Episode 34: Wenda Harris Millard, Martha Stewart Living on Intelligent Marketing, The Go-Go Days and Food Trends

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Industry personality Wenda Harris Millard sits down with Susan to talk about her new role at MSLO, why she left Yahoo! and the heady days of launching an industry at DoubleClick. Wenda lays out sage career advice for those who really want to get ahead and talks about what she learned from her mentors in business. She tells us what one thing she'd change about the business world; defines her motto "Speed Kills;"  and explains why her MBA is not as important as her gut.

Wenda reviews the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia empire, showcases an example of an "intelligent marketing" program from Unilever's Dove pro.age, and talks about how Martha is a geek.  Now that she runs both editorial and advertising, Susan and Wenda discuss the fine line between product integration and shilling. She harks back to one of her favorite campaigns at Yahoo! where she was responsible for taking the sales team from $720 million in revenue to $6.5 billion in sales by "providing business solutions for marketers." Listen as she outlines the Nestle ProPlan dog food campaign that used behavioral modeling and database management to move share on a languishing brand.

Wenda regales us with two funny stories of the heady times at DoubleClick when there were thousands of people under 30 on her watch and the tricks they played on her. Then the conversation moves to food - one of DishyMix's most common themes. Wenda is cooking veal and artichoke stew; saffron rice; carrots salted just right and roasted pears with pepper and honey. Get the recipes at DishyMix.com along with the recap of the Top 5 Trends in Food for '08. 

Wenda reveals herself like never before and brings her experience and stories to this not-to-be-missed interview.

Transcript

Announcer: This program is brought to you by PersonalLifeMedia.com.

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Susan Bratton: Welcome to “Dishy Mix”. I’m your host, Susan Bratton. Hey, thanks for tuning in today.

On today’s show we have Wenda Harris Millard, practically a household name in the digital media industry. Wenda has been with Double Click as one of the founding executives. She has recently left Yahoo as the Chief Revenue Officer and is now the President of Media for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

On today’s show, before I bring her on, I want to let you know some of the things we’re going to talk about with Wenda. We are going to talk about food trends, intelligent  marketing programs according to Wenda, what it’s like to launch an industry, the importance of personal characteristics, why speed and decision making is critical and a little bit about doing good.

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Wenda Harris Millard: I don’t know whether you know this, Susan, but Martha is kind of a geek.

Susan: I do know that. I know she was a very early adopter of things like digital cameras and…

Wenda: That’s right. She was on the cover of “Wired” this summer. There’s a vision for this company, and it’s timeless and beautiful content in a very consistent mission in helping people live better lives and more beautiful lives every day. So I think that really leveraging the relationship that a company has with a consumer as we do with Martha’s readers, viewers, users in that way, that’s sort of how I think about intelligent marketing programs.

I just have an extraordinary example with a dog food that was a top line dog food that dog owners who bought this product absolutely loved it. They were wild about it, but the company could not move the share, and they were flummoxed. They came to us and said, “We think that you might be able to help us”. It took us five months to figure this out and put a program together, but we literally were THE company who moved share for this dog food.

[music]

Susan: Welcome, Wenda.

Wenda: Thank you so much, Susan. It’s great to be with you over the air here.

Susan: Absolutely. So, you recently left Yahoo. You’re at MSLO.

Wenda: Right.

Susan: And you’re now both in charge of expanding the digital space and cross platform opportunities for marketers as well as owning the editorial side of the world.

What’s the breadth of the properties? There’s print, online TV, radio. Do you also manage the book content?

Wenda: Yes. Actually, it’s two parts: there’s media and there’s merchandising, so I am the President for all things media which includes four magazines, 12 special interest magazines, many different websites including our flagship, marthastewart.com, and let’s see what else do we have. We have one, two, three, four daily television programs and more to come. And we have a book division as well as a channel on Sirius Radio where we program 14 hours of original programming every single day.

Susan: Wow. Fourteen hours.

Wenda: My voice gets really tired, by the way.

Susan: [laughs] So, what are the four TV shows?

Wenda: Well, we have our flagship, Martha Stewart Show, which is a daily syndicated show. We have Everyday Baking which we just launched as well as Everyday Food, and then we have on the DIY channel we have Martha Stewart’s Craft Show.

Susan: That sounds good. Is she doing all four of those shows?

Wenda: Well, much of what we do is Martha herself. Of course, her daily show is Martha. Our Everyday Food Show is done by the editors; several of them, about four, from “Everyday Food”. Then, Everyday Baking is John Baricelli who is our chief baker. And Martha Stewart Crafts is Martha. She does a lot, but we have a stable of talent here at the company, and we try to give Martha a break every once in a while.

