Marco Bertozzi, most recently Vice President, EMEA and Multi-Market Global Sales at Spotify is a true digital veteran and NDA’s new regular columnist. He started his career at Zenith Optimedia, went on to have leadership roles at companies including Vivaki and Starcom and has long been an influential, some might say legendary, industry figure.
This latest Google news has really got the advertising community talking. There are a plethora of articles that paint a very dark picture of where the death of third-party cookies on the Google landscape will take us. There is a lot of money at stake and it’s serious topic for many, but for now, I want to reminisce a little.
I started working in digital in 2000. I worked alongside some wonderful people Martin Kelly, Andy Cocker, Damian Burns, Damian Blackden, many have gone on to amazing careers in advertising. We worked for Zenith Interactive Solutions (you can tell its old with Interactive in the title).
If you worked in digital back then you will know that actually the digital landscape was very close to print advertising. We used to pull together schedules based on target audiences that would reflect what we thought the audience would enjoy. If you wanted to reach a 35+ ABC1 man then roll out the golf websites, automotive websites, maybe some finance one and we tried to squeeze in gardening as it was also one of our clients (Greenfingers.com).
Our KPIs were clicks and click throughs, the schedules ran into double pages, sometimes 40/50 lines deep. At the start there was no third-party tracking. We did not have audience segments, retargeting was rare, even the scourge of the internet, ad networks had not taken off.
For the younger readers there was also no Google, YouTube, Facebook, Snap, Twitter, or TikTok and algorithms were still a NASA-based concept. No, back then we did one very simple thing, we worked out what our target audiences liked and consumed and we put ads in front of them. When we wanted scale we had a Yahoo home page takeover, that was as crazy as it got!
Trouble was, print was not cool, and there were so many sites that we found it all a little inefficient and so we started down the road of tracking, adserving and ad networks to make things a little easier. The rest as they say is history, digital advertising was born and we have been on a 20-year journey of excitement about data and adtech to get us to become the dominant advertising channel and deliver a brave new world.
Or have we?
When you look back, when you really ask yourself now whether things were better or worse, it is hard to say. Yes, that sounds like some old bloke reminiscing and I am, perhaps stretching things, but is everyone happy with what we have?
Can we all hand on heart say that the terrible targeting around the web, the uncomfortable arrival in your feeds of things you had spoken about days before, the repetitive ads for the same product for weeks, one perhaps you had already bought, can we really say things are better?
Still today you are hard pushed to find loads of data proving that audience segments really outperform their cost, indeed the most common discussion is that data segments don’t pay back for performance. I think there is a reason for that, they are just not that good. They are built out of shonky data with little transparency and the tough situation we face now is that a few giant companies have the good data, they are the biggest and they dominate.
But maybe we were on to something back in the day. When Damian Burns walked in each morning with his massive coffee, when Simon Halstead took a bite into his bacon sandwich and Andy Cocker took out his calculator to negotiate his next deal, we all had one goal.
How to reach audiences so that advertisers could place ads in front of them based on context and content.
We wanted to show products and services to the right people and publishers were where we went. Even the portals were all about channels – Auto, Finance etc.
Perhaps we have an opportunity to reset and start to think about how we support publishers and quality content and start to spend where audiences are because they are properly engaging with content, not because they just liked their cousin’s photo.
Advertisers need to prioritise quality over quantity so let’s use the death of the cookie as a chance to return to a simpler mission, one less driven by adtech making money and more for publishers to make money.
As I continue to consult, mentor and devote time to myself and family I am also concurrently talking to companies about potential future roles. I wanted to reflect on my experiences of this process so far and how I have observed companies deal with me.
I have been working for nearly 25 years, held senior roles in good companies and who knows exactly what that next role will be, and yet I continue to be surprised by how little consideration and communication is given to candidates of my level and experience during these times. In this instance I am mainly focusing on in house recruitment vs agencies. I think there has been an ever growing trend towards in housing of hiring processes, especially amongst the tech companies but also traditional businesses as well. I think with that trend comes a burden on that team that I am not sure all of them realise and are probably not held accountable to from one day to the next.
If you decide as a business to have your employees engage with external candidates, especially senior ones, then they need to have the same ethos as any of your out facing teams. Those interactions set the tone, they leave lasting impressions and who knows may damage future relations depending on where that candidate lands. Bad news travels fast right? Well those looking for a role, especially those not currently employed will be particularly conscious of that brand experience, and that’s what it is, your recruitment team are representing your brand.
In these short months that I have been engaged with in house recruiters and indeed actual managers within businesses I have experienced many different versions of that process. I have spoken to a couple of companies that have been in communication through out, followed up, did what they said they would do and that’s all one asks. On the other hand I have been blanked. Now let’s be realistic, you can’t always expect things to move forwards, perhaps they don’t like the cut of your jib or your background is not what they wanted and so things don’t progress, we are all grown ups, what I do expect though is feedback and a decline. Take Conde Nast, contacted by them after an application, interview with recruiter, followed by interview with HR and then blanked. I personally believe that if you have asked a candidate to talk twice, you owe them politeness and respect to update and decline or move forwards.
