Warriors for Performance
Eleven women who lead media agencies take a crack at just a few of the questions answered on stage during the "Women Warriors" panel at PDMI West on Oct. 26.
By Thomas Haire
This is the cover story of Results Magazine's September 2022 issue. Click here to read this feature via our digital publication website or simply scroll down to continue reading here.
At PDMI West in San Diego on Wednesday, Oct. 26, PDMI E-Commerce Council member Fern Lee — CEO of New York-based THOR Associates — hosted a roundtable discussion among a group of women who serve as top-line media agency executives in performance and direct-to-consumer marketing. Titled "Women Warriors: Media Executives Discuss the Present and Future of Performance," video of the session is available on our Youtube channel by clicking here.
The session dove into how these executives are providing clients media channels with unique opportunities, through the journey from direct response to brand response and via connected TV (CTV) and OTT, along with numerous other marketing initiatives. The ability to navigate these channels and run a profitable media agency speaks volumes to these leaders and their business acumen.
Results asked Lee for just three of the many questions that she had her group address in front of the live audience. She agreed, and we then flipped these questions out a group of women who serve in media agency executive leadership positions in business from across the PDMI membership.
Read on for the thoughtful responses from 11 of these women — including some who sat on stage in San Diego.
How do you feel your "inner warrior" has contributed to your agency’s success?
Nancy Arnold, owner and chief marketing officer, Diray Media: Successfully partnering with strong, inspired, innovative and caring people. We are women-owned and led, and fiercely passionate about our clients’ success. At Diray, performance is more than an objective; it’s in our DNA. We see challenges as opportunities. And we define success as our clients’ success. Diray was there for the media shift from broadcast to cable, and the commerce shift with the rise of the big box store (Walmart) take-over. We see a lot of similarities in the navigation of that shift to the rise in streaming, Amazon’s takeover of e-commerce, and the proliferation of ways to reach people and drive performance. We work in a real-time, test-and-learn environment, which requires a nimble, agile, and forward-thinking approach. These values led the last 35-plus years of success and are why our team continues to inspire and deliver growth.
Denira Borrero, COO, Omni Direct: Our world changes daily based on various market conditions, the media landscape, current events, and the business priorities of our clients. To succeed in this business over the long haul, you have to approach every day with a warrior-like passion for digging into the data and responding quickly to consumer, market, and technology trends. That includes having resilience and staying power to overcome the ups and downs of a performance marketing business, because it’s through failing, learning, and pivoting fast that we are able to profitably scale campaigns at record pace. We enjoy going into the fight every day on behalf of every client and every campaign, and I believe that has been part of our secret sauce for remaining competitive and relevant for more than 20 years as an agency.
Anat Freed, vice president and managing director, Kingstar Media: I have never really thought of myself as a "warrior" and certainly credit the success of Kingstar Media as the result of many great people who are committed to growth and excellence, as opposed to a solitary focus on that excellence. It has taken a lot of focus and discipline during the past 19 years to grow and expand the core business, along with a lot of hard work, patience, and compassion in our constantly changing media landscape. My expectations are high — for my staff, vendors, and partners. I always try to see both sides and lead the teams to achieve the best possible outcome for all.
Christena Garduno, CEO, Media Culture: As a female CEO and leader who built a career from the bottom up, I’ve faced my fair share of difficulties. But since I know others depend on me, I strive to be strong, driven, and quick on my feet to adapt and tackle problems. During the pandemic, instead of worrying about our company’s future, I spent my time analyzing market trends and researching how to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. My findings became beneficial and helpful for our company during those tough times.
Through my dedication and hard work, I was not just able to create innovative business strategies, I have also influenced my team to give the same level of effort and commitment in trying to reach our goals. When I reflect on my success as a leader, I can’t help but think about how I depend on my team just as much as they depend on me. So, I always seek opportunities to learn and improve myself. Where I cannot provide solutions, I keep an open mind to gain new insights and maintain honesty to instill trust and confidence in my team and our clients.
Since challenges are inevitable, I always carry a positive mindset and a bright attitude as we face difficulties. I also try my best to influence positivity, where everyone on the team recognizes the bad and good in every situation and still chooses to focus on the good. This leads us to taking meaningful actions when something terrible happens to achieve the outcomes we are aiming for.
Michelle Green, president, Two Twelve Direct: Any success our agency has achieved is attributable to a focus on trust as a principle and intuition, giving us an ability to authentically connect to our stakeholders. Amid an industry that can be transactional and transitory in nature, I’ve focused on building enduring relationships with our clients, team members, and industry partners. This is not something that is achieved overnight; it takes commitment day in and day out, but the reward is a sense of inner calm that steadies that inner warrior, knowing we have done everything possible to build equity capable of withstanding the ups and downs of an oft-volatile industry.
