Digital Advertising

The New Code.

Code. It’s the Swiss army knife of words. It can be the hidden formula behind computing, the combination to unlock a secure setting, a body of law, the rules by which something is built, or a highly personal set of standards. However you interpret the term code, one thing is pretty clear: the business of digital advertising and marketing needs a new one.

Through our peer-to-peer Seller Forum events, our coaching practice and the dozens of workshops we do each year, we get a pretty broad perspective on the industry. What no one seems to dispute is that we’re in recovery from the excesses of the “scale at all costs” approach of the last few years… which I’ve heard described as our inventory and data version of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Marketers complain about supply chain pollution and fraud and governments are legislating consumer privacy firewalls. Clearly, we are struggling for a new basis on which to plan and build and operate. But the need goes even deeper than technology specs and business standards.

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Business leaders and people managers are looking for a new code as well. They’re looking to unlock engagement, loyalty and determination in employees who’ve come to expect never-ending growth, a regular cycle of paradigm shifts, constant promotion and ultimate wealth. How do we build truly great teams and organizations to last? Our past approaches to career growth, diversity and lifestyle support was never built to code… and it cannot continue to stand. If we’re to define what it means to build a satisfying, meaningful career in our profession over the decades ahead, we better start now.

In 2020, we’ll be devoting our Seller Forum series to The New Code: Embracing Values. Achieving Balance. Mastering Change. In this our 18th year producing Seller Forum, we’re doubling down on the value of people-driven ideas and process; of value-driven cultures and decision making; of a balanced, sustainable approach to business building. As we recruit speakers, plan discussions, design our poll questions and host the events, we’ll lean on our own list of core values: Gratitude, Service, Clarity, Invention, Optimism, Connectedness and Grit.

Today happens to be the day we’re announcing our 2020 theme and schedule, but our commitment to our customers, our values and the contribution Seller Forum continues to make to the industry is 24/7/365. We look forward to continuing this important conversation with you.

Seller Forum will be held on Wednesday March 18th, Wednesday July 15th and Wednesday October 21st at the Reuters Building on Times Square. If you’re a qualified media sales leader, reach out now for your invitation or to discuss your company’s Season Pass planning. Or visit us at

The Walking Wounded.

Two weeks ago in the Drift I invited readers who’d changed jobs in the past two years (or thought they might in the next six months) to participate in our “Exit Interviews” poll .  With this short five-question survey, we aimed to find out why they left and what might have induced them to stay longer.  Clearly, we struck a nerve with:  within 72 hours 102 digital sellers and 32 sales leaders (CROs, EVPs, etc.) completed the survey.  And while I’ll sharing the full results with attendees at tomorrow’s sold-out Upstream Seller Forum, there’s one big theme I want to pass along to Drift readers this afternoon.

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The conventional wisdom in our tight digital labor market is that with so much crazy money flying around it’s nearly impossible to hang onto good sellers – or even middle of the pack performers.  “We just can’t compete with the insane salary and stock packages that are being offered” is a common rationalization.  But when asked to choose “the best description” of why they chose to leave their former company, only one in five – 21.6% — chose “Got a much better offer.”  A much bigger percentage –36.2% of respondents – said they left because of an obsolete business model, unattainable goals or both.  (Let’s call this grouping “Lack of Belief.”)   A whopping 40.2% of respondents left due to a lack of clear management direction, internal conflict with managers or co-workers, or both.  (We’ll call this grouping “Failure of Management.”)   To be fair, in a portion of these cases the company itself – or its market space – may have actually been collapsing.  In other cases, the respondent who left may have been “welcome attrition.”  But you can’t deny that a whole lot of good people left good companies for reasons other than money:  either because they weren’t connected or engaged with where the company was going, or because their managers failed to give them good direction or intervene appropriately around conflict.

I’d like to call these disengaged, lightly managed sales people “the Walking Wounded.”  Looking back over the attrition on your team, how many might you have lost over the past couple of years?  What if you’d kept them all for just six more months of productive selling?  Since losing a seller usually involves a six-to-nine-month period of transition and reinvestment, the financial impact of all these unnecessary and premature departures is appallingly costly.

As my good friend and mentor Mark McLaughlin commented here  two weeks ago, “People join companies but they leave managers.”  Money may talk, but lack of management insight or action may be what’s ultimately making them walk.