Hiring is not personal, you should never take it personally, finding the right candidate or job is about finding the round peg to fit in the round hole and it’s easy to find a little edge that catches and stops that fit, that’s fine, it’s natural. What is personal is how you go about doing that and I am afraid there are many external facing recruitment people who are either not trained or not scrutinised as to how they engage candidates. I think it’s a shame for two simple reasons. The first is you can absolutely set the tone of your organisation through these contacts, you are sending a message and when these candidates end up in other businesses, perhaps potential clients, they will feel positively about your business or not and secondly its is not difficult, it’s simple manners, it’s simple communication that costs the recruiter nothing but gives that job hunter a feeling of knowing where they stand and what’s next.
Finding a new role is so exciting and I am loving all the possibilities, but it’s important to be true to yourself and expect a certain level of respect. Be thoughtful everyone. Times are tough without treating people with no consideration.
Marco Bertozzi, most recently Vice President, EMEA and Multi-Market Global Sales at Spotify is a true digital veteran and NDA’s new regular columnist. He started his career at Zenith Optimedia, went on to have leadership roles at companies including Vivaki and Starcom and has long been an influential, some might say legendary, industry figure.
Over the last few weeks I have been speaking to a lot of people. I wanted to use the time I have to try and give back a little and so offered my time to my network for advice on anything.
I have filled five days and counting so far, learnt how to used Calendly to organise all the requests and met a lot of really great people. I have written before about the importance of your network but this time it has involved 50+ calls with complete strangers bar one or two.
This was the unseen, unknown network who got the confidence to reach out to another complete stranger offering time to talk.
The topics so far have been very varied. We have talked about launching and growing businesses, people stuck at a crossroads, some struggling to find work, changes of careers, and changes of direction within their companies.
It’s only been two days but already it’s been fascinating. As I reflected on these conversations I realised there was one thing, that I haven’t heard spoken about so much, that it was clear we are all suffering from.
We are spending too much time in our own heads.
Work from home has had many impacts on us, like stress, boredom, loneliness, loss of joy and many other side effects but one less spoken about is the lack of inputs into our minds and a dramatic reduction in stimuli. Stimuli that could be a variety of things.
It could be validation, reassurance that you are doing well – who doesn’t like a ‘wow looks like you are doing great’ or ‘you guys are doing great!’ comment. In normal days, inspiration can came from anything and anywhere, whatever the stimulus is, it is welcome, it distracts, it motivates, and of course can sometimes be a negative as well but keeps you thinking externally.
The reality now is we lack all that, we are just in our heads.
Those times when you press leave or end on the video call and just sit and breathe out. Left with our own thoughts, wondering how we did, whether that was the right thing to say or not. More than that though, if we are at a juncture, starting a business, getting a job, being rejected daily, we just go around in circles in our heads.
I heard on my calls a number of times comments like, I am stuck, lost, don’t know what to do.
I firmly believe the vacuum of external stimuli has been filled with us arguing and debating with ourselves. Another dog walk alone, a chance to go over old ground again, in more ways than one.
So, after the first few days of talking, I realised for both me and the person on the other end of the call, what we were really getting out of our chat was a chance to talk to someone different, someone who had no connection to their work or business, someone who would listen without judgement and give some new stimulus. It may be reassurance, direction, feedback or sometimes a push to get out of the position of being stuck or lost.
The future of work is around the corner and I am hopeful some of what we love will return, but before then, why don’t you go looking for that stimulus.
If you are stuck or lost, get hold of someone you don’t know and just have a chat. I hope when you press Leave at the end of that next Zoom call you don’t let your brain just churn about how you did, but rather smile at the opportunities ahead.
OK, so lets all agree, no one is going to Cannes right? Or are they? Now the news about lockdown being lifted, maybe things have changed? Cannes is the best example of how the industry is grappling with the post pandemic issues of events and perhaps is the best example of how we are entering a period of being able to create events, but being confronted by the reality of will anyone go?
I think this is the biggest challenge for the coming quarters, not whether events can happen, but rather, should they happen and will anyone go? As I think about events, there are a few areas to consider when trying to predict the future and where we will net out.
Who is paying? We often start with the health dialogue or appropriateness of going, but truth of the matter is someone has to pay and that someone has likely significantly cut the budget. There are very few businesses who will not be coming into 2021 with a slashed events, travel and marketing budget. As most people in corporate work know, once its gone, its really hard to get back and two years of austerity will make that a mountain to climb.
Who blinks first? Putting budget aside, the next one is whether or not when you send people to an event, or go yourself, you become part of a super spreader horror headline, where executives were red faced not because of Rose but because they all caught Covid whilst enjoying some International or even local event. So who wants to be the one that says ‘yes lets invest in this event and go for it.’ Who goes first?
