Full Transcript: NBCUniversal SVP Of Client Strategy Tony Effik On GHOGH Podcast
Tony talks about directing strategy across the largest multi-billion dollar media portfolio, opportunities with subscriptions, and the business of podcasting.
You can listen to the entire conversation right now in the audio player below. If you prefer to listen on your phone, GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin is available wherever you listen to podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud.
Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 38: Tony Effik
Jamarlin talks to Tony Effik, SVP of Client Strategy at NBCUniversal, about where the digital media business is going. Tony talks about directing strategy across the largest multi-billion dollar media portfolio, opportunities with subscriptions, and the business of podcasting.
This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jamarlin Martin: Let’s GHOGH! Today we have a special guest, Tony Effik, the SVP of client strategy at NBCUniversal, and he’s also a marketing professor at Columbia University. How’s it going, Tony?
Tony Effik: I’m good Jamarlin, always good to see you bro.
Jamarlin Martin: We met at a Digiday Programmatic Conference in Austin, Texas. Do you remember that?
Tony Effik: That was it. I think we met online first, we were chatting on Twitter and stuff.
Jamarlin Martin: A lot has transpired since then. You’ve made the jump from the ad agency side to working for a company like NBCUniversal. Talk about that transition.
Tony Effik: Yeah. Funnily enough, the discipline, the thing that I do day to day hasn’t changed radically. It’s still the same skills I learned over the last 20, 25 years, but I just got a different toolbox right now. You see what I’m saying? So basically in an agency, particularly in a creative agency, and I’ve had different kinds of jobs in creative agencies, the main tool you’re playing with is essentially the talent around you. Do you see what I’m saying? So the talent is the creative people around you, the media people around you, the account people, the production people. And what you’re trying to do is orchestrate a strategy for the client based on the talent of those people. So you go in, the client has a problem and you say, okay, well let’s dig into that and we’ll come up with an answer to how to drive sales for you and you come up with an ad. The difference with what I do now is that there’s a little bit of that in my job today because we have production and creative facilities, but fundamentally our assets are our TV networks, our film studios, our theme parks, our digital properties. So it’s, how do you want to work with the Olympics? How do you want to work with SNL, or The Tonight Show or The Today Show. Are you going to do something in the theme park? So we basically, right now we’re thinking a lot about how we activate for clients across the portfolio.
Jamarlin Martin: How big is that portfolio in terms of advertising revenue annually?
Tony Effik: I don’t want to give specifics, but it’s in the billions, many, many billions of dollars. It’s the biggest portfolio in the marketplace.
Jamarlin Martin: From an agency perspective, RGA, you guys have over $300 million billings at the time when you were there, coming from size.
Tony Effik: Yeah. But it’s like a drop in the ocean in comparison. But it’s a very different business model, very, very different business model. The businesses have a very different rhythm. If you’re an agency, you’re hustling every week, you know what I mean? Because you got to keep the meter ticking because you got to keep clients happy. You go keep billable. That’s the currency, is are you billable? And so people are filling out time sheets every week trying to say, ‘what did I do last week? Was that useful? Was that not useful? Does the client want this work, does the client not want this work’. Where we are right now is so different. So right now what we’re doing is more of an annual cycle. We need to shift a huge oil tanker man. I mean it’s like a big company and we’re moving bit by bit in the radical transformation, and the business is moving so quickly and we were moving as quickly as we possibly can. So it’s exciting. It’s exciting being in this job, at this moment, in this company, at such an important phase in the industry.
Jamarlin Martin: For our audience, your consulting or providing strategy for you guys to go out there and make more money and bring more advertisers in.
Tony Effik: Absolutely. So we are looking at our traditional business. We are famous for linear TV, but there’s so much more. So my main job is to figure out new ways of packaging up the things we have. So you might buy TV spots from us, but you maybe not know that you could activate in our theme parks. You might work with us on Snap or on Vox, which we have investments in, we have a stake in both of those companies as well as Buzzfeed, and we make shows for those platforms as well. And so basically it’s a rich portfolio and then we have by Comcast, which has the set top box business. And so it’s an interesting intersection between different ways brands can go to market, cross platform, at scale, really big scale.
Jamarlin Martin: So as you know, the digital advertising, digital media industry is a big mess. Rebate issues at the agency level. The media companies don’t know what to do. They thought social was going to be the answer. They got crushed on that. A lot of algorithm changes. They wanted to pivot to video. Nobody’s really making a lot of money off on the pivot to video. Help us rationalized the massive transition where nobody knows what’s next, what’s going to be sustainable? I wouldn’t say nobody knows, but a lot of the executives are confused in terms of where this stuff is going.
Tony Effik: I think you might have a few ideas. But I think this is a young industry man. How long has this been going on? I think the industry is still feeling its way around about where all of this is going to end up. No one knows where this is all going really for sure.
Jamarlin Martin: You don’t think the innovation, disruption cycles are going to be short no matter where it goes.