Karen Kluger, founder/CEO, Touch-Point Integrated Communications: Staying relevant in our rapidly changing media world is critical to our agency’s successes and equally — if not of more importance — to the success of our clients. Balancing branding and response is a skill that DR agencies have had to master as they go hand-in-hand now, along with the use of technology and data to perfect our trade. Collaboration with our clients, ensuring we build profitable and balanced media programs delivering not only against KPIs but providing the ability to scale and grow businesses, is critical. It takes aggressive strategic moves to keep our agencies competitive and profitable and our business takes no prisoners. We must be secure in what we know our strengths to be and be knowledgeable and confident enough to turn any weaknesses into strengths.
"Fate whispers to the warrior ... You cannot withstand the storm, and the warrior whispers back ... I am the storm." — Jake Remington
Marianna Morello, CEO, Manhattan Media Services: Being known as a "trail blazer" and winning the Folio Award in this category, I guess I have always been an "inner warrior." I have been a fighter from the day I opened MMSI 27 years ago to do my best for our clients and also to keep a balance with our vendors.
But times have changed — especially in the past two years — and we have to fight much harder to help our clients make it through these difficult times! MMSI is an agency that works so closely with our clients to be sure we can assist them to achieve the ROI they need to stay profitable. With that as our goal, we have expanded from just a print media agency to add a division for digital/social media. Kelsey Bugden and Andrea McEvady are our pros who head up this division. We also provide out-of-home (OOH) media when the marketing plans call for it.
The "inner warrior" is someone who changes with times and seeks the best solutions for our client’s needs!
Jennifer Peabody, president, Havas Edge: I’ve been cursed and blessed with a mind that is in perpetual overdrive. In my free time, I create lists of "things to explore," running the gamut from professional to personal topics I am interested in learning about. I believe this thirst for "what’s next" has helped Havas Edge evolve over the years to stay relevant in an ever-changing landscape and to be future-focused by consistently challenging where we are and where we are headed.
Asieya Pine, president, Lockard & Wechsler Direct: Some believe a warrior is fearless, but I don’t think anything can be accomplished in life without a little fear: fear of competition; fear of failure; fear of not being the best. To me, the warrior spirit is about overcoming these natural fears to persevere in the face of tough challenges.
In this regard, my inner warrior is tested every day. Our clients have entrusted us with huge sums of money that could make or break their companies. Our many employees and their families depend on us for their livelihood. This means that most of my decisions are high-risk decisions, and the agency is depending on me to decide correctly. Sometimes, it’s even just about taking action in the face of what could be paralyzing indecision. It could be something as simple as taking the lead on a hard conversation, or it could be something as complex as choosing how to invest now for success later.
I think of the last three years, in particular. If not for a warrior spirit, I would never have had the strength to endure the challenges of the pandemic or the courage to make the significant investments we made in order to not only survive but continue to be the best at what we do.
Gina Pomponi, president and COO, Bluewater: I wake up every morning and the voice in my head says, "Let’s take over the world today!" Then I have a couple cups of coffee and rein myself in just a touch. In all seriousness, the warrior inside of me is focused, determined, and highly driven to succeed. I bring it every day to everything I do and always have. I believe it has made me more successful at all three agencies I’ve helped build. The opportunity with Bluewater was different. Not only did I have the opportunity to build a successful media business, but as a partner, I was also doing it for myself this time around.
Bluewater Media was a successful and reputable creative production company prior to me joining. Andy Latimer and the other partners stepped back and let me do my thing. I developed a media team with structure and processes and set it for scale. My primary focus was to bring in new business and feed the strong media team I set up. I did this immediately — and drove significant growth each year.
I’ve always loved building media businesses. It’s like a drug. But my inner warrior really comes to life when it comes to my clients. I love to put a strategy together for a client who has a challenge and see it succeed. I love to know that we played a role in the client’s success, and in turn, ours as well. There is nothing like being a direct marketer and seeing immediate results. It’s exhilarating. It’s the fire we all live to stoke.
But this time, I didn’t stop with TV media. I developed an account management team to keep us on strategy and act as the internal client voice across services. Next, I took over the digital media team and brought it together with TV media, as it should be. Bluewater’s creative may have set it apart as a leader in direct-to-consumer strategy but the combination of our creative warriors with the media-and-analytics warriors created one of the top full-service, direct-to-consumer agencies in our industry. That makes my inner warrior smile. We are well poised to take a client challenge, then develop and build a successful campaign!
