Developing Strategic Priorities and Improving Organizational Communication: Interview with Andrew Budkofsky
In this episode of our Strategy and Leadership Podcast, we were joined by Andrew Budkofsky, the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) at Digital Trends. Andrew has a rich background in media and technology, and has worked with cable television, web TV, interactive technologies and sales.
Currently leading the sales team at Digital Trends, Andrew is involved with the latest technologies in the communications and media world.
We asked Andrew to share his insights on leading teams, developing strategic priorities, and executing organizational goals and strategies. Some of his great perspectives were:
- Making sure your team understands the organization's goals and that leaders, in turn, understand their teams
- Maintaining regular communication with your team, and facilitating ways for the team to communicate with each other
- Minimizing communication silos by creating opportunities for different departments to interact
- Understanding how to manage a diverse team and how to motivate different people in the workplace
- Creating a culture that fosters growth, for example, having an open-door policy that transcends vertical levels
- Fostering organization-wide strategic alignment through daily meetings and quarterly strategy reviews
- The importance of focusing on your organizations strategic priority or priorities and not getting distracted or pulled off course
Stream Andrew's full interview below:
Full Interview Transcript:
Anthony Taylor (AT): Why don’t you tell people a little bit about you and your background?
Andrew Bodkofsky (AB): Sure. I got started on the agency side of the advertising business in New York City. At the time, J. Walter Thompson had a media buying group, and I worked in national broadcast buying. When cable television launched, I made the move over to the sales side with Comedy Central, when that channel launched, and then I worked at USA.
I made the move over to digital, working for Microsoft in interactive television technologies, with Web TV and Ultimate TV, which was a really exciting time with the first all in one set top box that would have internet and television capabilities. Also, all kinds of technology in there: a guide, electronic guide, which was first to market, all kinds of really cool stuff like that. I had to make a move back to cable television. I worked at Court TV and helped in their television and digital sales, and then a few years later made the move formally into a digital role, helping run sales for a few digital companies.
I’m at Digital Trends now. I’ve been here for three years, and it’s been a great run. We are technology, news, and reviews, all insights. One of our taglines is “Tech for the way you live.” In a competitive marketplace of technology news, with CNET and others like that, we tell you just very straightforward information about technology that you can digest. Your cell phone probably does a million things; you need it to do seven.
When you’re in the market for a new phone, you’re going to want to type in the search engine “Samsung Galaxy 8 Review.” You’ll probably come to Digital Trends. Our editors and writers will give you perspective that you’ll be able to understand and make a buying decision on.
AT: What I appreciated most about your about page, and just what you guys are (because it’s obviously a proliferation of media companies out there, and publishers and content creators) is your mission to help readers easily understand how tech affects the way they live is so direct that it sounds like that purpose really helps people.
Maybe you can explain. Obviously you’ve had a background in sales primarily, but on the executive team, how would you say that that mission translates in how you guys do what you do?
AB: It’s important that we work within the company, so that all the teams have an understanding of what our goals are. It’s to communicate effectively and help people understand what we’re trying to get across to audiences, and how to drive traffic, and how to monetize the sites through traditional advertising and sales, and then also affiliate sales.
AT: You are also located in a few different cities. We’ll probably get into more of the operations thing, but can you tell me a bit about how your company is structured, based on having so many offices all over the place?
AB: Yeah. Our headquarters are in Portland, Oregon, where we have our editorial, half of our editorial team. It’s broken out by vertical, so our audio and video team is in Portland. Our home section, our wearables, outdoor, those sections are all in Portland. The other half of the editorial team is in New York. Mobile, gaming, automotive, those verticals are in New York. The offices around the country, and even in Toronto where we have an office, are mostly sales centered. We have people in places where our clients are, so that we can establish and maintain the relationships with them.
AT: Based on that, and you being the Chief Revenue Officer, (You have to coordinate with people both locally and in different markets) but as a leader and across all of the industry experience, what are some of your best practices for leading strategy and accomplishing your strategic objectives?
AB: I’ve been in athletics my whole life as a player and a coach, having two kids that grew up in sports as well, and I liken the work environment to the athletic environment. Everybody’s, we’re a team. We have to motivate. As a manager, I need to motivate people. I need to get them aligned under a goal, get them working tirelessly toward that goal. I have that coach’s mentality to get people fired up each day, come in and score a run.
AT: A coach’s mentality being not only just a leader and a hype person, but being there in the good stuff and the bad stuff. Is that what I’ve understood?
AB: Absolutely. It’s important also that you have a relationship. I have a really good relationship, not just with my immediate team in sales, but also across the other parts of the company. I need a good relationship with our editor and chief, with our head of development, with our head of social, because we need to work together, whether it’s to help a client out, or if it’s to do something from a writing perspective. It’s important that we all work together.
AT: What sort of things do you do? What sort of practices that our listeners could take, and say adopt that tomorrow, when it comes to either having a coach’s mentality or being able to create good relationships with people?
