Sarah Fay in wwwLand, Parts 1 thru 3.
By Wendy McHale
Madison Avenue possesses some of the same incredible characteristics that Lewis Carroll wrote about in his children's fairytale classic "Alice through the Looking Glass". That was back in the 1800s. Now it's called, "Alice in Wonderland." These days you don't need to be the Cheshire Cat to see the similarity between what Alice saw then and what you're see now in wwwLand!
MadAve Journal editor Tim McHale had the opportunity to catch up with Ms. Sarah Fay recently and asked if she would be kind enough to share what she's seen along the way, after taking on leadership roles for 16 years in the 21st century ad agency business.
Sarah is now playing advisory roles and serving on the boards of several companies. Over the next three days, she'll be sharing what it was like, more about what she's doing and the exciting wwwLand that's up ahead.
We expect you'll be curiouser and curiouser as Tim takes us down into the digital media rabbit-hole to watch Sarah Fay click ""through the touchscreen glass."
Tim: How are you?
Sarah: I'm doing really well, thanks Tim.
Tim: Great. Before we get into industry issues, tell us about your self. Where did you begin your career in advertising?
Sarah: Sure. I began my career in advertising sales. It was during the rise of high technology in the mid 1980's, I got my first big opportunity to represent a portfolio of computer titles, all published outside the U.S. - Europe, Latin America, Australia, S.E. Asia and Japan. I was in my early twenties at the time, and looking back, I'm almost shocked at the responsibility that was thrown my way.
Tim: What were you doing?
Sarah: I was hired by Pete May who managed a division of my company, M&T International Marketing, based in San Mateo, CA. I was tasked with setting up a satellite office in Boston in order to mine the Route 128 Technology Belt up here. My first job was as an advertising sales person. They hired me and just threw me into the deep end, where I had to start swimming, immediately!
Tim: That's great!
Sarah: It was. That's what was going on all over the high tech industry in the go-go days of high tech growth. It seemed like everyone was a kid! My boss was 27, the president of my company was 28, and Bill Gates was under 30, too. There was never a thought of being too young or inexperienced to do anything. We just did it. I think of myself as incredibly lucky to have had this start. I loved M&T.
Tim: What made it so special?
Sarah: There were a few reasons. First, I worked with a talented and supportive team. Pete was a great boss. We're still friends. In fact, today I'm an investor in his company, Greener World Media.
Tim: Cool. What else?
Sarah: I received formal sales training, which is something that I think still serves me well today. I had a front row seat to witness the evolution of the high technology industry and its miraculous inventions. I developed a taste for its fast pace of change and life-changing breakthroughs. I was exposed to people and business practices all over the world. I learned to operate as part of a global team, and to respect and enjoy the differences in our cultures.
Tim: Sounds great. How long were you there?
Sarah: I was with M&T Publishing for six years. I grew my territory from $500K to $5 million, covering the entire eastern seaboard in the US and Canada. I also got married during that time and became pregnant. This made me start to wonder how I could have a family and keep up the pace in a high-travel position.
Tim: That was a time that our entire generation was wondering about the same things; balancing work vs. family. What did you do?
Sarah: My route was somewhat unconventional. Once people in the agency space build up a certain amount of experience, it's normal that some will "hop the fence" and sell media to make potentially more money. Mine was just the opposite. Like many of the people I worked with in sales, I never pictured myself joining an agency.
Tim: What made you do it?
Sarah: One day I received a call from a woman by the name of Ellen Freeman (she was a client of mine at M&T). Her call came at a time when I was just trying to figure out what I should do next. Ellen had established a small consultancy called Freeman Associates, which was just starting to grow. This was an opportunity to learn about media planning and buying which I never would have had if I had stayed in sales. She became my boss and another important mentor.
Tim: You bucked the trend.
Sarah: It initially looked that way though it became the best move I could have ever made. At the time I thought to myself, "I'll give this a try for two years. I'll learn about the process of media planning and buying, meet all the publishers in high tech, and cherry pick my next position in ad sales." The thought of working a 9-5 job with an all female team; most of whom were mothers sounded almost too good to be true. Besides getting the support I needed at this stage of my life, the idea of not traveling sounded like Nirvana. God love her, Ellen included maternity leave as part of the offer!
Tim: Wow that is great!
Sarah: It was. However, my expectation of a slower pace at Freeman Associates never materialized. It was more like a rocket ship ride! We hit a need-vein in the high tech marketing space where marketing managers were up to their eyeballs in too many advertising options. They were hungry for guidance and negotiation assistance. We could barely hire people fast enough to keep up with all the business coming in. Anyone who has ever worked in a start-up can tell you there is no room for egos or politics. We all had to roll up our sleeves. I did everything from pitching new business to typing insertion orders and answering phones.
Tim: I can relate!
Sarah: I sometimes think of the days when we were fewer than twenty people. It was precious experience, where moving the company forward was truly a team effort. We had to be nimble, innovative and frugal. This was a bootstrap start-up, which meant we had no investment dollars. Ellen and I used to joke about never even throwing away paper clips - a habit I've never been able to shake.
Tim: LOL! What happened then?
Sarah: Two years passed. Instead of following through on my plan to go back to publishing, Ellen made me a Principal in the business, which made staying the obvious choice. We grew to become the largest media agency in the high tech space, with clients like AOL, Symantec, CMGi, Akamai, and divisions of Microsoft.
