John and I exchanged emails for this interview and it has been slightly condensed and edited.
Marc Goldberg : John please tell us more about where you have been and where you are now?
John Hardy: Hi Marc thanks for the opportunity. I started my career in 1989 as an Associate Purchasing Manager for Procter & Gamble where I spent 10 years in a variety of buying roles from raw materials, plastics, packaging and contract manufacturing services. My time there was invaluable in the development of my procurement expertise and problem-solving skills, and their progressive culture gave me the room to be creative and leading-edge in diverse supplier development, which I have a particular passion for.
My next stop was at The Coca-Cola Company where I got my first exposure to marketing procurement. I grew up in digital marketing as the sourcing lead for the global digital team that led major activations like the Olympics and World Cup. I managed their agency roster and was the enterprise buyer for all marketing technology at a time when most marketing software was still custom built, and then as the market transitioned to Software-as-a-Service platforms.
That role positioned me for my next role as the Marketing Procurement Director for The Walt Disney Company. This was a fascinating opportunity for me to move into the Entertainment Industry after 20+ years in CPG, along with a move from Atlanta to New York City where I was able to develop an amazing network. Disney was an amazing company to work for where I was able to play a key role in negotiating their digital upfront deals, and the contract renewal for TV ratings with Neilsen, which combined equated to almost a half billion in annual spend.
I got laid off from Disney in 2017 after a major reorganization, and decided that 28 years in corporate was enough and I wanted to try something different, and not just one thing. So I launched my consulting practice to provide procurement advisory services to advertisers, and conversely to help vendors better engage with procurement during the selling process. My first client on the vendor side is the only black-owned ad:tech firm in the industry, now known as Reset Digital, and my role has expanded to business development, so I now sell ad:tech in addition to the consulting practice.
MG: At Market Source Advisors you have taken your experience in procurement and are now helping others. My question has always been, yesterday you were negotiating lightbulbs and today you are negotiating Ad tech partners. How did you learn and how are you helping your clients?
JH: LOL, I never bought light bulbs, rather I’ve been buying marketing services and technology since 2004, so I feel like I have an acute understanding of how marketers think and make decisions. In my buy-side practice I’ve been helping clients with media and creative agency pitches, building their marketing technology stacks and providing thought-leadership and training to their teams. On the sell-side of my practice I’ve helped a production consulting firm upsell their services to a major client, and I provide strategy and business development services to my ad:tech client, still in start-up mode.
Now as it relates to business development, it’s taken some time for me to adjust to sitting on the seller’s side of the table, having to get used to the frustration of rejection and people not returning my emails. When I started consulting in the ad:tech space it became apparent that I had a lot to learn. Programmatic is a complex industry and sub-culture with its own language, and few people understand how it really works, including me. I spent a lot of time with my client learning the language, often repeating the same questions until it sunk in, so I could be knowledgeable enough to speak to prospects and generate leads. The real value that I bring is my network and the ability to get meetings with key decision makers at advertisers, media agencies and potential investors. We are on the precipice of closing some big deals with several of these leads, which will be very satisfying when it happens.
MG: How do you teach to help balance the lowest price and best product? The disconnect is often between the buyer’s needs and the procurement’s responsibility.
JH: Procurement’s responsibility is to create value for the organization by sourcing the best tools and services that deliver on the business goals, not to get the cheapest price. Historically, there’s been a disconnect between marketing and procurement because of too heavy a focus on price and generating savings as that’s what we’ve always been measured on, so it can lead to the wrong behaviors. I believe that marketing procurement metrics should be closely aligned with marketing’s metrics, with a focus on getting more value for each dollar spent and better performance from agency partners vs. too strong a focus on rate reductions, and that an agreement should be made with finance to reinvest savings into more creative work and campaigns vs. finance sweeping their budgets, which is the thing that marketers want to avoid.
MG: Budgets got punched in the mouth, the neck, the butt in 2020. Did you see better discipline from companies last year? What did we learn in 2020 that should translate in 21?
JH: The thing about the pandemic is that it had very different impacts on different industries, so while everyone was nervous in the beginning and paused much of their spending, we started to see that COVID picked clear winners like CPG, cleaning supplies, content streaming, ecommerce and all things digital, and clear losers like travel and hospitality, restaurants, video productions and live events, so some advertisers continued to invest while others pulled back or shifted tactics. We also saw a shift in the percentage of marketing budgets spent on digital tools and data to respond to the spike in digital and ecommerce activity.
