EPISODE 055: Learn How Digital Marketing Sales Expert Erik Requidan Sells Advertising on Over 1 Billion Web Pages Per Month
Erik Requidan is the vice president of Sales and Programmatic Strategy responsible for partner development, programmatic strategy and revenue at Intermarkets.
Erik works directly with brands, agencies, trade desks, DSP’s and exchanges. He’s widely regarded as one of the top programmatic experts in the country, he’s been a contributor in ExchangeWire, Mashable, MediaPost, Digiday, BisReport, AdExchanger and AdAge.
Intermarkets has gotten some amazing recognition, not just in its entire career but recently as well. It’s been on the Inc 5000 list for the fastest growing private companies for the 8th straight year in Washington D.C.
It’s been recognized by the Washingtonian for the top 50 places to work in the D.C. Metro area, it’s gotten recognitions from D.C. Inno, AdAge calls it the “50 Best Places to Work” two years in a row and there’s been some honorable mention at other industry awards such as the Drum Digital Trade Awards.
Find Erik on LinkedIN!
Erik Requidan: It’s exciting to be here with you today, you have a tremendous program. I really have been enjoying getting to actually learn about other sales professionals through your program. A little bit more about me: as you mentioned I run sales and revenue, with our company I’m responsible really for bringing together great audiences and advertisers to sort of come together.
What I do is I sell a lot of loyal readerships, great audiences again and really viewers on the web. Most people know Intermarkets and myself for our great portfolio of publishers which includes the Drudge Report and several others. We reach about 2.5 million people every single day and we deliver over a billion page views a month. What that means is we really reach one of the largest audiences in the United States of America which is fantastic for advertisers that are looking to connect with loyal readers.
Fred Diamond: Good. One thing I’m excited to speak with you about today is that you just mentioned a billion pages per month, you are on the leading edge of kind of the transformation in historic selling. You mentioned when we were talking before the show that you have sold print advertising in the past, now you’ve moved into the forefront of selling digital marketing. I’m very excited to talk today a little bit about that transformation, but tell us a little more about specifically what you sell today and what really excites you about that.
Erik Requidan: Sure. We have quite a bit of supply with that scale, most of our offerings are focused around digital display inventory which are great opportunities for marketers and certainly where they’re placing their dollars. We’ve been a big part of the transformation of digital media sales when you think about digital selling 1.0 a lot of it was still the traditional sort of pick-up-the-phone, email you, message back and forth and to do an average deal online it would take roughly 37, 42 forms of communication back and forth and over the past few years there’s certainly been a lot of news around automation and data being brought into the buying and selling media, and that scenario where we’ve really excelled, been sort of innovators, early adopters of ad technologies and being able to transform new forms of direct and understanding how the media buy and sell process was going to evolve.
Like I said, that started years ago and today we still continue to shape a lot of that and there’s a lot of great parallels in the space, travels, one of them, when’s the last time you worked with a travel agent? You’re still booking and still transacting and arranging for travel. Finance has certainly felt it as well, you think of Nasdaq and all these great environments where you have these opportunities that come from low levels and rise into premiums and that’s where we are today with digital selling and the buying and selling of media. Especially in a direct form, utilizing programmatic.
Fred Diamond: I’m going to take you a little bit off course here but we’re doing today’s podcast from the headquarters of Intermarkets, it’s in Reston, Virginia, it’s a beautiful office space. You have a number of people on your sales team. What do they do today?
Erik Requidan: One thing that we’re really proud of too is being able to reshape what an entire team looks like, to me, the needs of our publishers and all of our buy side partners and advertisers. What that means is that the composition of your organization and your team has to look different today than it did before. If you’re doing the same you were doing 10 years ago, you’re dead. One thing we’re really proud of is innovating how our account managers work with our sellers, how our sellers work in the marketplace, how we actually work with all of our operations teams as well, from yield to traffickers to strategy in the marketplace and that’s actually really been, I would say, really different from how a lot of other media companies and publishers have gone to market historically where we recognized early on that we needed to really be focused on our buyers and what their needs were.
