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MediaPost Q&A with Seth Besmertnik of Catalyst-backed Conductor

Making Content More Relevant: Q&A With Conductor’s Seth Besmertnik

Conductor CEO Seth Besmertnik has found a way for companies to discover new customers on the Web through targeted content. His company bills itself as Web presence management, advising advertisers on the best ways to target consumers at the point-of-purchase intent. The recently released Conductor Searchlight platform transforms a brand’s Web presence in “unpaid” channels like organic search, content and social.

Besmertnik built his company from the ground up. Now seven years old, it has more than 150 employees. In my interview with him, he talks about native advertising, the impact of programmatic, industry silos, viewer intent and online content consumption, as well as his surprising attitude toward young children’s use of devices.

Below is an excerpt from the interview videos (available here), with some content edited and rearranged for clarity.

CW: Do you think some forms of media are dying?

SB: We haven’t seen any media really die. Some companies have decided to stop publishing magazines and just go online — and for that particular company, that might be a death. But if you go to any airport, there are plenty of magazines available, and [that media] brings a lot of value to people.
CW: You have two young children. Do you allow them to have screen time?

SB: [A]ny time you put your phone away, they will be the first to grab it. But we don’t let them use our phones or tablets, and we let them watch a very minimal [amount of] educational TV.

There is lots of data that talks about children looking at phones up close during their early developmental years — [and how this] slows down their brain development. It is not as good as playing with Legos and doing things that are interactive. [My children] also read lots of books.

CW: Your company helps to create content on behalf of advertisers. Is Conductor a form of native advertising?

SB: Conductor is not a form of native advertising at all. Native advertising has become effective in some ways because you have found a way for companies to pay, once again, to get in front of consumers so they will click on [the company’s] content….

People would rather click on a sponsored piece of content than they would a giant banner ad. However, people still prefer to click on organic content that is not paid for — and as consumers get smarter, things like native advertising [will] become more transparent and [consumers] will realize [what] is paid for, and [what] is not paid for.

What Conductor is trying to do is, when… potential customers go to Google and search for something… when they have intent… we can help, so that customers show up in the places where [companies] can’t actually use money to buy advertising.

An example is Canon. When someone is looking to buy a camera, they usually research things like “What is the best type of camera.” What Canon is trying to do is reach that consumer earlier in their buying process. We help [Canon] by looking at their current content and offering them insights into how to make it more effective. We also advise… our customers [how they] can improve their current websites.

CW: Give me a prediction about the media landscape in the next five years.

SB: The trend that we see now will continue to grow, in that the Web is going to consume 95% of people’s time… and as part of that, people are going to have stronger preferences and get smarter about what is good content, what is bad content, what are ads and what are not ads.

So I think that the trend of consumers interacting with organic content over paid content will continue to grow — and from a company’s perspective, I think that they will reorganize their marketing teams. Teams today are siloed – content creation, search, social teams all concentrating in specific area. They will reorganize around a common mission.

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