Sovrn Perspectives: A Four-Part Series
This is the second in a series of perspectives from Sovrn CEO Walter Knapp and President Chris George where they discuss where publishers should focus their efforts in 2024 to thrive amid uncertainty and ongoing challenges like unprecedented media layoffs, volatility in ad spend, and rapidly changing technology.
Walter Knapp: We saw record numbers of layoffs in the media industry last year, so operational efficiency is a huge concern. Quite simply, if you want to succeed in this industry, you have to focus your energy on the things that matter the most. Focus on the content you need to create and distribute in order to develop a persistent relationship with your audience.
If you hire data scientists or engineers or technologists, they’re naturally going to recommend that you lean on their knowledge and skills to build the tools you need. But do you really need to build the tool yourself, or do you just need timely and accurate answers to run your business? That should be your focus.
Chris George: The most successful publishers I’ve seen are those who run lean on product development staffing so they can focus more of their capital in one of three areas: editorial, sales, or audience development. Only in very rare cases does it make sense for a publisher to build their own technology instead of finding a partner to solve their needs, because the math just doesn’t work. I’ve seen publishers with 8-10 people working on commerce technologies only to find that they are constantly behind the rest of the industry on feature development and bogged down with integrations and maintenance requests. At an average fully-loaded headcount cost of $150,000, a 10-person team costs the publisher $125,000 per month in staffing costs, significantly higher than the cost for a technology partner to deliver all the features they need.
WK: Running a leaner organization is knowing what you need and what you don’t. The most important decisions in business come down to good judgment. You can have all the data in the world, but it takes judgment to make good decisions. Vendor pitches and sound bites from conferences only get you so far.
It’s human nature to look for a “silver bullet,” but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t exist. Improving efficiency requires leadership to get into the details and keep the organization focused on what matters most.
CG: Judgment is based on both learning and understanding — and it can be hard to develop a deep level of knowledge because things move so fast today. That makes evaluating tools and solutions really difficult. So my advice to publishers is to deliberately shift their mindset. Instead of thinking about what you can build, start looking into what you can integrate.
The role of a CTO is now essentially a systems integrator. They need to be looking at what’s available in the marketplace that can be plugged in seamlessly to efficiently reach business goals. It’s challenging to make that shift, but some of the most successful publishers are running a very lean corporate structure and investing as much into their editorial and business teams as possible.
The key is finding good partners to work with. Whatever you’re trying to accomplish — whether that’s publishing, revenue operations, revenue diversification, analytics, etc. — there are plenty of great partners out there.
One of the unique things about Sovrn is that we’re committed to delivering the value our customers deserve. We put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, and earn their business every day. Our solution is easy to use, and customers can walk away at any time, for any reason. We’re that confident in our ability to deliver value. I would advise publishers to be cautious about any partner that requires a long-term commitment to use their product — that should be a red flag.
WK: I think there’s an interesting distinction between companies that earn their customers’ business and those that operate through control-based relationships, by locking you in for a set period of time. You won’t tolerate relationships like that in your personal life, so why do we accept it in business? At Sovrn, we treat people like fellow humans with free will, and we commit to earning the relationship every day. And if we fail, you deserve the right to hold us accountable, up to and including firing us.
That kind of freedom is becoming the norm in consumer relationships. Think back to the days when cable providers required a long-term commitment to use their service — and then contrast that with today’s streaming revolution. You can use whatever providers you want for as long as you want, and then cancel for any reason, or no reason. It’s not easy to find that kind of true independence in the B2B world, but it’s something to look for as you shop for vendors and solutions.
You can also visit the Sovrn blog for more insights to help you grow your business on the Open Web — or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about our comprehensive suite of publisher tools for commerce, advertising, and data.