Virtual events are getting better. I attended an event With Mediatel where they used some latest technology to allow us to virtually mingle, network and chat before and during the event. It was actually pretty good, it created some challenges, there was no opportunity to politely escape a table (not that I needed to, had a lovely bunch) – there was less serendipity, but overall it worked well. I liked the big brother feature where messages were sent out like in 1984 to shepherd guests around. Bottom line this tech is only going to get better and better and so virtual events will continue to evolve and entertain.
Virtual events are driving inclusion in our industry. Cannes or CES is an extreme of course but its the everyday events that I think our the hardest to navigate in person. Some are not going to be worth the time and effort, even if cost is not an issue to come to from say Manchester or anywhere over 2 hours, even if the content is solid. Now they are virtual, people from all over the country, even the world can join. I also think the charging model can change to be less aggressive knowing more people will join. I think that is really exciting for the industry and for those organizers and importantly sponsors. I was surprised at the event mentioned above that there were no sponsors in the networking area, or anywhere really, that is an opportunity and suddenly you may be reaching 1000 people instead of 200, that becomes interesting. We should embrace the chance to have more people from different backgrounds attend our events.
Charging models. I believe that events need to really look at how they are charging now, it is a seminal moment to review events and consider the best way to maximize utility and commercial gain. Micro payments in my mind are still woefully under utilized. Let’s say there is an event on Digital Audio. It would be great if lets say you were going for a job in that sector to go to the site, pay a fee and get to watch the whole event. Perhaps there are subscription options as well for certain companies. All in all, commercials should now take into account larger audiences online, follow up micro or one off payments to a whole range of other people and perhaps a subscription model for all the events. Makes things interesting perhaps?
Content has to improve. Anyone who was not a content organizer will say that the number of events and awards was getting out of hand, everyone enjoys winning but there is only so much that can be done and paid for in a year. I also think because of that content was not good enough, not prepared enough and rushed through in too many situations (not all). I hope that when we do have live events again, organizers realise that it should be quality over quantity or I think many cash strapped companies will politely decline. If that is a product of all this, that can only be good for organizers and attendees.
So as things start to ease and we plan our future, will we be rushing back to live events together, or will we be looking to have face to face for only the very most premium occasions and lets face it, in 2022, or will we be rushing back to how it was. I would love to see the return of some live events and perhaps for the first time, as with many things, people have realised that they took these events for granted and actually they do have a worth beyond the content.
There is an opportunity to change and adapt, I have seen some real progress already through lock down and I am certain there will be more to come, we should embrace these changes and make them work alongside our new working environment where I believe the combination of virtual and face to face will be very much the norm.
Since posting on LinkedIn my departure from Spotify, I have been enjoying some down time of sorts. What I have not been doing is staring at Google Hangouts for hours everyday. Instead I have been meeting with lots of different people, some I knew and some I did not and hearing about what they are up to, it feels like a rush of different inputs all of a sudden after a long period of having the same circle of contacts for a long while.
I have spoken to people in the fin tech space, dating app space, beauty, sales, sports and more, yes the completely switch off and relax thing did not exactly happen, but hearing about all these industries has been fascinating and exciting.
Taking a break from work has not been the big, wave crashing relief you might expect but more a gradual reduction in stress, it feels like that long summer holiday where the first week is a little better but your mind is still wired in, second week things start to really chill and if you get beyond that, then you are into forgetting password territory. I am in the area of relaxing, but still keeping the mind alert with the conversations and discussions, just not that consistent pressure we all have from a normal 9-5 job, especially in today’s climate.
Something else very exciting has happened in the last few weeks, I have reconnected with so many old friends and contacts which has been a breath of fresh air, something that we all aspire to doing but just never do, thank you to everyone who has been in touch for one reason of another. Whether it is to be a moderator of a panel, on a panel, fireside chat in another company, help and advice, these last few weeks have been rich with interaction and that has been amazing.
As per my previous post on Ikigai, I have had so much discussion about ‘what next’ and well, I realised that now is the time to go for it because, well, what else is there too do?! I have put more and more thought into the next role and as I have spoken to people and really analysed, I am more excited than ever to take what I have learned over the last 25 years and put it into practice.
I also have realised how many people right now are not working, I joked about launching a podcast for highly talented operators who were not currently working, pretty sure it hit a nerve and there are many out there who don’t want a rest or a break, they want to work. Great to see businesses coming for this talent pool, putting it to good work. Stefan Bardega with http://www.traktion.ai as well as Kate Merritt and team with http://www.libertyhive.com and there are others. Its inspiring to meet people all those out there scrapping away, building things, innovating and in some cases just starting their independent journey. It’s pretty wonderful to see.
So fully expecting a quiet lull to come soon after the wave of contacts, hopefully will stay in touch with many and excited for the leads and next steps. Even in this shitty period there is opportunity everywhere. Just got to make it happen.
Like many, over recent months I’ve been thinking about how we go about improving diversity in the work force. During my last few months at Spotify I underwent 20 to 30 hours of training and education, and asked the business to think hard about how we could approach change practically.
