Chris Pirrone of USA Today Sports Media Group -- The Jay Sears Interview

By Archived Rubicon Project Archives
Cover image for  article: Chris Pirrone of USA Today Sports Media Group -- The Jay Sears Interview

Continuing a recent series of interviews with global trading desk heads that culminated in his Six Advertising Automation Trends for Buyers and Sellers, Jay Sears, SVP at Rubicon Project, now hears from the sell side—leading publishers across the United States and Europe.

Today he speaks with USA TODAY Sports Media Group.

Your Name: Chris Pirrone

Your Company: USA TODAY Sports Media Group

Your Title: General Manager, Sports Digital Properties

What Flavor Ice Cream Best Describes Your Management Style:

Salted caramel. Generally sweet but with a little salt when needed.

SEARS: On average—out of each $1.00 of advertising revenue received by your company, how much today is from automated or programmatic channels?

PIRRONE: This is for my division (Sports Digital Properties) only: $0.50. We are fully engaged with programmatic across all channels (direct, private and open marketplaces) and see it as a necessary source to drive demand for our large set of display, mobile and pre-roll inventory.

SEARS: What was this number two years ago, in 2011?

PIRRONE: $0.10

SEARS: What will this number be two years from now, in 2015?

PIRRONE: $0.75

SEARS: Describe how most media (all media, digital + non-digital, non-programmatic media) is sold by your company today.

PIRRONE: We have a traditional “premium sales team” that interacts with ad agencies to secure campaign budgets, usually with a 3-6 month lead time.

· Sales logs agency interactions into sales force

· RFPs are answered with decks and media plans

· when budgets are won AMs log the campaign into our order management system (Fivia)

· Fivia automatically syncs with DFP (yeah 1 automated process)

· tags are manually received from agency and stored in digital folders for Ad ops

· Ad ops builds tags and creative

This process is highly inefficient, man-power intensive and time consuming.

SEARS: Tell us the about USA TODAY Sports Media Group.

PIRRONE: USATODAY Sports Media Group is the digital sports arm of a traditional print news organization (USATODAY/Gannett), founded to help create content and products for today’s digital sports fans, focusing on younger and highly mobile audiences. The sports digital properties group was established to purchase, launch, or partner with sports sites that focus on creating content for sports fans that are highly engaged with a particular sport, league or team.


· Overall advertising revenue via automated systems, (expected) 2013 GLOBAL:

o PIRRONE: for our division 50%

· Percentage increase, advertising revenue via automated systems 2012 vs. expected 2013 [Global only #]:

o PIRRONE: up 50%

SEARS: What are USA TODAY Sports Media Group’s three biggest initiatives for 2014?


1. Increase video content production and streams: Video content is key to effective storytelling, and higher video CPMs help support the overall business.

2. Create mobile first products and content that is easily sharable: Our sports audience is young, highly mobile and tends to obtain their news from social sources (Facebook, Twitter, friends), so creating content that can be consumed on a mobile device is mandatory and creating products that allow users to share that content with friends is key to driving increased audience.

3. Launch mobile applications: We have a highly engaged audience, so creating apps that can live on their phone/tablet homepage will drive higher engagement/page views/interaction.

SEARS: By 2015, what percentage of total advertising sales across your company will be from automated or programmatic channel?


SEARS: To reach a higher adoption of direct deal automation (also known as programmatic premium) and use of the programmatic channel, what are the major impediments to overcome? Rank these in numerical order:

2__ Operational or workforce issues inside the holding companies or operating agencies

___ Premium (direct deal) inventory availability via programmatic

___ Lack of proper ad technology

1__ Alignment of agency compensation models

___ Alignment of publisher compensation models

PIRRONE: Many agencies and brands continue to operate in a dated model, with different partners or sections of their org responsible for advertising strategy, creative and media buying; often times the branding strategy and direct-response strategies/execution continue to operate separately. Further, the current agency/DSP/ATD focus for programmatic seems to be on DR and cost savings, vs an opportunity to leverage programmatic tools to execute on a brand’s strategic initiatives by allowing time to engaging publishers on strategic goals, content and data.

SEARS: Tell us about your first party data strategy—do you currently have a DMP (data management platform) for your first party data?

PIRRONE: Y es have a DMP but do not use first party data in the programmatic channel.

SEARS: Salesforce compensation. Do you compensate your salespeople for every dollar sold, regardless if the media is sold via insertion order (IO) manually or via an automated channel?

PIRRONE: Premium sales people are incentivized to engage brands/agencies on all of their initiatives, whether it be direct packages or private exchange. Sales is not compensated on open auction buys, since sales is not engaged with spend via this channel.

SEARS: Direct sold inventory is often sold three to 12 months in advance. Which of the following choices best describe how you use direct order automation and Connect—check all that apply:


1. ___ We use direct order automation and Connect to leverage our first party data and bundle it with our media;

2. X___ We use direct order automation and Connect to make available an “electronic version” of our media kit and related editorial calendar inventory packages (example: holiday or back-to-school themed packages) to buyers;

3. X___ We use direct order automation and Connect to make available premium placements such as home page, section pages and other opportunities that are not available in the open market;

4. X___ We use direct order automation and Connect to make available IAB Rising Star ad units and rich media ad units.

5. ___ We do not use direct order automation and Connect and believe all inventory should be sold via auction (with appropriate business rules, of course!)

PIRRONE: We want to support brands’ strategic initiatives through all of the platforms/channels they are buying. We believe that making our inventory available in packages that support brands and encourage deeper partnerships leads to increased spend for us in our direct, private and open marketplaces.

SEARS: What advertising opportunities will never be sold via advertising automation?

PIRRONE: Sponsored custom content.

SEARS: Have you received “Programmatic RFPs” for your inventory? What do these look like and how are they different than traditional RFPs?

PIRRONE: Yes. They are similar, but inquire about which inventory packages are available via programmatic, and why these packages are different then what can be purchased in the open auction marketplace.

SEARS: What should top publisher chief revenue officers (CROs) do to build their direct order automation (also known as programmatic premium) and programmatic selling business with trading desks and operating agencies?

PIRRONE: Hire knowledgeable sales talent focused solely on driving programmatic and private exchange opportunities and create interesting sales/inventory packages that showcase the advantages of your inventory.

SEARS: Why is direct deal automation (also known as programmatic premium) so important? Is it important?

PIRRONE: Deal automation should create process efficiencies that allow brands/agencies/pubs with more time to spend on strategic interaction about the advertisers initiatives. Further, programmatic premium allows a brand to be smarter with its direct media buy by allowing advertisers to layer on first party targeting/data/messaging across a media buy and optimize toward campaign goals.

Tell us a bit more about you:

SEARS: If you could travel for pleasure anywhere in the world, to a place you have never been, where would you go?

PIRRONE: Egypt and Turkey – must check out the pyramids and history along the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

SEARS: If you were trapped alone on a desert island and needed to choose one ad holding company CEO to accompany you, which CEO would you pick and why?

PIRRONE: Publicis Omnicom. Levy and Wren have the scale/brand partnerships to change the way business is done.

SEARS: When is the last time you went out for a three martini lunch?

PIRRONE: Never have.

Thanks Chris!

Jay Sears is Senior Vice President, Marketplace Development for the Rubicon Project. Sears worksJay Searswith leadership and business unit heads across the company to expand Rubicon Project’s potential market. Sears has also served as General Manager, REVV Buyer, where he was responsible for global relations with the buy side including ad holding companies, ad agencies, agency trading desks and demand side platforms headquartered in North America. Jay can be reached at

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