TONY: Oh yeah. I agree with that. Sure man. More disruption, more cycles even in something is stable as search. I was reading recently that there’s a stat recently that half of all product searches are happening on Amazon, not on Google. That’s hugely disruptive. If you look backwards, you can maybe see it coming, but that was a surprise. We were talking about Twitter a second ago. We talked about Twitter quite a bit. I kept assuming Twitter would keep going through the roof. I’m disappointed with the way that company’s landed. But with regards to brand safety and some of these issues and fraud, all of that kind of stuff, this was a wild west man. Nobody knew what the guy next to them was doing. Nobody knew who was in between the two of them. Nobody knew about any of this stuff. And there was a real rush, it was a gold rush. There was a gold rush and everyone’s panning for gold. Everyone’s trying to find it and no one was policing. No one was really truly checking. And so I feel that we’ve come out of that now. We’ve come out of the teenage years and now we’re saying, okay, now we’re grown up, this industry is growing up, so what are the things we want? And so I think what we’ve seen is that, and obviously I grew up in the other side of the fence, now I’m working for a big entertainment company with a lot of TV and video assets. But on the other side of the fence, obviously I was pitching ‘come to digital’, and I had a very distorted view about really the makeup of the business. But one of the things in the big, traditional media companies is the fact that they are brand safe. There’s regulatory and legislative issues around putting content out there in certain ways, ads out there in certain ways which doesn’t exist in the digital space. So in other words, what we’ve seen is that the ability for legislation to keep up to date with the industry hasn’t been there. And I think it took a long time for Senate and for Congress to catch up. I know you were on that early.
Jamarlin Martin: Are you seeing any benefit, where Youtube will make money on any type of content. There’s a lot of brand safety issues there. They work with Alex Jones…
Tony Effik: Yeah. That’s not even the worst.
Jamarlin Martin: So as you know, Google got in trouble. The brands were complaining about, why are our ads next to ISIS videos. Have you seen a benefit where social media is super efficient, great targeting, low prices, low CPMs, but we could be next to ISIS? So you’re seeing a benefit?
Tony Effik: Yeah. We saw that this year, we saw it last year. I think a lot of big advertisers in this, in the public domain have said, look, we felt the pendulum swung too far and then they were starting to say, ‘okay, look, we’ve got issues with brand safety, we’ve got issues of verification, we’ve got issues with viewability, we’ve got issues with fraud, we’ve got issues with the overall ecosystem and things like rebates and hidden fees’. We also have, and this is the biggest one, we also have issues with effectiveness. Is this shit working? And we saw a bunch of advertisers move a bunch of money out from that part of the ecosystem, move it towards us, most famously. And many of those companies didn’t really see a huge blip on their performance, from what I can see in their numbers.
Jamarlin Martin: Where do you see value in the digital media industry like in a couple of years. Is there a window that you see as healthy? This is a window that you could invest in that is more than likely going to be sustainable to invest in, and you can work in this window. Do you see opportunities?
Tony Effik: Yeah. I think there’s emerging platforms and maturing platforms. So, maturing platforms, video, clearly.
Jamarlin Martin: But what do you mean by that?
Tony Effik: What I mean by that is that ultimately we know the power of the moving image. Okay. We know sight, sound and motion…
Jamarlin Martin: So three minute Facebook clips? Are you talking about web series or long form?
Tony Effik: I think short form is an established thing out there, I think long form is what I’m excited to see how different platforms play that game and how are they going to play it. I’m interested to see of Netflix is that they’re not gonna do it. I’m interested to see if Netflix starts to be ad-supported. I want to see Amazon’s trial around this ad-supported Prime version. I want to see more of the OTT players start to expand their platform and when they start bringing in audience data and scaling around that, I think that whole thing and the intersection of traditional linear is going to be interesting to see where that all evolves. So that’s what I mean by a maturing platform. And then from an emerging platform, I’m still bullish on the idea of AR and VR and where that’s going to go. We’ve done a bunch of experiments around that. I’m seeing some interesting things around that platform. That’s still like five, six, seven, eight years out before that starts to be what I think it could be. But I think people have made big bets on video, and the ecosystem has a lot of crap.
Jamarlin Martin: I don’t see a lot of value in digital video. And here’s why. One is there is a promiscuous amount of players. Google and Facebook are in the pot and I’m not just talking about the ISIS videos and all that other stuff. But as you know, Facebook, they partner with Jada Pinkett, they’re doing custom shows. Youtube is doing custom shows. To me it seems like there’s a glut of inventory out there and it’s really hard to differentiate from an ads-supported perspective. I just think the digital space, it’s crowded and there’s no real proof of a good margin, net-net on average in the industry today. A lot of people have bet on it, but nobody’s really getting decent margins that I’m aware of. But I think the value with digital video, is going to be some type of subscription in terms of, yeah, Netflix came out the gate, Hulu came out the gate. They scaled those platforms, but who’s going to scale “baby” Netflixs and “baby” Hulus? I think subscriptions may be the place to bet. Part of this is if everybody’s doing it, it’s going to be hard for that to be the right bet, right? We saw that with Buzzfeed, we saw that with a lot of the viral publishers. Everyone wants to be a viral publisher and everything goes bust. But, I think for players, looking out, you got to go where there is scarcity in terms of, hey, everybody’s going Buzzfeed, everybody’s going viral, but nobody was going towards a New York Times subscriptions and they were building a billion dollar subscription business kind of quietly. It’s now over a billion, but everyone was going social viral. Nobody really was going to subscriptions. Now when you look at the marketplace, subscriptions, that’s where we’re seeing success. That’s what we’re seeing profits. Do you agree with that?