Now, on reflection, I’ve simplified that thinking into just two required elements for progression in diversity within a business: a will to change, and commercial support from the top.
In countries like the UK and US, I would argue that the only thing stopping your team from achieving true diversity is your leader. If your team isn’t diverse, it’s because there is no real will to change. If there is a strong will, decisions will be made around hiring, inclusivity in the business and how the team operates.
Often people look at the boards of companies to assess how well they are dealing with this topic, but I suggest delving down through a few layers of the company. If the picture remains the same, that’s a sure sign of a serious issue.
So in countries where the popular workforce is diverse, a will to change from leadership is all that matters when it comes to making progress in reflecting that diversity within businesses.
There is, however, one exception to that rule. When it comes to entry level talent programmes, there needs to be some significant investment.
In every business there should be an allocation and a programme for work placements. Still, so few companies do this well. With a little time and a little investment, this can change.
After years of Speakers for Schools work and more recently getting to know The Youth Group, a business working to improve the odds for young people, it is clear that creating work placements and apprenticeships is key to improving diversity within teams and giving young, diverse talent a chance to succeed.
However, I have been running European businesses for over ten years, and in many countries the advertising industry has been almost entirely white in its ethnic makeup. Even with the best will, a leader in advertising in Spain or Italy is going to really struggle to find diverse candidates.
So what has to happen in those markets if anything is to change?
Firstly, businesses need to bring on board less experienced candidates than they might otherwise. For those in sales, that has to be acknowledged in the numbers. Or else time needs to be allocated to bring those less experienced candidates up to speed.
And secondly, businesses need to allocate actual budget for long term recruitment practices, creating a better pipeline for talent by researching into other industries. The talent may be out there, but not yet in advertising.
Of course, the only person who can sign off on these things is the person at the very top. Leaders have to put their words into actions with money, not just time. They have to create space for change and make it a priority – not just in what they say they care about, but what they put their cash behind.
The talent is there, but it either needs to be nurtured, or it needs to be persuaded that this is a great industry to be a part of, that there are huge opportunities to get involved with here, and that this is where they should want to be.
So let’s look to the top and ask for the money, time and space to succeed with improving the diversity of our teams.
Let me start by thanking Jon Ghazi for sending over an article in about Ikigai, the Japanese view on how to have a long and happy life. Why did we discuss it, well when you leave work and start to talk to lots of people about what next, some very simple but powerful questions come along with that chat.
When you meet someone and you work for a company, conversation is straight forward as it focuses on what you do, why you do it, what the company or service does and that’s the limits often of the discussion. When you are not working the questions are different. The questions often move towards things like:
It was very timely as I was deep into thinking about these topics, nothing solved just yet, but really good food for thought. Basically your Ikigai is the intersection of what you are good at and what you love doing..
The theory is What you love doing, what the world needs, what you are good at and what you can get paid for, simple right? Wow that’s no easy feat and when you have time to think it through, it becomes more challenging and when you don’t have the anchor of a job it makes it somehow harder. However, it is also an opportunity for real introspection and hard questions that will help in the next decisions about roles you want to consider.
I first thought that I would simplify the questions to more day to day language.
A) What do I love? – When I am feeling good, what is making that happen?
B) What am I good at? – When am I most in my zone and reactions are positive
C) What can I paid for now? – What can I get paid for at my current level and what am I willing to sacrifice if need be
D) What does the world need? – Can you feel good about what you do?
As I think about these categories, I am going to try and tie them down to my career, my ambitions and abilities and see if we can come up with some direction. At the end of the day, this to me is about categories. Yes I can say that I can do sales, or I have worked in agencies etc but I cant answer the question ‘What job do you want? Or. Do you want to work in agencies?’ I cant because its not about jobs or industries or sub categories, for me it is about categories of skills and likes.
What do I love?
I actually think this is the hardest, love is a strong word. Hence why above I changed it to what makes me feel good. I feel good when I am with people, I feel good when I have a big group of people who are looking for direction, support, reassurance and confidence.
I feel good when I am confident enough to turn to people in that group and ask for their feedback and suggestions. (So many leaders feel the pressure to have all the answers and see it as a weakness to ask for input)
I love seeing teams and people succeed, it feels great when plans come to fruition and results follow. It feels great when you did plan something and it comes off as you planned.
I enjoy seeing a mass of jigsaw pieces which could be team or people issues, could be advertiser or client challenges, could be any of the daily challenges we get – I love sifting through them and making sense of them.
I love leading people in work, not an egotistic, power hungry way, but because I love seeing the results and it is where I feel good.
What am I good at?
Ahh now to say this out loud is always hard, easier to tell a headhunter or in an interview. Well after my LinkedIn post I have taken some reassurance that what I think I am good at, is supported by the wonderful people out there and the many people who have worked for me over the years.