Susan: Yeah. She’s incredibly prolific. I noticed also before my internet went down today from a massive rainstorm we’re having, I noticed that she’s also blogging and blogging pretty regularly.

Wenda: Well, every single day, she is obsessed with blogging. I don’t know whether you saw some of the pictures over the holidays.

Susan: I did.

Wenda: She is loving it. I don’t know whether you know this, Susan, but Martha is kind of a geek.

Susan: I do know that. I know she was a very early adopter of things like digital cameras and…

Wenda: That’s right. She was on the cover of “Wired” this summer.

Susan: Oh, no kidding. I didn’t see that.

Wenda: She went out to Cyfoo Camp at Google. I can’t build a digital empire for her fast enough.

Susan: Wow. That’s so great. And so that is one of the things that you’re chartered with, expanding the company’s presence in the digital space. What does that mean?

Wenda: Well, you know the company was the original Omnimedia Company, if you will. By that I mean that Martha started the company never as a magazine publishing company or broadcasting company. She was always very platform agnostic, and she always thought of herself as a content provider and not necessarily as a channel as many media companies do.

What I think we need to do now is to really leverage what it is that we know here at the company and expand the channels to include more digital. As I mentioned, we have marthastewart.com as our main site, but we have many other beautiful content areas.

We have a magazine, for example, called “Body and Soul”.

Susan: That was an acquisition, right?

Wenda: That was an acquisition, exactly, about three and a half years ago. That’s all about whole living. It’s a beautiful magazine, and we really need to build out that content more aggressively online. We have a great franchise in the weddings arena.

Susan: Oh, yeah.

Wenda: We’re going to do more with that. So, there’s a lot that we can do to take this expertise that this company has and apply it more vigorously in the digital world. That is one of the things the company wanted me to do.

Susan: One of the things I asked you about in preparing for the show today was, when you left Yahoo, why you went to MSLO. And you told me that one of the most interesting aspects of the opportunity, that it was kind of two fold. One was the opportunity to create intelligent marketing programs and secondarily the opportunity to run the content, the editorial, the programming side of the business which you hadn’t done at Yahoo.

You had done it in the past with – let’s see, gosh, I want to say some of them – you were SVP and publisher of Family Circle; you were EVP and group publisher of  Ad Week and Media Week and Brand Week; you were at Zif Davis during the ‘dot bomb’ times as Chief Internet Officer; so you have classic publishing history.

First of all, tell us about how you are juggling all of these things. How is it to take over the editorial side and what’s happening for you there? And then, let’s talk about some of the intelligent marketing ideas that you are bringing to MSLO.

Wenda: Sure. Well, I think probably in a nutshell I would say that the arguments that I have now are simply with myself. So, if advertising ever argues with edit, that argument now is just with me. It’s very exciting to have an opportunity to contribute so very broadly and then across multi media now, from radio to TV to digital to magazines and to books and the opportunity to really deliver what the consumer is looking for as well as the advertiser.

It is a lot of moving parts. It is a lot of pieces, but it is a company where we are very, very true to certain ideals about our brand and very consistent across any of the magazine titles or any of the digital or broadcast properties. There is a vision for this company and its timeless and beautiful content in a very consistent mission in helping people with better lives and more beautiful lives every day - the consistency, as I said, regardless of which product it is, whether it is “Body and Soul” or “Martha Stewart Weddings”.

It’s really a delight to have an opportunity to have a mission and a vision that’s so clear and yet can extend across so many products and please so many consumers and then please so many marketers. It’s loads and loads of fun.

Susan: What’s the most difficult decision you’ve had to make so far about a pull between advertising and editorial?

Wenda: Well, I think it’s really – because we live in an environment now where sort of the plethora of choice for marketers is so stunning, and that is because there is so much for the consumer to choose among, the marketers need to find ways to cut through the clutter to get more attention to connect rather than just reach the consumer.

I think the push for product integration, branded entertainment, whatever you like to call it; I think marketers want to push a little bit more than they have in the past. So, I think just knowing where to draw the line so that the consumer really understands what is commercial messaging and what is editorial messaging. Sort in that category of decision is when a marketer really wants to move too far, and it would be disruptive or intrusive on the consumer relationship. Those are always difficult.

Susan: Don’t you think the reality audio shows have really pushed that limit, including Martha’s show herself?

Wenda: Well, I think that what’s very important about many of these is how clear we are in terms of product integration, whether it’s a paid or non-paid spot. I think that the host of the show, whoever it is that is selling a product and I think selling is the right word – I think we always need a lot of clarity on there.