Tony Effik: Yeah. I’m just trying to process it. No, I was just thinking, because I think when you asked the question, and I think we were looking at it from different angles. So when you asked me the question I was thinking you were talking about from an advertiser’s point of view, because I think, this is a three legged stool here. So you got the publisher side. Obviously that’s your eye. You know what I mean? That’s what you’re always gonna look and stuff generally. Then you go to the advertiser side and then you go to consumer side. I think the consumers loving it, loving this explosion of video. Because if you look at the stats, every year those numbers go up. Consumers are consuming more and more of it across multiple platforms. That’s rising every year. So that’s creating demand. Okay. I’m from the advertiser side, the advertisers are chasing it. They love telling their brand stories using video, so the advertisers, check. What they want though is some of the guarantees to peace of mind that you get in television, you know what I mean, around viewability, brand safety or that kind of stuff. So when you flip it and you come to the publisher side, I agree with you. It’s hard to win that game when so many people are in the game. But do you remember back in the day in the search engine days, there was a lot of search engines, remember Excite, Altavista, search wasn’t a bad business in the end, it’s just that you needed a winner to emerge. And that happened. So I think we will see in this space winners emerge. The problem I see right now though with the subscription model around video is that I tell you what, when I get home and I tried to flip channels, now I’ve got my Hulu, I’ve got my Amazon, I’ve got my Netflix. I think I might have signed onto some a couple of other things and one for the kids. I got too many man. Every other week there’s a new one. I can’t really see that level. I mean I struggled to manage what I’ve got and every other week there’s a new one I find interesting but maybe not interesting enough to keep for long. That’s my view. So yeah, I’m bullish on subscriptions. I feel that a winner will emerge. But I think video everywhere and anywhere in a cleaner, more pristine environment is going to be big for everybody. And I know that’s not a big…
Jamarlin Martin: Are you seeing CPMs going up in terms of brand safe video environments or are you seeing downward pressure on CPMs on average – from an industry perspective?
Tony Effik: Yeah. I think there’s a premium part to the marketplace and so…
Jamarlin Martin: let’s say the premium layer of the marketplace, are CPMs up, flat or down or are they trending down?
Tony Effik: I haven’t done a study of the whole marketplace, but we’re pretty firm in our numbers. Well done up our numbers.
Jamarlin Martin: What about podcasting? The market is about $400 million dollars a year in the U.S.. China is way ahead of the United State. They are doing 7 billion. Most of the podcasts revenue in China is subscription. They were doing interviews with some subscribers in China. The person they were interviewing was like, ‘Why not, I love what this person says. This person, they’re gonna help me to be successful. Why wouldn’t I pay $10 a month’. What are your thoughts on the podcast space?
Tony Effik: I was late to to podcast thing. My morning journey used to be music, subway and now it’s podcast. So you see what I’m saying. And then I’m finding more and more moments where, if I’m doing like chores in the kitchen or something like that, I’ve got a podcast on. Chilling, I’ve got a podcast on. And even now there are certain kids podcasts, there’s an NPR one that the kids love. So I’m finding moments for all of this stuff and I love it and I think it’s just going to keep going. You remember, years back, I wasn’t thinking about podcasts, but I was talking about radio. I kept saying you should buy a radio station. And I felt that, in my mind it was that space that was unoccupied. Audio. Yeah.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. Would you say that one of the reasons, at least based on my checks, the CPMs in the podcast space are healthy on average. In some cases, $50, $100 CPM. Is podcast benefiting from the fact that Google and Facebook, their greedy hands, massive hands are not in the pot yet in terms of monetization, where because you don’t have kind of these more monopolistic entities taking a lot of the money, it’s a healthier segment of the market.
Tony Effik: Yeah I’d agree with that.
Jamarlin Martin: What are some challenges you see with the podcasting market scaling? Let me add that, a lot of people I see it online, ‘I’m launching a podcast’, ‘I’m launching a podcast’, so that people say it’s a bubble. Maybe don’t bet on this because everybody, the pizza delivery guy, everybody, the guy at the bank has a podcast. So some people will see this as, ‘hey, it looks like there’s a bubble. Let’s take a step back’. How do you bring all that together?
Tony Effik: I think the thing about bubbles, even if, let’s say worst case, it is a bubble, let’s say it was. So you talk about housing bubbles, you talk about stock bubbles, particularly housing bubbles. The buildings are still left there afterwards. There’s still buildings after the bubble. And so for me, I think with this, regardless of whether it’s a bubble, there is a new behavior out there of people filling their moments and their time with content that they love that is specific to their needs. It’s like the more there is, the more choice, the more choice, the more you’re likely to find something that suits exactly you. As long as that need gets established, it’s always going to be there because someone will want to support and fulfil that. So here’s my thing, I don’t actually think it’s a bubble. I think certainly not a bubble yet from a revenue point of view because I still feel there’s room. Is it a bubble yet from a consumption point of view? I mean, what proportion of the population is regularly consuming podcasts? There’s still plenty of room.
Jamarlin Martin: There is room for just the radio listener and money to come over to the podcast, and I can see at the annual advertising revenue side, there’s just so much room.
Tony Effik: That’s going to balance out soon, and we’re going to start seeing… We’ve already started seeing big networks of podcast publishers…
Jamarlin Martin: And you’re starting to see some M&A activity.
Tony Effik: And then you’re going to start seeing the radio. I mean if you take NPR as an example, they’re big into podcasts, they’re big into radio. So I think you’re going to start getting these cross platform, audio-based networks. We already seen that. We got audibles in the background and isn’t going into radio and stuff like that, but you’re gonna start seeing the intersection of all of this and then, your favorite subject, if you look at Spotify and the play they’re doing into video, and then you think about streaming services, Pandora.
Jamarlin Martin: Spotify, they’re doing exclusive deals now. They signed Joe Budden, I think it was like a million dollar number. If I’m correct, don’t hold me to it. But you’re starting to see Tidal and Spotify wanting to do exclusive stuff. Why I would say that I’m bullish is because whether you’re going through the subscription window with Spotify and Spotify is paying money to the podcast hosts or Tidal, they have exclusive podcasts now, is that this is going to go behind a paywall. Some of the premium stuff is behind a paywall. So whether it’s advertising or subscription, there’s just so much room to run.
