Ad Week Was Scary for Agencies

by Francine on October 6, 2014

Last week was Advertising Week in New York, the historic home of advertising and media. But while always a cause for parties and drinking,  the annual citywide meeting of agencies, publishers and brands has  evolved into a cause for hand-wringing as well. Some of the event titles gave away the uncertainty that afflicts the ecosystem today: there was “What Keeps CMOs Up at Night,” “Why Your Viral Video Strategy is a Waste of Time,” and “Are We There Yet?: The Journey from TV to Video.”

What has caused all this turmoil? Digitization, of course, and the follow-on disruptions. The advertising industry has suffered through nearly two decades of change from the predictable revenues of publishers and expenditures of brand advertisers to the current programmatic (algorithm-driven) real time environment, which can often look like chaos to the end-users.  It all started with Netscape, and now it’s as if no one really understands the industry in which they operate.

Here are the changes the changes digitization has wrought:

1)Print publishing has essentially perished, and with it the revenues of legacy publishers. But every danger presents opportunity, and there are a nearly infinite number of online publishers, some of them quite successful on a mass level like Facebook and Buzzfeed, and others quite successfully operating in niches like that of the Washington Post.

2) Mysteriously, ad agencies have nearly perished alongside publishers, with their commissions and fees eroded as brands come to realize their trusted old agency doesn’t know a damned thing about all the new publishers  with whom your brand could advertise

3) Nor do they know much about many of the new formats in which today’s mobile consumers like to receive their ads — inside apps, through video, and as “branded content” or straight information.

By far the most troubling piece of the disruptive pie is the part the ad tech industry plays in rendering the transactions between publishers and advertisers obscure and difficult to understand. While the work flow has been automated, which was long overdue, advertisers are now often unaware of where their ads are running and when, or in the case of RTB, even of what they bought. And each uncertainty is an opportunity for another startup. When it emerged that most ads were served too quickly, one on top of the other, or in other circumstances that made them invisible, new companies arose to measure viewability. New companies also arose to help with targeting, with advertising inventory, and with publishers’ audience demographics. We now have a surfeit of acronyms to describe what those companies to, and that in itself is troubling.

In Phoenix,  our local agencies don’t do much in the way of large scale brand advertising as New York agencies do, because we’re not the home of many consumer brands. Nevertheless, the changes that have hit the agency world in general can’t help but affect our local companies, nor can the publishing environment  be unaffected. Just take a look at the size of the Arizona Republic and you can can see how far-reaching these changes have been.




Startup STEM School Learns Founders’ Lessons

by Francine on October 1, 2014

SySTEM Schools, the non-profit charter STEM school in downtown Phoenix whose board I am on, has been open for a little over a month, and it is behaving as all startups do; the co-founders are riding the roller coaster of ups and downs that always accompanies running a startup. My purpose seems to be to reassure everyone that startups are hard, but they work if you keep going, and I’ve learned more about elementary education than I every knew before.  It’s much harder to start a school than a software company, believe me.

For openers, the landlord and contractor are still negotiating with each other, so some parts of the tenant improvements in the building are not yet finished.  For example, although the classrooms are functional,  the sign on the building is not up. And the folding walls we specified so we could combine classes into one large collaborative space were late, so we can’t install them until fall break or later. In the meantime, we have temporary immovable walls.

These things would not be a problem if we weren’t trying to recruit students.

Over the summer, Angelica Cruz and Nicole Fernandez actually went door to door in the heat to talk to families and recruit 6th and 7th graders.  We started the school year with 97 students. However, after sorting out the transportation problems, the families who move, the kids who miss their old classmates, and the ones who want to attend school with a sibling, the number has fallen.  It’s a good thing we budgeted for 80 students and purposely overenrolled. We also need to seek students who really understand what they’re signing up for.

In addition, when the students took their benchmark reading tests, we discovered that reading levels of incoming students are anywhere from first to twelfth grades. This made me cry. A sixth grader still reading at first grade level is at a terrible disadvantage. It’s difficult to know whether to “blame” parents, teachers, administrators, or the testing itself, but the fact remains we’ve had to institute “emergency” reading therapy.