Carrie Smith, COO, Apex Media: When asked how my "inner warrior" has contributed to our organization’s success, I can’t help but to reflect on the 30-plus years Apex Media has spent building a legacy in our industry, serving hundreds of clients, generating billions of dollars in revenue for them. It’s very humbling to be part of something of this magnitude.
When I think about my "inner warrior," I know she is passionate about facing this ever-changing world with: the wisdom gained from all life’s experiences; embracing a daring attitude to navigate through the unknown; creating daily routines to achieve balance between career and home life; nurturing a natural curiosity to learn new things, along with embracing necessary change; and a serving mindset that continues to provide value to our clients.
What channels do you see providing the least or the most growth opportunities for today’s marketers — and why?
Arnold: Connected TV (CTV) is the biggest growth opportunity for our clients today. It is an emerging sector that exploded in 2020. It still has maturing and much innovation to come via new formats, e-commerce, and content opportunities. Utilizing CTV has allowed us to expand our audiences (demos, ages, etc.) and reach those we couldn’t otherwise reach via linear (cord cutters). It is very fragmented, and there is debate and confusion on how best to approach it. Still, now is the time to invest in a test-and-learn strategy so you are ready for the future. Linear TV is still a driver and not going away, but streaming full-episode content is growing and certainly here to stay.
Borrero: The fastest-growing channels for paid media continue to be in the digital space, including social media and search, but we’ve seen a drastic movement of offline TV viewership into streaming OTT platforms. The pandemic hyper-accelerated this inevitable trend, and we expect ad dollars to continue shift at exceptionally high rates into these channels in the next 12 months.
Freed: I see the most opportunity for growth on TikTok and CTV. While my specialty is linear TV, I can’t deny the year-over-year growth in terms of new users and time spent. More users and more time spent means more impressions for marketers to take advantage of. Both channels also will see a decrease in CPMs as supply is anticipated to grow to keep up with demand.
Garduno: Digital marketing is where the most opportunity for growth lies. Marketers can amplify their reach and increase revenue by investing in digital marketing: social media, web content, blogs, and email marketing. In the digital age, smartphones have been embraced all over the world thanks to the development of the internet. This allows marketers to reach potential customers through their mobile phones anytime and anywhere.
Social media is undoubtedly a top-tier digital marketing option to reach more customers within a short time. Social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms can definitely boost reach. These pages give an avenue for brands to showcase their products and services, highlighting quality, functionality, and value to consumers. Social media also connects brands to consumers on a personal level because it creates a platform where they can communicate directly through messages and comments.
Before making decisions, buyers often do their research to check and compare goods and services. Marketers should also do search engine optimization (SEO) to achieve the best search results and increase website traffic.
Digital marketing is the way for marketers who hope to improve their performance and reach. However, they must conduct proper digital marketing activities. Marketers should also avoid ignoring the competition and develop better marketing strategies.
Green: One of the fastest growing channels for digital and DTC marketers and has been through utilizing influencer content on social media platforms. Repurposing the content for ads to scale and drive more ROI, this will continue to grow. However, I think what’s old is new again. Television is presenting marketers with areas of growth as, with new technology, an audience-based approach is more portable now than ever. How TV is activated for linear and OTT will vary, but there will be more ability to target more refined audiences. With continued fragmentation and more people home, TV will stay powerful.
Kluger: Print (trades, magazines, and newspapers) falls into the "least growth" category. Decreases in printed circulation, as well as immediacy of digital news, continues to push readers online versus waiting for printed versions of publications. Per PwC’s Entertainment and Media Outlook, by 2025, 51 percent of magazine and 41 percent of newspaper ad spend will become digital dollars.
Consumers are spending less time with traditional channels. eMarketer says there has been a 14-percent decrease in traditional media consumption from 2018 vs. projected final 2022 figures, while digital consumption is projected to increase 29 percent during the same window.
Despite trends, we still see magazines and newspapers resonating well with an older demographic. And select print categories — niche and select mass publications — continue to be viable options for endemic brands.
From a "most growth" perspective, streaming leads the field. Increased FAST partners, pending ad-supported tiers for Netflix and Disney+, the ability to reach viewers in a less cluttered video environment, and the lower cost-of-entry vs. linear make the tactic prime for growth. Tentpole events, quality content (as illustrated by the Emmys) and advanced geo/demo targeting capabilities increase the appeal and will continue to drive advertisers to the channel.
