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Sherzod Rizaev – 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 Three

Ziv Jonas, CEO at Shinez.io

Sherzod Rizaev, Global Head of Commercial Operations at Minute Media

Ben Erdos – Chief Services Officer at Total Media 

    Ben:  Yes. So if everything works fine in Zoom ecosystem, we’re joined by Sherzod, who’s the VP of Commercial Operations at Minute Media, which is a global sports and entertainment brands. Hey Sherzod. Sherzod Rizaev:  Hi Ben. Hi everyone. Remind me your name. (joking) Ben:  Very good. For everybody that doesn’t understand people on the call. That means that what’s interesting here, or what’s going on. So yeah, it’s good. Fortunately, we’re are. We’re kind of back in the office, I can see you’re still at home. So when, for those that just joined, we’re joined by Sherzod, who is the VP of Commercial Operations at Minute Media. So yeah, why don’t you kick off by sharing like the others, your best COVID story. Sherzod:  Hi everyone again. There are many stories, and I think everyone internally and externally, everybody knows my kids now, by their first names, and whatever they do throughout the day. Also, one story stands out is like, I connected sort of to a large commercial meeting. Luckily, it was internal and I, instead of switching off my microphone, I switched off my camera, but I left my microphone on. And I was trying to cancel my Vodafone contract. And for about 15 minutes, I spoke to a, tried to multitask. Not that I wasn’t interested in that call, but I was trying to get two things done at the same time. I suppose, so we can’t do, we can’t multitask. So we should concentrate on one thing at a time. And a lot of people now know my address, my mother’s maiden name, and my date of birth, and a few other details that they wouldn’t normally know. So, yeah. Ben:  At least now, there’s no excuse for nobody sending you a birthday card. Sherzod:  Correct, yes. Ben:   Fantastic. So how do you think Minute Media has really changed over this changing period? Sherzod:  The business adopted in many ways, to this new reality, right. So we started, like Neama said, early, well before the countrywide lockdowns began. First, we started for sort of our US team working from home, and then followed by Israel, and then London. And then we’ve got lots of other, sort of Brazil was the last one, but we got Singapore and few other offices, satellite offices in the US. So we, in that sense that we were kind of doing what the kind of restrictions came in, and government start asking us to stay home, if possible. But Minute Media has a lot of complex operations, right. So there’s a commercial operations, commercial sort of sales, which can work remotely from home. Yes, you know, it’s not a problem, and as long as you’re connected, and you can speak to clients, and so on and so forth. But we also have a very large video operations. And we also have athlete management teams. And even though we, I don’t think we are meeting a lot of athletes these days, and the sort of loss of the brand contents that we are creating for our partners. So, those kind of teams then, cannot work remotely, or sort of the equipment that they need cannot be held by one person. So you know, it has to be shared by multiple people, by multiple sort of team members. Or they cannot travel to Spain, or go to sort of shoot a video for Yokohama, for example. So it’s different parts of the business has a different challenges. And the business kind of tried to support each and every teams in the way that it’s appropriate for that particular pressure, sort of points that those teams have. Yeah, so it’s, you know. Ben:  Absolutely. So, I mean, it’s interesting you say about the content stuff. What, over this period, obviously, normally, your content is very event focused, very game focused and that kind of stuff. Now, with no games being played, no sports being produced live, what content have you felt has worked really well for the users and for the advertisers in terms of monetization. Sherzod:  The content topics hasn’t really changed, because you know that we’ve got very diverse owned and operated sites. Ben:  Yeah. Sherzod:  We’ve got site Mental Floss and floor8 from sort of very strong entertainment base. And then we’ve got sports sites. And then we’ve got athlete-led platforms like Players’ Tribune. We’ve got football with the US scores. Initially when all these things kicked off, I think, you know, we’ve seen quite a surge in our traffic, and the contents was about COVID related, and everything is related about the pandemic, how the teams are doing, how the leagues are doing, how the, what’s expected, and you know, what’s going to happen with Premier League, for example, so on and so forth. And that was very interesting for people to read, I suppose in the beginning. And a few weeks later, you cannot continue talking about the same gossip all the time, right. So you need to change a little bit. So I think what we’ve seen quite recently is the, you know, the stories by the athletes or sports personalities, and how are they coping with things, and what is keeping them sort of going, and what kind of activities that they’re doing. So that kind of things are more interesting to our readers now. And we also syndicate a lot of our content across multiple platforms like Yahoo, MSN, and many media plus partnerships, and so seems to be going well. So, no complaints there. Ben:  And you mentioned when we talked before, about kind of in terms of the monetization things, that your relationships have pivoted in terms of your SSP and your yield partners in terms of how you deal with those. Are