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Media Buying Briefing: Mediahub’s Sean Corcoran on diversifying rosters and championing diversity

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IPG Mediabrands’ agency Mediahub shook up its U.S. executive cadre in recent weeks, with a host of new hires and promotions, including at the very top, when Sean Corcoran, its president since 2019, received his CEO stripes. The media agency has taken on several digital-first clients, including Twitch, Netflix, Pinterest, Nerdwallet and Dropbox, in part to balance out a heavy load of travel clients that went silent amidst the corona crisis of the last year. This interview with Corcoran has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

On changing up the client roster balance

Our reliance on travel as a business was a struggle [during coronavirus]. MGM, Hawaiian Airlines, Royal Caribbean, Jet Blue and Wyndham. That was 25 percent of my business, and what an ass-kicking we got. But somehow, we were able to work out of that, add in other brands to our portfolio, but also recognize that we need a portfolio balance. Let’s be a bit more selective, a little smarter about what kinds of clients we have, how they pay for things, then take a real good, hard look at our P&L and figure out how to manage it well.

The gap between media and creative

The relationship between the industries is stressed. I’ll go between a creative meeting and a media meeting and it’s like I’m in two different industries. That’s been the case for the last five-plus years, where one side’s talking data and tech, almost too narrowly. And the other side isn’t even acknowledging it, almost, except in maybe some stunty stuff. They’re like, “Here’s our creative, and then we threw in an Amazon Alexa idea.” That’s not what we’re trying to do here. And on the media side, you talk to programmatic people, and it’s almost like messaging doesn’t exist. I feel like that coming together needs to happen, and I think it’s going to have to be led by the data/tech people, but with some people that understand comms and creative. Right now, that just doesn’t exist yet and I think that’s a gap in the industry.

Navigating the maze of adtech for clients, and getting paid for it

We have an interesting situation, where we slot in people [with our clients] who really understand not only how Facebook, Google, or even Amazon Advertising work, but also how a lot of adtech and martech infrastructure works, and how you should design it. We end up in a situation where we do a lot more consulting-type work … but how we get paid is through the placement of media. The good news is we have people moving up the chain, who are valuable to the client because they’re helping them determine their marketing and adtech infrastructure and their philosophy and strategy for that. But we actually don’t get paid enough money to do that, which is a real frustration.

On fewer opportunities to reach people through advertising

We’ve had to come to terms with the fact that the advertising-paid world … how different it is. The amount of gaming people are doing, the amount of Twitch that’s being watched, along with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Disney and HBO. Most isn’t ad-supported, right? So, how are we dealing with the fact that these people are invisible to us? We call it infrequency, the idea of when you’re not available to me, because you just watched Netflix for the afternoon or you’re going to play on your PS5 all day. How do I advertise to that person? Where’s my opportunity, and what’s the tool and the metric and the shared knowledge around this idea that people are weaving in and out of ad-supported inventory? We don’t have a way of addressing that yet. Advertising in general’s really hard right now.

On diversity efforts

A couple of young women, people of color in their early 20s, came up with something called a Once in a Lifetime, because they wanted to tell their stories, and we wanted to hear [them]. They hold an agency-wide Zoom [every few weeks], it’s over an hour long, and it’s just young people of color telling their stories. The stories coming out of there have been amazing. You’re like, “Shit, I didn’t know you had to go through that,” you know? So we’re going to try and actually be the company we’ve told you we want to be. I’ve said to them all along: You can judge me today all you want, but truly judge us in a year, because it’s going to take us a year to do all this.

Color by numbers

With the recent rise of Clubhouse and the continuing popularity of Spotify, Pandora and podcasting in general, audio-related stats have seen a surge over the last year. Some standout numbers from Edison Research and Triton Digital’s The Infinite Dial 2021 report, released earlier in March.

  • 28 percent of the U.S. 12-and-older population, some 80 million, have become weekly podcast listeners, a 17 percent hike over 2020. They’re also diverse, with the racial breakdown of monthly listeners being 57 percent white; 16 percent latino; 13 percent African American; 4 percent Asian, and the balance undefined.
  • 88 percent own a smartphone, up from 85 percent last year, while tablet ownership and smartwatch ownership have plateaued, at 51 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
  • As expected, in social media, TikTok usage soared to 44 percent among the 12 to 34-year-old set, up from 25 percent in 2020. Meanwhile, Facebook saw a drop in respondents saying they use it most often among social platforms — 47 percent say so this year, down from 54 percent in 2020 and 62 percent in 2016.

Takeoff & landing

  • There’s upheaval at Publicis Media, with SparkFoundry CEO Chris Boothe taking over Starcom U.S. CEO duties, replacing Kathy Ring, who is leaving the company along with Kathy Kline, the global chief strategy officer.  
  • Colin Kinsella, the former CEO of Havas Media North America, has joined the board of Fenestra, a London-based independent programmatic optimization platform that works with brands, media agencies and media platforms.
  • Katrina Cukaj, most recently the head of sales for CNN, is moving over to sibling company WarnerMedia (both are owned by AT&T) as new head of ad sales. She replaces Joe Hogan, a 30-year veteran who’s leaving the company.
  • Canvas Worldwide promoted Madhavi Tadikonda to evp, chief investment officer, following the departure of Amy Ginsberg, who took the chief investment officer post at Havas Media.
  • Omnicom Media Group promoted Sara Porritt to head its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts for the U.S., moving her up from a similar role with OMD, although she also was senior director of integrated media planning for clients Pepsico and Clorox. Porritt succeeds Justin Reyes, who recently left the company to take a role with Major League Baseball.

Direct quote

“We continued to grow our top line and bottom line at industry leading rates, despite covid-19 and exhibited agility in developing new content revenue streams quickly, such as robotic production, animation and online events and driving data and digital marketing net revenues, particularly in the fourth quarter and into this year.”

— CEO Sir Martin Sorrell, in announcing S4 Capital’s 2020 financial results on March 25. S4 posted a 19.4 percent rise in gross profit on 15 percent growth in revenue.

Speed reading

  • Digiday’s marketing editor Kristina Monllos looks at the latest flurry of content being created by major marketers, including Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch and Mattel, given the fragmented media landscape and the increasing avoidance of straight-up advertising.
  • It was a busy week for the heads of the major social platforms as they testified in Congress, agreeing in principle to support limited requirements that force them to be more transparent in patrolling content. Digiday’s platforms, data and privacy reporter Kate Kaye rounds up where they stood on Section 230.  
  • The Wall Street Journal broke the news on GroupM’s latest attempt to bring order to its data operation, this time investing $200 million to build a new technology system and consulting group.
  • Think NBC is a TV company? Think again. The Hollywood Reporter covered the company’s One21 event last week, in which it positioned itself as something of a flywheel, with parent Comcast’s broadband powering streaming, Peacock powering content and in-house tech delivering that content and creating ad experiences.
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