Welcome to the Blood, Sweat and CPMs Podcast presented by Freestar.
Our hosts, Jeff Kudishevich and Andy Forwark are here to add levity and provide helpful pointers for anyone navigating the world of Ad Tech. Each episode, they will go through the top threads from the Ad Operations Subreddit and give their take on each hot topic of the week. They will also interview thought leaders across the industry to get their perspective on what matters most to them. Follow along on our Blog for show notes and associated links to each episode. Enjoy!
Paul Josephson (UPROXX) on Adaptability | Thoughts on AdTech Stigma, CPMs & Unwanted Advertisers
In this episode, Jeff and Andy discuss the negative stigma about working in AdTech, if CPMs will stay elevated, and tips for blocking unwanted advertisers. Later in the episode, Jeff and Andy speak with Chief Strategy Officer at UPROXX, Paul Josephsen about being a Warner Music Group company, catering to your audiences, and adaptability.
Listen to the episode on Spotify, now!
About Our Guests
Paul Josephsen is the Chief Strategy Officer at UPROXX, an online platform to provide users with news, sports, music and entertainment content. In his role, Paul leads the charge on revenue generation, digital strategy, client management and marketing. Prior to this role, he worked as the CMO for Adslot, a platform that scales publisher-direct buying.
Find Paul on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/pjosephsen/
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Podcast Website: https://anchor.fm/freestar
Don’t be afraid of change, recognize, by the way, that change is inherently scary, but when you embrace that scare a little bit and you go, if it scares me, it could be a little bit cool. And if it could be a little bit cool, it could be a lot a bit cool. And if I want to go for it, embrace change. But really what I’m saying with that is pretty adaptable.
Welcome. Thank you all for joining us. This is the Freestar Presents Blood, Sweat and CPMs podcast. I’m your host, Jeff Kudishevich, and I’m your co host, Andy Forwark. Andy, we have a great show today.
Our special guest is Paul Josephson, the chief strategy officer for Upprox, which is a Warner Music Group company. And of course, we also have our Reddit ad ops Threads of the week to start us off. Andy, there’s a little bit of news in the world of digital media at Tech Tech in general that I just wanted to start us off with. Did you hear a little company Slack was purchased by a slightly less a little company Salesforce for a whopping twenty seven billion dollars.
Twenty seven billion dollars.
Andy did you remember back in the day maybe this dates me. There was a little program called ICQ.
I remember it ICQ. Where’d they go wrong.
What what? Where was there. Twenty seven billion.
Well AOL stole that maybe instant messenger.
Yeah. When they had instant messenger.
But Jeff, we’re talking about I use slack every day at work and so do you and it’s a very valuable thing.
Absolutely it is. We love slack. Love slack. Huge slack lover. I in fact at times have tweeted at Slack and they’re so nice they reply.
There have been so many different of these messaging platforms that I’ve used over the course of my personal life, professional career.
I don’t know any of them. And I mean, I don’t know how many others had been acquired, but for twenty seven billion dollars.
Twenty seven billion dollars, my head around it.
Maybe too much money came up. Maybe we should come up with the Slack 2.0 and I’ll give them a discount.
Twenty five billion I’m not going to ask for. Yeah I’m not going to ask for the full twenty seven. I think that’s a, that’s a, I mean you’re saving a couple billion. Well that’s a good point.
How do you go from what, what’s not to say. Salesforce could just say hey. Twenty five billion. What got them to twenty seven. At what point do you just stop caring about how many billions there really are.
Oh Andy, when you get to the point where you can buy a company for twenty seven or twenty five, maybe we’ll have a follow up podcast, a part two to this and you’ll let us know. You’ll you’ll clue us in. All right. Andy, I think it’s time to switch gears. Let’s let’s chat a little read ad ops, see if we can add some inspiration to the world of of ad ops a little bit. And then we get to have our awesome conversation with Paul.
Yeah, sounds good. Let’s take a look.
All right, Andy. Now the moment of truth. Our time to break down the top Reddit, ad ops threads of the week, in case you don’t know, which I would imagine most don’t. I actually started the ad ops sub Reddit in 2012, and it’s now somehow become one of the leading ad ops communities in the industry. What do you think, Andy?
Yeah, it’s a great community. Happy to be a part of it. I’m excited for this segment to just run down all the different threads that we see over the weeks and give our opinions on it.
Awesome. All right. Our first thread is entitled, Why Do Most People in ad ops Dislike Their Job and want to transition out of that office? And then the user writes here, People often want to switch to programatic paid media roles. Correct me if I’m wrong. Why is that? Well, Andy, as somebody who transitioned out of there ad op’s job, what’s your take on this, this thread?