you able to kind of expand on that a little bit. Sherzod:  Yes. So quite early on, we decided very actively that we will do like two or three different things, very sort of distinct things. First one is like, let’s go to basics right? So let’s not fly, try to fly a million miles an hour. And then, let’s concentrate on those small pieces of the puzzle, those small things that that matters and adds quite an important kind of revenue numbers in the bottom line of the business. So that’s one thing that we’ve started analyzing each and every partner, and we start analyzing each and every sort of site, ad structures and ad sort of layouts, so on and so forth. And then we start sort of optimizing those things. Then the next bit is kind of going through a bit of a auditing process, if you like. So we went through, we work with 17, 18 different SSPs, and because of the true sort of a global presence. Southeast Asia is very different and LatAm is very different and Europe and US. You’ve got mature markets, and you’ve got sort of developing markets. So we start auditing all of those partnerships. And we started kind of talking to these guys on a more frequent basis, trying to understand what is changing in their landscape, and trying to stay current or, you know, I don’t want to say ahead of the curve, but it’s trying to be related and, you know, adopting the changes that those guys are seeing. And you know, at the end of the day, those are the platforms where we monetize billions of impressions in both in display and video. So it’s a very important process that we went through. Ben:   Absolutely. I mean, you said about adapting to the kind of the changes that are happening with the, your advertising partners on the broker managed side. What can you say, if any, was the most dramatic change that you saw across one of the partners. Sherzod:  So without naming the partners, we’ve seen some partners retaining their sort of spenders, if you like, or the DSP spends, or the brand spends at some level. There was some very interesting conversations that, sitting with the SSP analytical teams and they said, “Oh, don’t worry about British Airways losing, you know, not spending money on Booking.com or whatever. But we’ve got Uber Eats spending a lot of money.” Like, “Hold on a minute, Uber Eats will never outspend British Airways. Right, let’s get realistic.” Ben:  No. Sherzod:  So, but you know they are trying to lift the spirit up, and look into where the spenders are coming from, and how can we utilize those, sort of optimizing towards those spending partners, and give them what they need? So, what we saw change, I suppose going back to your question is, some partners lost probably 50% to 60% active brand spends from their platforms. That’s a seismic change, right? That’s, that’s huge. Some 20%, 25%, right? And it’s also about sort of the robustness of the infrastructure of those partners that we have, and we chose to work with. And also, their sort of incentives for those buyers keep spending through their platforms. And we’re also trying to work together to kind of maintain that kind of support system, for not only publishers. And we’re not definitely, not in the market asking for help all the time from those partners, even though I was amazed to see how flexible our partners were to help us and support us. But we’re also trying to support them. Because, right, okay, so what do we need to do to keep those, you know, Vodafone or internet provider spend, and what can we do, and what kind of best practices that I suppose that we can do to help you to keep that spend coming through? So it’s definitely a two way street that we’ve been doing and working with. Ben:   Absolutely, essentially I think Vodafone keeping their budget might not be cancelling them on a Zoom call might be good. But in terms of, you mentioned when we talked before about, you were doing, also taking the opportunity to evaluate your monetization stack, and really take a look at both in terms of a performance perspective, and a business operations perspective, those partners who really kind of, you want to be working with long term and that might be bringing on additional business risks that you might want to cut out. Sherzod:   Right. And, yes, so we always evaluate partners, right, whether the best of times, good times and bad times, right. So we always look in to sort of what’s the better technology that we can utilize for our owned and operated sites, own users, as well as our Minute Media plus set of partners. Have we lost some partners in last eight weeks, nine weeks? Yes, we have. Have we lost all of them due to like us not wanting to work with them, or naturally they’ve gone? Perhaps, yes. But some of them, yes, we decidedly stopped working with. And it’s not to kind of in any way shape or form in a negative way, but it’s more like a, right. Okay. So some partners work good with investment. You know, I remember my agency sales days that, you know, I used to write for very small investment agencies in London, versus very large advertising agencies has like BMWs and automotives and FMCG. But small financial agencies can sometimes overspend those other guys, given the seasonality and things. So it’s not because we want to be negative, we don’t want to want to work with these partners. But the spend on those partners, or the strengths of those partners are not necessarily suitable for us. So that’s a very mutual way of like, let’s work or let’s not work together. And so I definitely am keen, less is more approach, and I am sticking to that, and I’m trying to make the business internally to agree with me every now and then. Ben:   I won’t ask you to name and shame