An Interview with Zack Kazin- Senior Director at Vox Media [VIDEO]

Norbert Horvath sits down with Zack Kazin, Senior Director at Vox Media to discuss his role at Vox Media and the implications of the metaverse in the coming years.

Speakers: Norbert Horvath, CTO, Say It Now; Zack Kazin, Senior Director, Vox Media.

Read the full transcript of the video here:

Norbert Horvath 0:12
In this session, we’re sitting with Zach Qasim,

Senior Director of Content partnerships at Vox creative. Hi, Zack. Are you doing? Good?

Zack Kazin 0:23
Zack to get started, tell us a bit about yourself your role and what it is that exactly that you do. Sure. So I lead the content partnerships team as part of Vox creative. Vox creative as a Content Studio within Vox media. What that essentially means is we connect brands, to audiences through content. Content in our world means anything from micro content, social videos to feature length documentaries, or full custom podcasts, anything in between experiences, and new innovative formats. And so what I what I do is essentially work adjacent to our sales team and our creatives, creatives and creative strategy team to work with brands to figure out what do they want to do in the content space? And how are we going to achieve their goals? And how did you end up in this role. So I kind of ended up here by a circumstance and like how to JSON experience but I’ve never actually worked in the world of pitching brands on campaigns. I’ve said this a zillion times before this job. I never looked at an RFP in my life. Now I look at them all day, every day. I used to work at Red Bull, I ran the global partnerships and programming division for about four years there. So what that meant was rebels, digital and social platforms at the time, what that meant was pre Tik Tok, musically, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and then principally the video platforms, YouTube, Hulu and others, figuring out what kind of programming Redbull would programme as a media company, for those platforms. And previous to that I used to work at AOL, I started a small production company and I started my career at lions game. Cool. Now in this role of the creative and the content and the brand interest, where do you see the intersect with innovation and new technologies, especially when it comes to brands, right, like breaking through in what I would just generally say the content marketing space is tricky. And while brands want to do things that are consistent and build audiences and create retention, while also selling products, or building loyalty, very often, what a brand is looking to do is do something breakout breakout very often means innovative. So 10 years ago, the first time and I’ll just harken back to Red Bull or at this point, it was a little over 10 years ago, they threw a guy in space and livestream did the innovative part. Obviously, it was the the space jump part. But it was also live streaming. At that time, that was the biggest thing YouTube have ever seen. It’s still the largest live stream on that platform today. And that was the innovation, right? That’s evolved in a number of different ways.

You know, to bring it to live in a different ll than live at the beginning of the pandemic and 2020 was how do we turn every event into a live event? How do we make live events, this our live streams, this interactive experience. And so this idea of innovation, be it through video through audio through text based off their real life stuff, is always sort of at the forefront of what’s going to create that buzz and ultimately, that halo effect to pair unique engaging formats, with high level awareness that brands always need. And then, you know, a lot of those use cases they’re thinking about how does it drive a consumer in to actually complete a purchase more get to a point of asking for more information where you actually create a connection between brand and consumer.

Norbert Horvath 3:47
So in essence, optimising the call to action, that the brand means

Zack Kazin 3:52
in many ways, yeah, and and what it can do, right? It can be, let’s say there’s the simpler or call it more of like a KPI driven format of what you’re saying of like, how do we optimise the way you’re creating connection, the call to action, the actual action, and then there’s the additional, let’s call it like, Spark halo effect, PR have a moment of something that’s really interesting and innovative, whether that means being first to market or doing it in a really unique way.

Norbert Horvath 4:22
In terms of the immersive role of technology, because lines are being blurred a lot. From from from Metaverse to social to that which way Where do you see the brands interests lie in the in the coming years in the near term midterm?

