Confessions of a Former Ambassador

Jerry Shereshewsky is the former Ambassador Plenipotentiary to Madison Avenue for Yahoo and now Chief GrownUp at GrownUp Marketing. As one of the original Mad Men from advertising’s golden age, he helped to turn Yahoo! into a display ad powerhouse during the 2000’s. He authored the following post:

A few days ago I saw a web post from Matt Straz, formerly from MEC and now CEO at Namely, about the long, slow and painful decline of Yahoo’s graphical advertising business under their newly fired CEO. For more than six years, from 2001 through 2007 I ran marketing for Yahoo! Media Sales and it’s amazing leader, Wenda Harris Millard. Matt amazingly recalled a conversation in which he asked me the secret to Yahoo’s (then) meteoric share price increase (which came, btw, because of a similarly meteoric rise in media sales and market share).  Here’s what I said:

“It’s you guys, your agency and the big brands you represent. That’s why Yahoo! is doing well, because you spend with us,”  

I would like to expand on that quote a bit and explain what it really means and why his agency and many, many others chose to spend with us.

There is a painfully simple truth:  people buy things from people they know, like and respect.  Know, of course, means way more than simply knowing their name.  It means knowing what they are capable of doing, their strengths and weaknesses and, in the best of all worlds, how to navigate their company to get what you really need and want.  Liking is pretty straightforward.  Who, after all, wants to do business with a putz?  And respect takes in a whole gamut of things, including a level of certainty that they will actually deliver against (or beyond) expectations.

For us marketing was not a monologue.  We created opportunities for an incredible number of decision makers, at all levels, to get to know us, to like us and to learn to respect us.  We did conferences, co-sponsored (with agencies) original and important research, and, yes, we did dinners and great parties (and a whole lot more besides).  We remained open to meeting with anyone who wanted to meet with us, we tried to provide solutions to problems in a very timely manner and we even learned to apologize when we screwed up.

I was incredibly lucky because Wenda, and her other top managers, drank the Kool-aid.  They made themselves incredibly available, they shook the pom-poms and made sure that their troops bought into the entire strategy and each and every execution (because, yes, there absolutely was a strategy…not simply a random spraying of money).  And that made me look damn good.  If you want more proof about the value and efficacy of this strategy simply take note of the current positions of many of “Wenda’s kids”; running major operations all over the internet and beyond.  And, frankly, you can look at the growing list of clients at my new consultancy (GrownUpMarketing), many of whom are members of the Yahoo Diaspora with strong memories of the clarity of our story and the effectiveness of our marketing program.

Thanks Matt for reminding us that business, at the end of the day, is relationship-driven and that relationships come from having a large group of prospects who know, like and respect you.

Thank you, Jerry! -Matt

  • Brett Wein

    Bravo Jerry!

  • Shelley

    As a former Y! client that drank the Kool-Aid some of my best year’s in this industry was when I worked directly with Yahoo and some of the best work that I have done and that I continue to do is a direct result of the relationships that were made with the Yahoo’s!

    Thank you Jerry, Wendy, Melissa, Ann, Richard, Corrine, Steve, and the list goes on.

    – Shelley

  • Carrie Frolich (@carriefrolich)

    I may not have been one of Wenda’s ‘biological’ kids, but I always loved doing business with you, Jerry, and the rest of the team at Yahoo! during that era. And while I agree that relationships drive business to some extent, there is absolutely a difference between understanding that people want to do business with people they like, and actually BEING someone they like. This is where you and your team truly succeeded, and why you gained our trust as buyers.

    • Matt Straz

      I totally agree, Carrie. There were lots of sellers, but for some reason working with Jerry, Wenda, Valentino, Kendall and others was always the best. I have so many good Yahoo memories. Dragging our planners to Sammy’s Roumanian was one of my favorite.

      The creative conferences where Jerry brought together the real life Mad Men of advertising were great, too.

      • David Roter

        i second your agreeing, Matt – those were indeed great days and a great sales crew… fortunate to still work with one of them.. and yes Sammy’s Romanian is still one of my favorite media memories.

  • Dylan (@Dylan_Parks)

    Truer words were never spoken Jerry. It was a golden era that I will never forget and I remain incredibly proud and thankful to have been a “Wenda Kid” and to have learned the critical importance of relationships directly from you. It hurt bad to feel that amazing sales culture rapidly erode beginning in ’08…

    Those were the best of times, but luckily there are indeed still a lot of us around. Let’s hope we can all continue to make a difference by passing on bits of what we learned along the way.

  • Pingback: Let’s Bring Back Branding « The Makegood