AD 2 Dallas & AAF Dallas Social Spotlight: Christopher Stanger

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Christopher Stanger, Executive Director at Hearts & Science, grew up in a literal one-stoplight town called Doylestown near Cleveland, Ohio but moved to Dallas a few years ago after living in New York with his family for 13 years. He received his B.S. degree in Advertising from Kent University, after switching from different majors like architecture ad graphic design. Learn more about Christopher and his career as an Executive Director.

Learn more about Chris and his career.


What was your first job after graduating and what from that role did you learn that influences your job now?

As virtually all modern music is inspired by love, my wife (then girlfriend) moved to NYC after college and it inspired me to move too (I hope she reads this!  Also, TMI?!). I was visiting her for New Year’s and thought “what the hell, I’ll bring my resume, my portfolio, and a suit and see what happens.”  I had two interviews, two job offers, and ultimately took the Assistant Media Planner job at Ogilvy & Mather which paid less but included the opportunity to work on an amazing brand like IBM.  Very early in my career, I was virtually forced to learn all angles of the media business which no doubt helped me get to where I am today.  The most important learnings that I continue to apply today are to cut through the noise, prioritize what matters, be resourceful, and deliver on your promises.

What skills are most important when working in media? 

Media has come a long way from standard activation of “spots & dots.”  In my mind, the required skills are a really a unique blend of various functions.  We’re data and tech savvy, understanding today’s capabilities and the art of the possible across digital channels such as social and programmatic.  We’re as comfortable participating in a discussion about communications and creative as we are media.  We understand the nuances of the client’s business and that of their competitors, constantly seeking whitespace opportunities where our clients can shine.  We’re constantly curious, looking to answer the questions of “Who?  What?  Why?  When?  Where?  How?  How much?”  We’re relationship- and results-driven people who contribute to strategic thinking beyond media.  We succeed through analytical thinking, ingenuity, attention to detail, and accountability in our successes and failures alike.  We’re always learning and applying the implications to subsequent work.

Are there any misconceptions about working in the media industry?

Yes, mostly that we take three-martini lunches or hoard a pile of Cowboys tickets. For some reason, I still get random people calling me for tickets, but that’s not the media industry of today. I can’t understate how data-driven and strategic the industry has become. The media industry has become much more than buying and reporting. Today, we’re sitting on a wealth of data that drives insight around things like audiences and the path to purchase, and that can make the media person very popular with strategy and creative folks, alike. The convergence of media and creative is real, and I’m excited to be at the forefront of that at an agency like Hearts & Science.

What advice do you have for young professionals who might be interested in the media industry? 

I think it’s the most interesting place to be in the industry right now.  For those who are interested in media, it can be overwhelming to narrow an area of expertise.  I’d start with an honest audit of your skillsets and passions.  If you’re strong in statistical modeling and reasoning, marketing science is a fantastic place to begin.  If you’re a power-user of social media and ahead of the product curve with platforms like Facebook and Instagram, then start in social.  If you’re highly-organized and want a broad view of the business, look for a role in strategy.  At the end of the day, don’t feel like your first role will be indicative of your career.  Start where you can add the most value in the short term, pay close attention to the disciplines around you, and then apply your skills in a new discipline if you choose.  

Can you give an overview of what Heart & Science provide for its clients?

Hearts & Science is more than a media agency.  We’re a data-driven marketing agency built on the principles of CRM, building relationships between brands and people that are deeper, more meaningful, and reciprocal.  We’re as comfortable building a data and technology ecosystem that fuels performance media as we are driving a creative brief or branded content program.  And those things aren’t always mutually exclusive—when they come together as complementary pieces of the puzzle, it’s amazing to see. Beyond that, we’re leading the way in thought leadership for important issues such as the evolving media landscape, brand safety, and emerging technologies that are constantly shaping the way we engage with consumers.

How far out do you plan for your media strategies, and is there a “sweet-spot” in terms of campaign duration? 

It’s a balance between thoughtful research and quick activation.  For an integrated campaign built from scratch where we’re working to identify the business opportunity, the core audiences, environments, and messaging alignment—it can take as long as 2-3 months to deliver a quality, insight-driven strategy.  On the flipside, we’ve adopted a rapid-response model where we can be in market in as little as a day to capitalize on a time-sensitive signal or opportunity.

Campaign duration depends, as well.  How long is the purchase process for a given product or service?  The longer the process, the longer the campaign should be in market to push prospects through path of awareness, education, consideration, intent, and purchase.  The shorter the process, the less time you might need for a campaign to resonate and drive results. 
 

A gray area in media can sometimes be interpreting numbers and stats to generated ROI for a corporation. How does your company help communicate campaign success rates to your clients?

