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10 Questions with Greg Coleman, Lerer Hippeau’s new Executive-in-Residence

This week we welcome Greg Coleman as our new Executive-in-Residence here at Lerer Hippeau. He brings with him more than 40 years of experience in advertising and media, spanning executive roles at Yahoo, The Huffington Post, Criteo, and Buzzfeed, where he most recently served as President.

We chatted with Greg about his takeaways from a decades-long career in advertising, his thoughts on the state of digital media, and his perspective on what modern consumers want out of emerging companies.

Here are some highlights from our conversation.

On Advertising

How has the advertising business changed since the beginning of your career?

I started in the print world [at Reader’s Digest] and there the biggest changes came with the fact we started doing selective binding and different editions. There was no social, just what we had on paper.

When I got to Yahoo in 2001, the internet had just blown up and there was no business model for what to do or how you measure it. We dug in and the fundamental belief was that the dollars were going to follow the eyeballs. We found that ultimately scale did attract advertisers. People were initially afraid to come to the internet because it had just taken off and we worked towards making people and advertisers comfortable.

The next real stop was the Huffington Post and that was the advent of social. We started to dig in to the concept that we could create branded content and that people would start to share an advertiser’s message.

After Huffington Post sold to AOL, I went to Criteo, where I watched the ad tech company really understand how to ascertain not only a specific item people were shopping for, but also, more generally, what was their mindset for when you retargeted to them.

After that, Buzzfeed: the absolute world of social media and social sharing. Seventy-five percent of our traffic came from social platforms so measuring the total reach was hard before we created standards for advertisers.

Which forms of advertising will see the most growth and/or change by the end of 2018?

Programmatic is just massive and will continue to grow, and that’s in sheer volume. But, in pure growth, branded video is taking off everywhere and most of that isn’t programmatic. It’s what the users are consuming. There’s an appetite for that from a marketer’s point of view, too.

What’s the most common misperception people have right now about changes to social algorithms as they are affecting publishers?

Regardless of how the algorithms change, people are still going to consume and share stuff they like. Quality is still going to win the day.

On Media

Which forms of emerging media do you find the most exciting right now?

Podcasts done right are making a difference. The volume is just starting to hit a real critical mass. An emerging blockbuster is some of this shorter than short-form video we’re seeing. Those bite-size pieces are really taking off. Product placement, too, some non-obvious, softer placement in editorial pieces is doing well.

Buzzfeed started adapting commerce from content with the introduction of Tasty One Top. How can publishers think about building out similar revenue streams?

If you don’t acquire someone or hire somebody that has that know-how, the average person is not going to do very well at understanding the kinds of brands that will work and the kinds of products that will work. Understanding how to use your audience to get feedback is key. With our product lab division at Buzzfeed, we saw all kinds of things that started to resonate that were just not obvious. If you can have a feedback loop and test quickly, you can hit on some ideas that really make sense.

What should publishers prioritize when creating new content series for audiences?

Publishers need much better technology to be able to read quickly what is resonating and what’s not resonating. We built a business that allowed our editors to test, so nothing was looked at as a bomb because it was constant testing. If you have the technology to be able to get feedback, it’s your best compass in order to be able to move forward.

What’s one question you’re asked the most in the digital marketing class you teach at NYU?

“How do you know how to find out what you are best at doing?” I’m finding that these smart students, second year MBAs, haven’t really thought about what excites them. They want to know how to find that path.

On Entrepreneurship

What’s one startup’s product or service you use everyday?


What’s the make-or-break quality that companies young and old need in order to succeed?

Today companies have to be tech-centric and that has to start from the top, with the founder. Otherwise it could be a nice company, I’m sure I’ll read about it in articles, but it won’t be as engaging.

What are some industries where people want to see more innovation?

What people basically want is to be well-informed. What used to be a very narrow world is now a huge world. The consumer today wants to be able to dive as deeply as they want to, and providing great content in that regard is a big deal.

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