AB: I think it’s being able to understand that every player in your organization is unique. I can’t treat one person, I can’t treat everybody the same. If I’m going to be super hard on one person, and motivate them that way, there’s another person whose personality it much softer, and I need to be gentler with them. You really have to be able to understand people’s psyche, and then motivate based on that. Not everybody’s the same.
AT: Do you use any tools or frameworks for that, or is it you use your personal experience and intuition?
AB: I read a lot of self help books. I think it’s super important to read about what other leaders have experienced and how they motivate. I read coaches books. I also read, like Jack Welch is a great leader. He’s done some great writing around the topic. There’s self help books. There’s perspectives, and then there’s also just experience. It’s really experience that helps.
AT: Anything else that you do, maybe on the executive level or working with your teams, to help that strategy and that execution move forward?
AB: Nothing really that I can think of. There’s nothing specific that I can think of. I’m trying to relate to an immediate day to day that we have going now, but I think being open and honest is really important. You have to be able to speak to people when there’s an issue and be honest with them. Tell them what’s up. If there’s some perspective that you have, or advice that you can share, you need to be able to give it to them. Part of it is you need to be a good listener as well as a good communicator, because people are going to talk to you, and you need to be able to hear what they say.
AT: I think so often that we speak in our heads already, so before the other person is even finished, we already have an answer for them. Taking the time to really understand and hear what that is, so that you connect and help that person be successful … I love that.
How big is Digital Trends right now? You have a bunch of contributors, an executive team, and staff staff, but are you start-up size? Are you 50 people to 100 people? What are we looking at?
AB: We’re 100 people, 100 people big. We just crossed that milestone. I think there’s parts of us that are still a start-up, but other parts like our traffic, we could reach a comp score about 15 million uniques a month. There’s a lot that we that is past start-up, but yet our organization is still a start-up in many ways. I like to say that we’re big enough to make it happen, and we’re small enough to make it happen.
In other words, we’re big enough in that we have anything that you want to do from an editorial or creative perspective we can get done, but we’re also small enough to make it happen, meaning we don’t have 15 lawyers that you need approvals from, with documents, so that’s good.
AT: That’s a perfect transition to the culture piece. How would you describe the culture in the organization? I think you did, like the big enough, small enough part, and then I think the people probably get the sense of that, but is there anything that you do specifically to encourage that mentality and help people move forward with the company objectives?
AB: Yeah. We have an open-door policy. It doesn’t matter what level you are; we’re always soliciting perspective. My team is out on the street every day. They’re getting feedback from the marketplace. I encourage them, and I empower them, to be able to come to me with either suggestions, opportunities, roadblocks. Whatever it is, you have to have an open-door, so that you’re getting feedback from teams, and understand what is holding you back, and/or what the opportunities are in the marketplace.
AT: What’s interesting is, obviously you run or manage the sales team, and you also alluded to connecting with the other managers in your team, but from a culture/connectivity standpoint, how connected would you say is your team with everybody else? I’ve seen other organizations where sales often is its own little silo, and it’s like sales, just let me do my thing, versus it being really everybody connected to the whole mission. How would you say, from a culture perspective that feel is within your organization?
AB: Because we have two main offices, really - We’re headquartered in Portland, and then we also have a big office in New York. We don’t have sales people in our Portland office, so I could tell you from the New York perspective, we physically have the editors sitting next to the sales people, so that they’re able to establish a relationship outside of work, so that really, really helps. It’s important that they experience being together so that they’re not siloed, like you said. Certainly sales people and editors are very different personalities, but working together is important, and sitting together gives them that relationship that they need.
AT: Do you find that that relationship and that connectivity translates into results?
AB: Definitely. Yeah. There’s a good collaboration, whether it’s just from a communication perspective. Our editors, I’ll give an example. We have an editor that was asked to go to Korea and meet with LG, and LG was going to give him a perspective on what’s coming down the pipe in terms of flat screen TVs and mobile handset products. We never would have known that if they were sitting in Portland, just because of the distance, out of sight out of mind, but because they were sitting right next to a sales person who works with the agency, there was a great dialogue there.
It led to the fact that we’re now going to meet with the media and strategy team with the editors, so that we can give what we call a tech talk. The editors can talk about what they’re seeing in Korea, that the media team would never have an exposure to. Just that relationship between editor and sales person allowed us to get that done.
AT: That’s awesome. That’s obviously contributed to your success, and you’re ability to do that, to take advantage and separate yourself from some of the less successful organizations in your space. That’s super cool to hear, and I think a lot of people can take from that and see how the benefits of tying sales and the rest of the facets to contribute – everybody’s on the same team and everybody’s aiming at the same net or working on the same goal.
Within that, we talked about a lot of good stuff. In your career, you’ve definitely gone through some other organizations that have gone growing pains, but have been successful. What are some of the risks that you’ve seen, in your experience, in the planning process, in the strategy execution, that would hold the team back, that they might not even be aware that they are doing, or that is just there and should be avoided?
AB: From a company perspective, it’s a lack of focus. You have a tendency to chase after the shiny new toy. If you’re not focused on what your immediate goals are, then you end up being distracted. We experienced it a little bit here. About a year and a half ago, we decided after wanting to be in the editorial space, we decided to try and move quickly into video. We weren’t ready for it yet. Our editorial side wasn’t complete, so how did we start moving into video?
