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Episode 6- Alex Stone from Horizon Media

Alex Stone from Horizon Media dives into how brands can keep up with the speed of culture today and large areas for improvement in advertising.

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Welcome to Episode 6 of the Breaking Through the Mayhem podcast, where we explore marketing and advertising in a time of constantly shifting risk and opportunity.

Brought to you by Sightly, our goal is to share the insights of industry leaders from brands, agencies, publishers, and partners as they discuss the challenges and possibilities emerging from the ever-shifting media landscape, such as real-time marketing, brand safety and purpose, influencers, cancel culture, data privacy, technology and more.

Today's guest is Alex Stone.

Alex Stone is the SVP of Advanced Video and Agency Partnerships at Horizon Media. He and his team are responsible for the development of agency-level partnerships with key media, data, and technology vendors across all marketplace mediums. Alex developed the agency’s strategic approach to digital investment partnerships to maximize negotiations with key partners emphasizing areas of interest that provide the greatest value to the agency’s clients in the form of innovation, competitive rates, research, data, programmatic and education. He worked with key stakeholders to develop a new private marketplace specific to OTT/CTV inventory featuring over 45 direct partnerships, dubbed SeleCTV.

In the episode, which was recorded live at the Brand Safety Summit NY on November 3, 2022, Alex discusses:

  • How brands are handling the speed of culture today
  • How Alex stays on top of industry trends
  • What some of the largest areas for improvement in the advertising world are

GuestAlex Stone

Horizon Media

The Breaking Through the Mayhem podcast - Episode 06

Host: Adam Katz, Chief Revenue Officer & GM, Sightly
Guest: Alex Stone, SVP, Advanced Video & Agency Partnerships, Horizon Media
Recorded live at the Brand Safety Summit NY, November 3, 2022

 

Adam Katz
So welcome back to Sightly’s Breaking Through The Mayhem podcast here live at the Brand Safety Summit. We're talking a lot about marketing in a time of constantly shifting risk and opportunity. And we're lucky to have, in my personal opinion, one of the greats in our industry to be able to talk about that. I know he gets mad at me when I say that, but I will be very, very clear that I've worked with this guy for a long, long time and I thoroughly respect his opinion.

And not only that, he's one of the good guys left doing this. So I want to, with all of that, I’m going to introduce you to Alex Stone from Horizon Media. I'll let him tell you a little bit about himself, what he does day to day and then we're going to jump into some really important topics today.

Alex Stone
Thanks so much Adam. It's been a while since I've been in front of a microphone like this. I was a DJ back in college. DJ ST four minus three, you do the math, I'll play the music. So it is a thrill to be here with you today at Brand Safety Summit. Rob Rasko put together a really nice show here today.

Adam, you've been a mensch. You've been a great guy for me over the past several years. And somebody that I've definitely connected going through a lot with. To give some background on myself, my name is Alex Stone. I've been working at Horizon Media now the past eight years. 

Adam Katz
Wow.

Alex Stone
I head up Advanced Video Solutions and so that's everything addressable TV, data driven linear and also agency partnerships across the board.

So it's a position that really evolved. It used to just be digital, digitally related, but as the silos have come down, as we've seen with consumption habits, where so much is happening in the streaming TV world, so has that position. So it's all agency partnerships. And I also manage a little pizza brand, Little Caesars, which definitely keeps me busy.

Adam Katz
That's awesome. 

Alex Stone
Pizza pizza.

Adam Katz
In terms of obviously, as you think about your role, you work with so many different partners. But I think one of the huge topics that's been going on during this week has been talking a lot about how crazy our world is today, right? And obviously, our world probably was always crazy. We just didn't think about it as much.

We weren't as vigilant to it. And we also weren't surrounded by as much as we are today. 

Right. And obviously, we think a lot at our company about this topic. And I know you guys do. You guys do a phenomenal job of worrying about where your brands go, how they think and how they react. Right. So in today's world, where the speed of culture is as fast as it is, how are you guys keeping up with that opportunity and risk within Horizon Media and how do you guys focus on educating brands to do so?

Alex Stone
Right. Yeah. So, you know, I think we've got a real culture of collaboration at Horizon Media. We understand our specialties and we know when the best time is to connect internally. What's great about at Horizon is like there's very little red tape. So Jason Lee, who I think you've spoken to earlier, that's somebody that I communicate with constantly. As the head of agency partnerships,

If something's going on with any of the big ones, TikTok, Twitter, whatever it is, I might have a line into those guys and may be able to get information that will help us inform our POV or our stance and really everything that we do, it has a lot of eyeballs on it. It's something that Bill Koenigsberg himself really reviews and makes sure that our point of view really is married to our brand, Horizon Media, which, you know, our personal brand motto is business is personal, right?

