Mindshare@SXSWi: Interview with Ben Lerer, CEO of Group Nine Media

At SXSWi, Mindshare’s Gabriella Kaplan sat down for a Q&A with Ben Lerer, CEO of Group Nine Media (which owns brands including Thrillist, NowThis, The Dodo and Seeker). Check out Lerer’s thoughts below on influencer marketing, content distribution, and more. 

Q: As more brands invest in influencers and their engaged audiences, what are your opinions on using influencers to move the needle?
Media is becoming democratized and the rise of influencers is the clearest example of that. I believe influencers can be super valuable for brands. They have enormous followings, incredible engagement and lots of trust with their audiences. But this is only really effective with the right influencers. It’s important to work with people that have a true connection to the DNA of your brand, and not just take a shotgun approach, choosing someone just because they have a large social following. You find the right influencers, under the right circumstances and it can be an amazing tool.

Q: They say that content is king, and brands are finally starting to see that. How do you think brands can create successful, authentic content to break through all the noise?
Content is king—that’s definitely something that we’ve believed for a long time. But I think the real key is focusing on the distribution pipes. Today, there are so many places that people can consume content – be it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, etc. I think it’s crucial for brands to not be in a mindset where they think they can just create advertising and pay to cram it down people’s throats. Instead of thinking of these pipes as places to simply buy media, they should think of these as channels to program, create and distribute great content that their customers will love.

Q: With consumers using mobile to browse the web, shop, watch TV, etc., how do you think the mobile advertising landscape compares to desktop? Do you think it’s more difficult to engage a user when they’re on the go?
The way I see it is: you’re not allowed to decide that it’s harder to engage people in mobile. Mobile is the first screen now. The phone is becoming the new television. I think of Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram as modern versions of what the MVPDs have been for the last 30 years in cable.  That is where all of, or a vast majority of, your energy needs to go right now, because that’s where young people are spending their time. Of course, there are challenges around screen size and the ways that people engage. And in many cases, mobile advertising is easier to avoid when it’s done poorly. But it’s imperative for advertisers today to figure out how to create content that can be a part of their consumers’ daily lives and actually add value. It’s not a strategy. It needs to be THE strategy for brands.

Q: If you could describe your company in a tweet, what would it be?
If I had to describe Group Nine in 140 characters: we’re a family of brands that people love, at the intersection of mobile, social, and digital.