Tony Effik: I think so man. And I think the question for me.. Is It new revenue or are we displacing revenue? You see what I’m saying? So I think is that money leaking in from the radio business or is it people just throwing new digital dollars into the marketplace that weren’t there before? So I think it’s going to be a bit of both, and I think at some point the radio networks are going to start saying, okay guys, well what business are we really in and how are we going to play that? And I think, for example, if you think about the moments where radio is really key, particularly mornings. Yeah. And you start saying, well, how do people listen? They’re in the car.
Jamarlin Martin: Another theory I have with the podcast business is, it’s benefiting from it’s hard to arb it. Let me explain that, with websites in 2012 or 2013, the publisher of websites created a slideshow . You may spend three cents or five cents per click for that user, and the user possibly would generate seven cents of advertising revenue on the single visit. And so that really, I believe, hurt the market where a lot of people were using Facebook to arb, using Google to arb. But I believe that hurts advertisers. Then you have that nasty players coming in – in terms of they’re going through the Outbrain, the Revcontent, Taboola. Not saying that a lot of these players, platforms have cleaned up their act, but as you know, media companies, publishers, websites have played a lot of games arbing. But anybody could set up a website and then you just plugging Google, you plug in your ad networks and then you started raping the advertising companies. But with podcasts you have inefficiencies with analytics in terms of getting real time information. It’s not easy to really put together a good podcast. You’re going to need someone to listen a certain amount of time. I think the folks can arb video now, you can arb webpages or video. It’s harder. But with podcasting I think there’s less, I would call it dark money. Yeah.
Tony Effik: Yeah, I agree. I mean, for now,
Jamarlin Martin: How would you feel as a buyer, you’re at RGA and you’re buying banners. And the publisher doesn’t really have the inventory and they go out and buy it for one cent, very cheap clicks, but they get the impressions and they fill your campaign with purchased traffic. Vanity Fair, GQ. They have been caught, at least one of them, buying shady traffic. Newsweek, the feds came in and raided Newsweek and they were caught doing some shady stuff.
Tony Effik: Some gangster stuff going on in publishing. They’re taking it to the streets.
Jamarlin Martin: But if you’re a buyer and the website is buying 80 percent of the traffic to fill the buy. That’s not a good deal for you. Would it be so harsh that you would sue to get your money back if you found out?
Tony Effik: Do you know what? I knew what I was on the buy side that there was a lot of shady business going on. Yeah. So you kind of know that’s out there. And even when stuff isn’t shady, it could be legit, but it might not be your audience, but you don’t know that, you know what I mean? It’s kind of what is known as an asymmetric market. So one side knows the truth. The other side doesn’t know the truth. Okay. So the publisher in that instance knows it’s not quite right for you or it’s shady or something else like that. You just don’t know. And then there’s millions of publishers. So how on earth do you go making a good decision? It’s really hard. So you can have as many analytical processes at the front end to try and tidy it up, but fundamentally you’re relying on somebody else’s information, whether it be a Comscore or Nielsen Data Set or some other form of certification in your planning tools. But in truth that doesn’t weed that out, you can’t see that looking at Comscore. So the only way you can really deal with this is I had a couple of policies in place. You can fool me once but you can’t fool me twice, because I’m not necessarily just buying the inventory for the sake of buying the inventory. I’m buying the inventory to look at the performance of the inventory. That’s my back-check. You see what I’m saying? So if I think that I’m buying an audience that’s going to go and buy product X and product X doesn’t sell, then you’re not getting another chance. You’re off my plan. Easy to get onto my plan, hard to stay on my plan. Do you see what I’m saying? That’s my first thing. Which basically means that you have to have really strong analytics in place. And then the second thing is that when you come into my plan, I’m not going to put my whole wallet down, you see what I’m saying? I’m just going to give you a taste to do a test, see how that works and then gradually build up over time. And I’m going to be comparing you…
Jamarlin Martin: Did you ever ask how much of your traffic are you paying for? When I look at your Comscore numbers. Do you ever ask, ‘hey, your Comscore says you have 30 million uniques, this many pageviews, but how many of those are you paying for?’ Because I know a lot of publishers would look to exploit buyers who would buy off the Comscore, but at big scale, they’re just buying stuff for like one cent, it registers in Comscore and they can sell high and buy low and complete the arch.
Tony Effik: There’s a level that, if you think about your average day, at least the day I used to have analyst that fast processing. I was on multiple platforms, multiple clients, multiple devices. So there’s a lot of complexity and all of that. So your ability to dive deep on any one company is actually pretty limited. You see what I’m saying? So I can’t lift the hood up on all of these companies and do that. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, here’s the thing, everybody has audience and it’s an overlapping audience. So it’s very rare to find somebody who’s got a unique audience that doesn’t exist somewhere else. You see what I’m saying?
Jamarlin Martin: Did you do a flavor of arb on the buy side, where ‘hey, I don’t want to pay up $50 CPM on ESPN, but I can find that audience somewhere else.
Tony Effik: Yes, exactly.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. I’m going to go out, look for the ESPN audience, but I’m not going to pay $50, I’m going to pay $10 on another website.
Tony Effik: And the other thing is that maybe you do get ESPN and then people land on your website, you’ve cookied them, and then you’re going to get them through retargeting. Do you know what I’m saying? And you don’t hit him that way. And then you’re paying single digit CPMs at that point.
Jamarlin Martin: Alright. So I want to talk about total market versus black media. As you know, a lot of the big buyers in the marketplace, they’re saying, look, I’m not putting my money in a black budget. I’m not putting money in a multicultural budget. I’m not sending money to the black agencies because I can get you guys in a Youtube buy. I can get you in a general market buy. The demographics are changing. America is multicultural. I don’t need to separate my budget. That’s not efficient for me. So as you know, money has been moved out of the black buy box and into total market. I don’t need to send my money to Burrell. Do you think brands have made a mistake in terms of taking that approach? It sounds more efficient.
