'They know the lingo': Ad-tech firms are on a hiring blitz for TV salespeople in the race to own OTT advertising


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  • Ad-tech firms like The Trade Desk, ZypMedia and SpotX are hiring salespeople from television networks like Fox Networks Group and Tegna who have relationships with ad buyers and get the decades-old TV advertising business.
  • The ad-tech companies say there’s plenty of talent out there as massive changes and mergers rock traditional media companies.
  • However, ad-tech execs warn that hiring TV salespeople from traditional companies can bring culture clashes.
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Advertising-tech companies see a growing opportunity to grab ad budgets that are moving from TV to streaming video, and they’re hiring network salespeople to pull it off.

The Trade Desk, TripleLift, Innovid, and ZypMedia are among companies that have hired talent from broadcasters like Fox, Viacom, and Tegna.

Read more: Ad-tech firm TripleLift has hired a top Fox sales exec to shake up the $70 billion TV advertising industry as media giants prepare new streaming services

These firms realize that to capture TV budgets, they need to cozy up to media buyers who have bought TV ads the same way for decades through salespeople that they’ve built long-standing relationships with.

Take ZypMedia, which has hired salespeople from local broadcasters Tegna and Hearst Digital over the past two years. The firm helps local publishers like Sinclair Broadcast Group and iHeartMedia sell OTT ads.

“As a Silicon Valley-based company, we sit in a bubble,” said Aman Sareen, CEO of ZypMedia. “To service your clients who are traditional media companies, you have to talk like them and understand what challenges they’re facing on a day-to-day basis.”

Ad-tech firms are hiring from companies with TV expertise

The Trade Desk is another that’s been pushing into OTT the past year. The firm, which helps advertisers buy ads on streaming TV platforms like Disney’s ESPN Plus and Amazon Fire TV, said its second-quarter spending on OTT platforms increased 250% year-over-year.

The Trade Desk has hired 10 employees from TV companies this year and is looking to add a handful of people to its TV partnerships department. One recent hire is James Kiernan, who joined in July as VP of client development after working at Fox Networks Group for two and a half years.

“I continue to be a strong believer in the effectiveness of TV advertising, and I believe that we’re at the early stages of an incredibly exciting time for the space,” Kiernan said. “We can now leverage technology and data to deliver a more targeted and engaging ad experience on TV.”

Another ad-tech firm, TripleLift, has hired execs from Fox Networks Group and Hulu as it gets ready to launch new ad formats for streaming services next year. And in May, Innovid hired Jessica Hogue from Nielsen to lead measurement and analytics as more marketers seek to understand the differences between streaming services.

“Everyone is making moves for 2020 and 2021, when the face of television consumption is going to change for the foreseeable future,” said Ari Lewine, TripleLift’s cofounder and chief strategy officer.

Tech firms are trying to act more like traditional media companies

Kyle Benn, VP of mid-market at SpotX, an ad-tech company that helps publishers manage their OTT ad inventory, said that salespeople with TV experience have helped the firm make inroads with local TV advertisers that aren’t working with big agency holding companies.

“They know the lingo and how to sell,” he said. “The TV folks can pick up the baton and start holding conversations and translating OTT to the TV side a lot faster.”

For example, TV salespeople can talk to buyers about gross rating points (commonly called GRPs) that measure how many people in a given audience saw an ad and how much advertising a marketer is running compared to competitors. Sales employees with TV backgrounds also tend to ask broadly about an advertiser’s ad spending plans.

Disruption at huge media companies is leading to more talent

As ad-tech companies push into OTT, big mergers and plans for direct-to-consumer streaming services is creating hiring opportunities, several ad-tech companies said.

CBS and Viacom’s merger has caused some speculation about sales and marketing layoffs and changes, while big changes are afoot at Disney and WarnerMedia. Under AT&T’s ownership, some advertisers say that they’re increasingly balancing working with reps from both WarnerMedia and AT&T’s advertising arm Xandr.

Read more: Some marketers say AT&T’s big plan to reinvent advertising is taking shape but worry that it will shut out competitors

“On the hiring front, it’s been good because you see more traditional TV companies buying into OTT in terms of what they’re selling,” said SpotX’s Benn. “Those are the people who we’re looking at.”

Hiring TV salespeople can cause culture clashes

Commission-based TV salespeople can be aggressive in landing deals and unaccustomed to the fast-paced tech startup world.

“The information and connections that they have are extraordinarily valuable but they need to pass that information onto the younger sales people in the digital space,” said Marc Mordoh, CEO of ad-tech consultancy firm Upwardly Group, which has hired people with TV backgrounds as consultants rather than full-time. “It’s a very dog-eat-dog world with the old TV guard.” 

ZypMedia’s Sareen looks for TV people who have some digital experience to ease the transition.

“If you hired someone who has no digital knowledge, they will not succeed,” he said. “This is a very hybrid role.”

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