For example, one of our clients typically allocated more than 50 percent of its media budget to linear TV. With a reduced media investment for the upcoming year, the team reevaluated TV’s budget allotment and its role in the integrated campaign. Replacing linear with OTT/streaming, TV’s role shifted from umbrella coverage to a targeted, focused tactic. Capitalizing on targeting options, spend was concentrated against priority segments and geography, providing the benefits of the channel with a lower out-of-pocket commitment and minimal waste.
Morello: Twitter and Facebook are slowly leaving our radar as the best growth opportunity. Twitter users are more focused on what users are saying, and view it as a source of news, so interaction with ads is on the lower end. With a plethora of advertisements on Facebook and new privacy changes with the iOS software updates, not only are we seeing a decrease in the targeting availability, but also with the numbers of users interacting with ads daily. Short-form video platforms like TikTok, as well as audio platforms like Spotify for podcasts, can offer a new style of advertising that is not only fresh for the viewer but palatable and appears more natural.
Peabody: As consumption evolves, all media becomes relevant and should be on the table for brands to consider. Consumer behavior is dynamic and, therefore, impressions are fluid from one channel to another throughout the day. The opportunity to reach a consumer shifts across channels, so portfolio management is the best media investment strategy to capitalize on scalability.
Pine: It’s an ongoing challenge to answer this question because the way people consume media continues to change each year. When I started in this business 23 years ago, there were just three top-performing media types: TV, print, and radio. Today, there are almost too many to list. As the ways of delivering content proliferate, so do the ways of advertising.
I know everyone is probably tired of hearing the words "an omnichannel approach," but that really is the key to success today. Media has become so fragmented that the only way to grow is to hit all of the key touchpoints in order to reach your target audience. Of course, this creates another challenge. Those who experiment with too many new channels at once tend to get overwhelmed as they struggle to understand which one is making the greatest contribution to their overall revenue. It can get very confusing, very fast.
Our approach is to sit down with marketers and help them identify their target customers and take the time to understand how they consume media. For example, with many of my DTC clients, we have learned that both streaming video and connected TV (CTV) perform well as drivers of new sales. The CTV landscape is still rapidly evolving, but we’ve seen it effectively add incremental growth to linear TV campaigns and provide the scale needed for growth. Such top-of-funnel marketing is also helping improve conversions on social, search, and email campaigns. The combined reach and frequency of these channels is still the key to our clients’ success.
A few additional channels with significant growth upside are TikTok, podcasting, and influencer marketing. The biggest challenge with these channels is the ability to create enough content with the right messaging (and pricing) in a short amount of time. That’s what’s necessary to get to the scale required for incremental success, but no one has quite figured it out yet.
The most important thing, which I tell our clients all the time, is to keep testing while using different channels to create multiple points of contact. In other words: keep your media mix as diverse as your audience.
Pomponi: Streaming channels are experiencing the biggest area of growth. Consumers want to watch what they want when they want. However, right now there are multiple choices, and it can be overwhelming for the viewer to figure out which options they should sign up for — and if they are like me, they have signed up for almost everything and then have the arduous task of signing in and out of each service to find what they want to watch. Not to mention, each subscription comes with a separate monthly cost. This must and will change. Imagine having to pay for each cable channel separately! It sounds ridiculous, but that is what consumers are currently doing in the streaming space.
My guess is that in the very near future, companies will start bundling OTT options and offer consumers discounted, pre-made service bundles with a single sign-on and only one monthly subscription fee for all OTT content (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc.). I also project that these companies will sell airtime to advertisers, once again changing the way media is bought and sold. I have to assume the current cable providers like Comcast will lead the way. Cable providers must evolve to stay relevant and profitable. They need to swim with the stream, not against it. Once this happens, consumers will have all streaming options/content through one provider — a "Stream 360" model is going to become the norm.
With this being said, linear TV is far from dead. Linear TV remains the best top-of-funnel option for cost effectively reaching the age 50-plus audience. Seventy-three percent of TV households still have linear TV. One thing we know for certain is that individuals are consuming news, entertainment, and information across many sources including, linear, OTT/CTV, digital channels, and more. As marketers, we understand that crafting omnichannel media strategies to cost effectively reach a response audience is a must. No matter the target audience.
Smith: I love to listen to others as they answer this question — there is always so much to learn when you lean in and listen to other industry leaders’ perspective.
This question reminds me of the time in my career when I immersed myself in the digital marketing world. I went to every seminar available with the intention of soaking up whatever was being taught and shared. At every event, I heard the same reoccurring message: "TV/radio (traditional media) is dead!" This was troubling to me. I couldn’t subscribe to the thought that where I had just spent the last 18-plus years of my career was going to be nonexistent — or dead, for that matter!