Well, this is a funny question, Jeff, but also not a surprising one over my years in this business and doing that operations, there’s a lot of things that can get to people, I think. And you’re very client facing or you’re working with someone in your organization that’s almost as a client. And, you know, if things don’t go right, then you’re put in the on the hot seat. I mean, you’re in control of campaigns and revenue.
And it’s it can be a stressful job, especially if you’re making mistakes.
Andy what what do you think about this first comment in this thread? If digital advertising was a party adopts would be the pinata. That is true, or the punching bag in the in the weight room, right?
Yeah, I mean, for me, I always think of of ad ops as a stepping stone, to be perfectly honest. I don’t know if it’s everybody dislikes their job. I just think it’s it’s probably not a quote unquote forever job for people. It’s usually a place where you get to touch a lot of things. Right. You you’re touching the observer. You’re probably dealing with product. You’re dealing with the sales team. You’re if you’re at a publisher, you’re dealing with editorials.
So you do get a touch, a lot of different things. So I think it gives you a more holistic view of the business, even if you’re not necessarily thinking about that while you’re punching stuff into GAM. Having obviously started in a campaign management role way back in the day, it’s long, long days.
It’s it’s sometimes monotonous work, QA-ing things that look the same, but somehow break the page or don’t show up trying to hit KPIs, whether that’s CTR, viewability, maybe there’s a little the mundane monotony that that sometimes drags on people after after a while.
But it is a to be perfectly honest, it is a great way to learn the business from the ground up. And then you can decide, hey, is this actually something that I do want to do for a while? Do I want to transition out of it and do other things? Or do I just like this and I want to maybe move up? There’s project management QA, maybe be a lead on the team.
So I don’t think it’s necessarily people quote unquote dislike their job. I just do think it’s, it’s not for everybody. It’s not always a very long term role.
Maybe you want to get more technical and so forth. So I just think it’s, it’s sometimes a stepping stone for folks in their, in their career trajectory. So it’s a good starting point. And you also get into other other facets of the industry around truly programmatic and header bidding, whereas maybe you focus predominantly on campaign management. If you do get to a point where you’re disliking it, it’s probably either not a fit for your personality. You want a little more creativity or say in other parts of the business.
But ultimately, I think it comes down to the person. Some people love it and some people don’t. And that’s that’s just the way it is. But I do think it’s it’s a good entry into our industry. Andy our next thread is entitled is using click goals actually a good idea? And the user writes, My understanding is that goals like CTR and CPC are prone to fraud and really don’t measure business outcomes. Why not use conversion based goals and so forth?
You know, when when I sort of think back on the iterations of my career where I did work at a native ad network where everything was driven based on CPC and we had a lot of DR direct response advertisers oftentime conversions was the goal. But you kind of backed into a mix of CTR or CPC. If you’re talking about brand awareness, then you’re looking at things like viewability and maybe completion rate. If you want somebody to see a trailer for your movie or something that’s embedded into an ad, I think clicks and CPC for some use cases is the right approach.
Not for not for. All right. Not for all use cases. But yeah, ultimately, if you’re selling a product, you want people to buy the product. How do you get them to buy the product? Will they need to click on the ad and get to your page? And then it sort of comes down to the to the funnel. Are they exiting on on a certain page? Is it not the right audience? I’m targeting from the specific site or maybe the specific industry or the specific targeting information I’m looking at.
So I don’t think it’s a it’s a bad idea or a good idea as a blanket statement. I think it has its pros and cons, just like some of the other things the user mentioned hearing about conversion based goals or cost per lead and those sorts of things, if you if you’re an affiliate marketing company. So I think ultimately it kind of comes down to what is the advertiser looking to get out of their campaign and then back that end goal into how do you track that in digital?
What’s what’s your what’s your take Andy.
Well, I think you hit a lot of it on on the head there, because it really does come down to what kind of ad are you showing? Is it is it a product that you want someone to buy? Maybe they were browsing for it and they get the cookie data right and it gets targeted and then they want to click figure out what the ad is. And if you’re intending to get clicks, then I you know. You’re going to need something to capture that, to make it a goal that click through rates the standard, what is it still point one?
Is that what they point one percent is a click through rate is like acceptable in this industry? When you talk about it that way, it sounds hilarious. But, I mean, it’s just it’s just a weird metric for me. I’ve never really understood, especially when working at a publisher, when, you know, KPIs were back then, they were not really built up viewability because we didn’t have the ability yet. So people wanted to see higher click through rates because they thought that that meant that their ad was doing better for them.
And in some cases, I think it can be. But there’s also the word of mouth and you don’t need to click on anything to hear things, word of mouth or see something on a website that the next time you maybe see that logo, if it was a Nike ad, you might think of that ad the next time you’re shopping. I just don’t think it’s the end all. Be all. It’s just got to use it in the right scenario.