I know that when we do product integration on Martha’s show she tries very hard to make sure that people know that this is an advertiser’s product. I think we do it pretty well most of the time. I think there are times when it might come off as a little too commercial, and we are very concerned about that. We try to catch that every time.

On the other hand, when you have someone like Martha who absolutely will refuse many; many products who want her to do that, I think that she does lend an air of authenticity that many others who are kind of shilling don’t because Martha will turn down far more than she will do.

I think anybody can cross the line. It is easy to do, and it’s hard to monitor it all well. As I said, I think we try hard and I think most of the time we do a good job. We’re not perfect, but we’re certainly working at it because I think anybody in contemporary media today has to acknowledge that this is part of the way that business is done.

Susan: So, Wenda, one of the things I really want to hear from you about is how we can create intelligent marketing programs. Give us a really good example of one of your favorite programs that leverages so many of the channels at Martha Stewart?

Wenda: One that I’m particularly really, really quite happy about is called ‘Dove Pro-Age’. It’s a product that, you can find it, as a matter of fact, in the January issue of “Martha Stewart Living” where we created a lasting beauty advertorial, three pages on the Dove Pro-Age product. Then, we referred the reader to our website where they could get a product sample of Dove Pro-Age, and then Martha also did an integration on the television show.

She, her mother and her niece, Sophie, discussed three generations of beauty, and Pro-Age was worked into that conversation. So, I think really leveraging the relationship that a company has with a consumer as we do with Martha’s readers, viewers, users in that way that’s sort of how I think about an intelligent marketing program.

Susan: That’s a great example, Wenda. Thank you so much for telling us about that. I am constantly impressed with what Dove does in all of their work, so I’m glad that you had a chance to play with them on that brand, too.

We’re going to go to a break, and when we come back I want to go a little bit further back in your history and talk a bit about the Double Click and Yahoo experiences that you had and maybe some of the highlights of that. I know you have some great career advice for many of our listeners. We’ll go to a break, and when we come back we’ll talk about that.

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Susan: We’re back, and we’re with Wenda Harris Millard. She is the President of Media for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Before you were at Martha Stewart, you were at Yahoo. And before that, you really helped launch the industry at Double Click.

I’d like for you, Wenda, to take a little walk down memory lane, and just what were some of the amazing highlights? What was one of those ‘wow’ days for you in that job? Tell me about it.

Wenda: Oh, I think that at Yahoo I had a lot of ‘wow’ days – just the excitement of walking into a company that had been left for dead and knowing that its potential was as great as it was. I think moving that company from $720 million in revenue to $6.5 billion; that was a wow. We had a lot of wows on the numbers.

Probably what I was the most excited about in Yahoo was the area that was my responsibility which was advertising and really building a truly A+ team of people who really didn’t view their careers as selling advertising but really viewed what they did day in and day out as providing business solutions to marketing issues. I think that those were really, really the exciting moments when we really could solve a marketer’s problem. Those were the great days.

Susan: What problem did you solve the best for a marketer?

Wenda: For example, one that really… I just think it was an extraordinary example. It was a dog food that was a top line dog food that dog owners who bought this product absolutely loved it. They were wild about it, but the company could not move the share. They were flummoxed. They came to us and said, “We think that you might be able to help us”. It took us five months to figure this out and put a program together, but we literally were THE company who moved share for this dog food.

It sounds crazy. It’s almost funny, but there was no other media company that could do it, and it was tough. It was tough, but it was very, very exciting. We were literally providing a solution to a critical business problem.

Susan: What do you think it was in that program that made the difference?

Wenda: A lot of it had to do with behavioral modeling and database management. It was a very, very sophisticated program that required a lot of custom technology. Of course, we were able to use that custom technology later to scale this program for others, but it really was about behavioral modeling and then targeting and remarketing and really developing a significant relationship with their users online, with their customers online.

Susan: Very good.

Wenda: That to me is not selling advertising. That’s really solving a business problem.

Susan: I’m thinking it was Iams.

Wenda: It was not. It was ProPlan from Nestle.

Susan: Oh, Nestle ProPlan. OK. That’s good to know.

Wenda: That’s what my dog eats.

Susan: [laughs] OK. Now, I want to hear the most interesting Double Click story. It doesn’t have to be one even that you’re involved in. It could be one while you were at Double Click. I want to hear the best story of the crazy go-go days of the internet bubble. What do you remember?

Wenda: [laughs] How about 75 of them?

Susan: OK. Well, give me one; give me a really good one.

Wenda: All right. One I remember was at one of our very, very famous sales meetings. We were dealing with hundreds and then thousands of people under the age of 30. At a sales meeting, for many of them it was their first business trip away, and I was very nervous about sort of being the camp mom shepherding all these kids and hoping that everybody came back alive.

