Over the years I've used this space to offer reviews and amplification of books that I think are important to the digital advertising and marketing community. Some are directly about sales theory ("The Challenger Sale"); others about how we think and create ("A Whole New Mind"); and still others are issue driven ("The Daily You"). Today I'm reviewing a internet book that's about history. Sort of.
Cory Treffiletti is well-known to many of us in this industry. He's been a leading agency-side executive (i-Traffic, Freestyle Interactive, Carat) and entrepreneurial thinker (IUMA, Catalyst S+F, Blue Kai) since the mid-90s. Now he's taken on what can only be described as a massive labor-of-love in compiling "Internet Ad Pioneers: The Stories of the Unsung People Behind the Birth and Growth of the Internet Ad Industry." The structure is simple: Cory queued up interviews with 31 people (buyers, sellers, entrepreneurs, researchers and others) who were all deeply engaged around the origins of digital advertising and marketing. The book is a straightforward presentation of those interviews.
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Yes, I was initially quite interested in the book because I'm one of those interviewed (Chapter 7) and because I count over two dozen of those featured among my friends, colleagues and collaborators in the business. But if it were just a self-congratulatory walk down memory lane, "Pioneers" would sell about 31 copies. The more I read the interviews - the individual stories and recollections - the more I realized this is an important book that should be on the bookshelf of everyone engaged in our business. For two reasons:
Just When You Think You Know the Story... As I read through the chapters focused on even very close friends, it dawned on me how little attention I'd paid over the years; how many details and themes I never knew, and would never have known had I not stopped to read. We are all so caught up in the next 15 minutes that we don't really listen to one another. I was struck by Maggie Boyer-Finch's anecdote about a young agency executive who was going on about how great his agency was - all the while unaware that Maggie had helped found that same agency.
Everything Old is New Again. Many of the stories are deeply personal and the themes are evergreen. Many revolve around times of hubris and unrestrained growth, followed by the inevitable day of reckoning. There's very candid conversation around the decisions that were made, and gut wrenching stories about downsizing and survival during "internet winter." There are also very practical discussions about evaluating talent, building teams, navigating deals and holding onto core values during chaotic, asymmetrical times. "Internet Ad Pioneers" may tell stories from the mid-90s, but they can be overlaid neatly over our current discussions about social, mobile, local, video and whatever comes next.
At its best, the book is driven forward by Cory as an active interviewer: he knows his stuff and raises just enough pointed observations and connections to keep things moving. (You recognize this quality most when it's not there: the Chapter 8 "interview" with Media Post editor Joe Mandese reads like the John Galt monologue from "Atlas Shrugged." I would like to have heard more of Cory's voice in that one.) No book is perfect: the "closing comments" at the end of each chapter - while generous and respectful - can sound a bit repetitive and overly solicitous of the subjects. And there were a few spots where some bracketed editorial comments would have better identified and contextualized the stories.
But these are minor points. Buy this book and read a couple of chapters each day. Do it not to celebrate the past, but to help yourself and your company navigate the immediate future.