Tim: Sounds great.
Sarah: Freeman Associates had all of its clients in high technology, so we were close to the emergence of the internet. Many marketers were curious to try online advertising in the mid nineties. So were we. At the earliest opportunity, we jumped right in. Many people on our team became instantly passionate about digital technology. It presented so many exciting possibilities...but there was no guidebook. We essentially taught ourselves how to execute and evaluate online media programs.
Sarah: We were bush-whacking like the rest of the industry. For example, in the beginning we weren't even using ad serving tools. Freeman Associates soon became a leading authority in online media in New England. As compared to our main business, our spend and our business in online was small, but it was still exciting to me and became my passion area in the business.
Tim: Cool. Then what?
Sarah: In 1998, Freeman Associates was acquired by Carat.
Sarah: It was. I was already familiar with Carat from my days of selling space in the European marketplace, and knew it was a market-leading business with an excellent reputation. Overnight, Freeman Associates went from being a media hot-shop in high tech to being Carat Freeman, part of a large, global media agency.
Tim: What was that like?
Sarah: It was a big change. I can see now that my personal experience in being part of an acquired company helped me to communicate and empathize with company founders we later worked with taking them through the same process.
Tim: Which is what?
Sarah: Well, an entrepreneur needs to adjust to a number of things that go along with joining a large organization, like corporate governance, financial reporting and decisions that need to be taken for the greater organization vs individual units. These things can feel like a hindrance to getting business done. However, there were big benefits that came with a joining a global team. In many ways it was just like coming home to my international publishing days.
Tim: How's that?
Sarah: By becoming part of Carat new business flowed to us through the parent company. Also, the dotcom boom was upon us. We were perfectly positioned to capitalize on an exploding marketplace. When I think of that time, it was like holding a basket and catching money as it fell out of the sky - I just needed to get there fast enough!
Tim: LOL! Was there a painful part?
Sarah: Our biggest challenge once again was hiring to keep up with incoming business!
Tim: So you obviously stayed on after your agency completed its earnout...
Sarah: Yes, Carat needed a central hub to provide online media services to all its US clients. Ellen was planning to leave the business in 2000. She lobbied for me to be given the opportunity to launch the online media business for Carat. With the dotcom market still going crazy, Aegis agreed and made a strategic decision to invest in building our digital practice. We took 25 employees from our office in Newton, MA, and moved to a cool, new space on Newbury Street in Boston.
Tim: Sounds exciting.
Sarah: This was the first time I was solely in charge of a P&L. I was both nervous and excited. I missed Ellen's guidance but I had the great opportunity to report to David Verklin.
Tim: David's a great guy. One of the all-time talents in the media business.
Sarah: For sure. As the CEO of Carat, David became a huge champion of our digital business. I also began working Steve Andrews, who would be my CFO partner over the next 10 years.
Tim: Two really good guys. Then what happened?
Sarah: Well, we launched Carat Interactive in January 2001 - right in the teeth of the dotcom bust! As you may recall, we were surrounded by high-profile business disasters like Enron and all of the crumbling dotcom businesses. Just as we opened doors to Carat Interactive, the entire online media marketplace practically came to a halt.
Tim: Yikes! What was that like?
Sarah: Not surprisingly, our first year was not easy. Every time we won an online media account, the budget got cut to zero. Most online media budgets were small, so we had no choice but to change our business model to include services beyond online media. We began looking at other digital service offerings like Search Engine Marketing, eCRM and Affiliate Marketing. In many ways it was a great time to begin hunting to acquire marketing practices that could add digital creative and girth to our company.
Tim: Smart move. Who were your initial acquisitions?
Sarah: By the end of 2001, we acquired two businesses: Lot 21, a hot San Francisco based interactive agency led by the iconic Kate Everett-Thorp, and a Boston based eCRM company called Vizium, led by Alan Osetek.
Tim: Both great companies.
Sarah: Agreed. With these new services, Carat Interactive had a much stronger strategic platform versus many of our competitors. We were able to win business on our own - bringing in new accounts from outside of the Carat client base, as well as providing digital marketing services to the Carat clients.
Tim: I remember there were very few companies that had the breadth and depth of Carat Interactive's business at the time.
Sarah: Up until that time, many of Carat's clients tended to be "traditional" accounts. Digital was still considered to be more of an experimental medium than a true contributor to the marketing plan. We ploughed through that, with a mindset to always move forward. Everyone at the company believed in what we were doing. It wasn't always easy getting digital programs off the ground, but when we did, they would inevitably lead to growth, based on the fact that they provided measurable results.
Tim: Can you give me an example?
Sarah: Sure, I remember a pivotal moment with one of our accounts, adidas: It was 2003 and adidas was launching the most significant branding program in the history of the company - "Impossible is Nothing", which featured Mohammed Ali and his daughter, Laila.
Tim: I loved that campaign!
Sarah: Me too. There was originally no budget slotted for online. There wasn't a level of comfort that online media could provide branding impact commensurate with TV, print and Out of Home.
Tim: Sure. How did you address that?
