Hi John, could you tell us about your journey in MarTech?
I first began my career with classic brand management positions at Proctor & Gamble and Pepsi. It was while I was at Pepsi in 1994 that I met two executives from Modem Media, which at the time was a 12-person ad agency, and also happened to be the first one to ever to focus exclusively on digital channels. In 1994 that meant using automated telephone voice response as a promotional channel, as well as online services such as Compuserve, and Prodigy.
Modem recommended I do a promotional tie-in with AOL, which I had never even heard of at the time. I was completely blown away with the technology and saw a huge opportunity for one-to-one marketing. Very quickly, I joined Modem where I helped put the very first paid ads on the internet. After that, I spent the next several years innovating the early days of the internet as an “ad-supported medium.”
Looking back, what I loved was the constant technological change and challenge to keep up. Twenty-seven years later, technology is still coming at us and changing with ripple effects for marketers, and I find it just as exciting.
What challenges did the Covid-19 pandemic pose for your team?
The first component of COVID that worried us was all the uncertainty from a business standpoint. None of us at Flashtalking knew how long it would last. We were afraid that agencies might stop paying their bills and clients might choose to cut their advertising budgets.
We had a real fear for the health of the company. At that point, private equity investors had a knee-jerk reaction to cut costs which meant potentially laying people off. We refused, and got buy-in from our employee base to forgo 20%
of their compensation. We promised them that we would pay them back as soon as the pandemic was over. Employees bought into that premise and eventually created a catchphrase, which was; “Take care of the company so that the company can take care of you.”
The second piece was that we had to figure out how to work during lockdowns. Employees, clients, and partners really came together to get the work done and come up with innovative solutions. We even pulled off a 24-hour conference that highlighted the global nature of the company and became one of the most exciting marketing events I’ve ever been part of.
Ultimately, I learned the importance of being transparent with our employees and engaging with the problems. I wouldn’t hesitate in another crisis to take the same approach.
What sets Mediaocean apart from the competition?
Our traditional core business provides the foundational software that allows ad agencies to operate. Coming out of that foundation is a unified and integrated breadth of services, ranging from the buying to the execution, to the financial management of media across all channels that none of our competitors have. We are also heavily supported by the aggressive acquisitions Mediaocean has done in the past few years such as 4C Insights and Flashtalking.
The fact that such a large share of media dollars go to Mediaocean puts us in a very strong position to integrate with partners and bring innovation to the market. For example, in 2022 we’re focused on bringing audience-based TV buying to market and moving beyond broad demographics to be able to buy based on very specific and custom audience definitions.
What are the key ingredients that make a successful marketer?
In any client service business, you need to have genuine intellectual curiosity about the needs of your clients. In an industry that moves so quickly, you have to have the drive to understand how the environment is impacting customers.
Secondly, you must be willing to imagine the future. If change is happening, you don’t want to be reactive or be a victim. You need to be able to imagine where the world will be in two to three years and galvanize your internal organization and clients toward a looking forward vision. Otherwise, you’re driving the company constantly looking into the rear-view mirror.
The third ingredient is that if you are willing to be curious and listen, you have to be able to accept when you are wrong. I think this is the hardest thing for people, and the fear of failure paralyzes them. The antidote is building organizational agility. That way, if you are wrong, you can pull the levers, tap the brakes, and change course to adjust.
What are your thoughts on the growing importance of contextual and semantic-based targeting, as the post-third party cookie ecosystem takes shape?
Cookies have been going away for a while – they don’t exist on YouTube, Facebook, or Apple. Advertisers have slowly been adapting, but they know there won’t be a silver bullet. There will be non-cookie based identifiers, like hashed email, that will be made available. Additionally, there are clean rooms that allow first party data to be developed with media partners in a very targeted way. They could have an increased importance in the mix of tactics, but I don’t see them being a major shift that will change everybody’s ad spending.
What direction do you envisage Mediaocean taking, in the years to come?
At Mediaocean, we’re ambitious on behalf of our clients and ambitious for the company itself. So our priority for our clients is to continually make the business of advertising easier and more effective for the end clients themselves, as well as their agency partners. That will manifest itself in future years in lots of different ways, including innovating in terms of the way that media is bought, and using automation to take friction out of the ecosystem by having more direct connections to publishers and partners. That will all certainly include M&A.
The ecosystem is becoming increasingly connected, and we view our platform, first and foremost, as an integration platform for the ecosystem. But as we connect the pipes, if you were, with partners, and we will leverage our investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning in the interest of better outcomes. The opportunities are pretty, pretty broad and endless, so there are a lot of areas we’re engaged in and even more that we have ambition to get into as we look forward.
Your top pick for a book on Marketing that everyone should read? Could you name one other marketer that you would like to see featured here?
Yes. My favorite marketing book is Being Naked by Patrick Lencioni. It’s a quick read, it’s about 140 pages, but for anybody who is in a service industry who actually interacts with and serves clients, I think it formed a lot of my philosophy of how to interface with clients, which is all about building trust. And in order to build trust, you have to have a high degree of integrity and honesty and you have to be willing to be vulnerable.
What are the key ingredients that make a successful marketing strategy, in this day and age?
I’m still a P&Ger at heart, and what you first learn coming into the organization is its about the customer. I don’t think that’s changed, so the foundation to a great marketing strategy is genuine insight in the wants, needs and mindset of the consumer. I think what’s shifted since I began my career is there is far more opportunity for two-way dialogue with consumers than there has ever been.
The challenge is we are still enormously focused on first-party data and one on communication. At Flashtalking, enabling that communication is a big focus for us, so I believe in it. However, you must be able to go up a layer and abstract what is happening in the market. That’s the art of listening to your consumers at a macro level, while finding a balance of feedback where you can understand broad trends and opportunities.