So that really plays into all the decisions that are made from a macro level. And then really we put our POVs together, but we often leave it up to our clients, our advertisers to make that last call of, okay, you know, there's too much turmoil going on on this platform or, okay, that this is a character that's no longer brand safe and not brand suitable.

How do we avoid that? What do we do? We are here to coach and advise, but ultimately, we allow our accounts to call the shots on whether or not they want to pause or remain live.

Adam Katz
Gotcha. And have you found a challenge, this is a tough question, have you found a challenge where individuals have their own personal bias? Right. And brands have their bias and how you're educating your own people to be able to be comfortable with those decisions. Has that been a challenge?

Alex Stone
Yeah. I mean, I think it's, you know, for brands to do this right, it's understandable, it's important for brands to understand who they are, what is their culture? Where do their ethics lie or their personnel? What's their brand personality? Once a brand really understands that, they can begin to dissect and think about whether or not there are certain areas, environments, trending topics that are right for them or wrong for them.

Again, these are conversations that our boots on the ground, whether they're our social marketplace team or our digital investment video investment business solutions teams. We're constantly having these conversations with our clients on a daily basis to make sure that we're aligned.

Adam Katz
I love it. In terms of like improvement that you think the industry needs, right? Let's take Horizon out of it. You guys are the best, right? You guys have all these setups. You're doing all these amazing things. Super impressive, right? If you had to give advice to what you think's missing in our industry to solve some of these problems, that right now is just not there.

Right. Would you say there's measurement issues? Would you say there's issues around the ability to figure out other ways to look at metrics other than just ROI? Where do you hope this goes?

Alex Stone
Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest hole that we've been trying to fill and it's something that I preach about, I've been quoted in the press about, has been transparency. So that's transparency in the video space, in the programmatic space, it tends to get very cloudy very quickly. So, how could we make this environment something that our historic linear of video buyers, make them more comfortable with what they're buying in the programmatic space.

So that's really working with the networks to understand what they can, what data they can pass back, is this data that could be passed back via tech service like in SSP? Is this something that maybe we're thinking about it wrong and it needs to be commingled data so we understand genre level programing, but it's something that a third party arbitrator is deciding versus a network.

Adam Katz
Gotcha. And I think that's a huge topic. Right. Like when you think about it, a lot of the decisions that get made in our industry are outside of some of your guys hands. Right. So how is Horizon Media doing its best to try to be at all those tables? Where, what are some of the tables you guys like to be at?

Or is it, you know, the Brand Safety Institute? Is it sitting at conferences like this? Where do you guys like to put yourself so that you guys stay at the top of the heap?

Alex Stone
Yeah. No, I think we dabble in a lot of different conferences. Certainly the Brand Safety Summit is one that is a priority for us and one that we have done things with in the past. For me, I don't want to hear the same story over and over. 

Adam Katz
We all don’t anymore. 

Alex Stone
Yeah. I want to go to these conferences and walk away with something. Oh, you know, this is new. I learned this. So, you know, whether it's a conference, it's specifically talking about programmatic, you know, again, something that's definitely more prevalent now in the media age or whether it's a brand safety summit. I think you often have similar strings and similar conversations going on the programmatic conferences. 

It’s more like how do we get this done? And Brand Safety Summit is like more of what needs to get done. So it’s,

Adam Katz
Interesting. So you ultimately, are you saying that you're a big fan and your advice to the viewers would be to really to go to more niche things so that people could start to really understand that topic and that ultimately this industry has so many acronyms, so many names and so many different things going on that it's very easy to get lost in the shuffle.

Right. So how does Alex learn? What's Alex Stone's day to day way of staying up to speed?

Alex Stone
All right. So I mean this for me to stay up to speed, I'm constantly reading Digiday, Adweek, Ad Age. I'm reading those as much of the free content as I can. And if I don't have a log in, 

Adam Katz
You’re asking someone. 

Alex Stone
to try to get access. But yeah, in addition to that, I take a lot of meetings. This isn't an invitation to reach out to me and ask for a meeting. However, if you are a relevant vendor that has been working with, you know, teams within my agency, it's incumbent upon me to know your insides and outs and what you're really about. Are you, a you know, an inventor or are you a pretender, like, what are you what's going on?

Adam Katz
I think that's a great point. I think I'm asking you a lot about what you can do and what Horizon could do. I think we should talk about what we could all do. Right. I think a lot of the partners in the vendors need to help you guys know what's going on, too, right. So I think one of the things you do a great job of working with you over the years is really reaching out to get that information from the source that knows, right?

Alex Stone
Yeah. I mean, you know, another thing it sparked something I was thinking of. We have these different councils within Horizon. Again, like we want hand-raisers, we want people that are leaned in and involved. I don't want to have to ask for nominations or beg people to participate. And so one thing we do have is a we have a digital privacy center of excellence, 

Adam Katz
Wow

Alex Stone
Right.