The biggest two words that came out of the LinkedIn word cloud was ‘Inspirational leader’ I know, sounds arrogant, it is not meant to be and the reason why is its been a long and hard journey to even contemplate saying those words. It’s been the accumulation of knowledge and experiences from all of my bosses and co workers and friends. Everything we have and everything we are is learned. I thank all of the amazing people through my career.
Let me break that down a little. Let’s start with ‘Inspirational’ its not cult like, screaming into a mic type inspiration. I think it is the ability to take a group of people and make them feel good about what they are doing, give them hope that they are growing and have more potential in them than they themselves think. I think it is the ability to bring the best out of people, to help themselves grow and learn. This is not always knowing everything, being the smartest in the room, having every answer, no sometimes it is just not having the answers and asking people to help you with them. It’s about caring about issues your team care about. It’s about responding.
Being a leader is really fucking lonely, you could be a manager of a few people or leading a whole team across a region or globe, it’s lonely and stressful BUT lets be clear, part of being a leader is to take that on, yes people look up to you, they want you to be able to take decisions and make shit happen. Sometimes those things are not always nice, sometimes it upsets people. If anyone reads this looking for advice, I have a number one piece of advice. You cant be friends with everyone and always make them happy. The teams I have inherited who previously had bosses who wanted to be loved and always have good news, were the teams that were hardest to get back on track. People have to know when they are doing good or not and sometimes the answer to ‘am I being promoted’ or ‘will I get that big pay rise’ is no.
I have loved leading teams and I have built a loyal base of people who come to me for advice, who I have reemployed, who I have become friends with and I am super proud of them and I feel good about what I have achieved in that area.
What can I get paid for?
Compensation is a really interesting aspect to work. We all obsessed about it over the years, the younger you are the more intense it is and through the years I have chased the cash and not got it, other times I have stopped chasing it, and it came my way. I have moved jobs for money and it was a huge mistake, I have moved jobs for the passion and the money came and on and on.
I can get paid for what I do, question is how much and how much it dominates your decisions and choices. I am lucky enough now that for me, I want to get paid my worth but it is not a primary driver. Sometimes you are overlooked on roles because they think it is not paid well enough and they don’t ask if you would consider it. Madness, hire the person who wants the job and has chosen to take a hit. Choose the person who wants the job, even if it looks less senior, in our industry we obsess too much about whether a job is more senior than the last. Far better to join a great company on a lesser position or salary than take a job in an average business for more money and more senior role. That’s my belief anyway. I have seen it work out great for people who have done that, ignore the negs.
What does the world need
As above I have changed that to suit a slightly more down to earth version for our day to day. I massively admire people who do things that actively change the world, I think that is a wonderful thing to see.
I think as it comes to our careers and mine in particular I am focused on roles that make you feel like you have a purpose and brands that matter in some way to the world. It could be how they are empowering, democratizing or revolutionizing the world. I have learned a few things a long the way about my motivations. Mainly that passion for where I work or what I do is incredibly important. I have worked in a couple of roles and the absence of passion left me cold and I am clear about not repeating that, yes it is a profession but its not where I want to be.
I came up with the #LoveAds while at Spotify and it created quite a discussion and at first some skepticism internally but in time I think it achieved something, which was to get people to realise that advertising like everything in life can be done well or be done badly and we focus on the bad often, but advertising does a lot of good. So much of our lives are filled with content and services paid for by advertising and that’s pretty cool. The perfect situation is a consumer brand, it is so great getting feedback from people around you, people knowing what your business does and sometimes it is not all positive, but that’s OK, still a great sensation.
So where does that leave us? Well for me, I have focused on categories of careers that I do and don’t want and thats as far as I am going to go. Anything more and it gets limiting, too specific. I want to work in Formula 1, that would be a passion but I want to be more opened minded than that right now. So on reflection here are my categories:
Category 1: Development
Development sounds so boring, but its not, its an attempt to catch the many different types of businesses and situations you may consider. Some companies will need to modernise, perhaps stuck in the past, perhaps populated by too many people who have always been in that business, perhaps not digital enough, perhaps going backwards. The list is broad, why do I choose this, well its where leadership is incredibly important as well as working in high growth businesses with digital front and center.
Category 2: Fresh set of eyes
I have already had approaches from companies who are looking for a commercial mindset but need a person who will ask completely fresh set of questions, as Rishad would say, where the future wont fit in the containers of the past. Spotify is a great business because it never stops changing and growing and people want to have some of that in their business.
Category 3 : Hitting the ground running
Businesses that are sound and interesting but want to have someone more high profile and connected to accelerate the business forwards. Someone who knows what growth looks and feels like. Putting a business on the map is something I feel very confident about, here and abroad and actually have a lot of fun doing that, I love representing great businesses.
Category 4 : Big and Beautiful
I think it is so exciting working in businesses that have a range of products and services, they have big and varied customer base, that has the power to literally create businesses, change industries and set the agenda. I think this is a wonderful place to be. Some people are not keen on big companies and all the things that go with them, but I feel relaxed there and would be happy to return.
