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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.


You, But Strategic.


Somewhere out there this morning, a seller has already been awake for hours. She’s staring at a number – her sales goal for the next several months. Her company has a solid product, not a dominant one.

Her managers try to motivate and support, but only being a year or two in management themselves they can tell her to ‘be more strategic’ but can’t really tell her how.

STAQ is proudly underwriting this week’s Drift.  STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace.  This week’s insight: while January 2019 CPMs are down 11% year over year, don’t necessarily fret. Overall revenue is up 17%, with impressions up 26% (US only, open auction, excluding Facebook).  Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today.

Here’s how:

Triage. What are the factors that make one prospect more likely than another to become a customer? Are they cranking up spending this quarter? Do you have even one ‘truth teller’ at the agency or client who could give you the straight story? Do their preferred metrics and buying style align at all with your offerings? Have they been a customer before? If you answer yes to all or most of these questions, these are your focus accounts – your A’s. If you answer all or mostly “no” then it’s a C account; drop it. Mixed results? It’s a B, so set it aside for work later.

Decide What You Control. It’s easy to waste time lamenting what you don’t have, what a competitor might be doing, or how bad the decision making is at the agency. Instead, inventory those things you can control. They are: (1) your intent – are you really out to do a great job for the customer? (2) Your POV on the customer’s business situation – not just what you know but what you think is important; (3) the agenda for your meetings – a good answer for “why are we here today?” (Hint: if it’s about ‘updating’ the customer, ‘introducing them’ to your product or ‘learning more’ about their challenges, you will lose); (4) the quality of your recommendation; stop with the big capabilities deck; nobody cares. Decide what combination of products and services will help this client at this moment in time. If you tell ‘em everything, you’re telling ‘em nothing.

Start in the Middle. In between the CMO and the media planning team, there are a lot of people who can help you: account owners at the agency… strategic planning… group VPs… functional specialists at the client. Put away your pitch for a while and start teeing up honest conversations and email exchanges with these people.

Ask Better Questions. Ask questions customers can say “no” to. Will you buy from me? Do we have your commitment? Do we really have a chance here? Hope is too often the opposite of clarity. What you want to constantly be asking is Where do we really stand?and What can we do to keep moving forward?

Stop Waiting. If things are not closing because you’re constantly waiting on something – a product feature, a call back, a change in the budgeting process – then you’re not making a difference.  You can wait till things calm down, till you get through your inbox, till the weather changes. Or you can simply act. Take chances, try one new thing each day. Ask forgiveness, not permission.

It may turn out that the one you’ve been waiting for is you.

This post was originally published in 2015.


1,816 Sellers.


In 2018, I got the opportunity to work directly with 1,816 digital ad sellers in company specific workshops.  If you shared one of those rooms with me, here are five things I’d like you to remember as you get started on 2019.

Win the Middle.  While your competitors are wasting weeks chasing down media planners or betting the house on that meeting at CES with the CMO, you stay focused on the translators – those higher-level strategy, investment and account leads at agencies and their operational counterparts (media, shopper marketing, promotion, etc.) at clients.  Motivating just one to become a champion for your value proposition can make or break a quarter – or even a year.

If you’re a qualified media sales leader or manager, reach out to us today to secure your company’s season pass to the 2019 Seller Forum Series.  Side-by-side with other industry leaders, you’ll hear from key customers, anticipate market behavior, and solve real management problems.

It’s Not About What You Sell… It’s About What You Solve.  Uniquely.  What’s the non-obvious problem that your company is uniquely qualified to solve for this customer?  Being a solution seller doesn’t just mean calling your products solutions.  If you want access and opportunity, they begin with the identification of a solvable business or marketing problem.

Know Exactly What You Want and Ask for It.   Great meetings are the comfort of the weak seller.  If your goal is just to have a terrific meeting, you’ll reap nothing but pipeline ambiguity.  Here’s the trick:  write out your closing question – what you’ll ask this specific customer to do – before you go in.  If you can’t include real verb – recommend, approve, budget, introduce – then you don’t really know what you want.

Stay… Just a Little Bit Longer.  The real selling begins – and the real information flows — near the end of the conversation.  But only if you’re still there to hear it.  Ask another question… qualify… inspect.  Find out about other decision makers.  Learn more about how the budgeting process works.  Ask the customer how he/she personally feels about what you offer.

Write for the Small Screen.  If she’s spent even a dollar online, your customer is getting dozens of inbound emails every day from you and your competitors, and you all want just a few minutes of her time.  As a result, your potential client is filtering and disposing of emails on her phone.  Lose the long, brilliant emails and start writing the smart subject lines and strong opening sentences (e.g. I’m writing you because…) that will make sense on the small screen.  If she doesn’t swipe right, nothing else matters.

If you’re one of the 1,816, I’d love to hear what else you found memorable and helpful during our time together.  Click the black comment icon above or email me.  And here’s wishing you an amazing and intentional start to a successful year.


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.