Vince Thompson on Monetizing Your Site with Ads and The Power of the Middle Manager
Susan Bratton

Episode 169 - Vince Thompson on Monetizing Your Site with Ads and The Power of the Middle Manager

Vince Thompson is one of the DishyMix "Mukety Muck Insights" series guests, recorded on location at ad:tech San Francisco.

Middleshift is a boutique consultancy that works with Internet Media properties to design, implement and scale sales organizations to achieve their highest purpose.

For Marketers, Middleshift provides insight to emerging media opportunities and guides in the creation of custom content with world-class producers and emerging Internet celebrities.

As an expert in monetizing sites with web advertising and building the sales teams to service the business, Vince was speaking at ad:tech about managing through chaos.

He shares some of his golden nuggets on this episode as well as revisiting parts of his excellent book, "Ignited: Managers, Light up Your Company and Career for More Power, More Purpose and More Success."



Susan Bratton: Welcome to DishyMix. I’m your host, Susan Bratton, and I have Vince Thompson from MiddleShift. He’s the managing partner of a very interesting company based out of L.A. He’s been on the show before and I’m here at AdTech San Francisco and Vince has agreed to part of the Muckity Muck Insight series. We’re going to talk about some fun stuff together, so lets get him on the show. Welcome Vince.

Vince Thompson: Welcome Susan. Thank you for having me. Fun to be a Muckity Muck.

Susan Bratton: Exactly. I could just mean your old and you’ve been doing it for too long…

Vince Thompson: Yeah exactly, stuck in the muck.

Susan Bratton: Stuck in the muck. So tell us a little bit about MiddleShift and what you’re doing right now because you have a pretty unique business.

Vince Thompson: Well we have a small boutique consultancy that we’re quite passionate about because it fulfills the things that we care about most, and then the media business, what we do is we help media companies with their digital revenue strategies. So we help them figure out how to build and scale sales forces that generate money, usually through advertising, sometimes through business development efforts but that’s the core area that we specialize in. We also do training for competitive advantage with major media companies on the digital side, so we do custom training programs and we do a little bit of representation but typically just for the companies that are in our portfolio clients.

Susan Bratton: And so what do you think is the thing that you notice when a company wants to monetize their content or their product through advertising and they come to you and they say “Build me a sales team Vince, tell me what I need to do”, what are the things that you tell them that often they didn’t think about, that come as a surprise to them?

Vince Thompson: Well it’s an interesting time, right. It used to be that there were a couple hundred people around the country selling national media and then it became a couple thousand and now it’s literally tens of thousands of companies sell media. We’ve gone through this period of innovation where a lot of venture money’s gone into a lot of business that believe that they have a potential to create audience and translate that audience in a meaningful action for advertisers. The fact of the matter is that’s not always the case, right. And often times we are working with people who haven’t sold media before and what we do is we need really go back and talk about where value’s created. Just because you have an audience doesn’t mean that always translates into a show time look up or a test drive or some of the other meaningful things that marketers are looking for. So what we do is we try to be helpful to as many companies as we can. We’re fortunate ‘cause we get to see quite a bit of business. We get to see 20 companies or so on a monthly average, and over the course of the year we engage with 6 or 8 companies and what we do is we go through and we look at the opportunities in the company and we make some suggestions and develop some hypothesis about where the company can potentially generate revenue and then we go out and we do the early testing to see if we can build a revenue generating system that will scale.

Susan Bratton: So you go out and test their offering to see if buyers are interested in buying it, is that what you do?

Vince Thompson: Yeah, if marketers can generate meaningful action with the audience and we can create marketing ideas and create things that connect the dots. As you know, there’s so much online inventory that’s been created in the last several years, and you know, inventory in and of itself is invaluable.

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Vince Thompson: It’s what that inventory does and how it creates a meaningful connection for the marketer and creates values for both parties, so… It all starts there.

Susan Bratton: And you’re speaking at AdTech this week…

Vince Thompson: I am.

Susan Bratton: What are you speaking on and what are kind of the – well give me like maybe the crux of what you’re teaching.

Vince Thompson: Right. Well, you know, I’m talking about management and I’m talking about surviving in chaos.

Susan Bratton: Oh well that’s perfect because I want to talk about your book, which we’ll get to.

Vince Thompson: Yeah, it’s a subject near and dear to my heart. As you know, I spent a good deal of my career in corporate America managing sales teams at AOL…

Susan Bratton: At AOL during the go-go days when they were buying companies like crazy and you were inheriting people and…

Vince Thompson: We became a very large company, right.

Susan Bratton: Yeah. What was the number? You started at how many people and ended – what was kind of your smallest and biggest group that you had to manage?

Vince Thompson: You know the groups I managed were probably between 12 and 60.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Vince Thompson: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, 60 sales people’s a lot of sales people, especially sales people ‘cause we’re super high maintenance.

Vince Thompson: Well there’s a lot of support organizations.

Susan Bratton: Uh huh.