That doesn’t really sound revolutionary but think about most media companies and publishers go out and they just say, “Me, me, me, I’m so great, do business with me.” And what’s changed is buyers today can research all of that, they know that you’re great, they know why they should meet with you or take your phone call or respond to your email so when you show up and you have a discussion with your by side partner you need to have a different discussion. And I think it’s almost like when you meet people in life, if I came to you and said, “Hey, laugh at my jokes, listen to my music, we’re going to go to the restaurants I like and you’re only going to ride in my car.” You’d say, “Wow, he’s interesting but I don’t think I want to hang out with him again.” And it’s one of the hardest things to do in the digital world to develop relationships, create those bonds that are traditional in the sense from buy and sell, how do you do that today?
A lot of that is by showing up and saying, “You’re facing these challenges today, how can I help you figure those things out?” Or, “You have an interest in my already in my inventory or my audiences or these opportunities, let me show you how you can connect with those in a number of different ways.” A lot of the discussion is focused on you and what you need versus us just coming in and dominating with all these great statistics and the scale and all that. I think you’re actually seeing a lot of big media companies shift their conversations into that sort of mode and that approach.
Fred Diamond: You have multiple online properties that you sell, advertising for. Tell us a little bit about your buyer.
Erik Requidan: Absolutely. Our buyers are going to be pretty savvy at buying online media, they are going to be looking for a quality audience, they are going to be looking to spend premium dollars with us and they’re going to be looking for the easiest way to do that in real time as much as possible and also still be able to test and be nimble and actually not strike traditional paper, have traditional conversations that sometimes are actually really less productive because you get bogged down in all these inefficiencies.
Our goal is to be able to help our publishers obviously maximize their revenue opportunities but also make sure the buyers are satisfied in finding what they need, spending and helping them to spend more where it makes sense.
Fred Diamond: How did you first get into sales as a career?
Erik Requidan: It’s actually something I think about a lot, even though it was a long time ago so I don’t want to date myself. I moved into sales through a marketing and sales assistant position and I’m very proud of those days and those moments where I really served other great sellers. I was responsible for a team of like 8 top sellers at a major US daily newspaper and my sellers covered everything from the movie studios to carpet and rug dealers and restaurants to retail.
As a lot of people in sales get their first shot, somebody left and then there was like, “Hey, there’s this desk open, it’s a really crappy territory but it’s going to be great for you.” [Laughs] So I got my shot at one of the most difficult territories which was working local restaurants and I was able to really build from there and understand the hard work of serving others and then getting my opportunity to take something and try to build something positive out of it. Like I said, I think about those days a lot because now I’m thinking about how to foster new talent and how to develop new sales professionals and I often think back on those days.
Fred Diamond: Is that newspaper still around?
Erik Requidan: It is, absolutely, it’s still a major daily metro newspaper in Washington D.C., I started at the Washington Times, had a successful career there in print, also had a successful magazine print sales career with Where Magazine, visitor publication about where to eat, where to buy and shop thing.
Fred Diamond: Erik, what were some of the key lessons that you mentioned you think about not infrequently, what were some of the key lessons that you took away from some of those first few sales jobs?
Erik Requidan: I believe my duties serving others prepared me to take on and to eventually lead and be successful. There’s that saying, “You’ve got to learn to follow before you can lead.” And I believe that was true for me. I also learned that when you can find a good mentor in the space it really means the world to a junior and there’s a lot of different professions where there isn’t that sort of stable or you’re building that new crop to sort of be future sellers. I recognize that early one there was this process and I was part of that. How could I make sure I’d latched on to someone that was kind enough and willing enough to spend that time and teach me? A lot of humbling experiences there but I worked around a lot of great managers and even just folks that weren’t superiors, other folks that I think you can learn a lot from, other departments.
Because this career is unique, you can be goal focused and you can have all of these tasks and things that are put on you, you have to motivate yourself. That’s what makes this career and what we do very different. No one else is going to push you to do that, it has to be you that does that in the end to be successful.
Fred Diamond: We’ve already gotten some of this but Erik, tell us what specifically you are an expert in. What is your specific area of brilliance?
Erik Requidan: I would say recently probably the transformation of how selling and digital really has turned into a combination of utilizing technologies, utilizing data and still being the human that does that. My area of expertise is wrapped around a couple of different layers of all forms of selling, because what we’ve seen is that the technologies adapt and they change and they adjust to support. Once again, that buy and sell sort of process so in the past there used to be a term called remnant inventory for unsold which is not anything new for radio, print, television.