Sarah: Timing is everything. Carat and Yahoo! had just completed a study called, "Born to Be Wired" which proved that the internet had become a core medium for teens, which was an extremely important segment to adidas. That research data was news at the time, though of course it's something we take for granted today. The study proved what we felt in our bones to be true, and we used the information to re-think the media mix.
Tim: How did you do that?
Sarah: We called a summit meeting which included adidas client and agency team members from around the globe to discuss and decide whether the digital platform would be right for the "Impossible is Nothing" campaign launch. The team's decision was YES, but we had very little time left to execute. There was a distinct feeling then that the allocation to online was still a risk. We knew that, so we did everything we could to ensure that the online execution would be great.
Please click to turn on the video.
Tim: Tell us about the campaign.
Sarah: It was one of the first campaigns featuring home page digital video units. The creative spots were inspirational; video spots of Mohammed and Laila boxing each other in the ring, with a voice over from Laila claiming the sport of boxing as her right.
Tim: I'm a huge Ali fan. I get chills today when I see that spot!
Sarah: We ran these spots on the home pages of Yahoo! and MSN. They carried the same emotional impact as TV. They were a huge hit. The campaign received more than 5 million views! They were considered the most successful broadband spots on those sites at that time and the buzz behind the creative and the digital strategy generated an enormous amount of buzz. It was a watershed event that turned the adidas marketing organization into real believers in digital marketing.
Tim: I remember.
Sarah: Looking back, it was one of the happiest moments of my career, as the collective client/agency team took a risk we believed in and helped adidas make a bigger branding impact. More importantly, we shifted perspectives about what could be done with the digital medium.
Tim: What impact did it have on Carat?
Sarah: We began to grow much more rapidly and kept an eye out for attractive digital shops which met the caliber of quality that would fit into our corporate culture. We acquired another creative shop in San Francisco - Freestyle Interactive, founded by Karim Sanjabi, a passionate entrepreneur and digital philosopher/gamer.
Sarah: Freestyle was doing some incredible work, and walked in the door as the interactive agency for EA. It helped to keep the agency at the cutting edge of digital creative. The combination of Freestyle and Carat generated numerous wins. At the same time, it created a philosophical departure from Carat's original positioning as a "media independent" agency. Carat was known for its creativity in media planning and buying, not as a shop that offered creative strategy and production as well.
Tim: It was a time when the lines between creative and creative media were blurring everywhere in the industry.
Sarah: It was happening across Carat/Aegis on a global level - creative capabilities were cropping up all over the group. It posed new branding questions for Aegis. The company had an opportunity to create a consistent strategy that would resonate both corporately and on the ground in each country.
Tim: Interesting. How did that take shape?
Sarah: Well, Aegis had already created a task force back in 1998 headed up by Nigel Morris who is now CEO of Aegis Media North America The team's purpose was to share best practices across countries and to shape the digital strategy for our global organization. Working with this group was one of the best experiences in all my years with Aegis.
Sarah: Yes, if you've been part of a global team, you know that people from all different cultures don't typically begin as a team by seeing eye-to-eye. You have to get over some differences. When we first met during the dotcom boom I'd say the theme of these meetings was "That's not how we do it in my country." Everyone had their own approach to digital strategy! However when the dotcom boom went bust, people around the table were humbled by the state of the market. Our global meetings took on more of a "group therapy" feeling.
Sarah: Our collective focus went from highlighting our differences to facing our challenges and helping each other with ways to overcome them. By the time the market started to recover, our businesses were much more aligned, and we shared an ambition to move in the same direction. This is when the Isobar strategy took shape within Aegis.
Tim: I remember. What was the key insight that got the ball rolling?
Sarah: Consumer media behavior was measurably changing. Digital media usage was growing significantly. Aegis recognized the opportunity to claim a leadership position in the digital space. Digital marketing was still a cottage industry across Europe and in emerging markets such as China and Latin America.
Tim: What is Isobar?
Sarah: Isobar was Nigel's brainchild, and he became CEO, Worldwide. It was created as an umbrella brand to house best-in-class digital marketing services, known for their expertise in specialist categories, and prominence in their countries. It empowered independent agencies joining the Isobar network around the globe to keep their own brand's focus and culture. Nigel was clear about supporting, rather than disturbing, the DNA that made them strong services in the first place.
Tim: Makes sense.
Sarah: The Isobar network grew from what began with a few hundred staff to more than 3,000 digital professionals in just a few short years.
Tim: Impressive. What was your role?
Sarah: I became CEO of Isobar US. One of the first things we did was to hit the acquisition trail, to fill out the US network with services that would help us win. We met with numerous independent digital service organizations all over the country to explore a mutual fit. When I think of all the things I've been lucky enough to do in my career, I would say that having the opportunity to meet so many inspirational entrepreneurs with innovative business models is right up there at the top.
Tim: How did you go about doing that?
Sarah: We had a small swat team that traveled around to make these visits. It included Alan Osetek, who had moved into an acquisitions role, Steve Andrews, me and Nigel Morris who came over from London for many of the exploratory meetings. After touching down in most major cities, we eventually landed right back in our own Boston neighborhood, and acquired two market leading practices.
Tim: Who did you acquire?
Sarah: iProspect, the number one service in Search Engine Marketing strategies, led by the acclaimed author and evangelist of the SEM world, Fredrick Marckini. And Molecular, an internet marketing consultancy that produced best-in-class web sites and business strategies for the web, led by Ralph Folz , who later went on to become Isobar's Global COO.
