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Neama Benhabib – Transcript from the Stories from Publishers’ Bedrooms Event – 05/21/2020

Brian Blondy, June 15, 2020

Transcript from the Stories from Publishers’ Bedrooms Virtual Event – May 21, 2020

Part One

Neama Benhabib, VP Revenue Projects & Ops at Investing.com

Ben Erdos – Chief Services Officer at Total Media 

      Ben:  Why don’t you share with us your best isolation related story? Neama:  Okay, so being a workaholic has it’s specific in terms of seeing your kids. So the quarantine has actually forced me to see my kids more, which is great. I actually like them, which is surprising :). And so for this two months, I actually got to see my baby girl walk for the first time. Ben:  Wow. Neama: So that was very exciting, like about two weeks ago at this point. So that was just fun to walk out of the bedroom, really where my office is, and to see her toddling around the living room. Ben:  That’s cool. I mean, yeah. We saw the same thing, we, I have a little toddler, nine months, just started crawling as well. So which is also and. Usually I miss, I would missed that being at work, I will just get the WhatsApp Video, either live or afterwards. So yeah, no, it’s really nice to be there with them. Yeah, so why don’t we. How is kind of Investing.com kind of changed since the start of the pandemic. Neama:  So, I mean, everybody is now at home. We closed pretty early on when everything started. So I’d say, about two and a half months that everybody has been at home. It’s kind of leveled the playing field, you know, for the company. We had offices in Madrid and offices in Shenzhen and offices in Korea, people all over the world, but the main office was here in Tel Aviv. And it was a nice kind of leveling up. Everybody ended up having to work from home, and be available, and more communicative. And you know, those kind of advantages to watercooler strategies were really gone when you’re having to work from the house. So from that perspective, you know, things have changed. And for us as a site, it completely exploded the traffic, you know, we’re experiencing. So they’re just going crazy, because the markets are so volatile right now, and everybody’s coming in to see their portfolio. Ben:  And has your infrastructure been in place, obviously, that’s on more the technical side, but was the infrastructure in place to cope with that, or were there any kind of ramifications of having such big traffic spikes in terms of your operations? Neama:  I mean, luckily, we had just gone through, I think, a big upgrade last year, so we were pretty ready to handle that kind of volume. But of course, you know, I think the DevOps team was working around the clock the last, you know, month or so, two months or so just, you know, strengthening servers everywhere, making sure we can handle all the traffic coming in. You know, the worst thing you can do is be down while the market is open. Ben:  No, absolutely. And what kind of things have you been doing, as Investing do to adapt to the business climate? Neama:  So, you know, the traffic kind of changed things for us. It kind of forced us into a position, doing things faster than we wanted to potentially do them. So, you know, as a company, we used to sell a lot of sponsorship kind of positions on a flat rate to clients, where they weren’t traffic dependent. That’s something we’ve wanted to change, you know, for a very long time. And once the traffic started going, like crazy, we realized that that was the right opportunity for us. Thankfully, it also, you know, fell at the end of a quarter. So we were able to, you know, kind of rework client deals very rapidly, and you know, capitalize on the increased traffic going in, and pegged all those deals to a traffic delivery rather than a flat fee. Ben:  How receptive were clients to that change? Neama:  Definitely not happy. You know, I think it’s a situation where if you’re getting a ton more traffic, and all of a sudden, it’s so and so, not so much. No one’s really going to be that thrilled about that. But, you know, they understood. It was like a partnership we’ve had for many years with a lot of our big clients. And you know, so you know, I’ll just come here and there, and they still would get what they were after, which was high impact kind of branding positions, even if we had to adjust the deal to make it work for both them and us. But obviously, we weren’t kind of give up. Ben:  Right, and you guys have always kind of delivered performance for your clients based on the audience that you have and the content message you have. So I’m still sure that they’re happy with the relationships that you’re bringing in the actual campaigns that you’re running for them. Neama:  Exactly. I mean, if anything, they’re asking for more traffic right now, which is always the track you want to be in. Ben:  That’s a great kind of position to be in, especially in this kind of situation where a lot of advertising is suffering, and people are pulling campaigns. So that’s really good to hear. So in terms of like solutions and innovations that you’ve tried to do for the business during this time, both from work from home and also the ad operation side, what do you think has paid the most evidence? Neama:  So I think really, just like moving fast and changing the sales model across the board took a lot of work not only from the clients, but also operationally, the entire ad ops team for example, had to just upend the way we were setting things up, reporting on things, our data team had to, you know, run to change a few pieces of logic. It was really a team effort between a lot of departments, and showed us that like, if we can set the goal, and then have that be the focus, we can move fast, even if it causes a few mistakes here and there, that we’re going to get that change going. And that’s worked really well for us. So thankfully, everyone’s been really on board with the kind of moving fast and capitalizing on the moment attitude for us. So that’s been, I think, the most effective, just like the move fast, break things attitude that emerged with this climate. Ben:  Yeah, and you also mentioned kind of what we talked before about working on stuff that you might not necessarily have the opportunity to work on before. Neama:  Right. Ben:  And actually do some initiatives that there may have been friction for, and that kind of thing. Neama:  Right. Ben:  Is there one thing that come to mind apart from the change in the business model, which was kind of core and something that you would think of doing anyway. Neama:   Sure. I mean, for years, we’ve also wanted to you know, automate a