So, I had to have all of these rules about what you could and couldn’t do. One of the things was I didn’t want everybody to clean out their mini bars. That’s always a huge expense and just unnecessary. What I said to everybody as part of the rules is, “You are not allowed to have any of the liquor that is in your room, so you’re not to drink the liquor in your room”, in their mini bars.

A whole bunch of the people, I don’t know how they did this, literally removed the units, the refrigerator units from their room and brought them down to the pool so that they could drink the liquor but it wasn’t in their room.

Susan: Oh, good Lord.

Wenda: Because I had used the phrase ‘in your room’.

Susan: Yeah. They found the loophole.

Wenda: They simply took the mini bar, all of it, out of their rooms and brought them down by the pool, and then emptied the mini bars down there. There were so many crazy stories back then.

I remember another one where one of our senior executives, just a brilliant, brilliant young woman, working just crazy, crazy hours – we all were, it was nuts – coming across her one night at 8:30 just sitting in the middle of the hall sobbing just out of sheer exhaustion. I looked at her, and I started to laugh. Then, she started to laugh and the next thing you know all the doors are opening, people coming out. Everybody is half crying, half laughing just out of exhaustion, the sheer emotion of building an industry while you are building a company and all that that meant. How draining it was but coming across this executive just sitting in the middle of the floor sobbing. I just remember it as a funny sight.

Susan: Highly emotional times.

Wenda: Highly emotional times, you bet.

Susan: I also wanted you to think before this. You knew I wanted to ask this question today. I wanted you to just give one of those top three advice that you would give to people, not just women but men and women, in our industry who want to be successful.

What are the things that they should do?

Wenda: I think the top one on my list is usually become a student of this business. Know what it is that you’re involved with here. I know one of the things that is not a good idea is if you’re a seller, for example, in a digital space, then you shouldn’t just become an expert about digital advertising. You need to become an expert about advertising. You really, really need to read everything.

You need to become involved in important industry organizations where you meet thought leaders. Go to their lectures. Sit on committees and boards. One of the things that I believe in, that not everybody does but I do, is in your first dozen years of employment change jobs every few years so that you have exposure to large companies, medium-sized companies, start-ups, publicly held, privately held. Lots of different exposure in your first 10 or 12 years of work, I think, is a great idea. Being a sponge; being a student, and then also remembering that if you don’t love it don’t stay in it because passion is a great, great driver of success.

Susan: Well, I think you told me that when you worked with Kathy Black at Hearst Magazines. It was her passion that really stuck with you as a mentor. How did she exhibit that passion? How did you see that passion in action?

Wenda: Well, I think, you know, it really came out in the details. Kathy’s response to a piece of good news or bad news was never gratuitous. It was always, “Oh, I want to know more about that. Tell me how that happened or why that happened or what’s going to happen because of it? It’s genuine interest and involvement and thoughtful decision making but court decision making based on knowledge and experience and a love for moving forward.

Susan: Well, it’s funny because with Kathy getting deeper into something what she was actually doing was expanding her scope.

Wenda: That’s right.

Susan: Which was just the advice you gave everyone for having a successful career. Everything you said was expand your scope. Go listen to people. Read things. Look beyond your own business. It’s all about embracing a wider purview. I think that’s what I’m getting is really valuable to you.

Then, you mentioned speed. When I was asking you about what you think is, maybe, the most important aspect of the business world, the thing that you’d change if you could, it was about speed of decision making. When I asked you the one thing you would change about the business world, your answer to me was speed. Tell us about that.

Wenda: Well, everybody has their famous expressions, and one of mine is, “Speed kills if you don’t have it”. Look, I have an MBA, too, so I get the analysis thing. And I certainly like to inform my decisions with good data, and I like to be very thoughtful. But, you know, at a certain point you have two alternatives. If they both look pretty damn good, hold your nose and jump.

I think we do more analysis than we need to in many, many cases. We’re not relying on gut decisions based on our judgment, and after all we’re paid for our judgment. I think we can all move the ball forward faster if we trust ourselves more. I see an awful lot of people not having the confidence or trusting themselves enough so that the answer is always more analysis, more analysis, more analysis.

What I would ask is do you think that companies make more successful decisions about products or services that they launch or extend because they did more analysis? I don’t think so.

Susan: Me neither.

Wenda: I think we should trust our gut more.

Susan: I trust my gut. I know you do, too. And I think that’s one of the reasons you’re successful and you’re in a leadership position at all times.

