Conde Nast

What Si Newhouse Taught Me.

It highlights my age and number of years in the media business to say that I overlapped with a few of the great names in media – names that understandably don’t mean that much to today’s 30-year-old media executive who’s orientation is all about the present and future. But the fact that I’ve worked for titles led by Helen Gurley Brown (Cosmopolitan), Jann Wenner (Us, Rolling Stone) and Louis Rossetto (Wired) is something I wear with a great deal of pride.

Which leads me to Sunday’s passing of S.I. “Si” Newhouse, Jr., the legendary chairman of Condé Nast. Newhouse was controversial, iconoclastic, painfully awkward and sometimes ruthless. But few can argue that he called the tune on the golden age of the magazine business in the 80s and 90s. And even though Si could never have picked me out of a lineup during my five years at CNP, he nonetheless left a mark on me. So here’s a short appreciation in three parts.

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Part One: He paid a ridiculous amount of attention to the details.  Despite being one of his day’s wealthiest Americans and overseeing titles like Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Vogue, Si famously arrived at work before dawn and read every page and noted every ad in every single one of Condé Nast’s titles. On a yellow legal pad he’d scrawl notes to publishers with a 49-cent Flair pen and staple them to ads he appreciated seeing – or to those he thought should be running in your pages. Even I got one.

Part Two: He played the long game. Some found fault with Si’s willingness to absorb years of losses on magazines he thought were important. But more often than not his bets on editors and concepts paid off, creating a halo of quality and a baseline of creative assets and brands that commanded premium prices, became must-buys for key advertisers and became the centers of gravity for the worlds they covered. As a sales guy at the launch of Allure, I saw first-hand how he didn’t hesitate to push off the magazine launch by months, then call for a major redesign after just a few issues… setting up Editor Linda Wells for more than two decades of success.

Part Three: He understood the difference between price and value.  Si was notoriously quiet and reclusive. The only time I got to hear him speak in a small group setting was when someone asked him why Condé Nast never, ever negotiated on price. (Something that has changed in the intervening decades, but that was legendary in its time.)  His answer was short and meaningful and something I repeat constantly to this day. “My father used to tell me that you can talk about price or you can talk about value,” he explained. “But you can’t talk about both at the same time. We just don’t let our people talk about price. So they have to talk about value.”

Si Newhouse’s legacy is undeniably complicated. And he was very much “of his time.” But some of what drove him is still timeless.


CrossdressingI just read about Walmart launching its own digital marketing platform, effectively becoming sort of a media buyer (and sort of an agency), leveraging a treasure trove of sales and behavioral data on behalf of its suppliers.  According to AdExchanger, through the new Walmart Exchange (WMX) the company is “harnessing purchase, loyalty and other unspecified third party data assets to help suppliers spend their media dollars.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve been around media and advertising for so many years – or perhaps because I binged on MadMen recently – but it feels like the marketing world is getting curiouser and curiouser, and that the basic notions of identity and structure in the advertising world are falling away.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic Advertising Systems, an advertising technology company focused on delivering innovative software that streamlines and automates media workflow for marketers, their advertising agencies, and publishers.

Let’s take a look at how things are shaping up.

  • Traditional “publishers” like Conde Nast, Hearst and others are increasingly offering creative services to marketers, edging themselves into traditional turf of creative agencies.
  • Agency holding companies are using their trading desks to pre-buy inventory and audiences and then holding that inventory – often briefly – for the future distribution of client ads.  In one sense of the term, they are becoming ad networks.
  • Marketers are getting into bed directly with publishers through native advertising executions.  When they’re not, they’re pursuing more of a direct content creation role through branded entertainment efforts.  Either way, they’re in the media business.
  • Xaxis, WPPs erstwhile trading desk, has morphed into more of an ad technology powerhouse, folding in the former publisher-side technologies (ad serving, etc.) of 24/7 Real Media.  So now they serve both the buyer and seller side of the markets.  Along the same lines, Rubicon Project once existed primarily as a sell-side platform (SSP) but now also offers some buyer-side tools and capabilities.
  • Walmart and Amazon are both retailers who opened their considerable online presences to advertising distribution.  Amazon the retailer is also Amazon the device company; Apple the device company became (through iTunes and terrestrial stores) Apple the retailer.
  • Any online publisher can now work with third parties to tag and find its site visitors when they are on other sites around the web, and/or find look alike customers.  By doing so, they can extend and fulfill ad buys beyond their own site borders.  So they are now media aggregators, something that agencies (and more recently, ad networks) used to do.

I could go on, but you probably get the picture by this point.  So who loses in this asymmetrical hall of mirrors?  Command and control based companies and channels.  In the past, they’ve clung to defined roles and control of access – to inventory, to audiences, to distribution of goods and content, to talent.  I think many of them will start to look very old and tired very quickly.

Who wins?  The nimble, the creative, the right-brain thinkers who solve problems and make order out of chaos.  Someday the generation that remembers a gentler, more stable time in the ad business – a time when agencies were agencies and media was media – will move on and institutional memory of role definition will fade.  There will be no us and them.  Only opportunity.

Maybe that day is already here?

Being Grateful.

