Bertozzi bytesize: 20yrs of agency, 20K minutes of sales – what have I learned?

I could have waited a month, six months, a year to write this but the biggest impact of jumping in cold water comes immediately, not after a few minutes, so I thought I would try to sum up my feelings about the change from agency to sales two weeks in.

This is not a blog about better or worse, it’s about difference. I am old enough and wise enough now to know that everyone goes to work every day and takes what they need out of work, you can only hope that you find a role that fulfils you, we spend a lot of time at work and being happy there, whatever the role is important. What I will be finding out I guess is whether I should have been doing sales all along, as many have told me, or whether I had it right first time. I feel like timing and choice of company will also impact that decision and I will come back to that shortly.

1.Clarity of focus

So 20,000 minutes later, the first thing that really strikes me is the clarity of focus. I used to describe that as ‘does it not feel repetitive talking about only one thing?’ But now I am in it, there is something liberating about having a clear focus on what your role in life is, it helps being in a brand as strong as Spotify admittedly, but nevertheless. Agencies have a lot of ground to cover and they have to be experts in many things which is hard and they do a great job of it. When I think of a planning director in an agency, they have to be strategic, understand everything from content to programmatic, keep the client service ticking over and that is not easy. That range of services and opportunities needs to be communicated to clients and so meetings have to cover so much and sometimes without the time to really go deep.  When I hear people say ‘I can never get hold of someone’ I suspect it is because they have shifted their time to their clients and not meeting everyone and their dog from the outside. What appears to be a negative, is likely a positive.

On the media owner side, dark side, partner or publisher side you are there for one reason. Everyone knows you are there to talk about your brand and your proposition, the challenge for us is that we have to do a good job of that, since that is all you have to do. As an agency executive I would expect sales people to know their product inside out, ideally know what’s happening in my business and with my clients and deliver a clear and persuasive argument as to why I should spend money with you. The clarity of that purpose is quite liberating. I was in a meeting with a large global client and for me the first thing was that the relationship of our two brands was a no brainer – our audiences complimented each other perfectly. That is something as a publisher, if you have that you should be confident of it, how you then connect the two brands is just a collaboration using all the assets we have available to a brand.

2. Pace of work generates energy

I expected the pace to be different for sure, agency life runs on a different, longer term timetable, different objectives and I expected to find that on the sales side, but there is a stark difference. Of course things are shorter term, but pleasingly mixed with longer term strategies running in parallel. On top of the pace of things though comes the energy which is generated – the communication is fast and frequent, the team support each other and there is a great energy, again connected with clarity of purpose. I think that is something that 20K minutes in, I am enjoying the most. The team has great energy and I love seeing them getting behind each other, both in country and across countries.

The time in CES which I was lucky enough to enjoy with some of my European band members and some of the US as well was a joy in terms of spending time with people who are all excited and pulling for each other. The Spotify space in Vegas was real quality and I felt proud to be part of the company and especially when combined with the great people I met who all welcomed me in. I am going to spend the next week with them in NY as well, which I am thoroughly looking forward to.

3. Numbers

Yes. Numbers are everywhere, this is a company built on understanding our business regardless of your level, sounds obvious? Well I think sales people who move to agencies may be surprised how relatively cosseted the equivalent levels in agency are from the business metrics behind what they do. At a certain level of course there is more exposure but there is so much to make sure you are on top of in a shorter term revenue business to make sure that targets are met than you would find in agency. At a large Google conference that I go to every year they split it into buy and sell side. This year it fell right on the change in my role and so I asked if I could swap and join the sales side tracks even though I was invited as buyside. It was interesting to me that on the buyside everything focused on what could we target, how could we use the data more, how can we join up channels etc. On the buyside it was far more commercial. How do we drive revenue for our valuable and scarce quality audience?

So you want to join the dark side? Well I am afraid I think it will depend on who and when you join. I wrote down the kind of company I wanted to join, and Spotify came top and I was lucky enough to get in the door. I feel comfortable in this environment because I can be passionate about a brand that is in the hand of the most sort after audiences for 2+hrs a day. I feel passionate about a brand that people love and that makes my job so much easier. The clarity of purpose suits me, the brand suits me, and the team is great so it works, albeit 20K minutes in! Agencies provide a powerful view of the landscape, you get to see everything, that variety is intoxicating so if you move to media owner side I would suggest go somewhere you care about and has a great offering, that more than makes up for the slightly more focused narrative. That said, I have enjoyed meeting some of the agency contacts I have been mates with for 20 years, that gives a whole new perspective on  things. I look forward to working with all those agency friends, I just happen to be sitting on the other side of the desk.