Going forward in 2021, brands that haven’t already should invest in research to determine how the new world order has changed their customers’ path to purchase and adapt their customer journey’s accordingly. As many have turned to digital channels and will likely continue doing so will put pressure on brands to accelerate the need to adapt and accelerate their marketing technology, data and talent strategies to stay competitive in an increasingly digital landscape.
MG: OK, so as brands accelerate these investments in technology and data, how can they increase their chances that they are investing in the right tools and data, and making these investments pay off?
JH: Well, the first thing is to get clear on what they need, what are their primary use cases that support the entire customer journey, and what tools, data and integrations are needed to support them. So first do a gap analysis on what you have vs. what you need and then set the roadmap to close the gaps. Second, they should be diligent in the sourcing process to select tools that give them the best chance of a smooth implementation and widespread adoption of these tools. I’ve recently led several marketing technology RFP’s for clients covering platforms that are core to most stacks, a DAM, Marketing Automation and Sales Enablement platforms. The key things I look for are whether the tool is built using modern software development standards such as micro-services and hypergraph databases, which make the tools more flexible and adaptable to the client’s specific needs and offer a better user experience. Brands must also develop more robust data strategies that focus on the right data sources, disciplined data management practices and buying the right tools that collect, organize and activate data in today’s complex omnichannel environment. I strongly advocate that marketing procurement professionals develop their technology buying acumen and lead the sourcing of marketing tools, vs. their IT procurement counterparts, because business requirements should take priority over IT requirements and preferences.
MG:How has your life changed since March 2020? Personally and professionally.
JH: Because I already worked from home, that aspect wasn’t a major change for me, except the increased use of Zoom and Teams, and not being able to go onsite to client locations. The most significant change for me was the limit on my ability to visit my family down south in Georgia and Florida, which is something I did on a regular basis but now haven’t seen many in my family for almost a year now. Also, living in New York City I’m used to getting out and experiencing all the great things NYC has to offer like a wide range of fantastic restaurants, museums, art galleries, parks and live music venues. With many of these activities cancelled, this past summer me and my lady friend set a goal to visit many of the major parks across all the boroughs and do other outdoor activities that allowed us to venture out and not stay confined to our small NYC apartments, and I have to say that the temporary legalization of ‘to-go’ cocktails in the city, or what I call ‘walk-tinis’ made things a bit more tolerable. And while the pandemic did negatively impact my income, I’ve been very fortunate to have a few paying clients for the duration of 2020, recognizing that everyone isn’t quite as fortunate and that many out there are suffering from job loss, food security problems and of course the health impacts of the pandemic. I consider myself very fortunate!
MG: Imagine a world where everything is back? Where are you going first?
JH:I didn’t wait for things to go back, I’ve actually gone to St. Maarten with my lady twice in 2020, each trip for three (3) weeks at a time to work remotely.
MG: Jerk, Are you about to rub it in.
JH: Ah…Sorry….but our theory was simple, if we have to work from home then we can work from anywhere with a viable internet connection. It turned out to be a marvelous and rejuvenating idea, taking Zoom meetings with the ocean in the background watching the pelicans do their majestic fishing routine. It was great to get away from the negative 24-hour news cycle, and being able to hit the beach after our meetings were done was therapeutic. The thing I miss the most is being able to go see my family, my mother is 80 years old and has basically stayed in her room the entire year, although after getting her first vaccination shot she’s now thinking about venturing out.
MG: How has the pandemic affected your media and content consumption habits and what shows and channels did you find most entertaining?
JH: Well first I’m a big sports fan so was dismayed by the initial cancellation of so many sporting events. What amazed me was how the professional sports leagues figured out a way to have their seasons, especially the NFL. The fact that we had a full season of football was amazing to me and a great outlet each Thursday, Sunday and Monday, along with placing 3rd in my fantasy football league as the defending champ! I’m also ecstatic that my LA Lakers are now the defending NBA champions, and that my Washington Football Team is competitive again, and has taken a huge step forward from it’s awful legacy with the ‘Redskins’ name and lack of diversity in their leadership, they are now the only franchise with a black president and general manager, and a hispanic head coach, so I’m quite pleased. I’ve also binged watched series on many of the streaming networks, most recently ‘Bridgerton’ on Netflix, ‘Insecure’ on HBO and many of the 30-for-30 features on ESPN.