Tim: That's right.
Sarah: We also acquired a Word-of-Mouth agency called Ammo Marketing, led by Julian Aldridge, a foremost expert in influencer marketing. These companies changed the shape of our US business.
Sarah: For me it was like, "Holy cow!" In just a few years, I went from leading our merry band of 25 to running a network of agencies with 700+ staff in the US!
Tim: It must have been exciting!
Sarah: We caught the next digital wave of business and participated in delivering true global digital strategies to our clients. Our ability to deliver global execution of digital strategies resonated with the companies who brought us on board to help them navigate the digital landscape.
Tim: Tell us about it.
Sarah: Isobar had deep expertise across the spectrum of digital marketing specialist services and was composed of the best talent in the industry. The leaders of the businesses within Isobar knew each other and wanted to succeed together. You might think I've got more than a little Pollyanna in me, but it's true that this added to the success of the network.
Tim: Not if the results prove it
(Please click to access study)
Sarah: You know nothing makes collaboration work like real relationships. I've always said "If you've got a communication problem, order up some pizza and beer." And we had plenty of that - lots of late nights and working sessions all over the world. The network was made stronger through friendships. Isobar had many industry firsts.
Tim: Like what?
Sarah: We were the first network to take a market leading position in Search Engine Marketing, Mobile Marketing, and Word of Mouth Marketing. With the help of MySpace, we stepped up to co-launch the biggest piece of research that had been done to date on social media behavior and marketing ROI.
Sarah: The study was titled, "Never Ending Friending." It's still referenced today by many industry analysts and pundits. In 2007 MySpace asked Isobar to be their partner because our work in social marketing was already the most advanced at the time.
Tim: Never Ending Friending" was such a great name.
Sarah: I agree - it just popped out of someone's mouth during a brainstorm and everyone was like, "YES"!. Digital strategies were growing significance in the media mix. The entire advertising industry began to grapple with account strategy and structure. When the online media budget was $2 million out of $100 million there was no question that digital took a back seat, but when some digital budgets were getting into the $100 million range, the digital accounts became big businesses unto themselves, and sometimes went in a different direction from the traditional strategies.
Sarah: Carat recognized the importance of integrating digital marketing into the core strategies of its clients since our digital practice was significant in its own right. While communication and coordination between the digital and traditional teams was pretty good, it wasn't optimal. We were talking to our clients from two different sides of the house and basically running two separate businesses.
Tim: Many agencies still have a problem doing that.
Sarah: Carat made a move that was once again an industry first. We restructured the agency. We brought our digital and traditional media businesses together, which created one combined traditional plus digital organization.
Tim: I remember. It created a "deer caught in the headlights" feeling across the industry. Everyone knew it would someday end up like that but you guys took the first step. Tell me how you organized yourselves from a management perspective.
Sarah: Scott Sorokin, who had been running Carat Fusion, stepped up into the position of President of Carat. I kept the title of CEO of Isobar as well as the new title of CEO, Carat.
Tim: Wow, lots more on your plate for sure.
Sarah: It was a big challenge. The appointment of course was an honor. We were embarking once again on new terrain; combining two very different businesses. We were crafting a new approach to client service and strategy. Luckily, we had clients who wanted an improved service model and who were willing to help shape the changes that came about. Other agencies have since made the move to bring their digital and traditional businesses together.
Tim: Then what?
Sarah: Several months after taking the helm of Carat, David Verklin informed me he was leaving the company. I was asked to step into his shoes and take the position of CEO of Aegis Media North America.
Tim: Wow. How did you take it?
Sarah: It was bittersweet news for me, as I enjoyed working with David. As you know, he is an icon in the business, and an evangelist of change in the media industry. No surprise that he moved on to change the way TV is bought and sold at Canoe. While I had more on my plate than ever before, I was once again exposed to yet even more innovation than I had experienced before.
Tim: For example?
Sarah: There's Posterscope. It's the world's largest out-of-home (OOH) agency. Many in the traditional and digital business are not aware of how exciting and dynamic the OOH space is. Another is Hyperspace, the only service dedicated to innovation in digital OOH.
Tim: What else?
Sarah: Velocity and Vivid, two companies which specialize in creating immersive brand experiences in the sports and entertainment venues, respectively. Another is Copernicus, an organization which provides market segmentation and targeting strategies. There is also Aegis Canada, which leads in Toronto and Montreal in integrated media and marketing strategies.
Tim: Wow that is impressive.
Sarah: The acquisition and coordination of how these companies collaborate together is a testament to Aegis' leadership.
Tim: That brings us up to today. What does it all look like in the rear view mirror?
Sarah: Well, I never expected to stay with the agency for 16 years when I first joined Ellen Freeman! I consider myself fortunate, going as far back as that first call I received from her. It was a great ride, and I'm lucky I had the opportunity to experience it all.
By Wendy McHale
We began a 3-day series yesterday on Sarah Fay's views and experiences to-date in wwwLand; as relayed to editor Tim McHale in a conversation they had right after the new year.
Ms. Fay is now playing advisory roles and serving on the boards of several companies. Part 2 of their exchange today focuses on companies she is helping and why they're worth her attention.