Yeah, for sure. I’m with you there, Andy. Our next thread is entitled Ad Ops Manager Interview Presentation to Prepare. The user then goes on to say, I have an interview for a well-known publisher is one of the big players in e-commerce. The presentation question seems straightforward. I have not worked on a publisher side and always been agency side for over three and a half years. The questions are around defining an ad server and what it does, along with showing the tech that is involved to launch a display ad and so forth.
I think you came to the right place, right? So you came to a place that is this world. And it sounds like even though you’re maybe in our industry, you’re not necessarily on this side of the business. So coming agency side from from from the buy side, obviously, things look a lot different. And you’re going to be doing a lot of different things for this, quote unquote, big player in the e-commerce space. Andy, what’s your advice for this user?
How do they prepare for explaining how the how the pub side works a little bit, explaining how an ad server works in a presentation?
I think a really good way to to approach this. And they probably don’t know about this, but there are the resources that Google provides, like DFP university or something like that.
DFP what’s that and what’s what’s DFP Oh yeah.
They’ve changed to GAM now. GAM.
DFP is almost talking about like dinosaurs now but that that university that they have or whatever Google. Yeah. Yeah. They have a training module that is super helpful for anybody getting into it because you, you still are going to know some things from the buy side. It’s just you’re working on the publisher side now, so you just have to learn the terms from the publishing side. I mean, a lot of the things that you’re going to do are the same. But for someone that hasn’t done it, you need to learn.
So learn how GAM Works, how do you traffic in GAM? What are you know, how does the ad get delivered to the page? Those sorts of things I think would be a good place to start. Yeah.
And also the the sub Reddit obviously has some good resources. If you just want to be able to talk the talk a little bit, read up on ad monsters, read up on digiday, ad exchange or just to kind of know who’s who’s who. There’s lots of really good Loomis escape’s out there. I think we even link to one in the in the sidebar of the Sub reddit, which is interactive, kind of shows you the the various types of elements of the industry.
So they they know you’re not coming from this background. Right. They’re just trying to see this. My assumption, unless you you lied through your teeth on your resume, which I hope you didn’t.
I think they’re they’re going into it. If they’re interviewing you, they probably are interested in you and understand that you’re not coming from this world. So do your research come at it from, hey, I’m not I’m not the expert here yet. I want to be the expert for you and I’d love to learn here. Here’s sort of what I’ve done in my lead up to this interview and really show them that not only do you understand the basic principles, right?
So to get an ad to serve, I have to have a creative I have to have a click through, an impression, pixel, etc., which you should probably know from the buy side and then just understand, like, hey, I’ve started going through, as Andy mentioned, the GAM university, understanding the fundamentals of ad serving. And I have my buyside experience, which will also help me when, you know, maybe when they’re talking to advertisers. That may be somebody who’s solely been on the sell side.
They might not have that same insider or know that lingo too. So, Andy, I think it’s they’re probably coming at it the right way. Right. They have sort of some of that experience on the other side of our industry. And they’re just trying to transition into the sell side and they’re doing the right thing. They’re asking the right questions and hopefully they’re not exclusively relying on this thread to learn their job because there are a lot of really good resources out there.
We kind of alluded to some of them.
So good luck to you. I hope hope you did not lie on your on your resume. And I sincerely hope that, you know, that things work out well for you. Our next thread is entitled, Do You Think CPMs will stay elevated for the next six to 12 months? And the user writes in their thread, I don’t know what you all are seeing, but I’m seeing CPMs, especially for TV and podcasts, up twenty to twenty five percent in the last few weeks.
Just interested in your opinion.
Well, indeed, on this day we’re recording on December 3rd, they’re talking about the last two days, the start of December, and can we expect the start of December CPMs to to hold in January, February? Would you think.
Know what I mean to laugh. What now? Well, we know it’s not January 1st, so it will be like what the whole industry tanked.
Tank. What do you talk about tank? What like.
I love that sound effect.
Be scared now.
We just had this is happens every year, the CPM and every quarter. Realistically excuse me. You you tend to see a drop off in the beginning of a quarter, drop off CPM in revenue.
Now go down and down. But I wanted to go up, up and up. If I had the answer to that, Jeff, you and I probably wouldn’t be doing the podcast. We’d be on a beach somewhere, OK?
Just a beach like an island, our own island. It could be if we wanted to go that route.
I’m actually, to be honest, if if we’re talking about hitting it, big type of maybe twenty five billion dollar.
