Video streaming, podcasts, agencies… Bobby Bonett, EVP of Strategic Growth at Sandow Design Group, on innovations in channel publishing

It has been a very busy couple of years for the Sandow Design Group. The Florida/New York-based publishers, best known for its premium design/luxury magazines and websites, has unveiled a host of innovations including a streaming video network, a digital marketing agency, a video production studio, and a podcast network.

So how does a company manage all those new projects without compromising their existing work? Bobby Bonett, EVP Strategic Growth at Sandow, is the person tasked with ensuring that as the company pushes into new areas it takes its clients with them.

In this interview he speaks about how the company is in an always-on state of reimagining. He also talks of the importance of working with clients on new things and how a limited-run Facebook Live stream morphed into DesignTV the company’s key video channel.

Bobby will be going into more depth about the company’s evolution at Fipp Congress in June.

Part of our: Meet the Speaker Series

Bobby will be speaking at the 44th FIPP World Media Congress in June, and you can find out more here.

Tell me about your career to date. How did you end up at SANDOW Design Group?

I’ve worked in digital content and content marketing for much of my career. I started out in the news industry before moving to SiriusXM in 2013. While at SiriusXM, I had the opportunity to build a 20-person team of incredibly talented content and audio producers. We built a podcast sampling app that I think was a little ahead of its time; by and large, though, the folks who worked on that app have moved on to incredible roles in the audio and digital content industries. I then took the opportunity to work at the NBA for a year, where I was fortunate enough to play a strategic role in the NBA’s development of a direct-to-consumer version of NBA TV. I joined Sandow Design Group in 2019; after being introduced to the President of ThinkLab, SANDOW Design Group’s research division, by my sister, Sara, who then worked as a designer at HED in Chicago.

And what particular experiences of working for the NBA prepared you for this role? And what does your day job look like?

While at the NBA, I worked very closely with a number of our distribution partners, including AT&T, Amazon, Comcast, and YouTube TV. I didn’t have a whole lot of experience in client management and client services prior to arriving at the NBA. You learn quickly when you start working on the business development side how important it is to be able to think on your feet, and to be thoughtful in collaborating with your partners.

I’ve been able to build on that at SANDOW Design Group, where I spend most of my time during the day working with our partners – of both our media brands and our content services division. I think what’s most important at SANDOW Design Group, in addition to being a leader in innovation, is being the best possible partner to our clients. We have a solutions-oriented mindset, and everything we develop is aimed at opening doors for our clients, helping our clients try new things, and of course, driving more business for our clients. Those daily interactions have turned into some really compelling and exciting activations.

One of the core values for the business is “reinvent the traditional.” How does this work out in practice?

Well, we are in an always-on state of reimagining. In my first meetings with Adam Sandow, SANDOW’s Chairman, and Erica Holborn, SANDOW Design Group’s CEO, they each stressed the importance of our focusing on digital solutions – i.e., services – for our clients. And as I onboarded, it became immediately clear that Erica was keen to push the boundaries, invent new programs, and try new stuff. If you were to say to me that in my first 27 months at SANDOW, we’d have stood up a streaming video network, a digital marketing agency, a video production studio, and a podcast network – all at a media business – I certainly wouldn’t have believed it. But both Erica and Adam want us to push the boundaries, be a leader, and be first to market. And we’ve taken advantage of that in a meaningful way.

“A growing channel for us is interstitial advertising. Ads are interactive on desktop – a user can click to view a product or brand’s website when watching an ad.”

In 2020 you launched DesignTV. What is it, what was the rationale behind the launch, and how has it evolved?

DesignTV by SANDOW is a streaming video network made for design professionals, and for those who love design. We launched DesignTV at the onset of the pandemic, starting as a limited-run Facebook Live stream syndicated across the Interior Design, Luxe Interiors + Design, and Metropolis pages. All programming was produced virtually over Zoom, and featured our editors, including Interior Design’s Editor in Chief, Cindy Allen, Metropolis’ Editor in Chief, Avinash Rajagopal, and Luxe’s Editor in Chief, Pamela Jaccarino, in conversation with designers, industry leaders, and other luminaries.

As time rolled on, we recognised based on our audience numbers – we’re now averaging more than four million total impressions and one million total views per month – that we were on to something. And so, when you fast forward two years, DesignTV’s product library has grown to more than 500 on-demand programs and several annual live specials, and, as of March, DesignTV is available via a dedicated website, plus iOS, Android OS, Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire apps and channels.

And how do you monetise the channel?

We drive revenue through three main opportunities: Custom content, syndicated content, and interactive advertising. We’ve produced hundreds of custom episodes, produced in partnership with our clients, with each custom episode benefiting not only from DesignTV distribution, but promotion across our brands’ digital networks. (Our digital channels reach 12 million+ designers and design enthusiasts.) We added video syndication to the fold last year, as our partners started to create more video content, but didn’t have a targeted distribution channel to connect design-minded audiences with their content. (Enter, DesignTV.) And a growing channel for us is interstitial advertising. Ads are interactive on desktop – a user can click to view a product or brand’s website when watching an ad – and also benefit from promotion on Facebook.

Are there any similar offerings in other verticals that inspired you?

We’ve prioritised drawing inspiration from other industries in the build-out of our newest offerings at SANDOW Design Group. As someone who came from the B2C / DTC world, I was lucky enough to have a front-row seat as SiriusXM added video programming to its mobile apps, and as the NBA launched its DTC NBA TV offering. Convenience, discoverability, and quality were all critical in growing those streaming channels, and so I knew we had to take the same approach with DesignTV. Now, with DesignTV live on all major platforms with fantastic interfaces, fast search, and a really impressive content library, I feel like we’ve nailed it on all three of those requirements.

In 2021 you launched The Agency? How has that fared? What are the key challenges and opportunities that have presented themselves since the launch.

I’m thrilled with how we’ve grown The Agency in the last 15 months. We realised late in 2020 that so many of our partners were pivoting marketing spend to digital channels, but lacked in-house expertise to execute. We launched with one partner focused only on media buying and media planning.

Since then, we’ve expanded our services to include video production, podcast production, and creative services. Our client base has grown to 20+, and we’ve onboarded four new talented individuals dedicated to The Agency in the last several months. As with any digital marketing team, we are always challenged to remain nimble in a quickly changing digital advertising landscape. But we’re also lucky to be closely aligned with the SANDOW Design Group digital content and digital ad ops teams, as well as ThinkLab, which allows us to share insights and research regarding what is working, what isn’t working, and what’s changing.

Are there any plans for SANDOW Design Group in 2022 that you can share?

We’ve had a busy start already in 2022, including the launch of a video production division for our agency, and the launch of a new website, mobile apps, and OTT apps for DesignTV. Next up for us is the launch of a new podcast network, SURROUND. SURROUND will feature podcasts from SANDOW Design Group brands and its partners, including Deep Green from Metropolis, Design Nerds Anonymous from ThinkLab, and The Mic from NYCxDESIGN. We have several other podcasts in development and are in discussion with industry partners about adding their shows onto the network. And, of course, we’ve got our sights set on a metaverse/NFT play. We’re excited to share more about that later on this summer.

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


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