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Matt Sweeney

Matt Sweeney

Matt Sweeney

Sweeney came to his new post from Xaxis,  GroupM’s programmatic media arm, signaling a new approach to a changing media landscape. Sales execs call him very strategic and a great partner. “He learned extraordinarily quickly and he was well prepared for the upfront,” said an ad-sales head from a top media company who asked not to be identified.

But before getting to the upfront, Sweeney had to deal with the pandemic on behalf of his clients. “We ranked our preferred partners based on how flexible they were with us through COVID when we needed to move or even cancel some dollars,” Sweeney said. Now, GroupM is judging them on delivering on their upfront guarantees. Ratings have eroded, but might rebound as scripted shows return to schedules.

Media companies are responding well. “We expect that to continue because it will impact what budgets look like in next year’s upfront,” Sweeney said. “If you can’t deliver consistently, why would I not option dollars away from you and put them where they can have the greatest impact for our clients?”

At a time when some wondered if there would be an upfront, Sweeney convinced GroupM clients to mostly buy at the traditional time, a strategy validated by a scatter market where prices are high and little inventory remains available.

“We have to expand on the definition of TV and go beyond traditional pay TV,” he said, noting that one needs only to follow the money to see that media companies are investing in programming, data and technology to pursue more direct-to-consumer business. Similarly, ad dollars are increasingly following viewers towards streaming with outlets owned by the big media companies such as Hulu, Peacock and Pluto TV.

“We have to make sure there’s value there,” he said, adding that the industry needs to collaborate so advertisers can measure and optimize across media brands.

Sweeney is not the only digital guy who believes TV advertising remains powerful. Some of the smartest, data-driven marketers — Amazon, Google, Facebook — spend more money on TV than they did three years ago as a percentage of their marketing budgets, he said. “There’s still tremendous value there.”