Twenty seven. Twenty five. Twenty five. Twenty five. Twenty five. Twenty five. We agreed we would give them a discount. Right. Right. Yeah. If I’m being honest, I’m a lake house guy. I’m not a beach guy. Anyhow getting getting back to this users question. No I don’t think they’re going to stay elevated for the next six to 12 months. I mean, twelve months, I don’t know.
Well, in 12 months it will be elevated again. Yeah, it’ll be elevated again because we’re just we’re in December again.
I mean, look, we don’t know what normal is going to look like. We don’t know what the next quarters are going to do.
It could be another pandemic upon us. No, no, no, we’re not talking about another pandemic.
OK, all right. We’ll not go that far. Thank you.
You know, the reality is we saw an unprecedented year this year outside of the health concern, just talking to industry wise, where Q2 was just a bloodbath, to be as honest as we can say. But things have been rebounding CPM wise and revenue wise. I’m not going to say 2021 is going to look identical to like 2019 and 2018. But I do think we’re going to see some normalcy. I do think advertising dollars are going to continue shifting as advertisers continue shifting their message and how they get to different people.
But no, I don’t think Jan is going to be the same as December. I’m sorry to this user and anybody else who may be hoping for the same. We wish we could do that.
But what we can be hopeful, but I’m not going to. Yeah, let’s be hopeful. Yeah, it’s going to happen.
But we’ll be hopeful. Let’s be hopeful. Let’s be hopeful. Speaking speaking of wish, our next our next thread is entitled Wish Dotcom, Dot, Dot, Dot. This user says, how do you prevent their ads from running on your site? We’ve tried blocking through block lists and creative blocks, but they keep slipping through the cracks.
This is an easy one, right, Andy? We never deal with this, right?
Oh, my gosh. Ad ad quality is is not fun to deal with, is it, Jeff?
Not not the most fun. So, I mean, you’re you’re going down the right path, right? You’re saying you’re doing blacklists. You say you’re blocking creatives. The reality is it’s the Internet and the tools we use are as good as the information people put into them. So what I mean by that is the next time the buyer might upload a creative if for whatever reason they use the different domain or they use the different category or whatever the case may be, it just might not be part of your block list or you might be cached.
Right. Maybe you’re just you just happened to see that same creative from your previous session before the block went into place. Maybe you’re not waiting long enough. You know, you put the block in.
That’s not going to happen. That second, assuming you’re working with multiple ad networks, touch base with each of them, try to see if you can get the ad trace and see where it’s coming from. Maybe you can tell through the call or through the console who’s the main offender if it keeps coming from a particular network and it’s really compromising your business. And there’s the trade off there of, well, I would rather turn that vendor off and not get that particular brand.
Maybe that’s that’s a trade off you have to make. But it’s it’s more art than science. I, I hate to I hate to admit, but there’s some science to it.
Yeah. I mean, it’s a difficult one. You touched on most of the things. The other thing the creatives might say wish dotcom on the ad, but then the actual URL that’s being used may not be wish dotcom.
You would think that there’s a click through that goes to it, but it could be a redirect and not actually shown in the creative. So you might have to dig in and actually find the creative on the page and look at it, grab the HTML that it provides and see if you can find other domains to block.
All right, Andy, I think it’s time to chat with our special guest today, Paul Josephsen. Really looking forward to that chat. Now, let’s go over there.
All right, now we get to chat with our special guest, Paul Josephsen is the chief strategy officer at Upprox, an online platform to provide users with news, sports, music and entertainment content. In his role, Paul leads the charge on revenue generation, digital strategy, client management and marketing. Prior to this role, he worked as a CMO for Ad Slot, a platform that scales publisher direct buying. Paul, thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you guys for having me help. You guys are staying healthy and sane during the craziness of the pandemic.
Maybe not sane, but but healthy for sure.
So, Paul, to kick us off during the transaction with Warner Music, I just kind of like to know, how did you know that Uproxx would be a great fit for Warner and kind of vice versa?
Our world is kind of always been based around mass consumer engagement, covering the topics that matter most to audiences. And Warner Music Group has always sort of been on the cutting edge of owning what matters most to the next level of audience. You can trace that back to really the beginning of music. They’ve always been there. So when it when it comes down to what matters most in entertainment, what matters most to audiences, it was a really natural relationship where two and a half pushing three years into the relationship and it’s fantastic, it’s wildly supportive.
We’re having a lot of fun as an editorial organization, as a massive sales organization and as a strategy organization in partnership with them to bring everything that they do to more people through editorial, but also making sure the advertising community is keenly aware of everything that we have within the family.
So along the lines of that, it’s now been two years since Uproxx moved into Warner. So how is the Uproxx brand evolved?