lot of the operations behind the business, and all the campaign setups and things. And, you know, we never really had the full time to focus on it. But you know, when other things did well, so like our direct advertisers in the traffic, you know, we had a little bit more resources in other places. So, you know, the resources that were put in place developing the network traffic, or we were heavily dependent on EC tabs that went down, we redirected some of those resources into automating a lot of ad ops work. And that will really set the stage for you know, after Corona, and for the next few years that we’re going to be able to streamline operations when things to scale back up there. So also just, you know, redirecting things on the fly to do things you’ve always wanted to do I think. Ben:  Also, kind of automation really helps when you’ve got disparate teams. Neama:  100%. Ben:  Because obviously, big case is much harder or people are working in different time zones, and so that, so being able to automate what you’re able to generate the lather, rinse and repeat at the end of the day is, you’ll be able to kind of push it out there and actually focus on stuff that matters to the business. Neama:  100%. Ben:  Cool, and how do you think in terms of the team, and in terms of the kind of motivation you have kind of dealt with working remotely, because I know most of your ad ops guys are, are sat with you usually, and that kind of stuff. But now that they’re all working from home. Neama:  Right, so I mean, it’s definitely been an adjustment. And I think, you know, the nature of the team was pretty, like young people who, like socializing is a big part of the job. So while we’ve been at home, that was definitely an adjustment for the first few weeks. We tried to bring in, you know, more team meetings, more scheduled meetings, I would say, to kind of, you know, bring everybody together on the same page, “Here’s what we’re doing, here’s what the focus is this week, here’s where we’re going,” and really, you know, try and marry that kind of strategy and socialization at the same time. So you know, at the same time, we will talk about as our quarter two goals, we would be talking about what our favorite Netflix shows at the moment are, kind of like what we were doing when we started this. And I also like really encourage the team to have those coffee breaks together on Slack or whatever offline platform they were using. And so that kind of helped, you know, bring everybody in together. Ben:   That’s good. And now, was there anything kind of a take and hit you mentioned kind of strategic planning was slightly more prolonged and more difficult when you can’t all get into a room, and butt heads and discuss kind of decision making. Neama:   Of course, I mean, that’s, that went, you know, I don’t want to say out the window, but it was definitely a lot harder from home to, you know, have the management strategize, because a lot of those strategies come later in the evening, you know, when we all get time after our meetings finished, to kind of brainstorm or throw around ideas of where that’s going. And that’s been a lot harder from home, because we’re also all spending more time with our teams and communicating with our team. So where the team communication has been better, strategy has kind of lost out a bit, but we’re really trying our best to you know, still stay connected and stay focused on what our goals are coming in. But it’s. Ben:  I know that. Absolutely. Neama:  And also strange, you know, we’re hiring. So we’ve, you know, taken on let’s say, I think two new VPs since this whole pandemic has started, and it’s been a strange kind of. Ben:  Wow. Neama:  Get to know, you know, your new colleagues or partners in the organization that you really do need to build those kind of roadmaps and strategies with. Ben:  Absolutely and how does this kind of onboarding look like in that kind of virtual kind of zone that you can’t actually see in and onboard and pass on knowledge and historical kind of legacy? Neama:  It’s very awkward, you know, like it’s. Just, you know, very honestly, it’s one of those where. Ben:  I’m sure. Neama:  Yeah, like body language, coffee, those things play a huge role in like, just getting to know someone. You know, how they like to communicate what, how to talk about certain things. It is difficult. So once in a while, especially now towards the end, we’re going to the office a bit, making sure that we meet, you know, in person, here or there, just to, you know, be able to put body language to the face. I think it’s crucial, honestly. Unfortunately, for this kind of timing. Ben:  Right. So we have publishers here probably of various different scales and spectrums, if you could pass along one bit of advice in terms of navigating these challenging times, both economically in terms of personal kind of health, and that kind of stuff, what would it be? Neama:  I think, you know, maybe two parts, like I think diversifying is very important. You know, not having all your eggs 100% dependent on one type of advertiser or one type of revenue stream. You know, we, we branched out a lot into premium services to our users also during this time, and that’s really helped kind of strengthen the business going forward. So we invested heavily in the past, but this has really highlighted the fact that we are so advertiser dependent. So diversify, then automate really. Like I, what we’re doing now and building automation tools, that’s what’s going to help us scale as a publisher for years to come. So I think those are the crucial. And just move fast break things, you know, do things that you’ve always wanted to do. Ben:  Fantastic. So yeah, no, that sounds great. In terms of like, put the pandemic and the economic situation aside, what do you see as the biggest challenges for publishers in this space right now? Neama:  I mean, I think you know, being so advertiser heavy, like even after this picnic is gone. Like, I think it’s going to be hard to bounce back. I don’t see advertisers going to be rushing to spend, you know, budgets, at least not the same way. They’re going to need to adapt. And advertising is, you know, traditionally pretty slow moving industry to begin with. So I really, I think it’s diversify, diversify, diversify, like as much as possible revenue stream. So that’s, I think the biggest challenge, figuring out the right way to diversify is. Ben:  Fantastic. I think that’s a really great place to kind of leave this one, and we’ll move on to the next guest. So but thank you very much for joining us and your insight, and stick around and have a drink. Neama:  Will do. Now, with the wine.