Video Chat: Are Advertisers "Sheltering in Place"? Engine Group's John Ruvolo Weighs In

Video Chat: Are Advertisers "Sheltering in Place"? Engine Group's John Ruvolo Weighs In

Advertisers may be entering a phase of caution – shelter in place, so to speak – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity to expand existing business, and win new relationships with brands who are uniquely suited to grow right now. As SVP of Sales at Engine Group, John Ruvolo is on the front lines of pivoting new business efforts to align with the industry’s current mood, and he (virtually) sat down with Winmo CEO Dave Currie to relay his thoughts on how vendors are adjusting, and how they can double down on existing client business and calibrate their outbound approach to maximize results in the coming days.

Table of Contents:

  1. How is what is happening on the client-side affecting your agency? (00:53)
  2. What are some of the innovative actions agencies are taking to produce for their clients? (2:20)
  3. What are you doing differently? (3:43)
  4. Are you starting to see budgets change for ad spend for example? (6:42)
  5. Where did you get your office chair? (8:48)
  6. How is your team keeping up with changing KPI’s?

Dave Currie: Hey, John. Good morning.

John Ruvolo: Good morning, Dave. How are you doing?

Currie: I’m doing great. Thanks for joining me on this call this morning. Just a quick couple of minute interview to find out what’s happening at Engine Group. So if you wouldn’t mind just telling the audience here who you are, what you do, and we can just jump into some basic questions.

Ruvolo: Sure. I’m John Ruvolo. I’m the Chief Sales Officer at Engine. We operate a number of different businesses from ad tech to creative agency services to consumer insights and research. So we see a pretty good slice of the market and interact not only with publishers but advertisers and agencies. We’re all in this together right now, as it were, and we’re in the same position that you are.

Currie: Right. Well, I think one of the things that are top of mind with everyone is what’s happening on the client-side and how is that affecting the agency? So maybe some of the categories in which you guys have a good depth of experience, and then what you’re seeing as client’s request to come through…

Ruvolo: Yeah, I think we’re seeing what a lot of other folks are seeing in terms of the near and immediate hits to travel, brick and mortar retail, QSRs, any type of theatrical release. Obviously, a lot of them are being delayed or they’re making the hard decision to do the digital distribution. I think the ones who see immediate danger in the lockdown, anybody who’s using location data, drive to store campaigns, those have been paused or canceled.

We’re seeing right now is a lot of exploration of options, lot of thinking, a lot of evaluation of how long does this last, and is Q2 written off? We’re not sure. We haven’t necessarily seen new business conversations die off for the second half, but we’re certainly seeing a pause and a wait and see approach for things that are in at least April and May. Right now, those conversations are definitely delayed.

Currie: So John, what are some of the actions that the agency’s taking in terms of going back to clients with innovative ideas, ways to structure the business, campaigns that can continue to move forward, moving from brick and mortar to digital, obviously, for customer acquisition..

Ruvolo: Yeah. So I think those conversations definitely are ongoing, which is, “Hey, how can we reshape your messaging to better fit the moment?” Which it’s really important. And being empathetic, obviously, you read all the articles, and I’ve never seen such a proliferation of webinars in my entire life. I want to call this webinar Wednesday. I literally had six invitations for webinars going on today, all of them being called webinar Wednesday.

There are a couple of things that are happening. Best practices during this type of moment, it’s almost like every conference ever was just consolidated across tens of thousands of people in the industry. So best practices get communicated very, very quickly, which is good. But it’s also bad too because it creates a lot of noise and it’s an equalizer, so now you have to differentiate yourself in other ways because I think the best practices get adopted and the playbook gets adopted very quickly.

Currie: Well, what are you guys doing differently? If there are one or two things that you’ve realized, “Hey, we need to be doing things. We need to pivot today.”

Ruvolo: It’s not necessarily different, but it’s definitely accelerated what we’re doing at Engine, which is we’re at a moment right now where the world is experiencing this together, and consumer attitudes and behaviors certainly have been forcibly changed, and that’s going to have a downstream effect. Engine, we’re lucky we’ve got an insights group that does nothing but consumer behavior, insight, segmentation. And that was something that we always talked about as adjacent to our media executions, but now we’re seeing that it’s so much more important actually to be rethinking some of the segmentation, some of the targeting, that our clients are using.

And so, we’re moving our businesses and our practices together much faster than we would have by necessity, because a lot of the preconceived notions, data sets, targeting approaches, may not be relevant. And so, we’re activating across the different, I would say, disciplines a lot more than we had been in the past. And that’s exciting for me because that was always one of the reasons why I came to Engine in the first place.

Currie: The people that have been in perhaps new relationships are a little bit more challenging to establish right now, but what are some of the things you and the team in the sales and business development organization are doing to keep the relationships that you’ve already established? You just mentioned the insights group, are you packaging that up and handing that off?

Ruvolo: I would say the primary seller is still taking the lead. And I think you bring up a really good point that this type of environment certainly supports the incumbent. When you raise the risk level for everybody right now, the tendency is to sit in place, shelter in place, right? And so, as a challenger brand trying to break in there and displace an incumbent, it’s very difficult. So that means that smart businesses are going to try and retain and put their arms around their best customers and double down on that and start potentially offering more value cross-selling different solutions then.