Zack Kazin 4:39
It’s interesting. You said we’ve been having a lot of conversations about the metaverse lately and for a number of reasons. One of the big ones being literally Facebook rebranding to meta Metaverse has become this big buzzword. I’m not going to speak on behalf of our whole company or creative team but like there is a bit of a wave of us internally thinking that It’s a little bit overblown. We’re talking about something that’s been around for a long time when you think about gaming, gaming has been a Metaverse for decades. In any case, so I think that’s one area. That’s interesting. I think it’s from like one innovation space that’s been growing, growing, growing, and especially something that’s become a big true business for us at Vox media is podcasting, right, like audio, in the sense of building audiences, creating new IP formats using that as a way to expand an existing brand, or in our case, our individual editorial networks, right has become a big thing. It’s also for us in a way that talent comes to the forefront where historically Vox media and I say historically, were generally 10 to 15 years old, with the exception of New York Magazine as a legacy brand. Generally, we’re not a talent driven company, right? Like you don’t see a bunch of big names at the forefront of our video content. You see big name journalists, but that’s a little bit different. In the audio space, our shows are led by names in many cases, not all so Nilay Patel, the editor in chief of The Verge runs two different podcasts, you have Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway running podcasts. Preet Bharara and his podcast network Cafe have joined us criminal and the team that runs criminal has joined us as part of the podcast network and bring that to the sort of the table as part of the equation here is that when there is talent, and in a format like audio, which for a number of reasons that we can get into is very engaging. The consumer connection to that as a medium and as a brand is really interesting. So and really close. So you hear a podcast host read. And it’s a different level of engagement from somebody watching a TV spot or seeing a display, because it’s someone you trust, talking to you. And we’ve seen a lot of a lot of evidence and a lot of ways that that kind of advertising is, in many ways, providing more engagement and lift than others. We love all of our children, all of our ad formats. But that that one is I think is interesting. And then where it’s going next has evolved. So like how that plays into innovation in the future, is a number of ways inclusive of the evolution of podcast formats, as well as our ad formats, as well as how we’re doing brand based segments and mini series in full on podcast series. And then also the way that podcasts become sort of trial for big concepts. We I don’t think we have done it yet. But I’ve seen it in the industry where podcasts have become like the pilot for that TV show. So write shows that were first released as a podcast get optioned by a Netflix or an Amazon or so on. So that space is one that’s also really interesting to me.

Norbert Horvath 7:56
I mean, the growth of podcasting, this whole ambient Entertainment has been crazy over the last few years. And I think when it comes to the support structures of content monetization, where do you see what do you see the advertising formats evolving in that podcast arena?

Zack Kazin 8:17
I think it’s so I started to mention a little bit of how there’s like different kinds of levels of ads or different ways that way and and the way we look at it as a few ways. So you got brand gives us their ad spot, pretty straightforward standard, basically radio ad turned into a podcast ad or now they’re just podcast first radio second, maybe then there’s a whole story host is reading your creative, that we have ones that we would call produce threads where our team is writing a script on your behalf with you. So we’re doing all the legwork, then you click it up further when we say we say branded segments. And so what that is is like take the middle spot and podcast, usually about 90 seconds and turned into a micro story. And so whether that is a story that reflects the brand, whether it is it’s an explainer in audio format, it’s essentially micro branded content, but an audio format. Then you go up further and we say let’s make full episodes and the way that comes to life is either we’ll do a mini series in partnership with one of our shows. So for example, if a show called switched on pop, to show about pop music and musicology. Essentially, they have done a few limited runs where they they did a we did a partnership with JBL a year ago, where they of course are marketing headphones and audio quality. And we did a whole series on anthems. And so they went into they did a full episode on Queens. We are the champions. They did a whole episode dissecting jock jams and so on. And so it brings the brand into the affinity and like a really aligned way but with editorial. And then the last sort of most complex thing we do is launch a net new podcast for a brand. We’ve had really great success we work with Ben and Jerry’s on two different seasons of a show. We’ve got a show out right now with Mattress Firm the show Giant masters brand that you can buy across the US. That is a podcast about sleep. It’s not about Mattress Firm. And so that’s a really way that we can get deep into affinities there. And as part of that, right, that that goes from full on content to various types of ad formats, I think where we’re going with ads is thinking about how can we think about further measuring attribution with how a brand or consumers engaging with that podcast ad, right now in the Vox world, most of what our ads are is like, call them dumb ads, if you will, like it’s passively listen, you maybe can go get a URL, put it in, put it in a website, get more information, and so on. We’ve done a few that are sequential, where you hear one, then you hear the next one that’s a little bit more detail. But I think there’s a whole world of where those ads can start to become more more interactive, essentially,

Norbert Horvath 10:51
absolute. And we noticed that actually, in terms of our research of last few years, I guess, dumb ads is a bit of a harsh word, but how do you actually keep your level of engagement with whatever you’re doing? And still somehow remember taking that URL and putting it into a web browser? Which leads me to actually a next little question, when, what’s the first or most memorable radio ad that you remember the first one that to this day, you still remember?

Zack Kazin 11:23
My it’s unbelievable how terrible my long term memory has. But the things that come to mind when I think of the ads, I remember the radio are radio DJs, advertising the local big blowout concert, right? Like, dial in to get a free ticket or whatever it may be, which is more like a house ad than a brand, putting a spot there. But like, that’s the thing that comes to mind. For me. That’s the thing that like, I remember being like, Oh, you’re telling me to do something. And there’s something to do. So that’s me.

