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Media Mavens: The Innovid Interview with Sam Karow

Updated: Apr 10

Media Mavens: The Innovid Interview with Sam Karow

Editor’s Note: T

This Q&A is the latest installment in an occasional blog series where Innovid interviews industry thought leaders about their take on the future of advertising and media. 

Sam Karow is the President of Effective Marketing Communication, Inc., a Chicago-based company that specializes in media research, planning, buying, and measurement. He’s been in the media business for almost 30 years. Prior to running his own business, Sam worked for Leo Burnett, Starcom, the Chicago Creative Partnership, and other agencies, where worked on wide range of accounts including Miller Brewing, Kellogg’s and the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. He’s a big believer in the power of data and optimization to transform the effectiveness of advertising, misses “spill,” and is excited about the potential of CTV.   

Innovid: How did you get started in media strategy?

Sam Karow: I didn't know what media was when I started applying at Leo Burnett, whose media department eventually became Starcom. I just knew I wanted a job in advertising. Media was sort of where everybody started, and I found that I really enjoyed media planning. Media is so important. The wrong plan with the right ads is going to fail. It really starts with knowing who you're talking to, what makes them tick, and why they will (or will not) do what you want them to do. It’s about how to identify insights that are the drivers of engagement and conversion.

Innovid: What’s your sense of media strategy’s status as a discipline? 

Sam: For agencies and clients, media strategy has been underappreciated and misunderstood. Media was always the last 15 minutes of a client meeting. Or maybe we're already over time, and now it's the media team's turn to quickly try to say something. That was the old way. In some ways it feels that way hasn't changed; in other ways, we have a seat at the table, and we're getting the credit that we deserve. But to me there's still just not enough attention on how important it is to have the right media plan. 

Innovid: Compare the creativity necessary to build a media plan today to the creativity involved in developing ads. 

Sam: Media is a blend of art and science. You have to be scientific with all of the internet advertising data that has become readily available. Ideally, a media plan and a creative deliverable are written from the same brief. If we have a common understanding of what we're trying to do, then we can create amazing things. With a bad piece of creative, you can see that you could change out the logo, and it would work for another brand. It’s the same with media plans: you could cover up the name and say, Well, how is this flowchart different from that (competitor’s) flowchart? It matters a lot that the team building the media plan is a partner with the business and knows the business as well as the brand team.

Innovid: What are your own media habits? How would an advertiser reach you?

Sam: LinkedIn and Instagram. I read The Wall Street Journal on paper. I do watch subscription-based video, so there’s not much advertising there. If I'm going to go to a website, maybe from an Instagram ad, I see websites that are encouraging me to sign up for email or for a discount. I think it's a really great thing to say, ‘Hey, you came here from an ad, so you're showing us intent. Let's make this happen.’ It's amazing — once you have someone on the on the line like that — to convert them right away. Someone else had called that ‘an unplanned exploration.” And that's what you're trying to do in advertising these days: create unplanned explorations. And once you've done that, it's the brand's time to really close that sale.

Innovid: With increasing fragmentation, how has media strategy changed since you started in the business? 

Sam: There used to be a very heavy cross tab on consumer behavior. You were defining an audience based on interests, activities, beliefs, attitudes, media behavior, and purchase behavior. Then, you're looking at all these television networks and shows and magazines and trying to identify which ones have a higher index versus the average for your audience. You were hoping for a given environment to have 20% or 30% of your target audience and that was a good thing. You're still taking the other 70% to 80% that you didn't want, because you had to. Now, there's very little of that in the plans that we do. You're basically saying, ‘Here's how many of your people we can reach, and you're not gonna reach anybody else.’ This is 100% composition. The coverage part is a little bit dicey, because nobody can cover the way that  broadcast TV did. And so you're stuck with having to do lots of different things that add up to what you used to do in bigger chunks. It's more precise, but it's a little bit choppier. And what I think is missing is all of that 70% to 80% audience that you didn't want. You weren't really paying for it; it was free. It was called spill, and there was value in that. Now, there really is no spill. You're targeting who you want to target and no one else is seeing it. 

Innovid: Tell us about how you’re targeting audiences across linear, CTV, and digital video? 

Sam: We’re targeting audiences with native and display, audio, CTV, and digital out-of-home (DOOH). What's nice is that if you’re doing account-based marketing (ABM) for a B2B advertiser, you’re able to reach the C-level executives at a large company, if that's your target, in their living room on CTV as well. They've seen the ads on TV. Next, we’ll show these executives an online display ad and then get them to the website. That kind of coordinated campaign is really strong. This is a big deal for us in B2B, because prior to this with Hulu and others, we didn’t meet minimums — which are half a million bucks. It was just cost-prohibitive. Now with no minimum; it’s pay-as-you-go, and it works really well. 

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