Alice voiced her confusion of Wonderland's strange customs during her adventure, "It would be so nice if something made sense for a change." Sarah's insights provide the clarity that eluded Alice in her digital rabbit hole. Ms. Fay's plans make perfect sense!
Tim: What projects are you involved with now?
Sarah: I've begun playing advisory roles and serving on the boards of several companies.
Tim: Sounds interesting.
Sarah: I'm really enjoying it. I would like to make this my occupation for the next couple of years if not longer.
Tim: How is it different than corporate?
Sarah: It gives me more flexibility to be involved with multiple businesses and the ability to cross pollinate ideas and make connections across my network of colleagues and friends.
Tim: Who are the companies you're working with?
Sarah: Good question. Let me begin with Netshelter. It's a vertical media network which recently passed CNET to become the #1 tech news web property online.
Sarah: I enjoy working with its founders, Peyman and Pirouz Nilforoush. They are brothers and are incredibly intelligent and passionate about their business. They're young and have achieved so much already. The company feels very much like the company I was a part of in my high tech selling days at M&T. There's a feeling that nothing's impossible.
Sarah: For one thing, Netshelter just made it onto comScore's top 20 web properties, with an estimated audience that's already more than 100 million!
Tim: Wow! What others?
Tim: Really... tell me about that. The buzz is quite high about them. I love the name.
Sarah: Data management is becoming "the" key ingredient to planning and managing effective advertising programs. X+1 is bringing the promise of delivering "the right message to the right person at the right time" to life through patented technology.
Tim: Who do you work with?
Sarah: I'm on the Board of Directors. John Nardone is X+1's CEO. He's is a former colleague of mine from Aegis, as is the CRO, Jason Shulman - it is always great to re-create working relationships from the past.
Tim: Two very talented guys. Anything in search?
Sarah: Interesting you mentioned that. I am also sitting on the board of a company called Searchandise. It's the first online media network within the retail eCommerce environment. Searchandise gives product manufacturers the ability to now buy media and search keyword inventory on retail web sites; to help them create visibility for their products closer to the consumer's intended purchase. It's very similar to the way that merchandising works in physical retail environments. The retailers also win by monetizing traffic on their sites.
Sarah: Vertical search is predicted to be a significant growth area in the media market, and this is a sweet and untouched area for a new kind of search and media inventory to emerge.
Tim: Who runs the company?
Sarah: Searchandise's CEO John Federman is an old friend and business colleague - we go back to when he was the Associate Publisher at PC Week and I was typing insertion orders!
Tim: LOL! Are you doing anything on an industry level?
Sarah: Yes, I'm Chairing the Board for DMG's Digital Media Sector.
Sarah: As you know DMG is the largest event company in the digital marketing space. It owns ad:tech, the iMedia Summits and the CMO Summits.
Sarah: Definitely. DMG is creating a unified strategy that leverages the whole organization to be greater than the sum of its parts. This is a fun one, and I have the privilege to be working with some of the biggest influencers in the industry, who have joined the board. I also love working with the DMG family, and they have felt exactly like that to me. In 2010, DMG will be taking its business to an entirely new level, which is sure to have an effect on the entire digital marketplace. The Chairman role at this company is a very big honor for me!
Tim: Congratulations! Who else are you providing counsel and guidance to?
Sarah: I'm working with a company called Better Advertising.
Tim: What do they do?
Sarah: If your readers are tuned in to the noise that the FTC is starting to make about behavioral advertising, I expect they'll sense the urgency that the digital advertising marketplace is now feeling on this issue. We need to work closely to create a model for best practices in this space.
Sarah: There are some unpopular conceptions about what could be done with behavioral data collected by more and more data technologies in the marketplace. Concern is being expressed by the government and by consumers. The industry needs to avoid regulation here, because behavioral advertising represents significant revenues and opportunity for the digital marketplace.
Tim: That's true.
Sarah: Better Advertising has created a technology platform that offers transparency around how data is being used in any given advertising campaign.
Sarah: This provides a solution for brands and web sites that want to engender trust with the consumer, and demonstrate compliance to industry best practices in behavioral advertising. I've only just started to understand how big this issue is - enormous!
Tim: Agreed. Our interview with Alan Chapell last week brought attention to this in a way we never delved into before.
Sarah: We're all on the same page. Warburg Pincus is backing Better Advertising. I've learned so much working with CEO, Scott Meyer and his team, who are some of the smartest people in the industry - from Tacoda, Engage, DoubleClick and Macromedia, among others.
Tim: Great companies and great leaders.
Sarah: The execs associated with these companies practically invented behavioral targeting in the first place!
Tim: Sounds great. Who else?
Sarah: I'd like to talk about Good Health Advertising.
Sarah: This company is a vertical network in the health space that specializes in reaching audiences interested in wellness information and specific health conditions.
Tim: What market does it serve?
Sarah: Say you're a pharma company that markets medication for specific conditions. Right now you can never get enough condition specific inventory.
Sarah: Good Health Advertising has access to web site inventory that focuses on specific conditions - many of them in the long tail of media. They also use behavioral advertising technology that helps advertisers reach these audiences in other places.
Tim: Sounds like they're on to something. Who do you work with there?
