This interview was first in the Podcast Business Journal newsletter, with the latest podcast news and data. Subscribe free today.
Greg Glenday is Chief Business Officer at Acast — this interview has been lightly edited for style and readability
Greg spoke to Sam Sethi in the Podnews Weekly Review podcast, where you can listen to a longer audio version.
SS: What is a chief business officer?
GG: If you were to combine strategy, revenue and content into one role - that’s what the chief business officer means at Acast. I look after global revenue, all the managing directors around the world, with a focus on our revenue strategy and our creator network.
SS: I’ve worked in large corporate companies before and that sounds to me like a matrix: lots of people reporting countrywide to you but also into their own country. Is it a matrix role?
GG: I know the matrix term for a lot of companies has gotten some negative connotations. I just went through a presentation this morning with each market’s head of sales giving their pitch, and run through the nuances in each country. I like the idea of a center of excellence globally and then the ability for each market to localize based on their needs. The type of listeners and content in each market are very different, based on our maturity; so this gives us the ability to be much more nimble in market. So the answer is yes, but I mean in the most positive way. You can think of a matrix organization.
SS: Given your new role, what are your first objectives?
GG: I was lucky enough to start in August when things are a little quieter on the advertising front and when you have a big global matrix organization, there’s a lot to learn. I’ve been following podcasting for a long time. I’ve been a fan of media and entertainment forever, so I understand what’s going on in the marketplace. But meeting all the talent, getting to know everybody I’ve seen in the first three weeks and immersing myself in the company, the processes, all the great things they’re doing, that was great. I had the US Labor Day weekend as a pin in my calendar, where I’m coming out of the gates from internal to external. So I’ll go from 10% external to hopefully closer to 90% external.
SS: One of the things that’s public domain is that Acast is not yet profitable. Now you’ve had a really hard twelve months; you’ve had some layoffs, but you’ve had some amazing wins as well - conversational marketing has been a really good product. But, the market’s screaming at you profitability, profitability, profitability. 2024 is when you said you’re going to do it. How are you going to achieve it?
GG: I’m trying to keep a fresh set of eyes as long as I can. Eventually, you become an insider and I’ll become an Acaster and it’ll be too late, but I’m trying to keep that fresh perspective. A couple of roles I’ve had have been very similar where the goal is profitability, but every situation’s different. If you look at our Q2 results, top-line revenue is growing. A lot of companies start thinking about cost discipline. They do that because they have to. But we believe that it’s not one or the other - growth or savings - it’s both, and I think we can think about the future as revenue continues to grow. Double digit growth is very valuable in advertising. Right now there’s a lot of media companies that would kill for single digit growth. A lot of people are flat. We have more revenue, more people discovering podcasting. It’s not just our current advertisers spending more, it’s new brands, new people discovering the medium. So as that continues to grow, we just want to apply a little bit of discipline on the cost side so that it’s not buying growth. As more people find our industry, and we’re the best partner with the most open ecosystem, I think that’s going to set us up and the costs take care of themselves. So I don’t believe in saving your way to prosperity. I think we have to have discipline, but we’re really still focused on growth.
SS: One of the big announcements you made this week was that you’re going to be dropping any campaign using Spotify Ad Analytics. You’re focusing with your partner, Podscribe, which is great. It really puts Spotify, the closed podcast ecosystem, up against the open ecosystem. Is that how you see it internally, or is it just us in the press looking for a dogfight?
GG: I think this is a great decision. I’ve talked to some advertisers that have been using Spotify Ad Analytics, and they completely get it. I think anybody who didn’t get it probably misunderstood the announcement. We’re not exclusive with Podscribe, we’re not saying this is the only thing - we just want to be open. One of the things that’s non-negotiable at Acast is that we are that open ecosystem, and we want to be the good guys that are impartial and agnostic, and it’s really hard to say that when you have one publisher that’s controlling it, it just never works. I’ve worked in a lot of places where we’ve spent a lot of money on measurement internally and brands, advertisers, at some point they don’t want you to grade your own homework. If there’s anything that needs to be at arm’s distance, it’s attribution and measurement. It’s not really a shot at anybody, it’s just we have to live our principles of being agnostic and open.
