MBPT Spotlight: Lawenda Promotes Facebook’s Ad Power: “We’re Like TV With Benefits”


David Lawenda spent more than 20 years selling television advertising, early on at Turner, then at Viacom, and more recently at Univision, before joining social network Facebook in early October as VP of global marketing solutions for the U.S.

His latest mandate is to lead and grow Facebook’s U.S. ad sales, which accounts for 50% of the social network’s global revenue. In third-quarter 2013, Facebook reported $1.8 billion in overall revenue, up 66% from the same period a year ago.

It’s no secret that Facebook wants to lure advertising dollars away from television, but Lawenda says his goal is to move dollars not just from TV, but from all competing media platforms into Facebook.

Either way, he certainly has the pedigree. Lawenda sold advertising for Turner’s news networks CNN and HLN; as senior VP and general sales manager he oversaw national syndication sales for Paramount Domestic TV programming and helped launch TV network UPN.

As senior VP of ad sales for Viacom’s MTV Entertainment Group he led a team that brought in some 200 new advertisers over a five-year period and helped rebrand TNN into Spike TV, the first network dedicated to a male audience.

At Univision Communications, where he spent five years as president of sales and marketing before departing in September 2012, he oversaw sales for the company’s TV networks, local TV stations, radio stations and interactive platforms with annual ad revenues totaling some $2.25 billion.

Now, with Lawenda about two months into his new post, MBPT asked the ad vet to discuss his role at Facebook, how he plans to transition his mindset from mainly TV to only online selling, if he’ll use his contacts among Hispanic marketers to move them into Facebook, how he views competition with Twitter, the opportunities he sees from mobile sales growth, and how he plans to advise his sales team in its competition with television.

When you were hired to head up U.S. ad sales for Facebook, what mandate were you given and what is your role going to be within the company?
My role at Facebook is to lead the Global Marketing Solutions Team in the U.S. Global Marketing Solutions is our direct sales and marketing organization at the company. My team and I are responsible for helping marketers—the top brands and agencies with business in the U.S.—seize the opportunity of Facebook to drive their business.

From a marketer’s perspective, I believe Facebook is still an under-appreciated and undervalued asset and it is my job to change that. A lot of marketers are employing a “check the box” strategy when it comes to social, but I don’t think they understand the true capabilities of our platform and how much it goes beyond “social marketing” and how impactful it can be at every level of the marketing funnel.

Our mission, or my mandate, is to ensure that marketers see Facebook not as a social media tactic, but as a marketing imperative and cornerstone of their marketing and media plans.

You’ve sold advertising for TV networks for most of your career and now you’ve moved to a social network. What adjustments will you have to make, or is selling advertising on any platform ‘just selling’ only using different data, demos or targeting to sell?
Great marketing is great marketing. Yes, Facebook is social but we are also media. The scale we offer marketers trumps any other platform out there, including TV, but we can also offer precise and accurate targeting and measurement that makes us an amazing partner across every level of the marketing funnel.

So, the adjustments I’m making are natural to being new at any company, but with the benefit of being able to offer capabilities I’ve never seen before.

I’m developing a deep understanding of the power of our offerings, and more importantly, I’m getting to know all of our people here at Facebook, and the unique challenges our clients across all verticals face as they look to get their message and products in front of millions of current and potential consumers.

At Univision you created committees where your ad staff could work more directly with marketers to come up with better ways to bring more ad dollars into the company’s media properties. Do you foresee doing something similar at Facebook?
My boss Carolyn Everson did exactly that when she joined Facebook over two years ago. She created the Client Council, a group of top brands and agencies in the world that speak regularly and meet quarterly, and also the Creative Council, a group of the top creative directors in the world. Through those interactions, and the thousands of marketers we work with directly, we’ve focused on a solutions-based selling approach with our marketing partners. It’s not about Facebook media or our products, it’s what business objectives marketers are trying to solve for, particular to their company and their industry, and how we can help them.

Similar to the approach at Univision, we are organized by verticals at Facebook. Our category teams are experts in the clients’ business and speak their language. We strive to be an integral resource and trusted partner to each and every one of our marketing partners.

We have also set up a U.S. agency team responsible for working with the C-suite of each of the major holding companies and developing business at the agency level. We are very focused on working with both brands and agencies—both are equally critical to our business.

Clearly, having most recently been at Univision, you are experienced at selling to marketers wanting to reach the Hispanic community. Was that a consideration when Facebook discussed bringing you on board and what plans do you have to bring in more advertisers trying to reach that $1.5 trillion Hispanic marketplace?
Facebook hired me because I have strong marketing and sales experience—a proven track record of leading major sales organizations and driving transformation in the industry. The fact that I have TV and U.S. Hispanic experience is a plus and I am bringing that expertise to Facebook. We have a phenomenal U.S. Hispanic story. We have one of the largest audiences for U.S. Hispanic affinity in the [country], across U.S. Hispanic television and other U.S. Hispanic digital platforms, and I continue to believe this remains a big, untapped growth opportunity for brands in the U.S. and we intend to capitalize on this.