If you’re a company that’s looking to grow quickly, I think your solution needs to be very much tailored to the time and presents more benefits than whatever risk of attempting a new relationship with a new partner presents. Yeah, that’s a good question. I would say we’re mostly focused on, obviously, trying to close new business and have new conversations, but I think the conversations with our existing clients are definitely more or broader with what we can do for them in these troubled times. As opposed to as focused as they may have been on one discipline or another.

Currie: I’ve been doing a lot of researching and using Winmo to go in and look at where ad spend, specifically digital ad spend and social spend, is spiking unusually with companies servicing that at-home market. A couple of those examples spending a lot of money – offices. This morning I posted something about MasterClass. There’s a hundred percent increase in digital ad spend also supported by Facebook. Do you guys have clients that are bucking the trend and they’re not the shelter in place or conversations around that? I mean, it’s obviously a bit early, but you were starting to see those budgets move?

Ruvolo: So it’s interesting. You start to see the benefit of operating a platform like a Facebook or a Google where people can change quickly and reinvest. So we haven’t seen necessarily the spikes in those sectors yet, because it is somewhat early days. But just from being a consumer and in the ad space, looking at my Instagram feed or my Facebook feed or my Twitter feed and seeing the messaging there and understanding how they got there. I was like, “Oh wow, they know people are going to be sitting in front of their screens at home. Let’s teach them, French.” It has been interesting to see that shift, and also the reduction in some of the other categories that I used to see as well. Getting out there, tourism, skiing. I like to ski a lot, I used to get a ton of ski ads for everything and those are gone.

Currie: Right. Likewise, my Epic Pass failed, right? This year we get a couple of days in there at the end of the season, that was it.

Ruvolo: Yep. So it has been interesting to see that certain… I just ordered a new office chair, because my existing one is 10 years old and my back’s killing me.

Currie: I’m very curious, where did you order that office chair, and why did you order it from that retailer versus someone else?

Ruvolo: So I ordered it from Amazon, and instead of taking two days, it took a week. It apparently arrives today, so I’m super excited.

Currie: We’ll have to do another recording and check out your new office chair.

Ruvolo: Well, my back will be better, because I don’t know about you, but what has changed is I am much more sedentary.

Currie: At the office, I’ll get a standing desk. So let’s pivot a little bit and talk about how your team’s work differently. I mean, we’re all part of this new logistics challenge. How are you keeping your KPIs on sales, pipeline velocity, touchpoints? What are the KPIs that you guys might use, and how frequently you’re looking at those?

Ruvolo: Yeah. Empathy is the word externally and internally, right? So looking at how the first week at home affected our outbound activity. It certainly did. It was down pretty dramatically from the prior weeks where we had people going out and having meetings.

Currie: Understandably so. We are trying to figure out where am I going to sit at home? Let alone how am I going to do my job?

Ruvolo: Yeah. So definitely an adjustment week, right? And that’s not the moment where sales management needs to jump in and stomp on anybody. Because a lot of the emails were just checking in on our clients, saying, “Hey, how you doing?” So I think there’s got to be an adjustment period. The metrics haven’t changed. Those meetings that we used to have in person, we used to track whether or not it was a face-to-face meeting or a scheduled phone call, a scheduled Zoom. And those will just go up, and they have, obviously. There are no more face-to-face customer meetings.

I expect that in this last week and this week period it’ll be checking in with our customers, understanding how they’re doing. A number of our buyers, we have people who are affected by this. They have someone they know who is sick, they have people that they know who are being hospitalized. It’s not an academic thing, so we definitely need to be empathetic and understand that somebody may have their kids next to them on these calls and they’re doing three different things at once. But I think you’ll see normalization, if not this week, next week, where we’ve all adjusted and we’re getting direction from our various clients and there are new problems to solve. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

Currie: Well, John, it’s been great to catch up with you for a few minutes here. I’m sure there’s a lot of people interested to hear your perspective and that of others in the marketplace who are in similar positions. So, thanks for the candor. I mean, I really appreciate it, I know that our audience, our customer base, certainly will.

Ruvolo: Well, I guess I would vote to put a plug for you guys has been a big tool that we’ve been using amongst others, and continues to be even more important as we can’t rely on a face-to-face engagement to get that information. And certainly, on the market and seeing who’s spending. I sent out your email yesterday about the DTC and how they’ve been spiking, certain categories have been spiking. So it’s been really, really helpful. And I just wish you and the team over there a lot of good luck and we’ll be in touch.

Currie: Well, thanks, John. And just before we sign off, I appreciate that comment, or in addition to that, one of the things I think to make sure that you and your team are thinking about over the next month or so is just using us to audit existing databases as we start to see people moving out of the industry, potentially. There’s going to be a lot of job changes, a lot of functional changes, headcount changes, within both brands and agencies. We’re doing our best, we’ve doubled our efforts to be able to make those changes. So thinking jump ahead a month, some of that refresh is going to have to happen, unfortunately, for those in the marketplace, but it’s going to be one of those realities.

Ruvolo: Yeah. That’s good advice. And we’ll be up on that and I’ll give that direction. But good to see you again Dave.

Currie: Thanks, John.

Ruvolo: Okay, good luck.

Currie: Bye now.


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