which partners you got rid of, but percentage wise how many kind of demand sources did you kind of, how much leaner are you now today than you were before the beginning of the pandemic. Sherzod:  Well, it’s. It’s as I said, they dropped off in various different reasons, right. So what we had and what we have now in terms of demand partners. I mean, it depends what the demand partner kind of means for me and means for you know, what you mean with your question. It’s not much, it’s not much that we stopped working with. Maybe 10% at best, but also demand partner for us means that we also liquidate a lot of the cash from other similar businesses that they cannot get away or they could not spend. And because of the sheer volume or sheer reach with our partners that I work very closely with Ziv from Shinez and a few other partners that I can see their names here. So, we can get a lot of the cash away, or distribute those advertising budgets. So, those are also our demand partners, you know what I mean. They’re not just SSPs or networks in that sense. But not many in the way that we stopped working with. Ben:  Fair enough. So, to tie it back into, put in perspective for everybody joining, what do you think you could say, would be a piece of advice you would pass on to publishers experiencing challenges that may not necessarily have the momentum that Minute Media has and the reach that Minute Media has. Sherzod:  I think, as I said earlier, so going to basics I think, is the most important thing. So we, I certainly and I’m sure that Minute Media has seen the fruits of like going back to basics, and concentrating on those smaller projects and smaller things that we might have overlooked, or might have like tried to chase something bigger. So that’s definitely something that I would do, and I would advise somebody who’s asking my advice. And definitely constantly audit your stack. You know, make sure that both the partner wise. We’ve got very large Minute Media Plus sub-syndication business on site, constantly audit them, constantly look at the margins, constantly look at the optimizations. Working with them, and lending our resources, and helping those guys is one of the things that we did at Minute Media to help those guys, to kind of, how can I say it, lose less I suppose in COVID terms. But also, you know, auditing your demand stack as we spoke just before your, this question. So, yes, I would say, like help others, and go to basics, but also make sure that you know what kind of demand you’re getting. Ben:   Fair enough, and really makes sense. And then in terms of, put the pandemic aside, what do you think is the biggest ticket items that publishers need to kind of be aware of, and will be challenging above and beyond when we get out of this. Sherzod:  I mean, I think we’re not going to go back to the so called “Old Norm.” So it’s going to be very different. So this is, we’re going to go to this new norm. And I don’t know what the new norm is going to be like, and like my guess is as good as your guess, I suppose. Ben:  That is. Sherzod:  Yours is better because Israel is back to some sort of normality. So, I think Ziv touched, cookieless world is something that we need to be very aware of. And the Chrome changes that come in with the, especially if you’re in the video space, and we are in a very, that we recently on 13th of May we launched our video platform called Voltax as you are aware. So, definitely the Chrome changes is something that we need to watch out as 5th of August is approaching fast. And I think, I don’t want to mean it in any negative way, but I think this crisis also brings a lot of opportunities. Right, so it’s the opportunities in a way that, you know, we were in the market to acquire a lot of businesses last couple of years. And we acquired sort of Mental Floss from Dennis, and the Players’ Tribune from Derek Jeter, you know, the big lead from Gannett, USA Today owners, and FanSided from Meredith. And we were very close, but we kind of didn’t, decided not to pursue another acquisition in LatAm. So, these kinds of opportunities will be out there. And, you know, I think, as a sort of business, as a platform, as a sort of outward looking sort of business in the publishing world, I think the challenges are. If you’re interested in that kind of opportunities that what is good for your business, how can you sort of acquire them or add them and blend them in, and both culturally and business wise and monetization wise and everything and make it work. So, as we know, buying is not everything. So making your work is and maintaining it is also a very big part. Ben:  Sure. Sounds, that’s really grand. I think that’s been very insightful, and we are pretty much kind of coming to the end, but thank you very much for your time and your insights. I think they got, hopefully everybody’s found that very interesting, as I have. Sherzod:  Thanks guys. Ben:   Cool. Cheers Sherzod. So real quick. Okay, so basically, thank you very much, once again for our guests. I think the kind of the common thread for that has really been focusing on basics of getting what you do right, and doing what you do well. For, so for most publishers that’s really building engaging content, engaging platforms for users to comment and enjoy. So I hope everybody else has found that very insightful. Thank you once again to our guests, Neama, Ziv and Sherzod for joining us and talking to us today. Thank you for the team to helping put this together. And thank you for you guys for joining us. If you have suggestions for other topics you’d like to hear from us, or guests that you think would be great to kind of come in and talk to us that. [END]