I would say it’s it’s evolved with consumer demand more than anything, as an organization that has put a lot of time and effort into understanding what audiences engage with, what they like, what drives them from a creative perspective to that’s really where we evolve. And so if I get tactical on that for a second, out of sort of the fluffy fluffy, the response that I gave, audiences crave things that stop their thumbs. It’s how we consume now.
Oh, I love that. I’m going to get that on a shirt Paul. Yeah print the shirt, show it, we’ll go 50 50 on the rates are good. I love that. That’s what it’s about.
And so that that doesn’t know a platform necessarily. Right. Engagement happens differently on different platforms in each of those platforms measures engagement differently. But you can tell stories and you can find audiences and you can reach people on all these different platforms. I would say that’s been the biggest part of our evolution. We’ve become a podcasting company on the backs of People’s Party with Talib Kweli, who’s also one of our biggest brand ambassadors, who just who speaks the truth that we not only as people, but also as an executive team that run a media company, I believe need to be told whether that’s across entertainment or across politics and really appealing to the lifestyle of the next level of consumer.
We’re an experiential company, right? We throw events. We have a huge event that we do with Robert Glasper around the Grammys that brings the most tried and true musicians together for an unfiltered, totally raw experience that brands get to benefit from and consumers partake in. We’ve become a multichannel media company where it’s not just about building a massive Instagram audience and convincing every advertiser that you’re an Instagram brand. It’s actually about owning every lifestyle touchpoint of the audience, that you’re there with them always and you can grow with them right when they turn from when they leave that sort of typical eighteen to twenty four demo and they go into that forbidden twenty five to thirty four demo right.
It;s not like they go nah I’m too old for that one. You know how like how publishing works and it’s sort of this thing that gets talked about. I actually never really gets talked about in the industry, but our evolution is based on what do people care about and how do we apply our tenets and our pillars of coverage, whether that’s entertainment or sports and music and art or film and TV and grow with them. And also, you get that 16 year old, 17 year old that just turns 18 and now they’re in that you know, that and that demographic of that eighteen to twenty four.
Now, all of a sudden, they’re your consumer, right? What are you creating for them? What are you doing on tik tok? What are you doing differently on Instagram? What are you doing in the short form that stops Thoms captures attention and makes them want to share you. So anyway, that’s a bit of a longer than answer, but that’s really what we’re doing from an evolution perspective.
That was that was fantastic Paul. Sidebar. Big fan of Talib Kweli for a very long time.
Awesome. So you kind of talked a lot about audience. I’m just kind of curious how much of your day do you kind of spend thinking about audience and that kind of engagement factor that you talked about, the going from different age group to different age group, you know. So so I’ll answer that in a couple of different ways. I spend most of my day thinking about audience, but audience for me in my particular role means a couple of different things.
I have an audience internally that I have to convince to do things a certain way. Sure, I have I have brand advertisers that require a certain type of storytelling. And when I say I have, what I mean is our team has an audience of people deciding whether or not or how they’re going to spend money and time and energy with us. Right. Because investing your money means investing time, investing energy, dealing with the pluses and minuses, et cetera, across the landscape.
And then, of course, we have the audience of our massive consumer base across multiple platforms. You know, the way Uproxx is set up, that we have teams of people that specialize in each of those things. I have a fun job that I get to work with all of those people inside of our company and think about each of those things. So I joke that it plays to my own ADD well, where I get all of our audience constituencies and one is thinking about that is like, well, hang on a second.
If this is a thing that editorial so passionate about our students seem so passionate about to create for consumers, how are advertisers going to care about that? And then separately from that, how are we going to convince our sales organization to care enough about it, to bring it to those those clients? And the truth is, it’s not a subjective it’s not a subjective conversation. It’s a very objective conversation. We have to bring it back to the why why is this going to work?
Why do people care? And I try to take a very human approach to it. That might be the simplest answer I could give you that if you look at those three constituencies that I laid out, the red thread through them all is that it’s human. It’s human beings on the other side of every one of those communication lenses, and so because of that, I take a very consumer centric, a human centric to my approach, that media planner that’s going to consider us, do they engage with us in their day to day, not just on their lunch break, but when they go home?
Are they getting their entertainment information from Uproxx? If they are, that’s a win. When consumers are spending time with us other scrolling through their Instagram feed and and we hit them, does the thumbs up, do they engage? We get them to think differently, act differently, engage with something new, challenge the way they think about something, or give them a new perspective around entertainment. If we’re doing that, it’s a huge win. So that’s, again, a long answer.
But that’s how I think about our consumers and our audience. I look at it sort of through those three lenses. And if we can hit all of them in the right way, that’s where we win, not just as a business, but also just as a media brand for audiences.