Tony Effik: I think it’s a bullshit argument, man. Complete Bullshit. Because think about it, the world isn’t moving to broader and broader media. The world is moving towards tighter and tighter audiences, more and more segmentation and targeting and combinations of the two. So for example, how many briefs do I see, ‘I want to target millennials. I want to target boomers. I want to target this specific segment.’ Not, give me the whole of America. So why all of a sudden then when it comes to a black audience, or increasingly a Hispanic audience because we own Telemundo, then why all of a sudden that doesn’t count anymore. It does count. If it counts for the rest of that and then it counts for this as well. So the issue is, is that you’re going to hit millennials with the same message you’re hitting boomers with or people post-retirement? No you’re not.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re not a big fan of total market. You don’t think that there’s a lot of logic in it.
Tony Effik: No, I think it’s a good business. I think there’s a good business. I think there are certain brands who at some point don’t need to make a distinction in their advertising and they need to reach the whole of the country. That’s great. You have to do that. But you don’t do that and not do other stuff. So for example, in your whole marketplace, there are going to be certain segments that are just really important to you as well. Yeah. So why don’t you heavy up on those audiences. Do you see what I’m saying? Particularly for an audience. So for example, if you have some products that do really well amongst African-Americans or Hispanics or whatever, then put a bet on that audience and don’t just put your dollars there, do custom creative, talk to them in the language and in a way that feel’s familiar to them and then signal to them that you give a damn. Signal to them that you’re in their camp. That’s the thing that I think people are looking for when you advertise those titles.
Jamarlin Martin: So I talked to a NASDAK listed CEO brother, Alfred Liggins, the CEO of Urban One, and he said, they may do $700 million of revenue across radio, TV, and digital. But he said Facebook never reached out to him about you type of discussion, partnership, content or nothing. He said they just never reached out. But what I do know, me being in the market, is they were looking to pick off his sales team. And another industry insider shared with me that they were developing a push to go take the Burrell and multi-culture money. So internally within Facebook, they wanted to go out and get that money too. It wasn’t enough for them, ‘we want all of it’. Obviously media is being crushed in general by the duopoly of Facebook and Google. But when Google and Facebook are running over so much stuff, do you think they have a responsibility to think about how could this restructure our society on so many different levels? How can we be contributing to inequality where all these black agencies, all these black media companies, they don’t have any money, no banks want to lend to them, they can’t get investment, and we’re going to just take whats left. That’s not our business. This is capitalism, baby. The big wallet wins. Do you feel that they have any responsibility? If black media was to just go bankrupt across the board. Obviously media companies, major media companies are failing too, but if Facebook say I want the black sellers from the black media companies, I’m going to offer them a higher check. I’m going to start going to Burrell and tell them that your shit sucks and Facebook is better. I want the money. Do you think they have a responsibility as a corporate actor?
Tony Effik: Yes, but I think a company is always going to be a company. Every guy’s looking for the next dollar. We know that. That ain’t going to change. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Baidu in China and then there is a province or publisher somewhere, you’re going to be looking to take that cake. But here’s the catch with that. Here’s the problem. I believe in this, and I think this isn’t just specific to black media, but specific to almost every walk of life right now and it’s not just the thing in media. I think it’s a thing across the digital economy, which is to say this, I feel right now, particularly with the way the technology is changing our society, that these big digital platforms now need to start behaving and exhibiting different forms of corporate citizenship. Do you see what I’m saying? You’re getting to a point. If you think about Uber and the driving economy, you have a responsibility to those drivers. You have a responsibility to society in general for safety, there’s all sorts of stuff. You’re impacting the world in ways that you couldn’t even see, so when you see it, do something about it.
Jamarlin Martin: I would say, when you are at the scale of a Google and Facebook, the society can’t afford to wait and see, that they need risk management departments to be working, independent folks too, they need to be paying independent folks to start thinking about what am I doinga at this massive scale around the world in terms of how I’m going after my profits and hitting my next quarter’s earnings, all the products that we’re creating. How could that kill someone? How could that impact a government? How could this impact kids? If we get hacked and someone uses this stuff across these areas, what could that mean? To me, from a regulatory standpoint, you would need a possible separate department to look at this stuff before you have the digital equivalent of a Lehman Brothers or a Bear Stearns or financial crisis, but a data of crisis in terms of how folks are prioritizing risk management within these institutions.
Tony Effik: And it’s only going to get more and more important that we get up ahead of this. You see what I’m saying? You talked about finance a second ago with the Bear Stearns and the Lehman’s. Yeah. The regulators were always that five steps behind. They’re always five steps behind. And so as we become more dependent on this, as we automate our societies and we become more dependent on these systems, they need to be looking at this because this is the difference maybe between my point of view and your point of view is that I don’t believe there’s a lot of people who are going to self control themselves in that way organizationally. You know what I mean? If they see that dollar there, they’re going to go and take it.
Jamarlin Martin: I think there are degrees though. I see a significant delta between the culture of Google and Facebook. I don’t think any platform says they are goody goody.
Tony Effik: You believe Facebook is more mercenary than Google?