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Adblocking – I am going to make you an offer you cant refuse

Italian organised crime started with men ‘offering’ to protect the olive groves of Sicily from the roving gangs of people who ‘might’ burn them down at any point. It was a slightly one sided offer in that they had little choice as to whether accept that or not. As I have been reading and listening to publishers I have started to see some parallels with the Adblocking industry, especially as you delve into the commercial relations behind the scene.

As a publisher, under so many different pressures, probably the last thing you were planning for was a slick salesman roll up and make you an offer you could not refuse. Pay us some money and we can make this ‘adblocking thing’ go away or if you don’t give us a cut, we are going to let the adblock software loose on your site. Of course the publishers are not the only ones being shafted. The customer who signed up to the software may be surprised to find that he or she is seeing Ads again because the publisher paid the protection racket.What you need is a saviour of course and so enter stage left the guys that come and offer the publisher an option to block the blockers. Now of course they are not quite out of the Superman annuals as you have to pay them as well but I guess its better than not getting any ad revenues and they are working to some extent in their interests.

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Overall the whole landscape is very messy, very challenging and right now seems to be a little too much like the Sicilian olive groves of yesteryear.

Advertiser RTB Desks – Not as easy as it looks

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I cant 100% explain the tone or actual words, but it translates along the lines of ‘watch out boys, ALL the advertisers are going to do this RTB thing themselves.’ I hear the message a lot, usually from people in companies that feel they will benefit either way, agency relationship or not. Trouble is there is rarely any proper definition of this phenomena and that leads to falsehoods and scare mongering.

Facts first, an advertiser employing a Mediamath or an Audience Science is not ‘going it alone’ they are merely changing the people they pay to make the work happen, that is going direct, different to going it alone. I would love to write an article about how misguided the rationale is but will save that for another day. Fact is we need to be clear on what we are describing first and foremost because any advertiser who employs a managed service has changed nothing other than the party they are employing, sure, the industry may then be broadening out but thats not a big deal, has happened all through the last couple of decades and big players came and went.

So what does that leave us with? The advertiser who truly does this themselves, I mean employs people who sit in a room? Well first of all, lets look at what needs to happen to deliver a decent offering. At Audience On Demand central to our approach is VivaKi Verified, a team of people who evaluate Tech, Data and Inventory at scale and that is all they do. They are experts, they have expert processes and support the whole operation. When you meet these guys you know they are serious and without them, you have a shaky offering.

But back to the ‘going it alone’ advertisers.

1. The first and most important thing is to hire people to do the work, so you are looking for people interested and experienced in this space. They have to be experienced as your advertiser organisation on the whole would not have people to train them up and mentor them. Those people then need to be inspired, developed, they need to grow as employees, they want to be in an exciting dynamic operation, we know these people, they are demanding. Working in one business, with no peers and little scope for growth will not inspire the best to come and work so you need to find a solution there. If you are lucky enough to hire quality you then have to retain them because if they leave, you wont have a large team to retain knowledge. Final piece in that jigsaw is getting headcount signed off, not easy, what is the rationale exactly as you wont be ‘saving’ money, you will be a cost.

2. OK so let’s say you found the industry RTB expert who wants to come and join, next they need to choose the tech partner, partners. So they do a ‘review’. What does that entail exactly? A few presentations, a load of words on a slide with no way of knowing if they are true or not. Your tech decision is based on a very lightweight approach and has no benchmarks. Even worse you end up choosing lots of different ones and testing and testing. Likelihood is you end up working with one partner. In my day job I am asked a lot about the importance of remaining agnostic, fleet of foot, go where the best tech is. Advertisers want to know we are doing that, but is that practical on a stretched team without expertise? I would challenge it and without scale you cant run different verticals, brands etc to see how DSPs respond so you end up leaning on one partner.

3. OK, so we have a person and some technology. So you start running some campaigns. Feels good to be doing all this in house. One day though you get an email from the boss saying he saw your ad on an unsavoury site. How did that happen, I used all the right tick boxes? Suddenly the pressure descends on how on earth you are going to make sure that does not happen again. Vetting urls needs to occur, ideally upfront, creating white lists and verticals, it has to be ongoing. You need to have that up to date, the tech provider you use cant be trusted to do that. Some DSPs have in their T&Cs that it is simply not their responsibility, so it is now yours. Verification is time consuming, and needs resource to be done well. If you are using multiple partners out their that are not transparent you will have to fix that ASAP because the liability is with you, and you wont be able to demand money back. So best thing to do is do a review of verification providers in the space, there are a lot and they all promise a lot, it is down to you to decide. You could ask a partner for their view perhaps?