Sarah: Bill Jennings, the CEO is another old friend from way back when he was running sales at Flycast, and I was getting the online media business started at Carat.
Tim: Small world. Who else?
Sarah: EDS which is short for Email Data Source.
Tim: Right. Tell us about it.
Sarah: I could spend a long time telling you about this service. But top-line, EDS is the only research tool that gives marketers insight to the competitive activities of email marketers and the effect these campaigns have on web site traffic.
Sarah: Think of it as Nielsen for email marketing. With the click of a button, you can see exactly what your competitors' email programs look like - the creative messaging, as well as exactly what lists are being used - which is incredibly useful in trumping promotional offers and such.
Tim: What's going on at EDS that you can share with us?
Sarah: Just recently, EDS launched a tool that tracks brand messaging on Twitter. This tracks the reach of promotional offers which are extended through consumers' re-tweets and email messages.
Tim: Twitter, I've heard of them!
Sarah: EDS can tell marketers how one Twitter promotion compared to another in traffic generated. EDS verifies the enormity of the power of Twitter - the results being generated by Twitter promotions are more substantial than I ever guessed. The founder of EDS, Bill McCloskey is a friend and entrepreneur from the early days of the internet - he founded "The 100 Club" an email community of 100 original internet business influencers, and he spent his time educating the industry with his Emerging Markets business in the late nineties and early 2000's.
Tim: Bill's great. A consummate professional. Who else?
Tim: Know them well. We just began running Corey Treffiletti's "Digital Influentials newsletter in 2010.
Sarah: So you know that I have a history of working with several of their execs: John Durham, Cory Treffiletti, Jim Nichols, Chris Arens, Cody Duval, and others.
Tim: An all star team.
Sarah: For sure. They like to say they are the first "Non-agency" in a post agency world! They're providing strategic consulting services to both DMG and Better Advertising, so I have had the opportunity to work directly with them. The Catalyst approach begins with product positioning in the guidance they provide. Above all things today that's the part to get right. And they're growing quickly.
Tim: Anything new to report?
Sarah: As you know, Catalyst is San Francisco-based but they've just opened a New York office. Again, the people involved and our history together makes it really fun for me to be involved with the company!
Tim: Very nice. Who else?
Sarah: I'm still on the industry boards of the Ad Club and MITX in my home town of Boston, so I'm staying in the mix with my own community - it is great to have the time to do that.
Tim: Sounds though like you're still pretty busy.
Sarah: Yes, but I'm not traveling half as much as I did when I was at Aegis, so I can be a better mom to my 16 year old, Grace, which I'm happy to now say is my very top priority!
By Wendy McHale
Disney's 2011 version of Alice in Wonderland debut's next month, 60 years since the company released its original cartoon version in 1951. It joins a catalog already filled with thousands of other artistic interpretations of Wonderland in traditional and digital media form.
Beginning with Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Disneyland, the inspiration for his fantastical use of animals as walking, talking human-like characters created an industry in and of itself. Lewis Carroll also inspired the Beatles. We could spend hours around the digital water-cooler talking more about it, but as the White Rabbit sang back in 1951:
I'm late, I'm late for a very important date,
No time to say "Hello", "Goodbye,"
I'm late, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!
In a business or tomorrow, time is so precious, which is why we are so appreciative to Sarah Fay for spending so much of hers in helping us bring her journey into wwwLand to you.
In wwwLand there is never enough time; that is, unless we make it ourselves.
So without further adieu, in Part 3 of Sarah in wwwLand, Editor Tim McHale and Ms. Fay discuss how she makes time for herself and her family in a world of social media and industry growth.
Sarah also shares some advice for those who are considering jumping down their own digital rabbit hole, and how they - like Alice & Disney's Wonderland - can collaborate together to make wwwLand a bigger industry, in and of itself!
Tim: Are you a geek?
Sarah: LOL! Am I a technology geek? No. My former IT staff would be holding their sides laughing if they heard that!
Tim: Why is that?
Sarah: Well, I do love technology! The opportunities it creates to innovate and to communicate are what make me a big fan. Of course, I'm not the person creating technology or picking it apart to understand how it works (I have geek friends who do that for me.)
Tim: What's your favorite mobile device?
Sarah: I love my iPhone. I can easily say that it has changed my life. It has become an extension of my body, and there is almost nothing I won't do on my iPhone that I would otherwise do on my computer (except typing long emails - the blackberry was better for that.)
Sarah: Technology has brought many time saving advantages to people, and content that they would never have had access to before the days of the internet.
Tim: How about from a marketing perspective?
Sarah: Brands are finding ways to hitch a ride on these advantages and help to deliver experiences to consumers that are useful and time saving. There's a whole new level of branding that can create a feeling of gratitude and respect for brands - we call this "the gratitude effect".
Sarah: The bar is constantly being raised almost daily on what consumers now expect of the companies they buy from. In many cases it goes well beyond just the products they're purchasing. At the same time, I'm wary about what technology might be subtracting from our lives.
Tim: Like what? Give us an example.
Sarah: Neil Postman refers to technological advancement as a "Faustian bargain" - something is always given in return. If you caught Renny Gleason's presentation at TED, you'll see the inattention to the real world that mobile usage is creating. It's something to think about!
Tim: He's amazing. What do you think about digital subscriptions? Rupert Murdoch is once again out front on this topic.
