Jim Elliott on why he’s excited about the future of online display advertising

“I think the biggest opportunity in 2022, and for the next couple of years, is getting back and meeting people in person. I have a lot of salespeople, and I can tell you that it’s really difficult to sell via Zoom. The biggest opportunity is to get back. Go to shows, go see clients in their offices. And start to find out what their real needs are.”

The last few years have been hugely challenging for the media advertising industry. Dealing not only with the implications of Covid, but also initiatives from Apple and Google that may fundamentally change the way it operates.

Yet as Jim Elliott, founder of US National Ad Sales company James G. Elliott Co., Inc. points out there are plenty of opportunities too. Jim will be delivering a special advertising workshop at this year’s Congress, titled ‘Selling digital programs without cookies’, and you can find out more here.

He believes that the disruption is going to cause media companies to look again at their brands and think again about how they sell them. Could we be on the cusp of a golden age of display advertising? Jim thinks so. Here he talks not only about differentiation but also why adtech will always be with us and why he’s excited about the return of face-to-face in-person meetings.

Part of our: Meet the Speaker Series

Jim Elliot, James G. Elliot Co. Inc.

So, tell me a bit about yourself. What’s the history of the James G. Elliott company?

We started in 1984. Previously I had been the head of field services for CBS Magazines, and also Western ad director of Road Track, which was owned at that time by CBS. 

The company is an independent media representative firm, focusing historically on magazines and brand advertising sales. We’ve done something in the region of $800 million sales over time. Most consumer US magazines companies have used us, as have a lot of big associations and some b2b companies. We’ve had about 500 clients. And we’re unique in that we have offices in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. And then, based on a client’s needs, we can open up in other markets. 

Some pundits say the changes in the media advertising world are more seismic than ever before. Do you agree? And if you don’t, given your perspective in that you’ve been involved in the industry since the 80s, what key periods of change would you highlight as being more seismic?

No, I don’t agree with that statement. I think that the introduction of cable television was just as disruptive. I think the internet and the introduction of the online business, which actually happened 20 years ago, were very disruptive. And I think we’re still in that period of time. If you look at things historically, some things have changed. Yet in a lot of ways, they haven’t changed.

So moving to the present then. From an online display advertising perspective, what do you see as the biggest challenges? 

I think the biggest by far is the lack of training of people that are currently selling display advertising. They don’t have any background in it. Instead, they are more transactional. And that will have to change with these developments like Apple’s privacy initiative and Google’s phasing out of third-party cookies. There are going to be other developments coming very rapidly, possibly artificial intelligence. All of these things are going to disrupt the business again. 

I can tell you it’s really difficult to sell via zoom. 

But most importantly, the way I see it is that these companies need to learn how to sell display advertising. How do you go in and sell content to an audience? How do you position it against other people? This is a discipline that has disappeared in this business, in the online space.

We are getting a lot of calls at the moment from online-only players that have suddenly woken up and said ‘I’m in big trouble here long term because programmatic will go away and then what…’ 

Do you think publishers have lost the art of differentiating their specific sites?

Yes, I do… How does one soap opera site differ from the other one? Why is this one more important than the other? If you look at the big picture, we in the media want to drive the process. And yet we let these tech companies drive some of the processes. None of this matters because we’re not the drivers. We’re kidding ourselves. The drivers are the buyers. The buyers are the ad agencies. The buyers are the clients. We need to highlight what is unique about our media properties.

Do you have a view on the third-party cookies situation and how it might resolve itself?

No, I really don’t. But whatever happens publishers need to look at other revenue opportunities, including maybe waking up again to the importance of advertising. And you get there by going in and selling your site specifically. Or by bundling stuff together if you have multiple assets.

Brian Morrissey said recently he thinks that the adtech industry is indestructible, they’re like cockroaches, they will always be here. So if there’s a decline in programmatic advertising, do you think they’ll find something else?

Sure. There are countless adtech companies out there. And we hear about the bigger ones that are surviving or that have been acquired by other people, but we don’t talk about the ones that went out of business. 

The adtech industry came up with a quick solution for ad agencies to cut back on staffing in their media departments. There will always be new cockroaches that come up, but they may not survive as long and they may not be as important. I think that ad agencies are going to have to start increasing media staff again. They’re also going to have to start differentiating media.

I do think that owners and media companies have often chased the newest shiniest object and technology. Whereas what maybe should have happened was that they looked at their current assets and factored them in as well. 

I think that the introduction of cable television was just as disruptive.

So do you think media companies are too distracted by tech or alternative revenue sources? Do they undervalue advertising?

Yes, they absolutely do. A lot of it is caused by who they’re owned by. But yes I really think they do.

From your own company’s perspective, what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities in the short term, so 2022 but then looking beyond? Is there anything specifically you think there is a really big opportunity in the future?

Yes, I think the biggest opportunity in 2022 and for the next couple of years is getting back and meeting people in person. I can tell you it’s really difficult to sell via zoom. 

The biggest opportunity is to get back. Go to shows, go and see clients in their offices. And start to find out what their real needs are not through Zoom. So I think getting together in-person is the biggest opportunity for now. 

I think that technology will give us all kinds of new exciting tools going forward, particularly post Covid. But the key will be when people are able to get together and brainstorm. 

To see the latest speaker line-up for this June’s FIPP World Media Congress, along with details of schedules and more, click here.


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