4. Now we are in a good place, you have a person, tech x 3, verification process that is ongoing. You now need to develop your inventory outside of standard exchange inventory and into private exchanges, you need to develop partnerships with large players. I would suggest that to be done properly you need a dedicated FTE, you don’t have that to hand so you will need to find some quick wins, otherwise known as average solutions, par with market. As well as inventory we have data that needs verifying – you need to trust the data, source of data, how it is collected etc, that is what we would expect in AOD – beyond that, a strategy around first party data combined with 2nd and 3rd party data to really maximise what you are doing. Ideally would be good to see how a certain data compares based on vertical or business type, KPI type etc, harder for a single advertiser desk. I guess you could ask your partners to fill you in?

5. Campaigns are live. Results are OK, not sure how they compare, but they are OK, you need to optimise though and that takes time, would be good to have some other people to run strategies by though, maybe discuss optimisation strategy, even learn from other countries. Vital to have cross fertilisation in this new space as there are very few experts. Doing a good job takes time. Understanding why something is not working as planned is where things get tougher, you could ask a partner to help?

6. Did you know that DSPs don’t design individual dashboards for you, or cut the data just how you want it to report to the board. They don’t always give you the insights you need so ideally create a solution that you can pull that data into that gives you flexibility – you can licence some software, learn all about it and use that.  Maybe the DSP has something it can sell you – is it the best one though? Perhaps worth a review of the market to come to some conclusions. Ideally would be good to talk to some people who have had experience of multiple solutions and look under the bonnet. You could ask a partner to help on that I guess?

This is the tip of the iceberg, running and creating a genuinely Grade A trade desk is not about logging in and pressing go, it is about scale, it is about cross pollination, you need to have support and strength in depth. We have an incredible team in AOD that is able to provide a fantastic proposition to advertisers that is technology agnostic, founded on deep expertise and importantly a team of people focused on results not their VC pressure to extent the number of partners and revenues before sell date or IPO. I am a passionate advocate for what we do and to be honest the wider groups as well, as long as they are showing transparency and not flogging their own tech.

Advertisers may well do this themselves and some do, but what I have seen so far are advertisers who say they do it themselves but really then lean on third parties, no different to using a Trade desk. Perhaps that is the future, that’s not my debate today, its about those who are saying they do it themselves. In my opinion they will end up creating a less good proposition for their business, with less experienced people who even if they stay, fall behind the market place because they are too siloed and lack inspiration from different people. I am proud of what we do and how we do it, I hope that advertisers continue to realise the benefits of that, but watch with interest the ‘DIY’ strategies play out of course. Either way, I reckon there is space in the business for everyone to play in.

The article today from Adage here is talking about how tech companies are going direct to advertisers and agencies need to shape up if they are going to stop that trend. For all the reasons above, I dont see this as a genuine trend. Its a just another chapter, we dont know how it will end, I can tell you though that most of these tech companies are not geared for this and niether are the advertisers. All the benefits above should soon reveal themselves to any advertiser trying to go it alone pretty quickly.  Anyway does anyone care – isn’t Google going to take over the world? No probably not, they don’t want the terrible business models we have to endure and niether will all the others.

Media freebies..black, white or grey?

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This is the point at which I confess that I once increased an IO on the back of some fancy lunch..sorry not going to do that because I know I have not, but in fact that is too simple an example. There is no black and white, just grey.

The recent Digiday post about a planner in the US writing to multiple publishers asking for them to buy food and drinks for a leaving do, click here for that, sparked some conversation on this topic which came from both sides of the fence. The long and short of it was that the request was outrageous and what a cheek this guy had. In this instance they were right in my mind to be offended, what went wrong with this particular request was it lacked respect, lacked a reason and was delivered to  a group ie anyone will do.

That said, where did this all start? Did it start with the agency asking for free things or was it always the approach of the sales person, lets not just focus on media, this happens in every industry to some extent or another. In every industry the opportunity to build relations has started with hospitality. Now what this story does not tell you is how many of the recipients had previously showered this team with gifts and so lead them to believe this was all possible. And if they did? And if they helped their business, can they now have issue with the request being thrown back at them. Grey throughout.

Generally speaking hospitality is a legitimate way of doing business because we are a people business and the more time we spend together the more we understand each other and then more likely the business gets their message across. People buy people at the end of the day. BUT and a big but, it should not lead to obligation and where friendship becomes darker and things are twisted to personal financial gain. The level of that hospitality also needs examination – I believe the person who offers should always be present ie don’t just get me tickets but take me. I also believe that situations where couples and families are being hosted on ski trips etc pushes the boundary.