I was so depressed by the reading levels that I didn’t ask for the math scores. Instead, I plan to do the only thing I am equipped to do: I got on Amazon and bought ten of the top 25 books for children in 6th and 7th grade, and I am going to let the kids pick which one they want to read with me. I will then get on Amazon again and buy 25 copies of the book they choose and go down to the school as a volunteer while they read the book. I practiced this over the summer with my grandson:-) I know it works.

At first I thought I would ask all the students to read aloud to me. After all, that’s how I learned to read. However, Angelica told me there’s new research that says reading aloud makes students anxious.  I guess I must have spent a very anxious childhood, because I did it, along with everyone else in my class, all through elementary school.  At the end, we could all read. Among other things, it helped the immigrant kids in my school learn English. I’m going to play this by ear.

To really help these students and be the A school we want to be, we will need a boatload of volunteers who can do everything from chaperone field trips to talk about career opportunities in STEM, to teach leadership, collaboration, and team play. Six previous years of sitting at a desk in rows has not taught our students how to be collaborative, how to be inquisitive, and how to work as a team. The wonderful teachers at SySTEM are teaching those basic skills now, through activities such as recycling projects. We’re trying to awaken a spirit of inquiry.

But we will also need tutors, the kind that can see the glory in every child and bring it to the surface. I know this is possible, because I’ve been a foster parent and I know how far kids can come with the right attention. But it will take more than the small army of teachers and administrators at SySTEM to help.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the money. Make your tax credit contributions out to SySTEM Schools if you want to write a check rather than give your time. It’s $200 max if you are single, and $400 if you are married. We need everything from waste baskets to white board markers to books!





Needs v. Wants

September 1, 2014

Have we come to a point in society where we are focussed on filling our wants rather than merely our needs? And does this place us higher on Maslow’s hierarchy than people who are only meeting their needs?  Will the iWatch and the IPhone 6 lead us closer to the self-actualization Maslow says is at […]

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Surgery Monday: A Sister’s Tale

August 19, 2014

“Surgery Monday” said the caption on the selfie my brother sent.  There he was, laying in a hospital bed, my younger (69) brother who hadn’t even retired yet. The selfie came as a text message addressed to me and a bunch of other phone numbers I didn’t recognize. What??? What happened? My heart jumped and […]

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The Knick: Has Health Care Gotten Better or Worse?

August 10, 2014

Sometimes it is necessary to revisit the past in order to see whether mankind has actually progressed. Lost in the day-to-day struggles, we lose sight of the long view. Especially with regard to American health care, which I view with more than a modicum of cynicism these days because as a Medicare patient I am the […]

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Is “Right” Always the Letter of the Law?

July 25, 2014

On paper, I am an elderly person in danger of deteriorating mentally and dying early because I live alone. In actuality, I live with three dogs, and have, until recently, enjoyed the company of other people every morning. But my community is gradually being taken away from me. The off-leash law for dogs is the […]

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Sonru Explores Africa, Finds Enormous Opportunity

July 3, 2014

Africa will be the next big land of opportunity. I have heard this more than once, especially from my friend J’Lein Liese of the Foundation for Global Leadership, and this year have been told by some Brits to take a look at Nigeria, a country of enormous energy that has become the continent’s new technology hub. In […]

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Ad Execs Take Out Their Insecurity on…a Woman

June 25, 2014

Everyone knows that the advertising agency business is in disarray, even though advertising itself is having a banner year. Brands are taking their ad buys in house and going to programmatic, and agencies who ditched their  focus on creative for “metrics” are struggling to find their places in the new world. What do they offer? […]

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In Moscow Today, Entrepreneurs Not Oligarchs

June 23, 2014

It took several days to penetrate beyond the Moscow of the tour guide to the Moscow I wanted to see — the one of the Muscovite entrepreneur. Having read about opportunities and fast growth in the BRIC countries, it was hard to believe Russia was last on my list. I’d already seen the enormous energy in Brazil, […]

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Moscow: Beautiful Architecture, Grumpy People

June 20, 2014

Like everywhere else I’ve been, Moscow is full of surprises, the more so for me because I grew up in the Stalinist era when propaganda from both sides of the Cold War depicted Russia as a communist country in which no one was allowed to be rich and  starving people queued up for bread in […]

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