SS: The other elephant in the room is Apple, and Apple announced last week a massive beef up of their analytics - all in house, all proprietary to Apple? How does that fit in with Acast?
GG: Yeah, the ultimate closed network! We have a great partnership with Apple. Most of the listening takes place on Apple Podcasts for us. I think the platforms and the individual Spotify, Apple, etc: they’re all going to have their own analytics - they’re going to evolve and get better and smarter and that’s great for the industry if they’re able to do that. We have to remain open and it has to work across all of Acast for our market story to really make sense, and for us to have credibility.
SS: One of the things in your title is global, which means that you’re going to be looking beyond the typical US, uk markets. We’ve seen some good growth for new Acast operations in Mexico, across Europe, in Australia, across the Far East beginning to happen. India, anything in there? Other markets?
GG: We have 14 non-US markets that expand beyond just their home market in some cases. It’s kind of funny to think of the US as an emerging market, but we’re just getting started here really - that ship coming out of the fog analogy that we like to talk about here, that we know how to do it elsewhere in the UK, or we’re so much further ahead there. So how do we defend that hill, and what do we need to do? How do we innovate to defend that as opposed to innovating to grow, and how do the customers behave? A long answer to your short question, I guess. Anywhere where there’s population, and podcasting is starting to gain traction, we want to be there first and early, so we’re open to everywhere. In this case, finding content costs time and money and local market expertise, but we’re set up to do it better than anybody.
SS: Where do you think advertising will go in 2024? We’ve had the dip. Will we see the rise, or will it just flat line again or dip again?
GG: I’ve been selling advertising since the mid 90s. I know we say this every year, but this does feel like the fastest rate of change everywhere. You know, companies come and go - all of a sudden there’s a platform that’s must-buy. I think if you’re a brand right now, things change quickly. I’ve got kids and they’re in three different generations. My seven year-old, my 18 year old, has really nothing in common with the 14 year old as far as how they consume and what they think about. So from a crystal ball standpoint, I think advertising is fine, but I think money is going to shift. I think some of the traditional media owners money is going to get dispersed and it’s going to be much more of a meritocracy. So it’s not going to come down to three networks and who’s got the best relationships with the CMOs. It’s going to come down to who has the intention, the scale and the engagement. We’re going to be a very good place for a brand to build. When the big brands come over here and say - you know what, this is a way for us to participate in the water-cooler cultural conversations at scale on an individual basis. It’s kind of the holy grail for advertising. So I think we’re going to be in great shape as an industry. I think Acast is particularly positioned very well. Whether advertising dips or grows, we want to be there to receive it when they’re ready.
SS: One of the hats you wear is a product hat. What sort of products can we expect out of Acast? I’m the first to say that the conversation targeting that you did was brilliant because it allows you to elevate out from a podcast core content that could be missed by most brands because they would just be categorized in a different, wrong way. But where else will you take it?
GG: I talked about listening to the customer. You don’t do everything they say would make their lives easier, because they’re going to say lower rates and give us more stuff for free and all that kind of stuff. But what are the problems they have? Our product team is really, really awesome, and so when we come back and say, look, here are the 10 big problems that advertisers have before they will open up more budgets for podcasting - well, those 10 problems become the thing on our whiteboard that we start working to solve. So being able to take quality at scale. For the first time ever, I feel like I can put both of those things together. How do we take this high quality environment that Acast has and scale it? How do we use these tools? Like you said, is it transcription? Is it being able to do sponsor live reads at scale, as opposed to where you don’t have to have a human being? If we’ve got close to 100,000 shows, I want to get to a place where you could buy 20,000 shows with live reads and quality control and using technology to make it easier to do a better job. I used to cringe when I was just a podcast fan, when I started hearing these kind of radio ads that were like the screaming car dealer or the mattress firm. Let’s not do that to podcasting. It’s the intimacy - what podcasting has is special. Everything you’re going to see from us is around quality at scale.
SS: Welcome on board to Acast. Congratulations on your new role. It’s an exciting role. I look forward to meeting you in person, hopefully at some point soon.
GG: Thank you so much for having me. This was wonderful.
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