You mentioned a lot in terms of that interconnectivity with with using kind of the humanity of it. Right. So I was reading an ad exchange article a little bit earlier in the year. And and you kind of touched on a word that I really loved. You talked about adaptation. Right? So obviously during covid, I would say if if anybody’s been successful, it’s been on the backs of this word. So I’d love to hear from your perspective of what what does adaptation look like to you in in our industry and in your business?
It’s a word that I never thought I’d find myself using because it’s just not the word I would use a lot as a person. But I think when people ask me, like, what do you do right? Or what have you done? And I could nerd out with them for a little bit and talk about it and I could lose them. Or really simplify what you’ve done over your career in the past 15 or so years. It’s adapt. Don’t be afraid of change.
Recognize, by the way, that change is inherently scary. But when you embrace that scare a little bit and you go, if it scares me, it could be a little bit cool. And if it could be a little bit cool, it could be a lot a bit cool. And if I want to go for it, that’s why I encourage not just like I encourage my teams, I encourage folks that I mentor and I encourage folks that I advise, embrace change.
But really what I’m saying with that is be adaptable. You know the fact that you came from a company a couple of years ago and you have a certain way that you think the world works, use that experience. But look at the world now and don’t just look at the world now through your discipline. Look at the world now, through every other input. You might have done something so, so well two years ago or three years ago or one year ago or whatever.
But the other inputs on the other side for the other for the audience and whether it’s a buyer or whoever on the other side may have fundamentally changed that they don’t think the same way anymore. So even though the end result. Right. They’re still going to spend their money, they’re still going to do something in a certain way, they might do it very differently now because something’s changed on their end. And so when I talk about adaptability, I don’t just mean to the individual, like, be flexible, you know, be yes man or be a woman or like I don’t totally just mean that.
I mean, be open to seeing the entire world and how it impacts the person on the other side of the communication and understand that their world is changing, too. That’s going to help you be really successful, not just how you communicate, but how you convince somebody to do something, how you approach organizational change and organizational structure, how you approach your products. And so to me, adaptability is like it’s the crux of it. And it’s it’s the idea that, like the world around us is completely changing.
Media has been forever changing. And if I go back to my original statement of if I just take my career, my career has been so I don’t want to call it inconsistent, but it’s been constantly changing. And not just not not my jobs, but the things I’m in charge of. That’s one point. You’re in charge of media. Six months later, you’re being asked to build a branded content studio. Six months after that, something is fundamentally changing.
Now, people are asking about video. Now people are asking about Instagram. On one hand, you could get totally overwhelmed. On the other, we could be like this, like this is pretty rad. Like look at our world. Everything changes constantly. And when you embrace that, you can do like epic, epic stuff.
Paul, if you if you haven’t thought about it yet, you should probably do like a TED talk. I think because I was just I was just I was just sitting in my seat just going, wow, just wow.
I don’t know. I mean, I don’t want to nerd out on too much, but like, if you if you embrace that notion of adaptability and you let things scare you a little bit, that’s what I think, like going back to the human nature of things. If you allow yourself to be a little bit vulnerable and you identify the thing that scares you, it actually allows you to be very pragmatic in your approach and go, why am I afraid of that thing?
Am I afraid of that thing because of job security? OK, that might be a dumb reason because the company might wildly benefit from going and doing that thing. And if I do that, then I’m wildly job secure. You know, if you if you start to embrace that. Notion of think differently, challenge it, what it does, and by the way, I’ve taken from a career perspective, now let’s put that on the side and just talk about it from a product perspective.
But we don’t do that. We’re not that kind of company. Why not? That usually the answer is we haven’t found a way to do it. By the way, sometimes the answer is it doesn’t make sense, is not always positive. The margins of it are terrible. It’s going to be a waste of time. Those are truths and those happen all the time.
There’s plenty of decisions to be made, product, product, market fit and all of those other things.
Right. And those things are super valid. But if you get to the if you get to the answer that no, we shouldn’t because you looked at it very objectively through the lens of are we ready to change? Could we change. Right. And have we recognized that the market might want that if you still get to the answer? No. Then in my eyes, you went through the right path. But if you get to the answer. No, without looking at it through the lens of are we ready to adapt, are we ready to change, what’s it going to take to do this?
If you haven’t done that work and you get to know, I don’t think you’ve looked at the full picture. And that’s what I believe media companies struggle with, because at the very crux of it is that many media companies rely on dollar in, dollar out and they don’t have the runway to change. They don’t have the runway to adapt. You know, and I think that’s a systemic problem of our industry. And that’s why profitability matters so much.
That’s why ensuring the right types of revenue come in matter so much. That to me is where when you’re actually building a business, it’s not a fleeting thing.