I am starting out on the 3rd act in my career. I am incredibly excited about what it will hold, and I am going to hold on to some of these principles and try to guide my way through the choices ahead. Always ready for a left field opportunity and an invite to go work for an F1 team, ideally as a driver! I have a lot of contacts out there, your support has been amazing and thank you for what you have already done.
Four years ago, I moved from agency to sales and at the time and since, a number of agency colleagues asked me about how the cross over was and asked what I had discovered. There is so much to learn in making the move and I have learned a lot along the way and more than just sales. I have solidified my leadership journey further and grown as a human. One thing four years ago I had not considered was how sales would be in a Pandemic where I have not visited the office in close to nine months and seen members of the team in person only once. That was not in the instruction manual.
By this time last year I would have visited every sales team in every country at least three times for varying lengths of time, I would have had client meetings in every country, presented at a number of conferences, attended CES, Cannes and Dmexco at a minimum. I would have eaten my body weight in pasta, Tapas and shit airport sandwiches. I would have taken at least 30 return flights. I would be exhausted but I would be full to the brim of people interaction. If you run a sales team from UK to Dubai, this is what you have to, this is sales.
Instead, I have been in my room, across the corridor staring at my screen, for nine months.
Sales leadership is something that Is heavily influenced by the human interaction. The people interactions are huge, people feed off each other in a very immediate way and momentum comes from those relationships. I have seen teams go up or down very rapidly based on those engagements. Morale is very fluid and so in the last nine months we have all had to adapt dramatically. I want to pause and give a huge shout out to all those sales leaders out there, a selection I have had a chance to talk with and know they are feeling it too!
The Pandemic has been like being in a car, seeing the corner coming but not having a steering wheel to turn, at least in a recession the steering wheel was turning to the team, brainstorming, taking refuge in humour and finding camaraderie of facing something together, maybe a drink, maybe a meal, a fitness class, a pool night, things to break up the relentlessness. This time it has been different and every single one of us in our industry has had to adapt and fast.
I can talk personally that going to countries and walking in the office gives you a chance to chat, speak to different people, learn about people on the fly. You can talk to them directly, you can get the feeedback, questions asked are important to me and in-person time tends to help draw that out. The Hangout/Zoom/Teams set up means that is very hard in a larger group and you get the sense you are broadcasting the whole time, thats my biggest sentiment, you are on broadcast, one way dialogue. It does get better in smaller groups of course but there is still an element of that, especially with people having to keep up with dialogues not in their first language. I think the biggest casualty of Zoomday is we tend to cut out the personal chat, or to a bare minimum and thats where we lose the connections, and spare a thought for all the new people who started in a lock down, we have had many and I have made a point of speaking to them all (ongoing!) and I am amazed at how positive they are and pleased our teams are rallying around them BUT excited for when they get back into the buzz!
So when I look back on this year, what have we changed, how did we do it and how in all this craziness did we win Sales Team of The Year?
Agility: This comes top if the list for me. We all put so much store in strategy, we must have a plan and stick to it, this year was about how do we adapt that plan or indeed throw it out. Everything from how we interact, commission plans, market insights, obviously type of engagement, turn around times, business rules around bookings etc. The pace of adapting was amazing to see. My biggest goal was sharing of ideas/work/ideas across the region, the amount the teams have been inspiring each other has been incredible.
Brand: In sales, what you sell is crucial of course and Spotify Advertising stepped up in the last nine months. A drum beat of insights, updates, analysis (not to mention some big acquisitions and announcements) allowed the team to be active in market, visible and relevant. Turning Pandemic insights into something marketable. Marketing that would have taken weeks was signed off and pushed out fast. Big shout out to our marketing teams.
Offline to Online: Linked to above, the business had to get off its drug of live events, a focus in sales we take for granted, no Cannes, no Dmexco, no Festival of Media, and all the local events, our businesses are tuned to that. The transition to online was amazing to watch – LoveAudio events online were run across the region and drew huge crowds, it was a pleasure to see all those pulled together. A topic for another day, but a lot of pros to these online events.
Team: Yes we would all agree that we are burned out with video calls. However, it was still important to bring people together and build team spirit. I literally cant think of a single thing we would do in person as a team that did not make it onto hangouts! Yoga, fitness, cooking, quizzes, training, drinking, eating, nail bars, hairdressing, concerts, interviews. You get the idea. All of these supplemented with chat groups that never stopped with humour and chat rolling every day – and of course Rak’s music playlists being pumped out every day.
Empathy: Something that I know has been on all my leads minds, how to make sure they can look after their teams and how each member of the team has been looking out for each other. This has been huge and taken a big extra step in how we think about each other. When you are together every day those conversations happen more easily and frequently, so through these incredibly stressful times, taking extra time to think about your colleagues and reach out has been crucial. A big shout to the teams that lead amazing ERGs like Heart and Soul supporting everyone. Has this made us all more empathetic than before, thinking more laterally about the team, I hope so.