There are spots that are more difficult to sell and you would put them into an environment where you would monetize it at a lower rate but it costs a ton of different mediums. The same is true online but it was those opportunities where you actually realize that you could create a premium and then a buyer would pay a premium if they could target the right audience and then not pay you a remnant rate, it’s just ID-ing that target. I spent a lot of time understanding technologies, the buyer’s needs specifically for key performance indicators, all the metrics that are going to be important for them to say, “This is successful” or “This is not”. So right now a lot of my time is wrapped around selling and all of its forms but utilizing technology as much as possible to make it better.
Fred Diamond: That’s great, I definitely feel from the conversation and from walking on your show floor or your office floor that you’re definitely at the forefront of that so I look forward to getting a little more of that coming out in the conversation. You mentioned mentors, so take us back to a mentor who was very impactful in your career. Tell us about that person.
Erik Requidan: First and foremost really, it sounds kind of corny but it was my dad. My father’s success was actually being an inside guy at a manufacturing company but being a leader there of people who aren’t external facing roles. I learned a lot of lessons there because he showed me that, “OK, you’re maybe not this guy here but I want you to go spend time with the folks that also developed this external process of bringing in the deals and the work that we work on in house.” So he taught me how to be focused on things that might impact me not directly but I think that’s important to point out early on in my career.
But then there’s a couple of other mentors, one his name is Eric Getzinger at the Washington Times, gave me an opportunity, I say in 2004 digital changed my life. And it was a time where you were still sort of selling the medium like, “Hey, online advertising works.” Which is very different now, it’s like, “How much is working?” or, “How much do I spend there?” And so he was a tremendous mentor and taught me to use some of my natural abilities of communication but helped refine my approach, helped me to understand that I could be successful and really helped to build my confidence and helped to groom me in sales.
Then another individual I can think of is Chuck DeFeo who hired me when we started up Townhall.com in 2006 and what he was looking for was someone who could go ahead and bring all those towns, bring those opportunities, bring some sort of structure to what we were doing there allowing me to execute everything I had learned and already been practicing and do it there with no help. That’s very different in your career, it’s different when you’re selling and then you have mentors and they’re helping you. It’s also different when you’re a leader now and really everything comes from you, it doesn’t mean that you’re not inspired and don’t find ways to learn from others but it’s difficult for some when you’re the one that’s really pushing and driving everything.
But I think what was interesting with Chuck and my time there with that great company was that it really pushed me beyond my current understandings and developing new products and not being afraid to test and try new things. We’re talking about 2006 and we were building and creating original audio and original video and really pushing on these edges of products that are sort of mainstream now, but back then selling podcasts and selling audio files from the web, also building an in-house studio and shooting on their talent and deliver original news that was very different. I also think about my current leadership right now, I’m surrounded by an amazing group that allows me to execute a lot of different things. One transformational, some traditional and that’s important, to be surrounded by people who can help you to do that.
Fred Diamond: Good. Erik, you’re at the leading edge of digital transformation and business and of course how do you sell that so tell us two of the biggest sale challenges you face today. Again, you manage an organization, you’re managing some very high profile products, you said the websites that you guys manage have close to a billion page views per month which is pretty unbelievable. Some of the most well-known web properties on the planet. I think you told me during our brief introduction that you were at the top 15 of traffic on the web?
Erik Requidan: Yeah, we were one of the largest drivers of organic referral traffic to some of the best media brands in the business or a great source of traffic that comes there organically and there are companies that pay to develop that. You have digital editors or social media teams or you might just go out right and have paid source traffic whereas for us, we check this other box for them. Or we’re sending 10% of someone’s audience of 100 million visits but it originates with us because through one of my publishers, the Drudge Report, 90% of our audience is direct, so that means a good portion of that audience actually begins with us every single day.