Vince Thompson: So a lot of support organization behind that, which is really the key to selling major media is having the support organization, the idea factory, the account services and the folks that can support it. So there was a lot of growth there. I came to believe during that time that people who work in the middle of the companies are the most important to the company’s success ‘cause they understand the needs of the sales force, the field force, the customer, the competition, the skills inside and then the demands of management. And so that gave me the opportunity to write my book Ignited, which I did, and it’s been very fun. We’ve had a great run with the book. This is particularly special for me because I’m taking some of the learnings from the book that related directly to Chaos and I’m sheering them with this AdTech crowd, this group of people that I’ve had such a great working experience with, and giving folks some best practices that they could use as they deal with the chaotic world that we’re living in right now.

Susan Bratton: Well Vince has been on DishyMix before. We did a pretty good deep dive into Ignited. The full title of the book is Ignited: Managers, Light Up Your Company And Career For More Power, More Purpose And More Success. And Vince, I really, the thing that really stuck with me about that book was how empowering the book was for middle managers. You know, I remember you saying to me, “Look, everybody writes books for CEO’s and a lot of people write books for you young people starting out, but very few people address the middle managers and there’s more of them than anything else.” And you really illustrated how powerful a position in middle management can be and to not be marginalized by it. And I really appreciated that perspective ‘cause I’d never actually thought about it that way. It’s very empowering.

Vince Thompson: Well thank you very much. You know, when we were doing our research there was an interesting fact that we came across and it had to do with strategy and how companies evolve. You know, here we are, you know, close to the Silicon Valley and there’s so many great entrepreneurs and what their job to do is to figure out what a business model is that scales, right, come up with a business model. So the entrepreneur creates, but in all companies the business models fail and they change and they evolve. And so you say “Well where does the strategy come that informs the business model?” And in the research only 6 percent of the strategy that’s created at the boardroom level or the C level ever makes it successfully into the company. 94 percent of the successful strategy that’s created in a company is created by the mid-level managers who are adapting to the marketplace in what we call emergence strategy. So it’s a really fascinating field. So the skills for the mid-level manager, the skills for the executives who are running divisions are the most important skills for success. So it’s been very fun for me to take the book knowledge and at the same time have the ability to participate in this business I love, this interactive media business, put the two together, help clients and learn more myself, so…

Susan Bratton: I did a show with Rick Horowitz on strategy, setting strategy for your organization. He is, he wrote a book – I think it’s called Deep Dive – and he essentially teaches the difference between tactics and strategy and how you go about the process of setting a strategy. And it’s a really good book and of course you can always listen to the DishyMix episode…

Vince Thompson: I’ll make sure I check it out, absolutely.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, I think you’ll like that. And you have a present for my DishyMix listeners. Now I give you a little gold star for that man. You know we like our schwagg and our presents. What do you have for us today?

Vince Thompson: Listen, if I’m going to mention the book the least I could do is make a free chapter available to people, that’s an easy thing to do. If listeners are interested, like to check out the book, they can go to, and if you want to pick up a chapter of the book you can get it there.

Susan Bratton: Awesome! Thank you for that.

Vince Thompson: Sure.

Susan Bratton: I wanted to go back to this idea of managing chaos because in a growing industry like ours it’s always chaotic. I mean once I finally got used to the chaos I missed it when it wasn’t there. It’s crazy.

Vince Thompson: Right.

Susan Bratton: It’s like, you know, if you beat me up everyday pretty soon I’ll want to get beat, you know. Give me one golden nugget that we can use when we’re feeling overwhelmed by the chaos. How can we ground ourselves or cope? You know, something from your presentation.

Vince Thompson: Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to talk today about resilience. I’m going to talk today about managing your manager and I’m going to share a consulting model called “The Managers Universe”, which is actually in the free chapter that I’m making available.

Susan Bratton: Awesome! I’m going to go get that. I’ve read your book and I’m going to get that anyway.

Vince Thompson: Well absolutely, that would be great. Listen, when we’re in chaos one of the things we first need to do is we need to practice resiliency. We need to really check in with ourselves and see where we are. And there’s been a lot of work done on resiliency and resilient people. In order to be in our business one must be extremely resilient. But what does it mean, right? What does that mean? So I’ve been kind of enamored with some work of a woman named Diane Coutu. who wrote a piece that defined resilience in three pieces. She said that a resilient person accepts the current reality…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Vince Thompson: completely accepts the current reality and they don’t walk around saying, “You know, yesterday was a VP and now that we’ve re-orged I’m a director” or “We used to do it this way”, those people aren’t living in the current reality. So resilient people, they accept the current reality. The second thing they do is they’re driven by their own internal guide, either a strong faith or a strong belief or a strong set of core values about what’s important, how customers are treated, how businesses run or how they treat people. Those things keep them calm in the storm.

Susan Bratton: They have a framework to hang onto.

Vince Thompson: Yeah, yeah. And then the third things is that…

Susan Bratton: Set of rules.

Vince Thompson: resilient people improvise. They pick up all the broken pieces and they get to work. And I think that you can really spot those individuals. When you go through organizational change you can spot those individuals and if you are struggling yourself…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Vince Thompson: and you go back to that little framework it can help you understand maybe where you’re hung up a little bit…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Vince Thompson: and get centered.

