Fast Chat: Rich Riley

Yahoo's Americas head talks post-Thompson strategy

Rich Riley recently stepped up to the post of Yahoo’s evp of Americas amid a larger company reorganization that placed the region’s media and advertising business under one umbrella. A month into his new gig—and days after CEO Scott Thompson, who engineered the reorganization, left the company—Riley sat down with Adweek to talk about the reorganization, the new Genome audience-buying platform, Social Bar, oh yeah, and Thompson’s departure.

Adweek: With Scott Thompson leaving Yahoo and Ross Levinsohn stepping in as interim CEO, what impact does that have on the Americas division?

Riley: We think this can be a very stabilizing event. We have a CEO who’s been in the business for a while, who obviously has a deep digital media background outside Yahoo and at Yahoo, and has also been part of our advertising business for a long time so he's very familiar with our advertisers and their needs. So we're really excited about that. The response from clients has been really, really positive in terms of Ross as our CEO. It also solves some of the sort of corporate-level issues with shareholders, etc. So what we really hope is we can see ourselves less in the headlines for corporate kind of things and really be focused on serving our customers and driving our business forward. And I think I speak for all Yahoos in saying we really want to focus on our customers. We can see the huge potential of the company, and we feel like we’re actually on the right path to realize it. So we prefer fewer distractions, and I think these changes will really help us get to stability, which is fantastic. So I’m excited about it.

Thompson wasn’t with the company long, but one of things he’d talk a lot about during earnings calls was putting the data Yahoo has to work in order to grow the business. The Genome audience-buying platform seems to be a major example of that, right?

Yahoo has always had a lot of data, partly because we have 700 million users, but most of them are registered users who log in because they’re coming to do email and things like that. So we have enormous amounts of data, and we’ve always thought there’s so much more we can do with this data to improve the consumer experience and the advertiser experience or results. Genome is really a major, major advance in how we use data. Buying Interclick, which has a [Open Segment Manager] engine as their technology stack, is built specifically to ingest massive amounts of data and then apply it in a real-time trading environment. So we’re taking the technology to the next level by bringing this technology into the company and now take their product to the next level by adding all of our data and access to all of our inventory. So when I think of data usage on the advertiser side, this is one of the most significant developments that we’ve ever had.

It seems like you guys are building out the ad tech stack that you have. What’s the big-picture plan?

We really offer a wide range of products to advertisers. At the high end we want to offer custom solutions and high-impact creative messaging. We of course have Genome for our data and targeting capabilities. We also have our branded content experiences, tentpoles and anchors, video, these kind of things. And then we also have search. So we’ve got this full range, and we’ve also got the Right Media Exchange. When we talk to an agency or advertiser, we can talk about everything from never-been-done-before custom channels and microsites all the way to them having a seat on our exchange and buying audiences in real time and everything in between. So it’s a very comprehensive offering, and our challenge is to craft that into solutions that meet an individual marketer’s needs.

Yahoo has traditional data from its own sites and from search, but within the past year or so, there are new data signals available through IntoNow, Livestand and the Social Bar. How do those factor in, potentially bringing more psychographic information?

The biggest datasets we have are registration data, behavioral data and search data. The other ones that you mention, like IntoNow for example, are still early stages in terms of what we do with that signal and how we use it. The way the Genome platform works is it’s really meant to ingest x-number of data signals and figure out which one is most relevant to this particular advertising campaign. So over time we hope to connect more and more plumbing, feeding the data into the targeting engines. And we do that on the consumer side too; we have our core technology, where we’re trying to provide an individualized consumer experience centered on showing you the content that you’re interested in. So we’re trying to use data across the business more and more.

Display advertising is a large chunk of your business, but Facebook and Google have eaten market share. How do you plan to address that?

It’s definitely the goal to win back market share and to take market share on a sustainable basis. I think the first thing we have to do is make sure we’re listening to our customers and have the right relationships with them to understand their needs and bring them ideas, bring them capabilities. And we’ve got to have the right advertising solutions to help meet those needs. That’s why we’ve launched things like Genome and other things in our product suite to be able to meet those objectives. And then we’ve got to execute and deliver against campaigns and provide the right analytics and the right research around those things. And I think if we do that and we’re meeting customers’ needs, you’re definitely in a ‘holding market share’ kind of situation. And then as more of our consumer innovations come out, and we’re engaging more consumers in innovative ways and deepening that engagement, things like IntoNow or Social Bar, which is the number one consumer application on Facebook. These are the kind of things that let us do new things for advertisers that haven’t been done before, and that’s really to me when you get into a ‘taking market share;’ you’ve earned a higher percentage of [advertisers’] spend when you’re bringing those sort of innovations to light.

You came into your position amid a larger company reorganization. How did you address the team and their charge going forward?

I’ve been at Yahoo for over 13 years, and most recently led a big turnaround of our European operations. And I view reorgs really as opportunities to reconnect and redefine how we work internally and making sure our advertiser-facing teams are synced up with our consumer-facing teams. How does that work, and how do we make sure as we’re designing new things for consumers that the advertiser perspective is included. So for me it’s a chance to rewire some things and improve on how we were doing it before. I think it’s a great chance to evolve the org. I don’t think we’ll make very substantial changes to the Americas work, like I said we’ve actually got some really good momentum, great talent, great relationships with clients. So my questions are more how can we accelerate that momentum, where can we fine-tune things to serve our clients better, but not to do any sort of massive org changes or otherwise anytime soon.

I imagine since stepping into the new role you’ve ramped up the frequency of conversations with advertisers and agencies over what they’re looking for. How have those talks been going?

I’ve met with a lot of advertisers and a lot of agencies, even today, and what’s great is universally they want to do more with Yahoo. They don’t want to be overly dependent on any one or two digital players. Most of them have longstanding relationships with Yahoo and truly want Yahoo to be a bigger part of their business than it is today. So that’s hugely encouraging. Most of our clients and agencies are not shy, and they have lots of constructive ideas for how we can do that. But the conversations are really, really positive. I walk out of all these meetings encouraged. It’s really a positive experience.

What are some of the trends you’re hearing in those meetings?

The demand is just off the charts, huge demand for video. We all feel like we haven’t figured out mobile yet, and we need to because you’ve seen the consumer usage is running way ahead of the industry’s ability to deliver advertising to it. So how do we figure that out is a common conversation. Everyone’s interested in social, obviously, and how does that fit into the mix. Back to video, right now is Upfront Week here [in New York], we had our NewFronts here. We were very, very proud of ours and had great feedback from it. But how do we continue to connect the dots between TV and video that’s online, how do you measure it, how do you talk about it, that kind of stuff. That’s a common conversation. Then you get into the whole world of audience solutions—Genome, trading desks, data—and into those more scientific technology conversations. So they really run the gamut, but there’s a lot of interest in all those things and there’s a lot going on. Each one of those is a pretty deep topic. Second screen. IntoNow is our offering there, and there’s a lot of excitement around that and advertisers want to amplify their TV spend and engage with consumers through that. So it’s those kinds of topics that come up in most meetings.