Some of the challenges you were mentioning as a sales leader today is I think it’s interesting because the digital space continues to evolve, you really don’t have a ready pool of talent at scale like you may have had in other traditional mediums like print and radio and like I was mentioning before. You had a process where you had a stable and sort of building everybody up or a farm team and you’re building someone up. There really isn’t anything like that, there’s a number of groups helping to help in the education process but I think in college and universities you don’t have a lot of curriculum or anything focused on actual digital media. Not a lot of it is working, a lot of it is what was happening 12 years ago and that’s just obsolete now.
It’s interesting, we’re in this business, I love this challenge but we’re trying to literally find or make unicorns, and that’s literally what we have to do so I think that’s a challenge but it’s also one of the greatest opportunities because you’re able to look at people with diversified backgrounds. They could be stats, math majors, take these roles and turn them at operations, different products that sellers have been working on and have successful digital media careers. You just have to approach it a little bit differently. I would say maybe another challenge that I think is still a great opportunity is deals and buyers and business is always on right now. You don’t shut off visits, the visitors come, the advertisements are served and there’s no such thing as a slow time.
There used to be a slow queue on and there used to be an explosive queue for, some of those things still remain but advertising online is always on which is a good thing but as a business you need to be prepared for that. That’s where even though it’s a challenge it’s also one of the most positive things that you could have as well.
Fre Diamond: You’ve been taking us through your career and you’ve had some great successes and you’re obviously one of the more knowledgeable guys I’ve ever spoken to on digital sales and digital transformation. This has been fantastic. Tell us about your biggest sale success today. Eriq Requidan, take us to the moment that deal that you’re most proud of, your biggest sales success so far.
Erik Requidan: I would love to tell you about doing multi-million dollar deals which we do thankfully with great buyers all the time, I think when I celebrate a great moment in my career – I shared with you some of the earlier moments – but I think about what’s happened presently and what I mean is that for the past four years we’ve been championing this new form of direct buy and sell process. I’ve had people laugh and say, “Direct can’t be programmatic.” And all these sorts of things which is just not true and you’re seeing even direct sales be a subset of programmatic in some instances.
When buyers are going to spend 7 to 8 out of 10 dollars in programmatic, we have to embrace that and understand that. What I’m most excited about is that sales force evolution and it’s transforming sales today. I believe that the success there recently and over the past few years gives me a wider and deeper vision than I’ve ever had before and that’s something I’m extremely proud of right now with our team that has helped to enable all of that.
Fred Diamond: Erik, we have listeners today on the Sales Game Changers podcast from around the world from multiple industries. Could you just define programmatic force so that everyone understands exactly what it is you do?
Erik Requidan: Absolutely. As I mentioned before, when you think of the buy and sell process of media as it pertains programmatic it’s utilizing automation and data. There are environments we place our inventory into and then is there a data that can be matched up against to improve results. Sometimes it’s viewed as a process, I disagree. I think there’s tremendous strategy from a buy side, from a brand, also from a media company perspective but it’s the automation and the use of data which before was never utilized.
For example, you would take a buy and create an RSP and write an insertion order and send it off and you’re just buying big, blind placements and you just hope it works. Then maybe it works and then you get a call back whereas now through all the tools that we’re able to use there’s ongoing management of campaigns, there’s ongoing optimizations, there’s a way to improve results as it’s running in real time and like I said, this thing never shuts off. You have to use tools in order to be more successful.
Fred Diamond: I just have one last question before we take our break. In the programmatic side with what you do now, how does your customer base break down? Of course, you have multiple properties that you manage but is it an 80-20 rule where there’s still the big automobile companies or beverage companies, are those still the large advertisers, or is it more spread out? How does it basically break?
Erik Requidan: What’s great is actually when you’re utilizing the technologies you have the ability to learn so much more about your buyers, the brands that you’re working with. For us, because we reach such a large audience, our biggest categories are around finance, banking, also automobiles, telecom, and insurance so most of the advertisers that we’re working with are consumer focused. Absolutely. But understanding now you have all this data that’s available to you which is specific by brands, specific by buy, by price point and all of these great tools that as a traditional legacy direct seller that I was at one point I never had access to that. I was working sort of blind, pick up the phone or send an email and just hope you’d get an opportunity to have a conversation.
That’s changed now. Now we can show up and say, “Hey, we need to have a great conversation around these things.” Which is a fundamentally different thing.
