[L]earned Media: An Interview with Sam Zises

Agency life can be tough, but [L]earned Media’s CEO Sam Zises has got it down to a science. In our interview with Sam, he offered powerful insights into the world of content marketing, social media and “cutting through the clutter.” He also provided his opinion on why he believes the “death of Facebook” has been declared prematurely.

Q: What’s your day-to-day like as the Founder & CEO of [L]earned media?

Sam: The CEO of Zillow, Spencer Rascoff, summed up a CEO’s job like this: “it’s to identify, recruit and motivate extraordinary people.” That’s the crux of it. A CEO’s mission should be all about his or her team. As the CEO, you’re the last line of defense. Where the buck stops. You have to be responsible for the details that keep people happy and productive. That can mean little things like taking care of a computer issue so that everybody can operate at peak performance or the big stuff like finding talent and weighing in on project decisions. As long as I’m supporting the team, then I’m doing my job. As for what I know will always be on my agenda no matter what, that would include setting a vision for the future, executing growth initiatives and advising clients about how to strategically spend their money and focus our time.

Q: What direction do you think content marketing is going in and how can PR professionals keep up with the trends?

Sam: Quality over quantity. Period. Netflix has created a world where consumers can get unlimited content with Hollywood-level productions values for only $15 a month. That’s now the standard the rest of us are judged against. So if a consumer is going to pay attention to your stuff in today’s world, it better have the same high quality as the top content producers. We used to say that content is king. Now I think we have to amend that to specify: quality content is king.

Q: Which of your campaigns stands out to you as most successful and why?

Sam: It may not be the most satisfying answer, but when you’re as passionate about your work as we are, your campaigns really are like your kids and you’re proud of them all. That said, there are a few that stand out. We worked with Bai just as the brand was beginning to get national notoriety and helped them in their partnership with eBay and the Zach Brown Band to create content that had an integrated contest to give back to a charity. We worked with Budweiser’s Global Strategic Innovation Team, a.k.a. “The Beer Garage”, in Palo Alto to develop and create the “Grab Some Buds” app that connected users to their friends and helped them find something to do for a night out. Finally, we were proud to be DISH Media Sales’ first-ever digital agency of record and help them develop brand positioning and a digital media campaign that met the demands of the rapidly, and sometimes chaotically, evolving programmatic television space.

Q: You have a very interesting backstory–from licensing your startup to Budweiser to founding your own marketing agency. What has been your most fulfilling experience thus far?

Sam: The most exciting thing is always to see other businesses–our clients–grow thanks in part to the services we provide them. Our team of thinkers and creators are all about getting to know you, where you came from and where you want to go. So when our clients succeed, we really feel like we’re succeeding too. Not to mention that we were born and bred in the world’s most competitive market, New York City, and we know what it takes to cut through the clutter, engage audiences and generate leads. Our surroundings have rubbed off on us. We’re competitive too, and we like to win on behalf of our clients.

Q: Cutting through the clutter” is one of the core aspects of content marketing. Why do you think it’s so vital for PR pros and marketers to achieve this goal?

Sam: Anybody who has been online, well, ever knows just how deafening the cacophony of noise and information overload on the internet can be. To be heard, you really have to work for it. But we don’t believe that necessarily means you have to be the loudest. Sometimes the best way to get someone to lend you their eyes and ears is to say what you mean clearly, with intention and in a way that makes them feel that you’re speaking directly to them. Even in an incredibly noisy environment, those personal connections always have real value.

Q: Which social media platform do you think will stand the test of time?

Sam: It’s got to be Facebook. Now, there has been a lot of talks recently about the “death of Facebook” because their usership numbers have been plateauing. But what people don’t realize is that, whether or not people actually go to Facebook.com or use their app, the company is building infrastructure that permeates through the rest of the web. The “Login with Facebook” feature and the fact that they own so many server farms means that people’s digital lives are much more connected to the monster in Menlo Park than they realize. Also, Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to acquire Instagram for a billion dollars in 2010 looks like an unbelievable bargain now. And even though most people thought he was crazy when he bought WhatsApp for twenty billion dollars in 2014, that move has been vindicated as well. If Zuck can keep his edge and continue to make smart moves like that, I’m sure they’re in good shape well into the future.

Sam Zises

Sam Zises is the Founder and CEO of [L]earned Media, a leading creative marketing agency based in NYC. Before [L]earned Media, Zises founded the social media and mobile tech startup Wendr, which he later sold and licensed to Budweiser in the US, and BlackBerry in Latin America. Zises’ prior experience includes Ogilvy & Mather’s OgilvyEntertainment and Publicis Groupe’s Big Fuel, where he helped to develop and execute branded content and digital marketing campaigns for Fortune 100 clients. Zises has been a featured speaker at both Google and New York University. Zises is also President of The Branded Content Marketing Association’s US Chapter.

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