GrownUpMarketing’s Jerry Shereshewsky on the Business of Stunning Ideas

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. We spoke to him recently about his views on the industry and his current work.

Having worked in the industry for four decades, you have witnessed first hand immense changes in the industry, including the effects of widespread usage of PCs and the internet. Are there any elements that you would say have stayed constant throughout the years?

This is, was and will always remain a business of stunning ideas. Certainly technology has changed things a great deal, but this fundamental is now more important than ever. It’s really easy to get seduced by the technology de jour. We can easily get confused and think that the technology is the answer. It almost never is. It has always been true that people buy from companies they know (understand), like and respect (trust).  Nothing about bandwidth there.

One thing that has changed, and not necessarily for the better, is that technology has speeded communications and greatly increased the total tonnage of words flying past. Maybe if we were forced to communicate in Tweets it might get better, but the hundreds of emails I get every day – all of which presume to be important – only take me away from things that are really critical and important (and not simply urgent).

You have worked in many areas in the industry, including direct marketing, traditional and interactive media and public relations. Which areas would you say have changed the most?

Direct Marketing has changed both the least and the most. The least because direct marketers measure results. The units of measurement might change, the media used certainly have expanded, but the inherent truths and techniques are as immutable as the periodic table of elements. In fact, I think I can safely say that direct marketing is being practiced by an incredibly larger universe, many of whom don’t even know that they’re being direct marketers. It’s the ‘traditional’ ad agency that has really taken it on the chin.  Disintermediated from the media that originally paid the bills, they have been struggling to find a raison d’etre and a way to get paid for it. The Y&R Whole Egg and Ogilvy 360 and the rest of these integrated visions have simply not happened in a really meaningful way because no one has figured out how to get paid for it and/or share the wealth.

Jerry you have said, “I consider myself a generalist owing no special allegiance to any discipline but the result.” However, you have an understanding of the fundamentals of many disciplines. Would you say are the most important things to know for a person to know getting started in the industry?

Some things have changed a lot in my fourty plus years, but others barely at all. Knowing how to stand up in front of an audience and convincing sell a point of view is as priceless a skill as one could ever ask for. My advice to young people seeking to enter our business (through whatever door) is simply to remember that we’re in the business of helping clients sell things. When we make it too complicated, too obtuse, too almost anything, it is unlikely that we will get a client to agree or a consumer to part with their cash.

You played a key role at Yahoo! building it into the juggernaut that it became. If you were the CEO today what would you do to turn around the business?

This is an easy one. We did well because of an unrelenting focus on our customers (the agencies and their clients).  We tried to be thought leaders in a world in which new technologies were making smart people feel dumb. We worked hard on being a part of the industry rather than standing apart from it. In 1998 I suggested to Yahoo! management that we take some of the cash we were sitting on and buy the PanAm building, move all sales and marketing and content there (engineering could stay in California or Bangalore or wherever was appropriate) and paint the thing purple and yellow. That would have made a statement that still has value.  And I continue to believe that as Silicon Valley is to technology, Manhattan is to content, marketing and media sales.   Instead they bought Broadcast.com and made Mark Cuban a very rich man. Go figure. But even without that big yellow building there were a lot of simple things that we could do and we did them.

You are currently the Chief GrownUp at GrownUp Marketing. Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and the clients you work with?

GrownUpMarketing is a continuation of what we learned doing marketing for Yahoo media sales. Lots of companies want the attention, love and respect of the agencies and clients, but seem to have trouble figuring out how to get it. We do simple things to make that happen. We do old fashioned positioning. How else can your prospects know you before they do a deal? We try to figure out the best, most cost effective ways for a company to truly become a part of this industry (and not stand apart from it). And we try to execute against those strategies in such a way as to surprise and delight the prospect. Not brain surgery. But that’s a good thing since we’re not brain surgeons. We are marketers and sellers.