It’s a short week at the close of a busy, hectic year.  It’s also the time when many of us take our last breath before the sprint to make Q4 numbers while simultaneously shopping for the holidays.  So during this all too short breather, a quick note about the people, ideas and values for which I’m really grateful. Thanks go out to…

The 3-4 sales people in every workshop I teach who are truly dedicated to the profession of media sales.  I recognize your ambition and commitment, and they inspire me to keep doing what I do.

Those who read, comment on and forward The Drift to others in their companies.  Because of you, meeting this weekly deadline has become something I look forward to.

Ad:tech and the past recipients of the Industry Achievement Award.  To be recognized by such an amazing group last spring was humbling and inspiring.  I feel like it’s something I have to continue to live up to in the years ahead.

My wife Sharon and my daughters, Lucy and Madeline.  I’m grateful that such amazing women choose to keep me around so that I can see  the great things you each do for the world.

The people at iMedia, ad:tech, the IAB, AdMonsters, Evidon and Business Insider who’ve all given me the chance to speak or moderate at their events this year.  I hope everyone who ascends your stages feels the same gratitude and commitment that I do.

Enduring, enriching friendships with people like Wenda Harris Millard, Scot McLernon, John Durham, Dave Morgan, Larry Kramer, Rick Parkhill, Tom Deierlein, Charlie Thomas and Mark McLaughlin.  Through inspiration, support  and advice, you’ve all contributed so much to what I do.

The advisors who continue to guide The Seller Forum into its tenth year, and the sponsors — Collective/Amp, PubMatic and Mojiva — who continue their commitment to this unique and valuable environment.

Tamara Clarke and Christina Ross who work hard every day making sure the experience of working with Upstream Group continues to be a great one.  None of this would work without you.

All the companies who’ve been our customers this year  — for training workshops, Seller Forum events, Drift sponsorships, consulting and more.  33 Across, A&E,, AccuWeather,, Adara Media, Adconion, Adobe, AdoTube, ad:tech, Amazon, AOL, AT&T AdWorks, BabyCenter, bizjournals, Bizo, Blue Kai, Bonnier Corp.,, Burda, Burst Media, Business Insider, Buysight, BuzzLogic,, CBS, Centro, Collective, Comcast Interactive, comScore, Condé Nast, ContextWeb (PulsePoint), D&B Digital, deviantART, Discovery Communications, Disney, DMG WorldMedia, eHarmony, ESPN, Everyday Health, eXelate, Facebook, Fairchild, FOX News, FOX Sports, Gawker, Google, Grab Networks, Halogen, Healthline, Hearst Digital Media, IAB, IGN Entertainment, iMedia, InflectionPointMedia, Interclick, ITN Digital, Jingle Networks, Jumpstart Automotive, Kontera, Krux Digital, Lotame, LucidMedia, Martini Media, Meebo, Meredith, Microsoft, Mojiva, Monster Media Networks, Move, Inc., MTV, MyWebGrocer, Nature Publishing Group, Navteq, NBC Universal, NCC Media, The New York Times, Newspaper National Network, Orbitz, PubMatic, quadrantONE, Quantcast, Reader’s Digest, Remedy Health Media, Resonate, RMM Online, RTL Netherlands, Seeking Alpha, Sojern, Sugar Inc., TechMediaNetwork, The Daily, Hollywood Reporter, Weather Channel,, Thomson Reuters, Travel Ad Network (Travora), Tremor Video, Triad Digital, Turner, TVGuide, Us Magazine, Undertone, Upromise Inc., Vertical Acuity, Washington Post, Weatherbug, WebMD,, Yahoo! and YuMe.

And last but not least, I’m grateful that none of this is even close to being finished.  That there are so many ideas yet to be conceived, so many mysteries yet to be framed, so much of the future left to be invented.  Here’s to being grateful for what this year has brought us, and to remaining excited about what the years ahead will offer.  Happy Thanksgiving.

The Agency…Reborn?

There’s been much tut-tutting over the years about the disappearance of the full service agency.  Sure there are a handful still around, but by and large the creative + media + account services + strategy shop that Darren Stevens ran back on Bewitched has gone the way of real chrome bumpers and smoking on airplanes.  The dissolution of that model has of course spawned vertical entities that specialize in everything from planning to buying to creative to digital to strategy.  But along the way, perhaps something got lost as well.

Flash forward to 2010 and that old “get close to the client’s strategy and do it all for them” seems to be making a comeback.  Only instead of names like Ogilvy, Thompson and Ayer, the names on the doors of these new agencies might read Meredith, Hearst and Conde Nast.  This week’s news about Hearst’s acquisition of iCrossing and Conde Nast’s development of video creative for Kenneth Cole underscore the continual quiet development of serious strategic, media, creative, digital and even social media chops among publishers.  Meredith Corporation just may have some of the deepest capabilities of all, highlighted by it’s growing service relationships with companies like Chrysler and others.

A few examples don’t necessarily a trend make, but it would be foolish to dismiss the real economic and business sense this all makes.  Already pulled headlong into new creative, data and media capabilities by the onset of the digital age, media companies are loathe to stay in the corner and leave the services business to consulting firms and agencies. In an age where old models and structures are getting shredded anyway, why not step over the lines and become the new generation agency?  If you believe, as I do, that all 21st century marketing is going to be built tightly around existing consumer behavior and audiences, then ask yourself who is closer to that behavior and those audiences than the media company?

I’m just sayin…..