Looking at the ad offerings of Facebook right now, do you see any areas where there are opportunities to offer different types of advertising that are not being offered now?
The scale, and more importantly the ability to have targeted reach at scale, means that Facebook is a great platform for brand marketing. Sight, sound and motion are important for marketers who are looking to do really creative work on the brand side. We currently have a very strong video product in video page post ads and are also testing video posts that start playing automatically in news feed on the consumer side, and it is testing really well. We’ll continue to roll out that beta and ultimately we could explore what this looks like for marketers.

More ad dollars are being spent on mobile but they are still small compared to desktop. How do you see Facebook increasing its dollars in mobile advertising?
It’s already happening in a big way, and we’ll continue to see that shift occur as marketers start to fully digest the shift that their consumers are making from desktop to mobile. Nearly 50% of our ad revenues already come from mobile.

According to comScore, Facebook and Instagram have more mobile time spent than many of the next largest services combined—YouTube, Pandora, Yahoo, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, AOL, Snapchat and LinkedIn.

Marketers know that if they don’t move real brand dollars to mobile, they aren’t reaching people where they spend the most time. Simply put, marketers need to be in their consumers’ pockets.

Today’s customer is walking around with a TV, a radio, a mailbox, a directory and all of their friends in their pocket. Mobile won’t work for a brand unless it’s central to their marketing/media plan.

There’s a report out there saying that some marketers believe Facebook ads are not as effective as ads on Twitter. How do you respond to that?
I’d ask how the report was measuring effectiveness. Brands that are advertising on Facebook, particularly in the news feed, are seeing measurable results and significant ROI. And that’s what we’re focused on—return on investment, or return on ad sales. We want to make sure that every dollar spent on Facebook is impactful and drives real business results. In an analysis by Datalogix of 55 campaigns on Facebook in 2013, campaigns that included ads in news feed achieved a return on ad spend of nearly six times.

We can always get better and we’re working to drive even higher ROI across many industries and verticals, but seeing that number, I know we’re on the right track.

All social networks, including Facebook want to grab a larger share of the ad dollar pie away from traditional television. Having worked in traditional TV, where do you think that medium is vulnerable? What are the differences for marketers between Facebook and traditional TV, how do you plan to sell against TV and how effective do you think you can be?
TV is a great reach vehicle. However, now that I am at Facebook, I am seeing that we have the same reach story as TV, but we can also be extremely targeted and provide deep engagement and measurable results at a fraction of the cost of TV. We’re like TV with benefits! So for us it’s about telling that story, providing case studies and examples of brands that have already done well, and working very closely with marketers to come up with great campaigns that effectively utilize our advertising solutions. We’re not selling against TV, we’re selling the benefits of Facebook and we know that we stack up well against any platform out there, traditional or digital.

How has Facebook evolved as a reach vehicle, and what role does that play in how you convince marketers to come on board?
Facebook’s reach now trumps any other platform out there. We have 1.2 billion people on the platform, but as we like to say, that’s probably the most uninteresting number we can provide to marketers.

Where we really excel is in our ability to target individuals precisely through our use of identity paired in a privacy safe way with third-party data from companies like Datalogix, Polk and Acxiom. For instance, we can serve up millions of Americans who are specifically in market for a compact SUV. That’s something automakers can’t get anywhere else.

Or we can look at the moms who bought a specific P&G or Unilever brand last month and should be reached this month with a new product offering. Or we can find millions of young people that share the characteristics of a beverage maker’s fans on Facebook and create a new, lookalike audience to effectively target with a brand new campaign.

There are ways we can target current and potential customers in every category, in a very efficient way, and that’s how we’ve evolved as a reach platform: massive reach with pinpoint precision.

With that in mind, marketers should approach Facebook the same way they approach other mass marketing channels like TV—optimize for reach, frequency, targeting and measurement. It’s just a matter of time before every brand advertiser will be using Facebook to drive their business.

Have you started to tap into your TV relationships with marketers, and what has their reaction been?
I’ve had many clients already tell me that Facebook is “the new primetime” and they are eager to put the power of our platform to work for their business.

What has surprised you most at Facebook since joining the company?
I knew I was getting on a rocket ship. I believed that Facebook would be the top marketing partner for the best brands in the world. Now that I am here and I am seeing the incredible results, deep engagement, user growth, it feels like there’s such a great story and I am surprised that a number of marketers are still not taking full advantage of the platform to grow their business.

Can you give any insights in terms of how Facebook plans on selling as a complement to television?
Sometimes we’ll be a complement to TV as we can provide incremental reach to a TV buy—and there will be other instances where different platforms will complement a primary Facebook campaign. We have the same reach story as TV, except we can be extremely targeted and provide deep engagement and measurable results. As I said earlier, we are like TV with benefits—offering target-ability and measurability to brands, at a fraction of the cost.