Fred Diamond: It’s quite interesting because one of the key challenges that we constantly hear on the Sales Game Changers podcast and at the Institute for Excellence in Sales, of course, is that your customer is now in control and of course it’s because of the internet they have more access to information. So we keep talking about the need to bring value, true value and value has been discussed for 30, 40 years but now you need to truly bring value because the customer doesn’t necessarily need to be speaking to you and the way that you can provide this information to them it’s definitely transformational in the way that companies should and can be interacting with their customer.
Erik Requidan: Absolutely.
Fred Diamond: In line with that, you’ve talked to us about your sales career, you obviously have passion for what you’re doing, you obviously have interest in what you’re doing but about sales specifically: was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “Sales is too hard, it’s just not for me”? Did you ever say, “This just isn’t the career I want to be in.”?
Erik Requidan: It’s a great question because I don’t think I ever questioned sales. Like I said, I worked for years in mediums that I didn’t know if it was working for them unless somebody said, “Hey, they called this phone number” or, “They brought the ad in.” That’s why I was saying before 2004 was the year that digital saved my life because I was getting burned out on print and the various forms. Being successful there didn’t just mean being happy so what I realized is being able to move into a different medium but still be sales focused is what I needed, and what was exciting to me.
It was daunting when you’re saying, “Hey, this internet thing is going to be real.” Or that inventory and buying and the outcomes and the performance or the value is there, I just have to prove it on my account base, on my company, in the industry, whatever it is. I believe I was happy with that challenge and that still powers me today but I think it’s natural for people to question and think about what they’re doing. I think at times in the past my mind may have drifted into, “How do we bring sales and marketing together?”
And I think that’s still true today because what you’re seeing in a lot of the current CMO’s and CRO’s and CSO’s is they have a strong sales background and it’s helping to bring that hybrid skill set to a company understanding the technologies and data and then making this organization successful. Like I said, probably not questioning sales as a whole but maybe like where it’s going to go and how can I be a part of that as a leader.
Fred Diamond: What’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior sales professionals listening to today’s podcast to help them improve their career?
Erik Requidan: I think of two real important ones: Finding mentors is huge in our business. When you find a mentor I don’t think you should be afraid to tell them you may see them as that and you look for idols to emulate. What I mean by that is you’re going to find people that you like their style if you’re younger in your career and you’re trying to figure out how to develop yourself stylistically or whatever it may be.
Learn from others, there’s great resources out there and video through YouTube, trade publications, follow these individuals and try to mold yourself in mind and presence to these folks that you are interested in. Back to the mentor thing, I think when you think of a mentor it’s often a superior but it doesn’t have to be that. I actually think in the past and even currently I draw a lot of inspiration from mentors that I believe are mentors to me, but they’re in junior roles. This is a gray area where if you can maybe work with some folks who are doing slightly different work from you there’s a ton to learn from there.
Finding someone that you can model yourself to or be like that is really important and actually more widely available today than ever before, because we have so many more mediums to actually connect with that. This podcast or a video or like I said, trade publications and spend time trying to understand those things.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things that you’re doing to sharpen you saw and stay fresh?
Erik Requidan: First, I work very hard at building a strong network of business contacts but in term they become your friends at times so I’m very proud to have an extremely strong network of other professionals in my space. I spend a lot of time with other media companies from New York Times to CNN to The Washington Post to you name it and other mediums. I think having this fierce appetite to learn and spend time with other folks because there’s not a lot of people to teach us what we’re doing.
You have to spend time with folks that are doing what you’re doing. I also spend a lot of time consuming a lot of content. I probably read 25 to 30 different publications a day, my day starts early, it ends late but that’s what’s required of me to be successful. Like I was saying before, you have to seek that out and you have to be hungry to learn all that. Spending time in the market with your peers and folks who are very different from you. If you’re trapped at home and you’re not out in the marketplace and you’re trapped in your little bubble or your little echo chamber you’re not going to advance.
That’s why I spend a lot of time intentionally with different age groups as well, as I’m progressing in my career I need to connect and understand what’s going on with the whole different set of age groups both younger and older. It’s a combination of things that I believe will help keep that saw real sharp.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to stay fresh and to ensure your continued success?