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. But it goes to how Facebook was created. And I believe Mark Zuckerberg as a psychotic, in terms of when you look at when he started Facebook, someone hired him to help them on a product. And he ended up taking the idea. He was a contractor, he took that idea, ended up paying them a lot of money or Facebook stock in a settlement with his partner, Eduardo Saverin. They have him on email and chat trying to short his co-founder in terms of his equity in the company. Eduardo Saverin settled and ended up getting over a billion. So early on you’re starting to see funny stuff from this kid, and at this age. But I don’t think he, he has adequate kind of human activity. I believe last year or the year before he went across America saying I want a better understanding of the country and the people. That type of person, saying I don’t understand the country, and I don’t understand the people. I just don’t think that he can be your chief management officer, if Facebook is starting to act like it’s more like a government entity in terms of its influence.
Tony Effik: I agree with you there. Here’s my thing. There is room for regulation, there has to be regulation, not just on the nature, because it’s pretty monopolistic right now, between the duopoly. So I feel we need to be looking at that. I think we need to be looking at things like employment, not pertaining to the media companies, but just automation in general. How are we going to handle the fact that millions of people will not have a chance to work in the future, how are we going to fund that? What’s the government doing about it? I don’t see anything happening. I also want to better understand, and this is flippant a bit because I feel if it isn’t Facebook, if somebody can come and eat your lunch right now, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s Facebook or Google. So I would say to the people who own these black media companies, okay, well, what’s our game plan? What’s your game plan? I’m just saying, look, are you putting engineers on the table on the floor? What’s your go to market? What’s your pricing strategy? None of them, in the whole time I’ve been here. So what I’m saying here is that, are they staffing right? Don’t get me wrong, how are you going to hold on to your staff? And I know it’s easy to say how to do, but what I’m saying is if somebody can come and take that, we got to be figuring out how do we it. And then let me just add to that as well, why is the audience so flaky? Why haven’t these publishers been able to gain true loyalty amongst them. I think the numbers are good, but if you hold your audience and I think there’s something else going on in society right now. I’m new to America, but what I’m saying here is that the publishers like Essence and Ebony back in the day, they had it on lock. If you think about their heyday, they had the audiences on lock. I think a lot of that was with identity, and I’m saying now identities are so much more fluid. I feel some of these publishers haven’t moved with the times to hold onto that.
Jamarlin Martin: For sure. I would hold Black media accountable on that front, but it would go back to the reason why a lot of the users are not sticking. So Google and Facebook, they have folks locked in, right. And they have big wallets to roll out very interesting products. And so we have seen the audience is going to go to places where it’s going to be efficient to connect in places where I can get really good quality product. I’m just saying that it’s a big resource component that determines how sticky your platform is, in terms of David and Goliath in terms of building products and, hey, all the cool kids are already over there.
Tony Effik: I agree with you. It’s a resource issue, but I also think there’s also something else that’s going on, which is, you can have a website, a publishing business and I’ve got a cup of water in front of me here whose only job is to talk about cups of water and if you think about your world on a global level, all of a sudden you’re talking about scale. You see what I’m saying? And I feel too much of the publishers here once they get. I mean, that’s not what you did because you were out in the motherland every other day, you had a global ambition. And I’m from the UK, there’s a big black population over there. I was on Bossip from back in the day. You know I was one of the early… but I think a lot of these publishers, their get out of jail card is by starting to think globally and not being so narrow cast. And I think a lot of, some of these people haven’t traveled, they didn’t know about the other communities, the diaspora around the world. They don’t know about kind of the new middle classes emerging around the world.
Jamarlin Martin: Are you saying that from an intellect and content perspective? Are you more weighting towards monetization? Because what I would say is, hey, you can travel and do all this stuff, but the monetization overseas is not really there, in a lot of places that you would think there is a huge opportunity. I can get traffic to Nigeria and get traffic. I can get a content platform there in India. But the monetization is really low and infrastructure.
Tony Effik: What I’m playing out here is this idea that it’s David and Goliath and you’re always going to be David in this domestic market. And I’m saying I agree with you. Yes, you can get the traffic. I would then say you’re 60 percent there. You see what I’m saying? Even most big global publishers, there’s a disproportion amount of their revenues coming from the U.S., just proportionate. Small change. And I’m saying are these publishers truly taking a global view and aggregating the black international community in all its forms whether it be Africa, Europe. Do you see what I’m saying? Even South America, connecting everybody up together and I’m saying I haven’t seen that. And then you start getting economies of scale here because you start saying, okay, well I can publish, Netflix is doing it, Netflix is making stuff here, repurposing it and pushing it out in Australia or doing stuff in India, I’m even seeing it in Nigeria.
Jamarlin Martin: Who’s connecting the global black community?
Tony Effik: That’s what I’m saying. That’s why I’m saying. And I think then you’re going to have one central editorial team, local sales team, some local translation type teams. Who start to think about it in that sense. I think that that’s waiting to be done.
