When the announcement came down last week that Aol was eliminating 150 sales jobs and consolidating several brands I immediately got a half-dozen emails and calls asking the same question: "Did programmatic technology eliminate these jobs?" The answer Wall Street would like to hear is "yes." The real answer, I believe, is "no." As the old backwoods philosophy goes, "Just because your cat has kittens in the oven don't make 'em biscuits." (Translation: Things are not as simple as they seem.)
I believe Aol confronted some core business issues - redundancy of brands, participation in spaces where they couldn't lead, creeping bureaucracy - by taking swift and decisive action. Investors should reward them for that alone. But if Wall Street wants to infer that a grand automation plan made it all happen... Tim Armstrong might just be saying "Well that was a freebie."
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Just as there are two kinds of history that get taught in our country - high school textbook history and real, academically reviewed history - there are two levels of 'truth' in our world: the truth that the CEO is forced to tell the investors and markets and the truth about how the business really runs. Your CEO isn't a liar and he or she doesn't mean any harm: it's just a case of dynamic messaging based on audience. Here are a few of the little white lies they have to tell from time to time.
"The technology will sell itself." Maybe if it was 25 years ago and a small handful of tech giants roamed the earth and ate all the food. But even the best technological leap will have a hell of a time even being noticed in the cacophony of today's crowded marketplace.
"Media sales is a transitional business for us." Saying 'we're just going to sell ads for a while' is like saying 'we're just sending a few advisors to Vietnam.' You either commit to the core of your technology business or commit to being a player in the media sales game. Doing neither means half-assing them both.
"Programmatic will eliminate the need for a sales team." If you "set it and forget it" you will get the results you deserve. And if you have no more imagination than this about how great sellers could create value and margin for your business, then programmatic will likely eliminate the need for the current CEO. Programmatic is real, it's vitally important, and it's part of a balanced revenue diet. But it won't run itself and it won't create the kind of margin that your high growth business needs.
"We'll get there in 12-18 Months." It's always going to be harder, take longer and require more money and resources than the business plan assumes. Don't buy into the projection; buy into the quality of the leadership.
The next time you hear your CEO speaking in code like this to the markets, fear not: he probably knows the real truth and will run your business accordingly. If not, you may want to forward him this post.
We've just added Terry Kawaja, creator of the LUMAscape, to our discussion of the digital video landscape at Seller Forum on March 12th. If you lead a team that sells media, you need to be there. Request your invitation today.