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The Watering Hole.


Occasionally someone asks about the origin of our company name – Upstream. I could go on about its deeper meanings, spiritual implications and more. But for purposes of today’s post, there’s a simpler meaning: Upstream is the opposite of the watering hole.

In any mature industry, the watering hole is the agreed upon place where we all drink. It’s the settled, transactional hub. It may be crowded, noisy, smelly and dangerous, but it’s the place we know and feel we understand. The upfront buying season is a watering hole.  So is the established advertising campaign and its most transactional component, the RFP. Today we have a new watering hole in the establishment of an ongoing programmatic marketplace. We have in turn complained about all of these watering holes: the levels are too low… the quality of the water is suspect… some members of the herd are getting unfair advantages. But we largely accept that our only options are to make incremental improvements to the watering hole experience: to clean it up a little… set up rules for consumption… better organize the herd.

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.

But today there are significant questions around the future of the watering hole and the survival of the average member of the herd.  Larger beasts that have never historically belonged to the advertising species (FB, G, A) have set up their own private watering holes, diverting much of the water before it ever gets downstream, to the place we traditionally drink. And those who have always been the source and tributaries – marketers and brands – are questioning the necessity and wisdom of even filling the watering hole anymore. The noisy, crowded, confusing spectacle downstream can seem increasingly disconnected from the intricate and timely work of brand marketing and product sales.

Upstream it’s different. The conversations there are not about spending the budget, they’re about creating new opportunity and wealth. Upstream we have specific business conversations and speak the language of the brand. We aim to solve problems and accelerate business success. And we’re rewarded with our own fresh water supply for doing so. Upstream we don’t spend time and energy cursing the darkness or arguing with the refs. It’s a place for doing. It can get lonely and treacherous upstream because the herd isn’t there and there are no established maps or rulebooks.

Upstream isn’t completely separate from the rest of world; the watering holes and herds still exist, on the periphery. It takes hard work and discipline to start spending time upstream, but individuals and companies make the journey every day. We help them.

Living and operating upstream from the watering hole and the herd is also a decision…a choice you make if you want to impact policy and strategy.  If you need motivation to make that choice, take a hard look at the watering hole that’s rapidly drying up right before your eyes.

We’ve just announced the schedule for the 2020 Seller Forum Series.  We’ll be gathering on March 18th, July 15th and October 21st, all in the beautiful Reuters space overlooking Times Square.  If you’re a qualified media sales leader, reach out today to request your invitation and learn more about setting up a season pass for your company.


Web 25: News, Speech and Advertising


Late October will mark the 25th anniversary of advertising on the Web. Having been part of the team that ushered in those first primitive digital ads in 1994, I’ll be using this space in the intervening weeks to explore the fulfillment, failure and future of the web’s marketing and social promise. This week: News, Speech and Advertising.

It seems that we’ve been talking about the web’s role in the demise of the news business from day one.  As the familiar narrative goes, more consumer time, attention and news-viewing migrated away from printed newspapers and news magazines while simultaneously the three advertising pillars of print journalism – auto sales, classifieds and real estate – were reinvented by digital entrepreneurs. Through the lens of gauzy nostalgia, it’s easy to see this as a two-character tragedy.

It’s more accurate, however, to view it as a much more complex three-character drama. While the web was taking its first tentative steps as a commercial news and information medium in the fall of 1994, OJ Simpson’s white Bronco had just been brought to a stop, Fox News was just about to be invented, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was being busily drafted and lobbied. The mid-90s was when the full-time media spectacle, the idea of news as entertainment and the end of rules preventing consolidated media ownership all converged.

Kind of makes you stop thinking of the web as the wrecking ball of newspapers and more as the savior of actual news.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Permutive, the data management platform built for publishers. Permutive gives you visibility of your entire audience, allowing you to increase audience match rates, win more RFPs and grow your data-driven advertising revenue. Meet us at Seller Forum on October 23rd to learn more.

Two of the promises of digital technology and web publishing were the democratization of news gathering and the preservation of transparency. To a significant degree, these promises have been kept. But it’s complicated.

It’s legitimate to mourn the demise of so many print newspapers and the thinning of their staffs (and closing of bureaus) as they’ve moved to digital distribution. And we can also lament the devolution of cable news into a bottomless pit of rancorous talking heads stoking the partisan furnace. At the same time we can see a generation of young – and not-so-young journalists building their own identities and news credentials via blogs, Twitter, self-publishing and story updates no longer dependent on print deadlines. Somewhat ironically, those same correspondents are increasingly sought out to fill open hours on cable news programming, thereby amplifying the signal on what they write and report.

But is advertising revenue – what you and I do for a living – making a positive contribution to the present and future of news and speech? That’s even more complicated. While brands are often willing to sponsor big, high-profile publishing projects along with news organizations, day-to-day media buyers are blacklisting news related content. In the name of brand safety, we’re saying no to the climate change adjacency and yes to another cat video.