That’s a great question, and it’s something that’s always top-of-mind as we’re building our strategy and measurement plan.  At the end of the day, we’re looking to drive incremental outcomes.  It’s easy to fall in love with lower-funnel support such as remarketing and brand search because it’s constantly capturing in-market audiences with a high propensity to buy now.  But if we didn’t market to those audiences at all, a good percentage of them are likely to buy anyway.  As a result, we’re constantly looking to design the right test-and-control methodologies, as well as deploying tools such as multi-touch attribution to quantify the incremental impact of advertising.  In a lot of cases, we find that we’re investing too much at the bottom of the funnel and that, by balancing our mix, we can improve bottom-line sales by shifting more investment to the upper-funnel where we can stimulate new demand.

One of your clients is AT&T Business. How do you create an effective media strategy for a brand with a broad, global target audience?

It’s interesting, because most people think that AT&T Business has a broad audience via their personal association to AT&T’s consumer offerings in the mobility and entertainment world.  But AT&T Business has a very defined target of Technology Decision Makers across an array of businesses—from Small Business all the way up to Enterprise.  Also, AT&T Business offers much more than mobility services.  AT&T Business has a fantastic Fiber network, and they’re massive players in the Strategic Services space, selling world-class solutions for Cybersecurity, Networking, and IOT.  

Given the breadth of AT&T Business’ solution portfolio, we ultimately have multiple strategies in market at any given time.  Going back to something I mentioned earlier, we’re constantly triangulating the insights behind the “Who?  What?  Why?  When?  Where?  How?  How much?”  For each solution, we’re monitoring triggers that would indicate a company is demonstrating interest in a solution that AT&T offers.  From there, we can cut the audiences by other indicators such as industry vertical to better align the messaging in terms of functional RTBs and use cases.  It all manifests itself in an integrated media and creative strategy that takes prospects through a journey of brand communication that steadily resolves to a stronger call-to-action once we find that an audience is ready to transact.

There’s also a host of performance levers being pulled in between, such as recency, frequency, and bid optimizations—but I don’t want to bore you with that.

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Do you have any predictions on media trends for 2019? 

A couple, and honestly, I think these are more about the convergence between media and messaging.  The first is that we’ll see a rapid increase in addressability and personalization.  As our culture continues to embrace the attributes that make us unique as individuals, it’s increasingly important for brands to connect on a much more personal and emotional level.  The brands that successfully align with our own self identities will win more than their fair share of hearts and minds.

The second is around the way in which brands show up on connected devices.  Net attention on these devices is incredibly low, and the industry will improve the way in which we engage consumers in these environments.  There’s already been some progress made in this area, but rather than trans-creating standard linear or digital assets, we’ll see an improvement in user experience design that couples engaging media moments with thumb-stopping creative activation.

What is the best advice you have received in your career? 

To always choose the difficult path.  I think that manifests itself in a couple of ways.  First, be willing to sacrifice your personal time and energy to branch into new territories of your business.  You might be a seasoned pro in one or two facets, but when the opportunity arises to roll-up your sleeves for something new like a pitch or a side project, do it.  I promise that you’ll walk away a more well-rounded and valuable professional than before, and that canceled weekend trip to Austin will be totally worth it.  The second is to get out of your comfort zone.  I think that aligns with my first answer in some ways, but for me personally, that meant being more vocal and assertive.  As someone who’s an introvert at heart, that can be difficult.  But don’t be afraid to trust your experience and instincts and SPEAK UP.  As people hear and acknowledge the intelligent things you have to say, your confidence will grow and grow.

The BIG question – in your opinion, is placing a Super Bowl Ad worth the money? 

I’m not a fan of this answer, but it depends.  As we all know, a Super Bowl spot is pricey, so the calculus must be taken seriously.  What are you selling?  How large is your target audience?  Do your competitors tend to run a Super Bowl spot, or is it a whitespace opportunity?  There’s no doubt that the Super Bowl is appointment viewing and represents an enormous reach opportunity, but is your remaining budget large enough to sustain continuity throughout the year?  If your brand awareness is already high you can’t expect the Super Bowl to move the needle much more, so does your modeling suggest it will drive a short-term lift in sales?  Is that lift significant enough to drive a positive ROI relative to the $5MM media investment, not to mention the cost to produce the spot?  Scarier yet, if you don’t run a Super Bowl spot and your competitors do, will they see a short-term lift in sales at your expense?

You can see why it’s so difficult to answer.  If you have the right business context and inputs, it’s slightly easier, but not much.  At the end of the day, these are the types of challenges that make the media space so interesting and rewarding.