Erik Requidan: As I was saying before, spending time out in the marketplace with others. What I mean by that is with our by side partners, the more time you spend with your partners you can develop relationships that are long lasting. I think it’s an area in sales today where people are looking for this silver bullet of, “How do I connect with people if I’m not doing a two hour lunch with them anymore?”, “How am I going to build a meaningful relationship with my most critical partner which is that person sitting across the table from me or on the other side of that email?”
Part of that’s having a physical presence, a big part of that is also being sure that I’m a resource for those folks as well, not just when it’s time to do a deal. I think that’s important, too. We’re also really focusing on trying to bring community together in the space. It sounds remedial but we do these happy hours where we bring buyers and ad tag vendors and media companies all together so that you can get to know each other and not have the pressure of setting up an appointment and meeting in a board room or in a conference room, or firing up a video conference to try to pitch. How do you create these human connections?
Sometimes having a beer or a glass of wine or sparkling water is the best way to do that. I’ve been working hard in doing that both here and in Washington D.C. and also in New York and probably in a couple of other cities coming up soon.
Fred Diamond: Eriq, you’ve talked a great deal about how you’ve been able to figure out ways to stay at the leading, at the forefront of the digital transformation in sales but you also talked about how it is a frontier, you are inventing things as they go which adds to the complexity of your job. Sales is traditionally hard, people historically don’t return your phone calls or your emails so tell us why have you continued. What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Erik Requidan: There’s some part of us that always likes a challenge. That’s almost true, it’s in our DNA and what I found is that there’s new ways to be successful. When someone’s not returning your call or someone’s not responding to an email I’ve found that often the sellers we don’t give someone a real reason to call back. Just checking in with someone isn’t good enough anymore and sometimes those are some of the tactics that a lot of sellers use. It’s also true that just going and sort of sharing a deck and touting all of your attributes isn’t enough. I think when you’re able to earn that face time or you can get that call back, that time is precious. It’s up to you to really be able to capitalize on that. Those moments, each time they happen it’s like a stepping stone into finding a new way to continue to communicate.
I’ll give an example, it’s really strange, I have some buyers that I literally text with on my phone to first establish a contact and say, “Hey, we’re interested in doing a deal, here’s the opportunity, here’s the budget.” It’s all happening through text, I have to move that into my inbox. I have to then turn that into the traditional form but they really don’t even want to do that and that’s what I find interesting. I think why we continue to do it is because we like to figure out how to innovate and how to overcome that challenge. I just gave you a really small example but it’s just one of many where what we’re literally trying to do is find a win and ultimately help somebody. Our goal is to help buyers buy the way they want to buy. It happens to be this way right now. In five years if it changes, we’ll be there to do that, too.
Fred Diamond: Say that one more time, your mission is to help buyers buy the way they want to buy.
Erik Requidan: Our mission is to help buyers buy the way they want to buy. It’s a great way to describe what we do, my CEO and the executive team. That’s a line that’s existed before I came here, one I’m very proud to go to market with and it’s also part of how we structure ourselves as an organization and really make sure that buyers think of us when they have ten thousand choices.
We like to think about how we’re able to serve others and we have a great acronym: POETIC, it’s how we remain Positive, Optimistic, Enthusiastic, Tenacious, Innovative and Committed and it’s all of those things that in a market has always been. We just celebrated our 20th anniversary in our space which is unheard of, which really makes us one of the most successful digital media companies today in America. I think that having this tremendous – like I just shared with you – view of how we’re going to help serve others has made us a really successful partner to all of our publishers which we’re grateful for and then ultimately all of our buyers which we’re grateful to work with.
Fred Diamond: Bring it home, give us one final thought to inspire the listeners today.
Erik Requidan: I think there’s a couple I always think about, that’s embracing that the new normal is that there’s only constant change and if you can adapt to that everything you do you’re a lot more comfortable in. There’s no more autopilot on anything that you do. You have to remain nimble, you have to be swift, you have to be hungry to learn, embrace the curious nature, listen to others, build network even outside of what you do every single day, find inspiration in uncommon things, teach others your way. Victories come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, learn to serve before you lead and then once again be POETIC, be positive, optimistic, enthusiastic, tenacious, innovated and committed and you’ll go farther that you’ve ever dreamed, and dream big.