We needed to just pull back and say, “Let’s focus first. Get what we need to done on the editorial side before we move over to the video side.” Eventually we were ready, and we made the move over to video, but that distraction is very difficult for companies. All of a sudden you read three articles in the press about something sexy, and you’re like, “We should do that too.”
Then people, resources get pulled away from what they’re doing, whether it’s dev, or social, or whatever it is. Next thing you know, instead of doing one thing well, you’re doing three things horribly. Not good.
AT: Yeah. Literally, I’m writing a book right now. This will be a plug. I’m sorry everyone, actually, not sorry. I’m writing a book about strategy and execution and the chapter I’m writing right now is about strategic planning, strategic priorities. In the words of Ron Swanson, “Don’t half ass two things. You should whole ass one thing.” Really focus on what strategic priorities are going to move you forward right now.
How within your team, if you’re comfortable sharing, how do you guys communicate those strategic priorities as your team? Do you guys do stand-ups? Do you do Slack, or a bit of everything.
AB: Yeah. We do everything. Slack, for sure. We do daily meetups. Every day we have the team come in, and we just talk about what everybody’s going to do today, what they’re working on, if they have any roadblocks. On a bigger level, we have quarterly strategic meetings where the executive team goes offsite, spends a couple of days together talking about the issues that we have and where we are. We call them rocks. We have three rocks per year, and how those are going, and then making sure we’re on track still. It’s not just one a daily level, but quarterly on an executive level, making sure we’re going what we need to.
AT: That’s awesome. Any other risks that you can think of, that might hold a team back that’s trying to get to that big success?
AB: You’ve got to cut bait. If you have a weak link, you’ve got to cut bait on that person. A lot of times you fret over, well this person, they’re going to come around. There’s some reason why … If you made a wrong hire, just cut bait. You can’t afford to have a weak link in your organization, especially at senior levels, because it just brings the rest of the company down.
AT: Absolutely. It’s tough right? These are the tough decisions that you have to make. Did you ever find that as you – I imagine that you might have pivoted or shifted a little bit – that other people weren’t on board with the vision, and that was sort of a decision that was just made, not necessarily unilaterally, but saying “Hey. We’re not going the right … Based on what I see, it’s not the place I want to go and I’m out,” or is it usually … How do those decisions come about as you guys shift and develop your business? I imagine Digital Trends, over the six years you’ve been there, has pivoted at least slightly once or twice.
AB: Yeah. It was just the question of execution. We didn’t have the right people, in the right place, that would execute. We kept giving them the leash, and they ended up hanging themselves. It just wasn’t working. The rest of the executive team noticed it. It’s not just at the executive level. Even the rank and file, they noticed too. When someone’s not pulling their weight, there’s questions abound, morale issues, and you just need to make a change.
AT: Yeah, absolutely. Throughout our entire conversation, we’ve talked about leading. We started off the chat today talking about your mission and making sure everybody’s on the same page, so you guys do your daily meetings, and having everybody focused and clear. Is there anything else that you do to align strategy and performance, and making sure that your KPIs are being met? How else do you align strategy and performance, so not just having the plan, but executing the plan?
AB: Everybody gets quarterly goals. There’s annual reviews, but even on a quarterly basis I sit down with people and say, “What are you looking to achieve this quarter?” It can’t be, “Get more meetings.” It has to be a set number of meetings, a set number of deals closed. Quarterly goals, and then half way through the quarter we do check-ins, so how are you doing against these goals, and what’s going on? Also, I need to help, so being helpful is important as well. Setting these quarterly goals is what’s important to people.
AT: Absolutely. It sounds like your mantra, and approach as a leader, is to not only give them the goals and send them on their way, but also to provide the support and leadership for them to be successful.
AB: For sure.
AT: Awesome. From a cascading goals perspective, you obviously have organizational goals, and then you break down the individual pieces that will all contribute to the vision or mission it sounds like?
AB: Yes. That’s how we do it.
AT: One more question. Is there anything else you would recommend to a CEO or manager, like yourself, on the leadership team, that’s responsible for leading strategy? A golden tip to help them be more successful in their strategy and execution?
AB: For me, it’s don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get involved. Even though you might be sitting in the corner office, people want you to be involved with them and have a relationship with them, so you have a better understanding of what they’re going through. Be on the ground with them. Get involved. That’s the key.
AT: That’s awesome. I love that. How can people get a hold of you? If they want to work with Digital Trends, or be a part of what you’re doing, how can people connect with you?
AB: The usual social media ways. LinkedIn, I’m on Linkedin – Andrew Budkofsky. Twitter, same handle. Through Digital Trends there’s a way to contact us, and we’d love to partner with as many people as we can.
AT: Thank you so much, Andrew. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me. I hope you have a safe rest of the day, no matter where it might take you.
AB: I appreciate it. It was great talking with you.
AT: Anthony Taylor with SME Strategy, and I’ve been joined by Andrew Budkofsky, the CRO At Digital Trends. Thanks again, Andrew.