We exchanged emails for this interview and it has been slightly condensed and edited.
Marc Goldberg: What’s the backstory to Laredo Group?
Leslie Laredo : Thanks for inviting me to your interview series and considering me worthy to join the ranks of the other interesting marketing professionals with motivating thoughts and insights you’ve interviewed. I actually love telling the backstory to Laredo Group.
I started it while a single mom with a 6-year-old son. Single mommy-hood weighed significantly in my decision to be an entrepreneur because I wanted more control over my personal life and time, while fueling my career aspirations. I was also looking for more flexibility and wanted to build a company based on my experience…and stretch my abilities. I quickly found entrepreneurship had many benefits, but I never worked so hard in my life.
I spent the early stage of my career being part of the nascent PC and online industries, which started a decade before the first browser appeared. I sold online ads for a videotex startup, then sold research for Future Computing, whose founder was the person to first predict a PC in every home. Though in her wildest dreams probably couldn’t have foreseen multiple online/connected devices in every home! In thinking about my past and recognizing this week, in which we honor and recognize International Women’s Day, I’d like to note that 2 of my first 3 bosses were women and were extremely influential in my career journey.
These early forays made me one of the few people in the world who had any experience with online advertising, since my job was to sell the future of interactive media before it even happened. Then I broadened my perspective by spending 6 years selling online ads for Prodigy, followed by 3 years at Ziff-Davis, the magazine publishing company…working on ad product development for the launch of their Interchange Online Network.
MG: Let me interrupt, what the heck was the Interchange Online Network?
LL: Starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, online services companies, like CompuServe, Delphi and GEnie were delivering online access to news, stock info, bulletin boards, special interest groups, as well as offering email. The interface was text only and people paid by the minute through dial-up modems. Ziff-Davis wanted to create what we called the “CompuServe Killer” platform by offering a graphical interface and offering content from Ziff-Davis magazines, like PC Mag and Computer Shopper. The announcement of the web browser changed the product plans and Ziff sold the interactive division to AT&T and launched ZD Net as an information service on other platforms.
MG: Now back to the backstory…
LL: So, after Ziff-Davis sold the interactive division to AT&T, I stayed briefly but decided to leave, for the reasons I mentioned before, to launch my first startup with some partners. This was Network 1.0, a digital ad sales rep firm, which we sold to Softbank within a year, and it became Softbank Interactive Marketing. Also, during this time, I was part of the original team that came together to establish the IAB and I was one of the founding board members.
I didn’t want to be a Softbank (or anyone’s) employee, so I left and started The Laredo Group, initially as a research company. At the time, we were doing the largest online audience studies worldwide for clients like Time Inc, Netscape, Playboy, StarMedia and other major online services of the time so that they could establish their value to media brands. The idea of adding training came to me when, during an IAB meeting, publishers were saying that their main problem was that none of their people, or anyone else, knew how to sell online advertising.
MG Did you train media buyers and sellers?
LL: Yes, we have always trained “both sides of the desk.” Our first program was for Net Gravity, which became DoubleClick. That was so successful that we partnered with Adweek Magazine to create a public course called “How to Buy and Sell Web Ads” that we did for groups as large as 500 people all over the world. It was a two-day training for both media buyers and sellers. Today, training the buy-side, both ad agencies and marketers makes up about 50% of our business.
MG: What about the IAB?
LL: We were the IAB’s main training vendor and the first that was certified by the IAB to prepare sellers to pass the IAB’s Digital Media Sales Certification exam. And we have always provided the best training for many IAB programs.
MG: What types of training are you providing?
LL: We deliver training programs in all formats. The pandemic has changed the focus to soft skills and publishers are looking to go back to basics. Media selling got very transactional and now consultative skills are more important. Our most popular course today is actually Storytelling for Media Professionals, as well as various courses in Consultative Sales skills.
Before Covid we did mostly live instructor-led sessions, but for the last 10 years, long before virtual training was widely used, we have also offered on-demand, eLearning, and online programs, both recorded and live. Recently, of course, it’s been all live virtual training via Zoom and other platforms, though I suspect that while that will remain an important part of our offerings, live in-person training should start coming back early next year.
The things I am proudest of are our expansive course catalogue, which we customize for each client so that they achieve exceptional results and training ROI…every single time! Also, that we have now taught over 150,000 people during well over 1,000 training engagements over the last 25 years, and that we were one of the most important building blocks that formed the foundation for an industry that now shows billions of dollars in digital ad spend.
In 2014 we created the Academy of Digital Media as our division dedicated to training and continuing to innovate and bring new professional development programs to all types of media professionals. The Laredo Group is now our division focused on our consulting projects and continues to help media companies with product development, new product launches, media marketing, virtual events and other services.
MG: What was life like before the word “ecosystem”?
LL: Well, it was certainly less complicated, less buzz words, fewer companies to track and technology to dissect. But honestly, we were so committed to updating and maintaining our content to represent the most current views on technology, best practices and “how to” get the job done, that we had to stay on top of the growing complexity, literally updating our curriculum weekly…often daily.
MG: So “programmatic” introduced the easy button, you can buy a million sites from one place. Concept is simple but it has become so complex. How much time are your efforts teaching this area?
LL: We started teaching the concepts of programmatic as part of our “Essentials of Digital Advertising” course when Yahoo bought RightMedia. As the publishers jumped on the adtech bandwagon, we were the first company to offer a full-day course on programmatic advertising…way back in 2013!
MG: How much time are your efforts teaching about the impact of Ad fraud?
LL: It certainly has become a much bigger topic. Also, we started covering privacy from the lens of 3rd party cookies, PII and how fraud happens, and the impact on media performance. Prior to the enactment of GDPR we added this content and CCPA. We also cover alternatives to cookies for targeting, like device IDs, fingerprinting, probabilistic vs. deterministic identifiers and hashtagging. Again, we engage in constant updating, so we will be adding the latest on FLoC and cohort targeting and highlights from Google’s position and actions.
MG: When do I get to bowl again? Tell us more about your efforts at Brestcancer.org?
LL: The Bowling for Breastcancer.org had a wonderful 10-year history, getting 3,500 media professionals to enjoy a night of bowling and raising nearly $5 million dollars. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 the 2020 bowlathon was cancelled. I am very proud of my efforts, along with a great team on the organizing committee, and that we pulled the industry together to support this important charity. I was elected to the board of Breastcancer.org and served for 6 years. While I’m still involved with Breastcancer.org, I’m now on the board of a local nature center. One of the lesser-known facts about my background is that my degree from Cornell is actually in environmental science. I’m also on the advisory board of CredSpark, an audience engagement platform; and a less formal advisor to several other martech and adtech companies.
MG: I believe you are still in Florida, send me your address and I will send you a box of snow. Where will you travel to first when you are able to travel?
LL: Thank you for the offer! I miss New York City and will probably make it my first stop, to support Broadway and the jazz and cabaret clubs. In fact, my husband and I have been very active in the efforts to save Birdland and other great live venues in New York City as well as here in south Florida.
MG: Charlie Parker birdland? What jazz great have you seen live that you would take me to see next time we can get together? Obviously money is no issue, because you are paying!
LL: Yes…the Charlie Parker Birdland! And it’s not just jazz…they also have lots of Great American Songbook music. We’d love to take you to see Marilyn Maye, Clint Holmes, Kurt Elling, Tony DeSare, John Pizzarelli, Curtis Stigers or many others.