Alex Stone
And this is 25 people throughout the agency. It's not just digital. You know, video investment team is vested in it. We have analytics, programmatic, doesn't matter, and we meet on a monthly basis. We talk all about what's pressing, what's hot, what's going on right now in the world of, in this case, is privacy. And then we often end that with 30 minutes of real talk with a partner, a vendor that comes in - 

Adam Katz
That’s amazing. 

Alex Stone
- and talks about what's going on in their world from a privacy perspective. And it isn't one of those hey, here's a 20 slide deck. We're going to read every word on the slide. This is more of like, hey, we've got five slides, feel free to interrupt. And there are interruptions.

Adam Katz
I love that. And listen, what you're basically saying is passionate people who want to step up and do this themselves is even more important than pushing people to do it.

Alex Stone
Correct.

Adam Katz.
 It's beautiful that you guys have that culture over at Horizon. In terms of, probably some of my last questions here as I have you on the podcast.

Let's talk about you for a second. Right. How does Alex make decisions right in his day to day life today? Like where, when you wake up and you want to buy something, right. How is your journey of purchasing changed, you know, since you were that DJ right? Like, obviously, (right- alex) things have changed, you now have a couple of kids.

You have a different life. So how has your purchasing decisions changed over time?

Alex Stone
Adam, I just want to correct you. I have three kids. So a couple of kids, that's easy. I've got three. So a lot of my decisions are, a lot of my decisions are made on Father's Day, on my birthday. They're made for me a lot of my my clothing decisions or, you know, the honest, you know, sometimes when I'm going to work and I might look in the mirror on the way to work or something might happen, and I'm like, all right, I got to run into J.Crew.

Why do I know about a brand like J.Crew? I'm seeing them on social media. I'm seeing them in email, and they're catching me. And when it's not J.Crew, like, I lean into, like, Stitch Fix. And a lot of these convenient oriented ways to make sure I'm staying relevant from a clothing and style perspective.

Adam Katz
I think two things that I'll point out, you know, here, as we wrap up and kind of give you the last question, some of the big topics that have been coming up today, they're pretty consistent, right, where you have obviously people making decisions in trying to understand the consumer more and more than ever before. Right. We've actually at Sightly been practicing like, we’ll just get in a room and ask each other, like, how did you buy something today?

What'd you read today? What did you think about, just to try to stay human in the process at which because I feel like we get so acronymic and technical at times in our industry that we forget that like we all do the same things every day, right?

Alex Stone
Right. We have our own anecdotes as well. You know, it's not just what you necessarily read or read online or hear in a podcast, but like we have our own experiences. Again, like having kids. That's way different from when I first entered the industry and I was going to every media event I possibly could. You know, you kind of have to think about like, what are my kids into?

Whether it's like Pokemon and soccer or, you know, Nintendo Switch, you know, and that often informs like what I'm doing on the weekends is what are they interested in and what hobbies can I help build for them as they grow in this world.

Adam Katz
Yeah, and I think also the second thing that I'll bring up as we wrap up, not to give a selfish plug to ourselves here down the stretch, you know, but we're heavily focused on the speed of information, right. And how you make risk and opportunity decisions every single day. 

Alex Stone
Yup.

Adam Katz
And I think it's really difficult to do that at scale. Right. So I know you guys are working very, very hard at how to do that at Horizon Media over time. And I'm not saying that we're going to help you with that or not. But in the end, like if you had a utopia, right, seven, eight years from now, let's just say Alex now, 15 years at Horizon, we're going into 2030 and you felt that you could really move at the speed of today's information. What would Utopia look like to you?

Alex Stone
It's really having the finger on the pulse, right? So finger on the pulse with brand suitability and understanding, you know, this is how if I'm running an account, this is how my account looks at brand suitable, you know, environments and a lot of that I know Sightly really brings to the table with what we're doing with you guys in the YouTube world.

Alex Stone
So it's more of how does something like that expand to the other platforms. 

Adam Katz
Completely agree.

Alex Stone
How does that expand programmatically, right? So I think in my utopia, it is one platform across all things versus having to go to disparate.

Adam Katz
Completely agree and it would allow all of your people to do what's so great about them, which is their passion, right? 

Alex Stone
Yeah.

Adam Katz
Then they don't have to be overthinking these little minutia things while their passion is leading the way. So what I've learned today about Alex here on Breaking Through The Mayhem is, listen, this is hard, right? But Horizon Media is doing a phenomenal job of bringing together teams, having the people that raise their hand become the passionate ones that are doing this, which makes it so much better because you have people in the room that actually want to talk about these things and want to make them better.

And then on top of that as Alex stated, they bring in vendors that are really, really helping them. So this has been a really, really cool session. Thank you so much for joining us and signing off.

Alex Stone

All right. Take care. Thank you.

Sightly
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