So I guess going on that a little bit more, when you’re evaluating any new strategic partnerships, what are some of the key components that you look at?
The first one I try to look at, first of all, as I try to not look at it individually, I have an incredible peer set across Warner and across Uproxx and a broader network that I’ve been lucky and blessed with to call friends now across the industry. And so when we look at this stuff, we try to look at it together. I can’t tell you how many conversations start with, like, hey, I think this thing’s cool, you know, what do you think?
It’s the truth of it. Right? And it doesn’t necessarily start with formal one sheets of like here’s here’s the pros and cons of this. And here’s what’s gonna look like. It starts with like, hey, I think, you know, or I feel. And then from there it grows into what’s the business case for this? Is this going to make logical sense? Is this additive in any way? Is it additive from the Ubroxx perspective? Is it additive to us editorially, which means it’s going to be additive to the to the audience that I referred to before the advertising community.
Does it change the way our sellers are able to talk to us or put a new arrow in the quiver, so to speak, that gives them a new way to talk about us or a new angle to go into rooms if we’re able to focus on the things that make a dent. For our business and our businesses selling advertising, then it’s probably going to make sense, but then we have to go through the how and why we’re going to get there.
Right. What’s the return of spending the time and energy to do it? And also what’s the fit with the people on the other side? There’s so many different ways to partner and there’s so many different ways to do strategics these days that it often, to me comes down to where there’s a will, there’s a way. So the first thing I look for is, is this cool? And is this additive something that we. And is it something that we need?
And then I try to define why we need it. And if I can get to a place where I genuinely believe we need it because there’s a business reason for it, I’ll go bullishly against it. If I can’t get to that quickly, I’ll spend a little bit more time trying to assess that or I’ll bring in others to help think that piece through. What am I not seeing? Once we get through sort of that phase, then it’s about figuring out are these groups of people?
Is this a company? Is this is this a project where people are going to be really ready to go to battle together? Because figuring that stuff out can be hard, right? You’re always going to hit roadblocks. So that to me is the next step. And I feel like if I oversimplify a process when we’ve come down to that and then you bring in the other component parts, you bring in finance, you bring in business development, and sometimes some deals need all you bring in legal, etc.
You need all of that. Some deals need little pieces of that. But then you bring in those pieces. And because you went through those first two areas of the audit, getting through those pieces is actually quite easy because the trust is built, the relationship is there. You know, the people on the other side are people that you can figure things out with and problem solve with. I believe you’ve got to go through those first couple steps to get to a strong end result.
If you try to fast forward just to that end result, I think you’re going to get hiccups because the credibility hasn’t been established up front as we head into to 2021
What is your product focus? We put a deep focus on this notion of creative perspective and reach, we believe, to be a really strong media business. You need to have those three things creative, meaning you have to be good storytellers, you have to have a narrative and you have to be able to tell it in the places people are. A prospective means you have to bring a point of view. You have to have something to say and a reason to say it.
But you have to have a validating factor that when you say it, there’s a reason somebody is going to listen. Whether that’s your experience on a topic or your first person experience on topic, whatever that might be, unless one’s reach, you have to have enough people to say it to that. It makes a dent for brands. So our product focus is really on that on that triangle, if you will, the three points of that triangle. We’re building products and new capabilities that hit on those three things so that we can really be part of the of the fewer bigger and better set for our brand partners.
And we’ve successfully been there, which has been really exciting. You know, the idea that they don’t have to go to one hundred different people to spend their money. They can if they want to, of course. But the reality is what they’re seeing with us is that, wait a second, they have mass scale. They’re bigger than any other publishing house, period. Then when they tried it and they challenge it, they have the research teams look at the research teams, check the box and go, yeah, that’s accurate.
Our perspective has been winning US awards for the past decade. Talent and television and entertainment trust our perspective to validate their programming. We’re almost always quoted in helping to break new entertainment and validate its purpose and its existence. And you have to have the chops in producing and creating things to back that up. There’s a reason top talent relies on us to produce for them. There’s a reason that brands allow us to produce commercial quality and episodic content for them.
And so those are the areas that when we continue to, I’ll say double down, but in some cases triple down on, we believe that’s the that’s the way that we’re going to win. And so to your direct question about what products are we investing in, any product that hits any of those three things is wildly valuable. That might be in a new media type. It might mean a new flashy take over product. It might mean a joint venture to build a new vertical together with somebody.
It might mean an acquisition. In some cases, it might mean a representation agreement. But anything that can be done to increase our power in those three things is wildly helpful and really what we’re focusing on.
Paul, we’re going to wrap up with one one last question. We usually like to ask about advice and that sort of thing. You mentioned mentorships. I’m really curious about how you’ll take to this.
