Randall Rothenberg and Interactive Advertising

As thousands of aspiring journalists, including myself, begin the job hunt in an industry plagued by hiring freezes, layoffs (AP achieved its goal of cutting 10% from the payroll just the other day) and bankruptcy, it is time we all started exploring the solutions for the failing newspaper business model. It is clear the transition from revenue-rich print advertising (though admittedly long gone thanks to Craigslist and monster.com) to an online form has not found success, indeed most people are turned off by the tacky, blinking advertisements and pop-ups that frazzle the web experience. Whereas social media platforms and interactive advertising campaigns may provide businesses the solution to their online impotency (and perhaps a cure for the news industry as well), a study I recently came across found most Fortune 100 companies do not even understand how to effectively use Twitter. The question that comes to mind is whether an inability to master Twitter also speaks to failings in other social media platforms?

Throughout the semester, my Professional Writing class has had the opportunity to Skype with successful entrepreneurs and leaders in the social media and advertising realm, including Lena West (xynoMedia: Formulates strategic plans for client companies in utilizing social media platforms to engage customers), Anaezi Modu (ReBrand: Global resource for effective brand transformations) and most recently, Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), a trade association for online advertisers dedicated to the growth of the interactive advertising marketplace.

A former New York Times reporter and editor, Rothenberg was quick to qualify his move to the “dark side” as being in the business of helping content succeed, for as we know all too well the money has to come from somewhere and traditionally advertising has financed media. As he recounted his journey from Classics major at Princeton University to President and CEO of a renown trade association, I once again was struck by the fact that your college degree does not define you. Many of the skills that qualified Rothenberg for his position were gained in the workplace, with due credit given to the critical thinking and pattern recognition skills honed by his liberal arts education. Although I was surprised to learn he has not gotten his MBA, his evident success in the advertising world is further proof that formal degree programs are not the only path to a career.

According to Rothenberg, digital/interactive advertising is relatively new when one considers that the Internet as we know it today did not come about until 1997. Although some may grumble that standardization, facilitated by IAB twelve or thirteen years ago, is the root cause of pricing pressure, Rothenberg said it was a necessity and a simple fact of the marketplace. Rather than forcing companies to create banner ads in all different sizes, IAB brought its members together to reach a consensus (much like the standard 30 second television commercial). Rothenberg admitted that the current direct-marketing school of advertising has resulted in ads that are busy, difficult to read and not very fulfilling for brand marketers and unfortunately the universal ad package has not changed much since 2003. “The biggest innovation has not been in formats but creative use,” explained Rothenberg. “Take a look at the Mac/PC ads, they have characters, narrative and interaction between the banners on the top and side of web pages.”

All in all, he called for a transition back to creativity and brand-image advertising with narrative and emotive power, asserting a successful campaign, “relies less and less on assaulting you with the same ad but on the creativity of content itself.” In the era of magazines and television, a copywriter and graphic designer were all that were needed, but interactive advertising is very different (consider the potential of mass viral distribution, social media engagement and blog conversations at the least). With so many opportunities comes also the need for a new team member with an expertise in media technologies: the creative technologist. Defined by Mark Avnet, professor and head of a training program for creative technologists at Virginia Commonwealth University’s VCU Brandcenter, as, “fluent and confident in using media technologies appropriately in the service of branding, advertising, marketing and persuasion,” creative technologists are in demand and Rothenberg notes that they are being hired along with the classic writers and art directors at the rising ad agencies. “You need a degree of technological expertise that is also aware of the creative potential not just of the medium itself but of all the segments within the interactive channels and that is really what creative technologists do,” explained Rothenberg. “From a job standpoint, it is great.”

Other than enlightening me of an entirely new arena of advertising and job opportunities, Rothenberg also had a lot to say about advertising and the news industry. First, he boosted our class morale by negating the cliché, “video killed the radio star.” Indeed, advertising has changed, he said, and compared to print-based ads, the digital equivalent has not generated the same steady stream of revenue. Furthermore, the newspaper industry’s fatal decision to distribute online editions for free many years back has essentially ruled out the possibility of online subscriptions. However, Rothenberg concluded the tactile appreciation of print is not apt go away, bringing up the success of segmented, interest magazines and the possibility of a focus on hyperlocal coverage.

His final words of wisdom? Learn to work well in a team, curiosity counts for an enormous amount and the ability to write is rare and important. “Now is an unbelievably great time to go into media and advertising and I wish I was in your position,” Rothenberg said. “The ability to take your passion and creativity and do something with it is greater now than ever before.”


3 responses to this post.

  1. […] the original here: Randall Rothenberg and Interactive Advertising VN:F [1.5.2_773]please wait…Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes […]


  2. Jess, you are one fine reporter and writer. You captured that unscripted interview perfectly! Thanks for helping me remember what I said!


    • Posted by Jess on November 20, 2009 at 2:24 pm

      Mr. Rothenberg, thank you for the kind comment and I really appreciate your taking the time to talk with my class the other morning. Yours was a great capstone to the course because it tied in aspects of all the other Skype chats earlier in the semester. Enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday!


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