Jamarlin Martin: Back to corporate responsibility. Recently in the media, a reputable, highly respected Saudi Arabia journalist at the Washington Post. He was a critic of MbS. The new king. He goes to Istanbul to handle something related to getting married again, some paperwork. So he’s in the Saudi consulate in Turkey and the reports from the Turkish officials is that he never came out. He was murdered by the Saudis and now information is coming out where they had private jets going from Saudi Arabia, landing in Turkey, and they had a 15-member hit team. Sp, this critic who has some U.S. presence, he works for the Washington Post. He was murdered. MbS, at least from my perspective, he’s deeply problematic for ethically, in terms of the war in Yemen, in terms of backing away from being a defender of the Palestinian cause, aligning with Netanyahu. He’s doing like a lot of stuff where some people are wondering what’s going on. But Mark Zuckerberg, he’s connected to MbS. He took MbS on a tour around Facebook in Silicon Valley. Joel Kaplan, who is the best friend to Kavanaugh, he has been seen with MbS. Of course Jared Kushner is connected to the MbS. For a lot of folks, MbS, Saudi Arabia, this country has very problematic values. Now it looks like they’re going around murdering journalists. They already had a cracked down on media out there, but now it looks like they’ve just gone on and sent the 15-member his squad to Turkey. People in Silicon Valley, they’re starting to question Google in terms of, what are you doing on this project with China to suppress dissent? Why are we doing business with ICE? Why are we doing these products for the government who are playing a part with separating parents from their children? And so now people are waking up that, big tech in Silicon Valley, this is a political establishment. These guys are in the bed with Kavanaugh, in terms of lobbying. Joel Kaplan is the chief lobbyist at Facebook and they hired him because of his connection with Republicans. Facebook and Google, they’ve been very effective at lobbying, that’s why there’s no regulation. Let’s say the facts prove that MbS sent 15-member hit team to kill this journalist who was just advocating more democracy in Saudi Arabia. Do you think the employees at Facebook should be mad at Mark Zuckerberg for doing business and giggling with a guy like this or hey, this is separate. He’s the head of state. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’re not judge and jury. If you worked at Facebook and let’s say this guy sent a hit team to go kill a journalist at the Washington Post and you saw your CEO just giggling and doing business because they want business from these people. And it’s not just Mark Zuckerberg. MbS is over at Google. He’s shaking hands with Jack Dorsey. He’s in the bed with Silicon Valley. They roll out the red carpet for him when he comes out there.
Tony Effik: I mean, here’s my view about this. In the thirties, the forties, Germany, Hitler, you have the Nazi party and then there were parts of corporate America that were very friendly with that administration, and you look back at that, and these companies, obviously some of them have hidden some of this history and look back at it with shame. So there isn’t anything new about corporate interest and corrupt and immoral governments getting together. So that’s nothing new. What I would say that I think is slightly different from your point of view is there’s a whole thing about Saudi Arabian world basically, which we can dive into a little bit, but I think my general feeling about the Silicon Valley population is that they’re more left leaning, and in fact the right have been the ones complaining about the Googles, the Facebooks. And if you think about it, if you remember when the Muslim ban happened, the Google executive team, pretty much Silicon Valley unanimously came out against it. So these people are based in California, these people are pro-immigration, pro-open markets and free markets. This is almost the opposite of what the right wing establishment feels like right now. So I think they’re definitely more left-oriented. So I think what happens though, and this is the same thing with Google, and it goes back to this whole thing about we were not escaping the human condition, so if somebody at some point has to say, am I going to do what I believe in or am I going to get paid? That’s what it comes down to.
Jamarlin Martin: The right and left doesn’t really help. In Facebook’s case, I believe that their God is money, right? If your God is money and it’s like, hey, we don’t take sides, it doesn’t matter if it’s Hitler, MbS, we don’t care. Right? So we’re not picking sides. So that type of mindset is going to have a Peter Thiel on the right, it’s going to have a Joel/Kavanaugh on the right, and then it’s going to be pushing Sheryl Sandberg out left and Mark Zuckerberg out left. There’s no one political stream. In my view, you just see greed and power. That’s the religion.
Tony Effik: I mentioned the 1930s and 40s. Not to say that the Saudi king is the equivalent of Hitler, but what I’m saying here is that we are as individuals, however, high up or down we are, in situations everyday where we’ve got to make a moral choice about what we believe in, and about whether we are going to keep true to ourselves or are we going to try and take the next dollar, and I genuinely feel, particularly when it comes to stuff that has a consequence on people’s lives, life or death. If it’s about taxation, maybe we can talk about that. But if it’s about somebody living or dying, I think I want to stay on the right side of that. You know what I mean?
Jamarlin Martin: In terms of the potential backlash, if you did work at a Facebook or a Google and you say, ‘Hey, I don’t like this’, would you be protesting with some of the employees that are protesting about some of these issues out there?
Tony Effik: I’d like to think I would. If someone said to me, is that something you would do? I think my answer instinctively is yes. Whether I’d do it, I don’t know, but I’d like to think I would do it, regardless of what the consequences are.
Jamarlin Martin: Before we close out, I want to talk to you about your teaching at Columbia University. What inspired you to take your real world experience and want to go out there and teach students?
Tony Effik: Do you know what it was? It wasn’t a selfless act, it was an act of self interest. And what it is that I liked about it is I have this thing. So I’m a black guy in the advertising business, always was, there are not many of me. And I always felt, and I had this philosophy always of this idea, I call it objective difference. The higher up you get in the industry, the lesser you’re able to distinguish between people. And what then starts to happen is that people get better positions based on the relationships. If you don’t have those relationships, you’re not going to get the better positions, unless you know something that no one else knows. And that’s why I call it objective difference. It was about mastering things that people didn’t know. And so I believed about five years ago, six years ago, that data science was going to be a big thing that differentiate people in this business. And so I started hiring people from Columbia. I started digging into this, working in that department there, myself, started to acquire and internalize a lot of this knowledge, and I actually start to know about it. And I started to know about how all the different things worked, how different algorithms were built. I wasn’t an engineer by training, but I knew how to work with them really well. And so I started saying to myself, well, great, this was really good, how do I consolidate that? How do I signal to the world that I know about this stuff and how do I keep my knowledge fresh, because what I have to do is every semester I have to sit down and say, okay, well what am I going to say that’s interesting enough for 30 or 40 master’s students in engineering, and I have to reinvent a curriculum each semester and it forces me to keep on top of my game. So that’s kind of why I did it. And there’ve been times where I’m like, ‘Oh man, it’s Monday night, it’s late, I don’t know if I want to do this’. But then I kept going.