I saw an email once, intercepted by an agency person (who was on the exchange accidentally and not involved) between a re-targeting company and a direct client that basically said ‘thanks for the contact introduction, your camera is in the post’ That kind of thing should not be allowed to go on, or a now defunct agency whose Head of media gave the search business for an account to his friend’s independent search agency and by all accounts was paid well for it. This is the dark side of the business and hopefully a smaller and smaller part of it.

The final side of this is when a publisher or tech company is asked to sponsor an event which can come in many ways but its is a clear value exchange and they are ‘paying’ to be part of that event, again that could be food, drink, prizes etc etc but the relationship is clear.

This episode in particular was unfortunate and ill thought through and that person needs to be clear on what is acceptable and what is not but to publishers and media companies this is a cost of business and with all business there are people who do it well or badly. Written entirely differently the media owner could legitimately decide that it was a good opportunity to be in front of 90 media buyers and that is a business decision for them.

Big Sales orgs are spending $30million+ a year on marketing and so they have accounted for the 90 bacon butties, what they had not accounted for was the way the guy asked for them.

Anyone meet me in Pret and grab me a cheese and ham sub?

Agencies and publishers are polarising structures based on the perfect storm

Technology killed the admin star.

One of just many debates raging around the new world of programmatic buying and exchanges. Are we seeing the death of the buyer? The death of the seller? Has the world of computers stripped advertising of all its creativity? Lots of big questions and debates but over the last six months, one common thread has become apparent; there is no value in execution in the long term.

Two or three big themes have converged in the last year, they have been around for longer of course but they have been lit up by the tech debate. The first is that in my view too many businesses sold their value on execution and delivery. These are necessities and you can’t not have them but is that where the value is? Is that what you charge more for? I don’t think so, the agency world in particular suffers from focusing a lot on service and delivery and execution over real value add strategy and quality creative thinking.

In itself that is not the end of the world, many advertisers want perfect execution of course, but what it ends up being then is an easily quantifiable, discountable service that becomes very commoditised – tell me the difference between two media agency TV departments? Secondly lets combine that with the fact that the world of Paid, Earned and Owned means that clients are now not only trying to squeeze costs and fees they are starting to see these new approaches as a gateway to spending less. I have just finished doing preliminary judging and of about 40 entrants at least 37 boasted / moaned (not in so many words) that they had little or no budget to make their campaign work.

So we have smaller budgets based on the social buzz doing the heavy lifting for us and we have fees for service and execution being cut – that leaves us with only one alternative – start to charge for ideas and creativity, for strategic guidance so that the execution is less crucial to the revenues. This works more now than ever as to make the social buzz work for you, good ideas and strategy are needed to do it..it is no coincidence that the non traditional media planning and buying teams in agencies are the fastest growing divisions. Big sponsorships, events, social strategy, performance strategy, content, these are where the future lies backed up with technically led brilliant basics.

To gain traction strategically you need to invest in good people. You also need more of them. Investment  in the current climate is not straight forward so you need to rebalance the organisation. The investment in time and people from a strategic perspective needs to increase and at the same time you need to make execution more efficient allowing you to free up people and resources to focus on intellectual capital. So Enter the third factor  – programmatic buying.

Ask a customer if they want to pay for a load of people bogged down in admin, or people actively thinking about how best to run their business and make it a success, the answer will invariably be the latter, but that’s what we all do in the main at the moment. Clients pay for people and hours spent on too much Admin and not enough thought, this situation needs to change. Technology and programmatic buying/selling is now allowing all companies to achieve efficiencies. Whether it is publishers like the Guardian or agencies through trading desks technology is freeing resource to focus on value rather admin.

Publishers are moving fast now, after a stuttering start, they are moving rapidly, trying to find ways to move more and more into programmatic sales, now with words like premium and brand being attached. They are opening parts of the site, previously sacrosanct such as home pages to the evils of tech. Trading and execution is taking a back seat as Partnerships, strategy, event type words come to the fore – BIG ticket sales are now the focus.

Some recent people decisions are a reflection on that with people like Vevo choosing Partnerships people over sales people and Yahoo re-evaluating structures and there are many more. I am sure The Guardian will be looking to Tim Gentry to help them achieve better margins and a more efficient approach to the market, the signs are there..

So for me the message is clear – we all need to find a way to make money from clients and customers who want to pay less for service and execution and spend less on advertising. Armies of people pushing excel around is not going to be the answer.