Undertone’s Ryan Griffin on the Importance of Generalist Thinking in Advertising

Ryan GriffinRyan Griffin was recently hired at Undertone, which develops digital advertising solutions for brands, as their new VP of Strategic Sales. The move is a transition for Ryan into the “buy” side from the “sell” side of advertisements. The Makegood recently spoke with Ryan about how he will make a positive mark on the company.

 The Makegood: With such an impressive array of awards and industry recognition, you must have gotten plenty of offers from many different companies. What made Undertone stand out as a company that you wanted to work for?

One of the things I have always prioritized for myself throughout my career is a more generalist (vs. specialist) approach to the work. While I have certainly focused more deeply on certain digital spaces at certain times (e.g., Search from 2002-2004, Social from 2006-2009, Video from 2009-2011, and Mobile from 2012-present), I’ve strived to retain that greater connectivity to the larger picture, staunch in the belief that this approach would drive the best solutions for agency clients.  Some have talked about this as a “T-Shaped” approach to work…the top of the T illustrating the breadth of a more generalist approach, with the vertical portion of the T representing the more granular depth that can be selectively deployed against individual arenas.

As I weighed a move from the agency side of the business, it was imperative for me that my next opportunity contain this same kind of generalist potential.  I wanted to continue to expansively grow my abilities, as the entire media industry becomes more “digital” in nature – but also ensure that I had the ability to dig more deeply into certain skill areas that I felt had been left relatively underdeveloped by a 13-year career spent on the agency side (true product and business development being among those).

Undertone delivers this in spades:  Our solutions include Display, Video, High Impact and Mobile, and part of my role is to help crack the way in which we message and market against Social.  We have also begun to roll out solutions that weave all of these disparate spaces together (i.e., ScreenShiftTM, more on that later), a view that correlates directly to the future of where our world is heading

It’s important here to note that the vision the Undertone leadership team displayed against where we are going across the larger digital marketing landscape was a key criterion for me – we will be making the right kinds of investments (whether that be to build, buy, or partner) to create the right kinds of solutions for the digital marketing future.

Lastly, the current size and shape of the company provides me with the opportunity to wear a number of hats – an invaluable thing, transitioning out of my time on the agency side, as it helps me learn more about what I might want to spend the next 10-15 years doing.  I look forward to contributing across the Sales, Product, and Business development lanes during my time here.

The Makegood: What has been your first order of business at Undertone and what changes (if any) have you made to the company and its practices so far?

The first order of business, of course, has been very much about meeting with the various parts of the company, wrapping my head around how the business operates day-to-day, and identifying the places where I can best contribute in the short term – all while compiling (or in some cases, ratifying) my own unique perspective towards that longer term business and product vision that I referenced previously.

The most significant thing I have been trying to project is the view from the agency side of the desk – what are agencies looking for in 2013/2014, how do we best package Undertone’s set of solutions, and (perhaps most importantly) effectively story-tell around their activation?  A large part of this has been how we apply a layer of productization to our solutions, to help agencies a) realize the degree of truly unique, product-based differentiation Undertone can bring to them, and then b) espouse that to their clients as part of their recommendations.

The Makegood: Starting at a new company can be difficult. Have you had any trouble getting on the same page with your new coworkers, or have your ideas meshed right from the start?

This is an easy one:  I simply cannot speak highly enough of my new Undertone colleagues!

From an offsite prior to my official start date, to this very moment, they have all been extremely welcoming, exceptionally engaging, highly inquisitive, and tremendously receptive to my viewpoints – while I, on the other hand, have been able to benefit greatly from their collective wisdom, as I find my footing in this new environment.

The Makegood: In your “Why I Joined Undertone,” blog post, you mentioned that you are looking forward to contributing to its “ScreenShift” product. Can you talk a bit about the product, and how you hope to help it grow?

ScreenShiftTM is the industry’s first high impact format built using responsive design, which means it dynamically changes size, features, and functionality to deliver an optimum experience across every device—without requiring separate creative.  The result is an innovative new high impact ad format that agencies and brands can use to seamlessly serve the most contextually relevant message possible across smartphones, tablets and desktop computers.

From my perspective, this kind of solution is simply fundamental in today’s multi-screen world.  We need to remove the friction and complexity from digital marketing, and make it easier for Marketers to be more effective in this world of mass fragmentation and personalized consumption.

One of the ways I want to try to help do that is to move our Agency and Brand partners towards a more holistic, customer-centric view of digital media delivery.  People don’t think of advertising as being delivered in silo-ed channels, and we shouldn’t either – instead, let’s focus on the context of the person we are trying to reach, and ensure that we are marrying our message, assets, delivery format, and timing to that specific environment or journey.

We are going to be hearing much more about that word (“Context”) moving forward, and ScreenShiftTM gives us at Undertone a head start – but we have to continue to progress the capabilities associated with these new formats, empowering them with unique creativity and value-driving data.

The Makegood: How do you plan on contributing to Undertone’s success while also adding to your own legacy as an industry leader?

My distinct hope for my role here is that I’m able to very effectively tell the marketplace-facing story of the investments we are making at Undertone – these are driving tremendous advances in our capabilities, and highly differentiating us against what our customers see as our current group of competitors.

In many ways, these new capabilities are beginning to help us transcend this competitive set – putting us in a different place entirely.  I plan to play a key role in helping us reinforce this message to the marketplace, and position Undertone as an essential component of any advertiser’s digital marketing ecosystem.

In terms of my personal goals, I hope to further grow my capabilities in the product and business development lanes, while demonstrating that I can perform as effectively on the “sell” side of the business as I was able to on the “buy” side.  This would in turn provide me with an incredibly diverse breadth of perspective and experience from which to draw in the future, and prepare me for just about any role I should want to take on.

The Makegood: Thank you, Ryan