Sarah: Well, Rupert is correct that the model of "free" is not optimal for publishers - and certainly WSJ is in a position to charge for its information. I believe WSJ is still a must-read for the finance and business marketplace. But how many content sites can say that?
Tim: Not many when you think about it.
Sarah: It's going to be a huge challenge for most publishers to gain large online paid audiences, because of the wealth of free content that exists for consumers to access. Right now I can't see how in the industry at large will convert to selling straight online subscriptions. That said online subscriptions aren't the only way for content sites to generate revenue. There's nothing to say that publishers won't be successful in augmenting advertising revenues with some level of payment for specialized content.
Tim: Give us an example.
Sarah: Content providers may sell information or services that are relevant to the reader in the moment - special reports that relate to areas of content, seminars, forums, perhaps even products.
Sarah: We'll see different kinds of companies potentially playing a role in generating more revenue from web audiences: PayPal, our friends in Telco access; companies like Amazon, Apple, Google as well as banks, and credit cards. All of these players offer handy micro-payment systems, and may become much bigger providers in that capacity. It'll be interesting to see who takes the big step forward here.
Tim: So your advice to publishers is to remain free to readers?
Sarah: The danger with subscription-based profit gains is that sites run the risk of losing a hefty portion of traffic and therefore advertising revenue increases. If you're betting on the growth of the digital advertising market, in my opinion, the bullish strategy is to grow your audience aggressively, which means keeping barriers to access low - like free!
Tim: There's no secret formula. It's a good reason why what we do is called work! Perfect segue. Talk to us a little about when you're not focusing on work. How do you catch your breath? What do you do to clear your head?
Sarah: As compared to the corporate world I've been a part of, while I'm not exactly taking a vacation, I'm reveling in a slower pace this year. It has been great to have weeks without travel.
Tim: Especially nowadays.
Sarah: I love my pilates class. I now have the time to go to the gym, cook dinners and be there for my daughter's homework time. Since I first became a Mom, I've tried not to make family a second priority, but I have sacrificed a lot of time with them due to travel and long hours.
Tim: So would you describe yourself as a home-body now?
Sarah: Not really - I do still have business trips on my schedule, but not half as much as before. I love having a career, but I also enjoy more time at home. This year has also included a few real vacations - and I sure do believe in those.
Tim: No surprise.
Sarah: Everyone has to decide what's important on an individual basis. I personally like to make my vacations count - my first choice is to do something memorable. Life is short, and I like to experience things - beautiful sunsets in a new place on earth, hiking, sailing, skiing, snorkeling.
Tim: For sure.
Sarah: I don't live in a big house, and I don't drive a particularly racy car. But I will spend my last dime traveling to a place I've never been to before. I am also married to a serial adventurer, so I may never relax on vacation!
Sarah: It's always an adventure. I've hiked, driven, swam, or sailed to some of the most beautiful places on earth because Richard dragged me there. The nice thing is I don't usually have to lift a finger in vacation planning because he does all that!
Tim: Sounds great. Now let's talk about mobile. For as much as it gives us more flexibility, there are bills in congress to heighten the penalties for using our hand-held digital mobile devices while our hands are on the steering wheel
Sarah: That's right - this is a major epidemic. I suspect that you and I have probably been offenders here.
Tim: I confess you're correct.
Sarah: But we need education as much as enforcement.
Sarah: Think about it. It's not unlike driving drunk. Before the education and enforcement of drunk driving, I will admit I was in many a car with a drunk driver behind the wheel (this is going back to the 80's).
Tim: Guilty as well.
Sarah: However when you look at the statistics over the years, accidents from drunk driving are a fraction of what they were before government and business decided it was too important to ignore. This same kind of awareness needs to be created quickly about texting and driving.
Tim: You're right.
Sarah: I like what Verizon is now doing. They're running out of home advertising urging people not to text while driving, and I think that is commendable. Regulation and enforcement should also follow.
Tim: Let's talk about our industry. What achievements did you see the digital industry make in moving forward? Has the IAB helped us in your opinion?
Sarah: I am a big fan of Randy Rothenberg's. In the last year, the IAB has done a great deal to address the challenges in the digital marketplace.
Tim: An example?
Sarah: As you know, the online T's & C's which has been an outstanding issue to resolve for years, has made big progress over the last twelve months. Randy and his team really moved the needle in creating standards, and banging out agreements to keep business processes moving forward. People who are not close to the execution of online advertising programs may have little to no idea how much time goes into resolving ad delivery discrepancies. It's one of the industries biggest issues. The IAB worked to bring all parties together to come up with new technologies and practices to help catch discrepancies as they happen. This is a huge time saver, and eliminates problems that can create bad feelings between buyers and sellers.
Tim: What else impressed you?
Sarah: I know from my work with Better Advertising that the IAB is right in the front lines, working with the FTC on what the digital advertising marketplace needs to do to address the privacy concerns that are percolating. This involves a mixture of education and a plan for action. You may have seen the online advertising campaign targeted to consumers called "Advertising is Creepy"
Tim: Brilliant. Talk about the thinking that went into it?
Sarah: It's fairly simple, really. It's meant to educate people on behavioral advertising and how data is used to make advertising more relevant to individuals without violating their privacy. The IAB is also playing a role in guiding advertisers on best practices to ensure that privacy violation does not happen.
