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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.


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.