Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) actually gets better in high quality, story-focused environments like podcasts.  It’s become clear that hybrid approaches – blending authentic storytelling, high engagement environments, and real performance – are the hottest vehicles on the lot.

But like William Gibson famously wrote, The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.

We can still screw this up.  We can retreat to the brain-dead, self-defeating apology tour of attribution and discounting. We can focus on the wrong metrics. We can choose to serve the status quo of the advertising business instead of embracing directly the complex, nuanced needs of a new generation of marketers.

If we only do what we’ve always done, we’ll only ever have what we’ve already got.  There’s a new beginning taking shape.  The wall that’s always stood between brand and performance has been breached.

As media sellers, I suggest we confidently walk through it.