Ryan Nathanson is VP, digital strategy and ad operations at Federated Media. Federated Media is an integrated media company that pairs the nation’s leading brands with the top independent influencers in digital media.
How did you get into the industry?
I began by helping large, established print publications enter the world of digital. Specifically, helping them convert or supplement their print advertising products with digital products. The banner ad had already been established, and I was working to bring new editorial and sponsored content products to the table. From webcasts to virtual events and sponsored articles, I was involved in the production, engineering and audience development of these strategies. As the products themselves became more established, my focus turned toward audience and scale.
Any emerging industry trends?
History repeats itself. Much like the very first native ad on TV, there is an evolution in the digital industry around incorporating marketing messages into content audiences want on blogs, social channels, or large, publicly-traded publications. From there, it’s about getting as many eyeballs on the content as possible. Just like with TV and DVR, the digital industry is experiencing its “ad blocking” – the evolution of both has been to find better ways to balance the value exchange with audiences so that ads become an acceptable part of the experience again. Finally, within digital, we see a de-emphasis on ad placement within established publications. Instead, ad buyers have the ability to exceed that scale by using programmatic to target an audience rather than a particular publication thought to attract a particular audience.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
A few challenges exist. The first is oversaturation of (poor) ad experiences on the web. This has led to users blocking ads (ad blocking), thus creating a decrease in overall inventory or reach for advertisers. This breaks the value chain and becomes an increased problem if left unresolved. Users still want the same content from their trusted publications without ads without understanding that it’s the ad revenue that allows these publications to create content. As users turn ads off, publications saturate their sites with more ads to regain the lost revenue at the cost of the portion of the audience who has yet to turn off ads. This increase in ads ends up causing those who have not already turned off ads to do so, and the cycle continues until it reaches a threshold where a publication can no longer stay in business.
Herein lies the opportunity to regain audience trust by developing new ad experiences that make the value chain proportionate again. However, since ad blockers attack the ad delivery systems, those who have turned ads off will inherently not even see the attempts to fix the problem.
The overall opportunity is to find an entirely new way to speak to audiences in a way that doesn’t end up like the banner ad (blocked).
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
The one piece that both publications and audiences agree on is producing and consuming quality, relevant content. The content must be delivered in a format and channel that meets the audience’s consumption habits. To date, those habits shift quickly, requiring publications to adopt new infrastructures. Content distribution practices change as fast as habits change. We went from desktop and long-form content to mobile and short-form content, and now, to social and video/visual content.
One consumption habit that doesn’t change is how users decide which outlets they consume content. Users chose outlets they trust. Those outlets are inherently influential to the audiences they amass. Thus, whoever the “influencers” are at any given time are the ones who have the access to the attention of the audiences that advertisers want.
We built a business focused on delivering a brand’s messaging in a way that preserves the value chain while being delivered by the influencers of the target audience. Focusing on this simple principal avoids current and future digital advertising challenges and complexities. It ensures brands are always able to access their audience in a way that audiences both accept and have a propensity to engage on a higher level than any other method.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We continue to pioneer the creation of technology that helps brands track the trends of influence regardless of channel. Being able to identify who the influencers are and the performance of a marketing message being delivered by a given influencer remains a technology and data science focus for us.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
To obsess over the level of strategy we deploy to help influencers and marketers find the best approaches in both constructing the experience for audience and distributing them to create scale for all parties involved. We will see new technology, new ways of thinking about influencer strategy, and deliberate organizational staffing around the concept of architecting influence for brands using available and new methods or products.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
The hardest part has been the education process. Helping to revise a system that has been established for over a decade brings challenges related to setting new standards and establishments for both brand and publisher.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
The ideal experience would be a customer gaining insight into new audiences that they never knew they should be talking to, and reaching their existing audiences in ways that create deeper engagement and lasting relationships.
How do you motivate others?
Treat everyone equally and make sure everyone is challenged consistently. Ensure everyone has a deep connection with the mission at hand. Make sure everyone understands the “why” behind what we are doing.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Be smart. Understand the importance of modulating your communication style to match your audience or more importantly, their personality type. The way you engage with others and how your message comes across is critical on any level. Care about your coworkers’ feelings. Make an effort to really connect with people. Be hungry. You don’t have to act like work is your life’s mission, but you should make an effort to dive in. Be humble. Share the spotlight. Let’s face it, no one likes a know-it-all or someone who is full of themselves. Finally, be a team player. You’ll get much further in this race if you have an entire team who has your back. At a company or the team (“network”) you amass throughout your career. A team player will always trump the power players.