Advertisers aren’t necessarily responsible for the direct support of journalism and free speech. But blanket avoidance of content that’s so persistently important and present in the lives of the customer is a moral and strategic failure. Bringing brands and advertising budgets back into natural, healthy alignment with news and journalism is an unfinished job. Here’s hoping our greatest brands step up and step in.


Web 25: Did We Change Advertising?


Late October will mark the 25th anniversary of advertising on the Web. Having been part of the team that ushered in those first primitive digital ads in 1994, I’ll be using this space in the intervening weeks to explore the fulfillment, failure and future of the web’s marketing and social promise. This week: The impact of digital on the practice of advertising.

As Internet Advertising started to find its legs in 1995-96, there was a fair bit of handwringing among those who took it’s still-uncertain future seriously. Like the re purposed radio shows that comprised early 1950s television programming, advertising on the web was derivative of its predecessor forms. The first banners were tiny outdoor ads. As bandwidth expanded and boxes got bigger, on-page ads started to resemble magazine advertising. Streaming ushered in progressively longer, faster, higher-fidelity TV ads. But to re-purpose the inimitable Peggy Lee, Is that all there is?

Yes and no.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Permutive, the data management platform built for publishers. When Entrepreneur Media realized their existing data management platform was only targeting 20% of their audience, they switched to Permutive. Find out why they switched DMP before their existing contract ended in our upcoming webinar.

As it turns out, the sight/sound/motion of TV Ads…. pretty….pretty good!  Staying within the classic definition of advertising, video seems to make everybody happy. The consumer appetite for digital video – ad supported and otherwise – seems bottomless. It doesn’t replace the mythic reach of the Big 4 Network/TV age, but it’s as significant as most anything out there today. And advertisers have stepped up.  Aside from the occasional YouTube/brand safety kerfuffle, they seem to want to buy just about whatever is available.

So did we change advertising?  Yes, we took the historic TV model of video ads accompanying content and made it more targetable and accountable, and put it – literally – in the hand of the consumer via the mobile device. Have we yet fulfilled the potential that digital technology enables?

Not yet.

While the popularity and profit of the video advertising model will keep us all well-fed for many years, the ultimate change in advertising will be its full immersion in, and submission to, business and commerce. Digital technology and communication have rendered the old barriers between hearing, learning, considering, choosing and buying obsolete. And while we’ve made some brief nods toward blending ads and commerce, our goal has always been more accountable advertising… an improved status quo.

The real change will be when we don’t think of it as advertising at all, but rather as just an early stage in the commercial relationship. The tech is there. So far, the will is not. But real change is inevitable.


My Mother’s Son.


I was holding my 91-year-old Mom’s hand when she died on Saturday.  And today I’m going to use my tiny bit of weekly attention to make her just a little more famous. She deserves that. Of course this has nothing to do with digital advertising or sales; just a whole lot about real greatness and the resilience of the human spirit.

Pat Weaver was born during the first years of passenger aviation and commercial radio and died during the age of paid space travel and YouTube celebrities. She was a child of the Great Depression, a World War II teenager and an 18-year old bride and mother of five during the postwar years of the baby boom. She did what needed to be done, often at the expense of her own personal opportunities, but always with a sense of joy and optimism. The wife of a Sheriff’s deputy, she always worked at least one job – often two – and was the stable daily presence in the lives of her sons.

She started adult life with a high school diploma, a marriage license and a one-way train ticket from her native Louisiana to Los Angeles. (That’s the trip she’s on in the picture at left.) Perhaps because of this, she became a lifelong learner, earning college credits for decades and writing out copious notes and journal entries on what fascinated her. And everything fascinated her. She faced down cancer and battled clinical depression and mental illness. And though she came age when such things were not to be discussed, she became an advocate for and friend to others who struggled to heal. Nobody suffered alone on my Mom’s watch. Nobody.

During an age that was not particularly kind to women, my Mom was unfailingly kind. In the face of adversity and loss, she chose resilience and optimism. During the final years of life, when many become isolated and despondent, Pat decided to embrace her life and every new person who came on the scene. Anonymous for three quarters of a century, she made her first movie at the tender age of 88. Through resilience and optimism and unquenchable joy, she won. She won big.

If something I’ve written or said to you over the years has made you feel more hopeful or confident – if I’ve helped you somehow – that’s all her. Her being there for me gave me the strength to be there for others.

As anyone would, I love getting awards and hearing praise. But the best thing that will every be said about me is that I was my mother’s son. Living up to that would be my greatest accomplishment. I’ll let you know if I ever get there.

If you are so moved, please consider donating to Mental Health America in the name of someone who inspires you.  And thanks for reading a little bit about my Mom.


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.