Jamarlin Martin: When I look at your career, it’s obvious you deal with strategy. It reads to me as an observer as strategic. Let me explain. My memory is that, I was reading articles within the digital media industry, advertising industry, and I started to see your name pop up, right? And your name was a little bit different. So I look you up, and so I may have read like five articles where you were quoted. And so, when it came time, where I saw you at a programmatic advertising conference in Austin, my interest in terms of walking up to you was based on your PR profile, the media quotes. When these publications are covering you or asking you for quotes, is that something strategic that you’re pushing, that you’re involved in or was it purely organic?
Tony Effik: Full transparency. You’re more pushing it.
Jamarlin Martin: So it was strategic, like I gotta get my name out there?
Tony Effik: No, it wasn’t necessarily about me getting my name out there. It was more to do. When you’re in an agency environment, the agencies that do well tend to be the agencies that have the highest profile. How’d you get high profile? You have to have an opinion on something and the journalists are not going to quote you if you haven’t got an interesting or different opinion. So agencies, or at least good agencies, do spend quite a bit of time thinking about how they become quotable by putting out interesting stories, having journalists that they work with on specific topics. And so I started to really focus on machine learning, the digital ecosystem, social media, the power of influence, programmatic, some of these topics that at the time were still immature, still evolving. So I became a voice in that space and that was really about trying to drive the visibility of my team around the world that was working on with RGA. So you saw stuff but the amount of stuff you do in order for that little bit to get out, because you can do tons of interviews, they don’t all get out there into the public space. So keeping on top of stuff and keeping ahead of the marketplace and having a helicopter view is part of what is necessary. And that goes back to my idea of objective difference. You need to know shit that nobody else knows.
Jamarlin Martin: When your career started in the U.K., as you look back, what has really helped you differentiate yourself and rise up the ranks here in the United States, in terms of your upward trajectory.
Tony Effik: I still don’t feel I’ve gone up enough, but that’s another story. It’s interesting because I see there’s a lot of people here from the U.K., particularly in strategy because there’s a lot of the original strategy business was formed in the U.K., so people used to joke in the industry, do you need to have an accident to have this job, as a strategy guy? And they’ll say, oh, it’s because of the accident. Do you know what I mean? I’ve had people say that to me.
Jamarlin Martin: Do people assume you are smarter with a British accent?
Tony Effik: Do you know what they say? Because being British, having a British accent, maybe gives you 20 more IQ points, but being black takes away 30 points. It’s perception wise. You see what I’m saying? So if I lost in the game, but seriously, I think for me, I think the advantage of America versus the U.K. is that this is just a bigger sandbox, you know what I mean? There’s just so much more here you can do. The U.K. is centralized in London, it’s a smaller market. One person comes in, one has to go out. This is growing at a faster pace. So the opportunities and the scale is bigger. So I would say part of it is that I think I chose the right businesses, the right areas to focus on. I made the right bets around the knowledge.
Jamarlin Martin: In data science…
Tony Effik: Exactly. I’m always thinking about what’s the next big thing.
Jamarlin Martin: It sounds like that came from a big thirst and curiosity to read about your market.
Tony Effik: And also knowing that I ain’t got a safety net. I just got to keep hustling just to keep ahead and I’ve got to work a little bit harder than everybody else. And so yeah, I’m always reading. I’m always thinking about what’s next. Every time we meet we’re just chatting about where’s the world going and that kind of stuff. So I have that mindset, and it’s kind of a struggle mindset.
Jamarlin Martin: I was in Mumbai, India last year. An Indian asked, “Is everybody in America Lazy?” I guess that was the perception for him. I don’t know how far that goes in India, but the perception was, compared to us you Americans man, you guys are lazy. Now when you came here from London did you perceive a lot of us being complacent?
Tony Effik: Not compared to London. I think London is way more relaxed. Compared to Nigeria, oh yeah, Nigerians are like, ‘What are these guys doing there, man, put me on a plane’. No, if you compare to London, I think the work-life balance is more balanced. But there’s a quote, ‘If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, but you can’t make it in Lagos’. If you can make it in New York, that doesn’t mean you’re going to make it in Lagos, so I can tell you that right now because that just means you can land, because you got to hustle 100 times harder over there before you could be successful.
Jamarlin Martin: It’s more that Nigerianess.
Tony Effik: I think that’s more at the core of it, for me. And also just knowing that I need to make it work. And also, I ain’t got the support network. I ain’t got any of the resources that other people have got. No, I just gotta do it man. I couldn’t do it. And there’s a Frederick Douglas quote I like, ‘Without struggle, there’s no progress’. It is about the struggle but it’s also about the story, what story you’re telling yourself in your head about who you are, and about what you’re about. And so I brand myself, I talk to myself in the sense that I’m like, okay, my thing, my angle is I’m going to discover new ideas and push into the hardest spaces because not everyone wants to go into those spaces and that’s where I’m going to specialize in. So when everyone was struggling with around the idea of data and digital coming together and people didn’t really know the answer to that, I dove into that. When everyone’s thinking about multi screen and how you manage all of that, I dove into that which was what led me into NBCUniversal. I’m now thinking of other things beyond that. I’m thinking about AR and VR and thinking about entertainment and content and how they all synchronize together. So I want to do those things that are harder because fewer people can do those things. And that’s the story I tell myself and I’m willing to put the time and effort into making it happen.
Jamarlin Martin: I want to thank Tony for coming on the show.
Tony Effik: Any time man.
Jamarlin Martin: Where can people check you out online?
Tony Effik: You can find me on Twitter. That’s the place I always respond. https://twitter.com/aeffik
Jamarlin Martin: Thanks for coming on the show.
Tony Effik: Any time.
Jamarlin Martin: Let’s GHOGH!