Tim: What about industry cooperation with other media types, say the AAAA's?
Sarah: The IAB has been working closely with other associations such as the AAAA's and the DMA to ensure advertisers hear a unified message about best practices and other initiatives. Randy and his team are making the IAB an important part of the advertising ecosystem. And they're doing it without grand-standing or competing with other associations. This has done much to bring the industry together, in my opinion.
Tim: Let's touch upon Twitter for a moment. I know we could have a separate discussion about social media alone, but what are your general thoughts about social media's relevance in today's marketing mix.
Sarah: Without doing a deep dive, I think Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace have become platforms for brands to immerse themselves in communities that exist already. These are vibrant and flourishing platforms that have amassed giant audiences, and significant usage from these audiences. All you have to do is look at the time spent in social media. It's already surpassed content-based media.
Sarah: A brand today can win by inserting itself into consumer communication streams in ways that are helpful or interesting to people who want these brands to be a part of their lives. Brands can listen for signals of approval or disapproval from consumers, and respond when it is appropriate.
Tim: With Best Buy, I think their response over the holidays was within minutes.
Sarah: Yes, I heard about that - it was actually a topic of discussion at the CMO Summit in Beverly Hills last week. There are many brands seeing big returns from social promotions - particularly in the retail space. Social media platforms have become a natural jumping off point for influencer marketing. People who "follow" a brand or join a brand's fan base can become advocates and help proliferate that brand's messages. The vast majority of these messages are promotional - The US is still a very promotionally driven marketplace when it comes to buying influences.
Tim: What other marketers have impressed you?
Sarah: Southwest Airlines uses Twitter and Facebook as a means to advertise fare specials. I saw a case presented at the CMO Summit in New York, where a tweeted fare was so attractive that consumer's viral activity crashed the Southwest.com site. You could see this as a sign of success (maybe too much success) but not ideal for customer relations. However, while the site was down, Southwest Airlines used Twitter and Facebook as a means to apologize to people trying to make bookings, and to let them know the situation was being worked on. I thought this was a great example of a brand using those social platforms to its advantage. The voice of Southwest Airlines has become that of a familiar and trusted friend to their customers who follow the brand.
Tim: Southwest has been on the cutting edge for years.
Sarah. You're right. Today no one can argue that Southwest Airlines is a digital brand. More than 80% of bookings are made online. It's now the largest airline in the US.
Tim: How about twitter? Are we going to see legitimate knock-offs to steal share growth?
Sarah: As far as a "new Twitter" entering the market, I'm never one to say never. But I would say that a new similar platform that tries to bifurcate the existing Twitter user base with a similar model will fail.
Tim: Twitter has made an amazing impact on society as well as the marketing landscape.
Sarah: That's right. It is astounding that Twitter has become a household name already and has had monumental social impact. It's so entrenched with a massive global audience that it's hard to imagine that it will be displaced anytime soon. That's not to say that other kinds of social networking platforms won't crop up.
Tim: Of course.
Sarah: Vertical categories are still wide-open prairie. And in fact, the potential for social media exists everywhere shared interests exist. I have to confide that I am member of Ravelry, a social media platform for knitters, Open Table for restaurant reservations and recommendations, and Yelp! a resource for local recommendations - the list goes on depending on areas of interest. What web site is not inserting social sharing capabilities? Social media has brought about the biggest behavioral shift we have seen since Search. This will continue to grow. As my old boss David Verklin would say, "We're still in the middle of the beginning."
Tim: Final question. What advice would you give a college grad just getting out of school today about the media business?
Sarah: The first thing I would ask is, "Are you up for it?" The media business is not for the faint of heart! It's fast paced and requires strong communication skills. You have to devour new information all the time, think analytically, be diplomatic... and be prepared for long hours.
Sarah: You have to be resilient to change, as the industry is changing quickly. If the answer is "yes" then there's great opportunity to have a rewarding career, particularly if you are ambitious and want to advance quickly. Media can be an excellent choice, as long as you're prepared to constantly hone your professional skills. In fact, I believe people with initiative can move their careers faster in the media space than in many industries because the market is hungry for talent, passion and ideas. Another important ingredient for success is the power of collaboration.
Sarah: I can't emphasize enough the importance of being a strong collaborator. It may seem counterintuitive to think you will get ahead because of what the team delivers versus what you as an individual have done to stand out. But in fact, great work today is usually delivered by a team of specialists, and the quality of the output is often a reflection of how well they worked together. People are valued by how well they collaborate as much as by what they have to contribute as individuals.
Tim; Do you recommend any resource to illuminate this further?
Sarah: Kerry O'Connor of The Bellwether Group has produced a report called "45 Perspectives: How to Make Collaborative Work Situations More Productive" (click to launch pdf). This is report contains a wealth of advice from 45 senior advertising people in the field, and would certainly be a great place to start. I took the time to contribute my thoughts to it, and I also enjoyed reading what others had to say. I would have loved this material when I was starting out, and I think it would be very useful to anyone just entering a career in media.
Tim: We'll include it. I plan to check it out myself! Sarah, this has been great. Thank you!
Sarah: No, thank YOU, Tim! It's been my pleasure!