I realized quickly — and it was clearer than ever — there is no good or bad media. The focus should be on the audience you are trying to reach, then research where/how to find that audience, and simply engage with them there.
Although there might be a media channel that appears to be slowing down or not in growth mode, to me that is irrelevant if that media channel has an audience that your client is looking to connect with and reach.
That said, knowing that streaming has been around for a while, the FAST channels are exploding — it is exciting to watch this recent growth! And we should all be looking at how we can reach our audience on this channel.
P.S., TV is so not dead! It’s evolved.
What do you see on the horizon that you believe will change the way media will be transacted in the future?
Arnold: We are already transacting media via programmatic and demand-side platforms (DSPs). It’s only a matter of time before media companies will have both linear and digital media inventory available in the open marketplace. But it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on the type of audience an advertiser wants to reach, a buying strategy in a mixed marketplace that requires looking at performance data holistically to maximize return and drive results will be the demand.
We’re also gearing up for a future of shoppable ads that will change the way consumers engage with brands and speeds up the path to purchase. If you look at how Instagram and Facebook have made shopping on social media so easy, leveraging backends like Shopify, be prepared for further takeover of integrated shopping in your media. TV, being the most trusted form of advertising, is a born influencer. Now add convenience and personalization — could this be the recipe that surpasses social commerce? This is an area to be watched — no pun intended. This will be DTC on steroids, and we are all over it.
Borrero: We’re seeing offline and online buying models converging with the proliferation of new ad tech solutions, and programmatic buying techniques penetrating the offline world. Also, subscription-based streaming platforms are moving into advertising-based models and vice versa. With more streaming choices and supply in the market, we do anticipate that the OTT world will offer more favorable direct response buying opportunities.
Freed: Automation will continue to change the way media is transacted in the future. More of the media will be bought programmatically, hopefully in the linear space like we are seeing currently on digital. In addition, we will start to see streaming platforms open up to advertisers to generate revenue as a way to offset losses in their subscription bases. Even with high CPMs initially, it will be great to have more options for our clients in Canada as, right now, CTV is very limited. There will also be more pressure on marketers and agencies to focus on strategy, planning, and attribution.
Garduno: Nowadays, people can communicate with their family, friends, and colleagues regardless of location because of technological development. Digital media will become an avenue not only for disseminating and accessing information but also for other daily needs — communication, shopping, education, work, entertainment, and many more.
The use of mobile phones will continue to increase; thus, the future of digital marketing requires a mobile-first strategy. Businesses should start exploring mobile video marketing and emerging technologies, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Marketers should be aware of how human interaction will change through the rise of these digital platforms. Digital media will keep evolving as new tools emerge, so marketers should be quick to adapt to new technologies and trends.
Green: I don’t think you can necessarily make a distinction between a direct response advertiser and a general one anymore. They are all performance-based marketers who want a return on advertising spend. In the case of traditional direct marketers selling products, they can no longer easily evaluate media performance because they can’t control the flow of direct sales to their websites with the dominance of Amazon and other marketplaces. Therefore, traditional metrics like CPMs have become a mainstay for direct marketers as a basis for negotiating and evaluating media transactions. Conversely, what were traditionally thought of as general advertisers are now competing for DR and paid airtime to fortify their upfront buys. They evaluate their transactions based upon CPMs as well as a campaign’s ability to move the needle in terms of consumer engagement and sales. The line between these camps isn’t just blurred now — it’s gone, and because of that, I think we’ll see more competition for inventory no matter how the airtime or advertiser is categorized.
Kluger: With the consumption patterns of consumers crossing all platforms, there is a need for a primary, unified cost measurement, e.g., audience-based CPM, to evaluate and plan all channels by a consistent metric. Identifying the currency and/or vendor that is the most appropriate for client and their goals will be a collaborative effort between the agency and client.
Secondary elements such as attention, ability for unique partnerships and custom/branded content, e-commerce activations, product integrations, custom creative units, and targeting capabilities, etc., will also play a crucial role to elevate brands, create direct revenue streams, and deliver measurable outcomes. The ability to measure all elements of a campaign will be critical to ensure the true value of all tactics is realized with timely and accurate insights to continue to grow and evolve campaigns while driving budget allocations and flighting.
Morello: Influencer marketing, especially with the new wave of Amazon Storefronts for influencers of any size, is something we have our eyes on. Influencer marketing is effective for those looking for very niche markets — likely on the younger end — who have disposable income and are ready to spend. With the abil