Sales skills: I will say that as a sales team we have got better at sales. I am talking about Spotify but I am willing to bet it is beyond us. Sales changed this year. We had to listen to advertiser needs more than ever, we had to be agile in our solutions, we had to adapt what we had to support the brands looking to spend and indeed those who didnt. We had to dig deep into what sectors were benefitting and those that needed time. It has been so tough this year, but I genuinely think we grew as a team and we come out better than we went in as regards sales skills. I have learned a lot personally and when I moved to sales this was not one I had prepped for, but what a learning curve.
Our clients: I think as an industry we came together like never before. The feeling of unity in such difficult times led to some meaningful questions, genuine conversations about life and business. We were all collectively grappling with what was in front of us and helping each other wherever possible. There was an openness to learn from each other, I felt as a sales person that clients wanted to hear what we had to say and apply it to their own challenges. Too often media brands are put in a box and only opened up when there is a very relevant connection. This last nine months has been more about learning collectively and thinking differently. Thank you to all those advertisers and agencies I have worked with this year!
Onboarding: We have had to be really thorough around the process of onboarding and make sure people have a real chance to learn about the business. I think this is a good thing that will stand us in great stead for the future hiring, lock down or not.
There is so much more I could cover, to repeat something above in summary, I just feel like as a person, a team, a business and as an industry we have grown in the last nine months and perhaps some of the new behaviours started in lock down will carry on beyond, when things are more normal. A personal thanks to my whole EMEA sales team who have been amazing these last few months.
So finally, what would I like to see continue in a form of normality, lets call it PV (Post Vaccine)? So from PV1 here are some things I would love to see continue:
Not all client meetings have to be in person – default is ‘does this meeting have to be in person?’
An openness to listen and learn and not pre judge what Media Brands have to say
Purposeful meetings, shorter and more full with challenges and ideas
Events being professionally run to embrace on and offline elements so they are more inclusive
A camaraderie at an Industry level – thinking collectively and in a way we solve things together.
Flexible working, more trust, everyone has proved they can work from home, lets find that balance
So we are coming to the end of this 2020, all 67 months of it (quote from #wrapped2020) and it could not have been harder, but has allowed me to grow, I hope the team as a whole has grown and learned, but there is no substitute, as a human being, to be around other human beings. Noone will persuade me otherwise.
I would like the office to return. I speak for myself, not for my colleagues, with no expectations that others do but for myself. The recent Google announcement will reignite the debate about the end of the office culture and It makes me a little sad. So much good has come from the office environment, sure it was not perfect and certainly came with some downsides, but on the whole it worked because of one simple thing. We don’t want to spend our lives perched in a room somewhere staring at a small screen and for the most part we don’t want to be alone. Offices at their very heart are social places where we thrive off social interaction. I sometimes think that is lost in the war on office culture.
I have come to the conclusion that those who claim the end of the office culture have some skin in the game, either their next book, a training course in how to work from home, some thesis on office culture does not work now so quick pivot to not office culture. Perhaps it could also be the companies who do want to save money in some way, there will be some of those too, but don’t point at Google, the office costs are a pin drop in the ocean of their total revenues.
So what does need to change? We need to optimise the work from home vs work in the office. Pre Covid many people were starting to talk about four day weeks and could they work? They could not have seen what was about to strike us all, but perhaps they were already understanding that the commute was the issue, the wasted time spent in hours of travel every day, the delays, the cancellations, the rigidity. Imagine the life of those tortured commuters on the broken railway franchises, they must be so happy right now!? Perhaps not. Perhaps what they needed was flexibility, perhaps a rigid start time or being able to work from home a couple of days would have helped them a lot, helped us all a lot. We made our lives so hard with that rigidness, all forced to travel at once, pay crazy prices, standing on trains. That to me is where the transition has to occur, less rigidity, more trust but always have the ability to come together when we need to, be able to look forward to coming together.
Some are pointing to the concept of online communities and how powerful they are, should we be more like that, we should learn from them, I just don’t buy it. All online communities have a real element to them, whether it’s around events, meetings, concerts, get together, coffee mornings, drinks they all have some support mechanism in the real world, work can be this. I think I would enjoy home work more if I knew I could go to London tomorrow and meet up with colleagues. I would enjoy that video conference call that avoided an early commute more if the next Monday I could see the team in Italy in person. What I absolutely can’t look forward to is staring at my computer, in a spare room for the rest of my career, that for me holds no happiness, no joy and anyone who is selling their next book about ‘How to thrive running your business in your spare room’ will find short thrift here.
One thing to be clear on though, this is not a rallying cry against whatever sensible, medical conditions we have to abide by, I am happy doing whatever the sensible medical rules say and for as long as it takes, this is about the future and how I want to live and work in the future. Flexibility between home and office being at its heart. I for one look forward to the hope of being with teams again.
Marco Bertozzi, Vice President, EMEA Sales & Multi-market Global Sales at Spotify, tells Communicate what users were listening to while social distancing was in effect around the globe and in the region.
