After a Year of Change, Verizon Media’s Iván Markman Looks Ahead

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LAS VEGAS—While in town for this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Adweek caught up with Verizon Media’s chief business officer Iván Markman, who has been in that role for nearly a year.

We chatted about Verizon Media’s place in the industry—with a portfolio that includes HuffPost, AOL and Engadget—its strategy for 2020 and the tough lessons the company learned last year, which resulted in more than 100 employees being laid off at the end of December.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Last year, in particular, was one of mergers and acquisitions. Are you in the market for buying more titles? Or selling any?
The focus right now is those core franchisees and building them out, and then innovating on top of that. We’re not aggressively shopping, and I don’t think you should expect any massive announcement tomorrow, but we’re totally open and we’re constantly canvassing the landscape, both for acquisitions but also, importantly, for partnerships.1

We really want to help the publisher ecosystem. We want to help them grow their top line, but then also if we can take some of those elements of cost and help them be more profitable because we have more scale and they can use some of what we’ve learned, some of the technologies that we have built.

You said you’re connecting with brands in conversations here at CES. Do you feel like it’s more forward-thinking this year?
It’s a lot more connected because our partners, our consumers, are understanding and connecting with our strategy way more than a year ago. There are a few areas that are a lot more forward-looking. Because when you can connect, then you can say, ‘Oh, you can begin to imagine the future. Oh, I could see how this could play out here.’ I could see how, for example, a car could power amazing sports experiences or finance experiences.

What do you credit with, as you say, that shifting connection that you’re making in this particular year with clients? Does that represent a strategy shift from Verizon Media?
We had so much change last year. Hans [Vestberg], as CEO [of Verizon Communications], started in August of 2018. But Verizon 2.0 was really put into effect in April of 2019. Verizon itself, the whole company, had a big shift in 2019. Guru [Gowrappan] as CEO of Verizon Media also kind of started in Q4 of 2018. And we brought the Verizon Media brand to bear in Q2 of 2019. A lot of that started happening and being communicated in the beginning of 2019. We’ve done so much that people are saying, ‘Hey, OK, now we’re seeing it.’ So, now it’s connecting.

What is your strategy going into 2020? What is that pitch to potential clients?
On the consumer side, it’s going deeper, providing an even more meaningful experience, a broader experience that connects content to commerce. For advertisers, we’re creating very unique, meaningful omnichannel opportunities … in consistent ways that are data-driven across multiple platforms, with digital out-of-home being one of those; it can also be around connected TV, and it can be around more traditional formats like video and display.

And then for our publisher customers, we’ve gone through the pains of some of that reenergizing. A lot of our publisher customers are going through a transformation or are thinking about the future. And we can share some of our learnings. We have a bunch of platforms like the media platform, which provides streaming capabilities to a lot of broadcasters. Our pitch for them is, ‘Hey, we’re publishers first, we understand, we deeply understand it. We’re very flexible.’ And we’ll work with some large omnichannel publishers and cover all of these areas.

Given the challenges that the media industry faces, and the changes that you have made, do you feel like you are in a good financial state going into 2020 so that hard decisions about staffing levels don’t have to happen?
I’ll kind of abstract these from media to pretty much any business. All of the time, as your landscape is changing, and not only in present time, but also where you see things going, you’re looking at your portfolio of activities and you’re saying, ‘Hey, how do you optimize that?’ and so on. I cannot predict the future fully in terms of saying, ‘Hey, in Q4 of this year we might find this amazing opportunity and we will invest a lot more into it,’ or ‘In Q2 of 2021, we’re going to automate all of this area, which will allow us to redeploy some of our teams to work into something else’, or honestly, some of those team members we might no longer need.

It’s part of the course of normal business. What I can tell you is that we’re in a much stronger position than we were in Q1 at this point in time last year. We’re seeing lots of areas that are growing at very, very healthy rates, and that makes us feel super optimistic about 2020 and beyond. While I cannot tell you, ‘Hey, A, B and C will happen,’ what I can tell you is that the results and the general optimism about what’s to come is way stronger than it was last year.

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