I want to change subjects here because we’re almost out of time. I know you love to cook. I also saw from your bio that you’re on the James Beard Foundation on their board of advisors, or is it board of advisors or board of directors?

Wenda: This is the Board of Directors.

Susan: Board of Directors. So, tell us about cooking. We want a recipe. We want to know what you’re loving to cook right now. What books you’re reading about cooking?

Wenda: Oh my goodness. As Martha says, Wenda loves this because she lives the life, and I really do. I absolutely love to entertain, and I have been cooking, I think, since I was about seven. I have just been very, very passionate about food. I just absolutely love it. So, let’s see. I have people coming over tomorrow tonight. I am making a wonderful veal and artichoke stew.

Susan: That sounds good.

Wenda: And some Arborio rice timbale with saffron and some really wonderful roasted carrots with – you must have the best quality of olive oil and great salt, roast those babies. Then, I’m making some wonderful roasted pears with a little goat cheese and warmed honey and pepper. Do you want to come over?

Susan: I would love to. And what I’d also like, is to get the recipes for some of these things after the show, and I will post them on dishymix.com so anybody who wants to try this fabulous menu… What I love is that you outlined the whole menu because I can always come up with one or two things, but I like the whole thing with all the flavors, the colors. What I noticed is you’ve got the orange with the brown with the green.

Wenda: Oh, yeah.

Susan: The saffron perks it up, yeah. That’s the best thing yet.

Wenda: You noticed so you get this, too.

Susan: Oh, yeah. I am a Martha Stewart devotee, darling.

Wenda: There, you go.

Susan: I found something that I thought would be really fun. It’s the first of the year, and there are always predictions for the year. I found an article on five food trends for 2008, and one of them you mentioned it in what you were just telling us about your menu. Can you guess which one it was?

Wenda: Oh my goodness. Let’s see.

Susan: Of all the things that you said.

Wenda: A combination of – was it something I said about the combination of pepper on the pears?

Susan: But, it was close to that. It was the salt on the carrots.

Wenda: Oh, yes.

Susan: Apparently, there is a focus on salt. Upscale designer salts are going mainstream. They are going into all the main stores.

Do you want to guess what any of the other five food trends are to watch for 2008?

Wenda: Oh my goodness. Well, let’s see. We’ve gone through all the blueberries and the almonds and the broccoli.

Susan: That was Perricone. That was Perricone, right?

Wenda: Right. We are all moving toward healthier living in general, but I’m trying to think of anything specific. Salt and great quality olive oil are two of my secrets.

Susan: Yeah, extra virgin, EVOO, extra virgin olive oil. Well, I’ll tell you because I don’t want you to suffer too long. This is one woman’s opinion, but she said probiotics, the functional food trend with beneficial bacterias and prebiotics and postbiotics as additives, will go hand in hand with the opposite of that, which is the ungobbledy gooked label, the simplification of labels, chemicals coming out of our foods.

She also said that there will be a bottled water backlash.

Wenda: Oh, yes. That actually – I should have caught that. There will be. Yes.

Susan: As I sit here I’m drinking out of a SIGG water bottle, I have given up bottled water. I fill it up from my fountain, from my tap, from anybody’s tap. I drink out of cups. I do not make trash out of water bottles any more.

Wenda: Good for you.

Susan: It’s ridiculous.

Wenda: Yep.

Susan: We all have to stop that.

Wenda: That’s right.

Susan: And then, her next one was fair trade, fair trade foods which absolutely we’ve got to convert our coffees immediately to fair trade and in many products as we can find.

Wenda: Well, I think if some of those trends come true and we can see sort of the mass population adopting them, maybe we will have a better world.

Susan: It’s one more way we can make our every day living better. [laughs]

Wenda: You’ve got it. You’ve got it.

Susan: It’s been so nice to catch up with you. I could have asked you one million questions and gone on and on and on. You’re such a delight, so articulate. You have a great view of the world. It’s been really nice to have an opportunity for all of us to hear what’s happening with you today.

Wenda: Well, I enjoyed it so much. I say hello to everybody out there, and I wish everybody a wonderful, wonderful 2008.

Susan: Exactly. All right.

Well, you have just had the opportunity to get to know Wenda Harris Millard, the President of Media for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. That’s a hell of a mouthful, Wenda. That’s why they call it MSLO.

I want to let you know that we will have some delicious recipes for you from Wenda on dishymix.com, so you can go there if you would like to cook that veal stew or make those carrots. You can call me any time and leave a message for any one of our guests or for me with your opinions about anything at 206-350-5333.

If you’re a reader and not a listener, you are welcome to find the transcript to this show on personallifemedia.com. Have a great day. Thanks so much, Wenda.

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