What were the significant consumption trends by users on Spotify during the lockdown period?
Audio plays a very important role in people’s lives, because of its flexibility in being able to follow users wherever they go. When people’s daily lifestyle was [disrupted] by the impact of Covid-19, many had to stay at home, to help prevent the spread. As the listening followed user’s into their homes, it also branched on to a variety of new platforms. So the two [components] that we really focused on were – what kind of content people were listening to and how they were listening to it?
What people were listening to People were looking for comfort during these challenging times. At Spotify, we’re able to measure behavior based on users’ [search queries] and playlists. We were able to see the users’ behavior reflected on the playlists that they were listening to. One of the most prominent trends around the globe was the increase in nostalgia. We saw a 54% increase in listeners making nostalgic-themed playlists, as well as an uptick in the share of listening to music from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Within the UAE and KSA, there was a spike in ’90s music as well as gaming playlists.
During the initial stages of the lockdown, “Covid” and “Corona” were some of the fastest-growing search terms for podcasts around the globe. As time passed by, these search trends dropped in favor of fun and educational topics.
We’ve also seen an increase in the sharing of playlists as well as the listening of collaborative playlists between users. To give a bit of context, people are able to share Spotify playlists through a link with their friends and family via email, Whatsapp, etc. However, in a collaborative playlist, people can connect over shared music and have virtual jam sessions together. These trends were bringing people closer to one another and became a point of focus, especially for users with a family.
For family members, there was a noticeable shift from personal listening on earphones to group listening via a connected speaker. Even the content transitioned to family-oriented themes, such as kids and comedy podcasts, to keep everyone entertained. These themes were popular for group listening while news and information themed podcasts were less front and center.
During April – May, as people continued to spend most of their time indoors, they were creating playlists to keep themselves entertained, while attending to household chores. There was a 40% increase in the creation of cleaning-themed playlists, and a 65% increase in the streaming of those playlists. These playlists were popular among users in the UAE and KSA.
How they were listening At Spotify, we have always talked about a ubiquity strategy, which means being able to be with the listener wherever you want. Think about all the different places you can listen to audio today – Mobile, tablets, desktop, connected speakers, cars, connected televisions, gaming consoles and heck there are some lucky people who even got it in their fridge. There’s no limit to the possibilities. And on top of that, it provides visibility for audio, especially from an advertising perspective.
Regardless of the circumstances, advertisers are able to follow the user wherever they go. We spoke about this [aspect] even during normal times, where advertisers were able to reach customers while they go for a run, commute to work, etc. But during the lockdown, we saw a rise in listening through other platforms such as connected speakers.
However, gaming was the platform that stood out above all others and the MENA region ranked on top in this category. Gamers are able to stream Spotify through their console while playing, and during the lockdown, we began to see a surge. Our research found a 41% increase in streaming of Spotify’s curated video game playlists across the entire platform. Digging in a little deeper, we found that the top three countries that listen to Spotify-curated video game playlists globally are in the MENA region – Tunisia, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.
As many people were working from home, desktop listening on Spotify experienced a surge as well. According to our data, between April 17th – May 17th, WFH themed playlists increased by 1400% compared to the first ten days in March.
How were marketers leveraging the trends and communicating with consumers? Our communication with advertisers has always been around creating messages, that are contextual and relevant to what the user is doing on the platform. The lockdown period amplified that very same notion. Initially, there was a rush for advertisers to try and be empathetic with consumers about what was going on. They were quite good at responding in that manner. Slowly, a shift began towards more utility messaging, where brands have decided to not only come out and recognize the situation but also provide services that would be beneficial to the consumer.
What tips did you provide to advertisers to make sure they don’t appear like trying to profiteer from the situation? We mainly advised advertisers to use context while reaching out to users on the platform and keep the format in mind. Spotify’s streaming intelligence can identify when the screen is in view and when the audio is the star of the show. For example, an ad with a direct call-to-action is a great fit for when the screen is in view while listening on desktop, tablet, or smartphone. For screen-less moments like cooking or working out, use the power of audio to tell a story and create a memorable impression for the listener.
Since it was a sensitive period, we advised advertisers to be considerate of the cultural moment. The streaming generation is especially critical right now, as brands are rushing in to weigh in on the current moment. Being culturally relevant doesn’t just mean addressing the cultural zeitgeist. It’s about tailoring the message to [address] personal as well as cultural moments, that we can identify through audio. We cautioned brands to be careful around using explicit references to COVID-19 including words and phrases such as, “it’s going viral” or “in these uncertain times.”
People were leaning towards audio while social distancing to help fill very specific needs such as, to stay informed, grounded, and occasionally entertained. Brands can play a role in filling those needs by focusing on brand-building messages that capture emotion and nuance. They can bring these messages/stories to life on audio across multiple formats like video, audio, and display. But regardless, they have to be mindful about not adding to the overwhelming news cycle with yet another piece of brand commentary on Covid-19.