TWC’s Hecht: Avoiding The ‘Fight To Be Flat’ In Display

The Weather ChannelWhen the news was released that The Weather Channel had hired ad agency veteran Curt Hecht, the architect of Publicis Group’s VivaKi Nerve Center, arm of the company’s digital media buying operations and the hub of its trading desk operations, there was a bit of surprise about his move. After all, aside from the fact that his former VivaKi colleague David Kenny was named chairman and CEO in January, why would Hecht sign on to be global chief revenue officer of a media brand? It just seemed so far removed from his two decades on the client side.

In a conversation following his appearance at The Business Insider Mobile conference on Thursday morning, Hecht, an avid cyclist, explained his reasoning for taking on the newly-created role two weeks ago. He also discussed expanding The Weather Channel’s sales focus to take better advantage of programmatic buying.

AdExchanger: Why did you decide to make the move from VivaKi and the agency side, to the publisher side with The Weather Channel?

CH: It will be two weeks since I started. There were a couple of reasons I made the decision to join The Weather Channel. One, it seemed like a good time after 24 years in the agency business. And after working on clients, as well as helping set up VivaKi in 2008, for me, I’ve always felt a bit different in the agency world, in the sense that I’ve always leaned toward technology and products. It was a great opportunity to create the VivaKi Nerve Center and instill greater use of technology in the business.

But I always knew I was going to move back from Paris to the States. When you’re contemplating a big move, you start think about where you’re at. Plus, I think David would tell you that it was my suggestion that he go to The Weather Channel – it’s all my fault! – but it wasn’t with my intention that I would follow him there. But when he talked about what he was looking at, it eventually made sense for me as well.

I have to ask about yesterday’s big news about the launch of The Facebook Exchange, which does bring a higher degree of performance buying and real-time bidding to the site. As someone who helped agencies embrace the idea of trading desks, will ad exchanges and RTB play a greater role with The Weather Channel?

I actually have a meeting later on today and I don’t think I would have been hired if that was an area that The Weather Channel didn’t want to go. I don’t think I would have taken the job if that was an area it didn’t want to go! [Laughs]

A lot of publishers still haven’t embraced RTB to a great extent. So being on that side hasn’t changed your perception of programmatic buying?

Our view is that there is a split taking place in the market and we need to be on the leading side of it. We need to be more strategic, our premium needs to be more premium. For weather-first clients, we can do that, we can be a marketing platform, which means it’s less about banner ads and CPMs. And if it is about that, we need to be best in class when it comes to programmatic.

In looking at that split in the marketplace, there’s a middle that is just fighting to keep their revenue flat by selling banner ads. Of course, there’s going to be volume that we need to move. But you’ll see a shift in two directions: stronger automation and letting our salesforce be more strategic. Both of which will take the pressure off the fight to be flat in display advertising.

Part of me joining The Weather Channel is related to my long history working on deep, strategic relationships with some of the world’s largest clients and a deep knowledge of the programmatic side. It’s a great opportunity for me to focus on those two areas and drive greater growth.

As someone who’s largely seen as a tech and advertising person, how do you relate to The Weather Channel?

I’m actually a weather enthusiast. I’m a cyclist, I’m passionate about it, and I’m Exhibit A when you’re talking about someone who uses the product a lot. You want to work for a company where you connect with the brand, because it brings out better creativity.

There would seem to be a lot of tech startups, Silicon Valley companies, that would appear to be a good fit for me. But  the reality is that weather is a good place for me, because it has products, it has engineering, they see clients and David allowed the organizational structure to go where it should go: you have the sales force and you have ad products and you have ad tech. All of which brings my past roles together. For example, at VivaKi, I had the tech, but I didn’t have the clients. Now I have both, plus greater control – which is also a good thing.

So what areas will you focus on as CRO?

In the first two weeks, I have seen four or five of the world’s largest marketers that we have relationships with. Seeing clients and managing revenue is always top of mind. But what I’m trying to do from strategic perspectives is really have them think about the brand, as they would search or social.

For certain marketers and certain categories, be it automotive, retail, insurance, financial services, weather matters every day. It matters in terms of the products they sell. Moms think about the clothes their kids are going to wear. We have to position the brand that we may be more important to them than search.

So who is The Weather Channel’s audience – the company cites Frank N. Magid stats of 163 million undifferentiated viewers across various platforms – and how should marketers reach them? For example, I check the mobile apps on my phone and tablet often, but I hardly ever look at the site or the TV channel. Are there two audiences?

There are two core groups of people who matter to us: one is the weather junkie, someone who needs to know what’s going on regularly and will take it on any screen. And for a big part of the population, cable is the main screen for them. But you’ll also see that we’re changing the programming strategy and having more long-form shows coming on. It’s more about showcasing the connection of weather and how people do their jobs. There’s greater investment on the programming side. Going into this year’s upfront, we’re seeing good receptivity from the agencies and marketers, who are saying, “You really are about more things than before.”

But there is another audience where the different screens matter differently. Moms just want to pick up their phone and see immediately what’s imminent so they can decide what the kids will wear today. The good news for us is that we’ll be wherever people need us to be.

Does that narrow things a bit for advertisers, by having this bifurcated audience?

It offers us more flexibility, which is a good thing. There are certainly marketers that want to be on all screens. We can sell from a reach perspective, in terms of audience size, and from a lifestyle perspective for those brands who want a connection between what they offer and the weather.

Mobile is a good lead for some companies, who may not have thought of the brand this way. For example, for athletes, as well as moms, weather is important. And advertisers have the chance to capture them and their attention by working with us.

In looking at The Weather Channel’s value, people look to Facebook for social, Google for search, based on our success in mobile in terms of distribution on all major devices, and our audience size and our strength in local advertising on up, I feel like people should be calling us up and asking, “How did you do that?”

By David Kaplan

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