Susan Bratton: I think one of the things that makes it difficult for people inside the chaos of an organization is that often when the chess board is thrown up in the air and the pieces land in a new way it’s not entirely clear. What’s a way that – without being embarrassed because a lot of people feel uncomfortable saying “Well how is it now?”, you know – where can you go to get the information or to get a level set on how everything landed so you understand what the world is like in this moment? Any coping mechanisms there?

Vince Thompson: Well you know what’s really fascinating, right, is any time reorder takes place…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Vince Thompson: people begin the lobbying effort to order the mess in the way that suits them best…

Susan Bratton: Yes.

Vince Thompson: right. And so we’ve all been through that and it’s frustrating, right, because we’ve seen people who may not necessarily have the best agenda or the best ability through sheer force wind up driving the agenda in a way that isn’t necessarily as beneficial as everybody knows it is or needs it to be, right…

Susan Bratton: They’re willing to talk the loudest, the longest and last.

Vince Thompson: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: I know, I hate that.

Vince Thompson: And while it’s certainly important to be aware of where those dialogues are going, what we often times mistake for action is – or mistake for traction is action. So people join, they have a lot of conversation, they’re running around, they’re creating a lot of action, but they’re not getting traction.

Susan Bratton: Okay.

Vince Thompson: If you can be a person who goes to work and starts creating value right way, that is the most meaningful way for you to participate in the conversation and drive it and, you know, listen, value contributors are the people who make the economy work. They are the most successful people in these organizations. So go to work creating value.

Susan Bratton: Well and that’s one of the things, in Ignited you said go to your boss and ask your boss what he or she is judged on. What are the metrics that he or she is judged on and get really clear on those and then start getting the traction around those metrics for your boss, right.

Vince Thompson: Even go to your boss’s boss…

Susan Bratton: Oh right, you say that in the book, yeah.

Vince Thompson: Right, right. You know, one of the big problems that we have in business is that people don’t communicate very well, you know.

Susan Bratton: So asking good questions and asking up and not being afraid to do it is okay.

Vince Thompson: It is okay and it’s…

Susan Bratton: It’s a very welcome question.

Vince Thompson: It’s important. You know, when we lived  in these talked down hierarchies, right…

Susan Bratton: Right.

Vince Thompson: we weren’t taught to answer questions. You know, the reason why we have a pyramid structure is because it’s a post military structure. What happened is when we finished World War 2 we applied a lot of our military tactics to building corporations. As we went to go scale these empires to serve all the troops and the boomers we did it with military intelligence and military approach…

Susan Bratton: Interesting.

Vince Thompson: which meant keep your cards to your vest, don’t challenge authority, get in your organizational structure and that’s how you work. The problem is that none of the rules apply any more, we’re really on our own. And so some of us have been brought up to believe that, “Oh, you know, you don’t question that, you don’t take these things head on”, and some of us are very uncomfortable by the mere nature of those conversations, but the fact is is that unfortunately we’re kind of responsible for everything now.

Susan Bratton: We are. It’s absolutely true and it’s global and it’s collaborative and it’s…

Vince Thompson: Real time…

Susan Bratton: decentralized…

Vince Thompson: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: and it’s real time, exactly, so we have to change our rules. So you had mentioned I think, was it Debbie or Diane Coutu?

Vince Thompson: Diane Coutu.

Susan Bratton: Diane Coutu.

Vince Thompson: c-o-u-t-u.

Susan Bratton: She sounds interesting, I’m going to check that out. I always admire who you’re tracking and following ‘cause I like the way your mind works and the things that you think about. Who in our industry would you like to meet or someone you admire? Who do you have your eye on Vince?

Vince Thompson: Oh that’s funny. You know, John Batelle is somebody I’ve always been impressed by.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, he’s really impressive.

Vince Thompson: I think he’s impressive…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm, he’s a good thinker.

Vince Thompson: He’s obviously a very intelligent guy, he’s a big thinker and I’m impressed at his ability to be a CEO and an author and do a multitude of things, so, yeah.

Susan Bratton: Well I’m going to look for the opportunity to introduce you to John someday.

Vince Thompson: I would love that…

Susan Bratton: I got to make that happen for you then…

Vince Thompson: I would love that.

Susan Bratton: Beautiful!

Vince Thompson: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: Well I really appreciate your time today. Thank you for coming on the show. Thanks for making the chapter available. And now that our DishyMix listeners know that you’re so good at building sales organization and monetizing content and helping companies with those strategies I bet that will generate some opportunity for you. I hope it will.

Vince Thompson: Oh absolutely. Thank you so much for doing this. It’s a great show and it’s such a service.

Susan Bratton: Thank you Vince. All right, you got to know Vince Thompson. He’s the author of Ignited and he’s the managing partner at Middle Shift. It’s Middle Shift and you can find it at – I think you’ve got a great URL, right.

Vince Thompson: That’s right.

Susan Bratton: Awesome! All right, well I’m your host, Susan Bratton. I hope you’ve enjoyed yet another Muckity Muck Insights interview at AdTech San Francisco. Have a great day.