So, you know, for somebody who’s, let’s say in our space and digital, who’s looking to move up in their career, what some additional advice, because you’ve already given us 50 different things I’m going to write down when I hear the recording. What what what advice can you share with somebody like that? I had a great conversation with somebody the other day who was kind of cool. Her dad actually reached out to me on LinkedIn, was like, you don’t know me and you don’t owe me anything.
My daughter is trying to figure out this media industry, would you meet with her? And I was like I was like, did you reach out to the right guy? Because, like, I tell everybody, I think this stuff so cool. And I didn’t come from a background of this. Coming up, I didn’t have a dad who worked in Vermont, who worked in media or a sister who worked for me like doctors and teachers. You know, like they’re like, what are you doing?
You know, if I knew who to reach out to at the time, think things would have started earlier for me. So I the reason I go there is when I say to people be be wildly yourself, but be open to changing everything. And what I mean by that is be so authentic, be so real that somebody wants to take a risk on you and be open to changing everything, meaning not not who you are and what you stand for and your morals and ethics and in your code, but more so be very adaptable to what you know isn’t the end all.
Be all. And there’s so much more to learn. And when you empower yourself to go, this is who I am. This is what I stand for. These are the things I am. That’s why somebody is going to believe you. That’s why somebody is going to trust you. And that’s why somebody’s going to invest their time and energy into you. They’re going to go like, yeah, they might not know everything, but that’s going to be my person like that, that they’re going to figure it out with me.
When they see you being adaptable and open to change, they’re going to know that you’re not necessarily motive driven. They’re going to know I can actually have an honest conversation with that person. They’re going to look at things very objectively, lay out a plus and minus for me and help me problem solve. That’s what I say to a young generation. Then I also go into the fact they take a look around at that, like the generation coming up, and even two generations behind them have their hands on the technology that they have their hands on.
Anything can be solved for. And so I think one of the practical pieces of advice is I give people is that when they’re reaching out to editorial organizations or publishing companies, I say show them. Don’t talk about how you would have taken that headline and twisted it. Just do it and produce a segment for them on Tik-Tok, because you know what every publisher is trying to figure out? Tik tok. And they’d love to hire 16 year olds if they could do it.
Show them. You are who you are. You have your moral code, you are what you are, and you want to make sure that’s so buttoned up and so solid and so strong that somebody needs you. And it’s like, hell, yeah. That person. Right, because that’s step one. Step two is you recognize what you know and you recognize what you don’t know when you’re humble about it and you’re open to the change. And step three is you bring your game, you produce for them, you make things, you show them that you’re capable and they go, wow, that’s what I want to invest in, is not a talker.
It’s a doer. It’s not somebody who’s going to bs me, it’s somebody that I genuinely believe in, has their head on their shoulders in the right way. You know, that’s what I continuously tell people when there’s opportunities to invest in yourself, build, build a skill set and and approach the conversation with what you can do for somebody.
Paul just flown away, man.
It was such a treat, such a genuine pleasure speaking to you today. I really appreciate you you joining us on our podcast and just showering us, bathing us, and you have to this. Yeah, yeah, the honesty, really, really, really appreciate it.
It was it was fantastic.
Guys, thanks for thanks for letting me go on some rants. I go on some tangent, but I appreciate you guys.
Oh, they were all worth it. So really, really great stuff. Thanks a lot, Paul. Always stay healthy.
Well, Andy, that was a fantastic conversation with Paul. I know I learned a lot from him and really was kind of sitting here a little bit in awe. I think I mentioned it. I kind of felt like I was at a TED talk. I just was kind of sitting on on the edge of my seat for for kind of each of his answers.
Yeah. Paul was really fun to talk to. A lot of great insight quotes that we are putting on shirts. Yes. That we like so much.
So thanks again, Paul, for your time. Well, thanks again, Paul.
Really appreciate your time and hope everybody had a great, great time listening too. A reminder for everybody that the links for the Reddit threads we discussed will be in the show notes if you want to check them out afterwards. Thank you again for everyone who made it this far, for the Freestar Blood, Sweat and CPMs podcast. If you do have a spare moment, please check us out on Google Play or iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts and leave us for review and subscribe to make sure that you get all of this high quality content directly into your ears.
For feedback or suggestions for guests, you can reach us at a podcast at Freestar.com. Special thanks to Matt Heinlein for our music and to Caroline Romano and Paolo Battista for helping with editing and production and making sure that people know this podcast exists until next time. Don’t forget to add your macros. Later, alligator.
Paul, fewer, fewer, bigger, better. Yeah, so you gave me a T-shirt idea, now you gave me a tattoo idea.
I will pay for it if you do it. That’s a done deal.
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