Norbert Horvath 11:54
And yeah, and thanks again for your time. But just in closing today, and this is interesting, for a podcast perspective, where do you see the role of radio creators, and podcasting, converging in the, in the coming years,

Zack Kazin 12:11
I think was a little bit of what I was saying before, where like, creators in the audio space have built an incredible or ones who build up their podcasts have built incredible amount of trust with their audiences. And so what they can then instruct their audiences to do if they believe in the brands that they’re partnering with, he’s really massive. So whether that is in much more in depth information or guidance around a product or a brand, whether that’s so it’s like, you take a brand, that’s a beverage brand, and you’re like, oh, goodbye, but maybe it’s more of like this beverage brands, really interested in sustainability. And I as the host, I’m also into that kind of thing. Here’s what we’re doing together as a partnership, and you have the trust and relationship there that I think is really interesting. I also think like levels of, of taking advertising in the audio space, and bring it into a much more interactive world can be really, like, really fascinating. Meaning if a creator, right, like you get creative people get their hands on, like, what can I do if I can make my podcasts experience or just my audio experience interactive, and do anything from your podcast now has a companion show that you can interact with on whatever device you have at home? I think that’s really interesting. I think the idea of launching in that new experience in an audio first world is really interesting. There’s been some experiments that I’ve seen through Spotify, and through things that you guys are doing with brands that are really interesting. And I think like that, that’s kind of like the tip of the iceberg. The way I think of it is we are so adept, and used to the idea of like someone gave me what I would call like an interactive page on a website or a mobile device. And you can play around with that, and do something really interesting. So like you see a wave of people sharing. I have a good example of how to have like, you know, a quiz based thing where you can you can click around and learn about yourself. All of that has the potential and audio and perhaps if it gets adopted faster or in any way. It’s actually more frictionless than the idea of browsing aside putting in a URL, you’re actually just interacting with your voice and

Norbert Horvath 14:29
gamification. Yeah, that’s yeah, that’s a big one. Exactly.

Zack Kazin 14:31
The gamification of it gets really interesting. I similar I mean, like to harken back to like my gut take on the metaverse and Metaverse is basically gaming masked in corporate suits. And like, you think of people who are being innovative and have been innovative in gaming spaces where mobile gaming has risen so much and simple gaming has is such a big thing. I think very Very often people say it’s a gaming gamers eSports whatever they think of the people playing La Liga, legends or Call of Duty or whatever, you’re also the person playing Wordle and Candy Crush. And that kind of thing where there isn’t the in depth complexity of a game like Call of Duty or fortnight in voice, sky’s the limit, like, Why Why isn’t there not a wordle voice version right right now, or that like, not with words, but whatever you could create in that space. And there’s, like, insane potential there. The other thing that just popped in my mind too, is just from a device standpoint, I’m, I’m somebody who in the last year or so heavily adopted air pods, right, in many ways, because they’re really great at noise cancellation. And their mics are good in other ways, because literally, I like to pace while I’m on the phone. But I also maybe on purpose, and maybe not on purpose, started getting Siri alerts in my ears when I’m walking, and breaking through music or podcasts, telling me messages or whatever, and responding and giving commands without thinking about it without moving and I’m picking up my hands. It’s amazing. So like, the idea of where that can go to is really interesting, have that column response.

Norbert Horvath 16:14
So you see that actually as a growth opportunity for brands to get better. What brand awareness,

Zack Kazin 16:22
I look at, as I like in that part as like true engagement, I think there’s the like different stage of that purchase decision, right or the when you’re receiving an ad for the first time the brand’s trying to net you as a new compute consumer, or if you’ve heard of them, but like bring you into their fault. So in analogy to any other kind of ad format, it’s like great the awareness and maybe drive down the funnel to an initial purchase. That’s the you get served what is now potentially interactive audio ads, and you respond to your voice device and say, yes, now give me more information purchase, whatever it can be, in the even more complex way. And this is like in my mind, I’m walking down the street, I hear my info, whatever, like, this is the kind of brands start interacting with me and providing me with more utility information, whether it’s a DIY kind of thing, or it’s a sort of product service after a purchase, where you’re talking about. I have, I mean, that is both DIY and afters, where just like I bought a piece of furniture, and IKEA is gonna guide me through the creation of it. And I can ask questions, my hands are full. And they’re, you know, their instructions are decent. No words as if you’re familiar with IKEA instructions. But imagine if you could ask for questions or ask like, what is this circular little bolt thing that I don’t know how it works. And it can actually give you some answers there. That’s kind of interesting to me. You know, workout space, I think it’s kind of interesting guidance around personal fitness at home can be kind of interesting. And that’s where like a brand there can start playing into it. And whether you’re the workout brand, or the brand advertising with a workout platform interesting becomes kind of interesting. But that I mean, that kind of thing just is like, in theory is limitless. And what it takes is for the each brand, and each like platform, if you will, the platform being the creator, the show, the podcast, in my analogy I just made is the fitness brand, right pairing with the brand trying to sell a product, figuring out what’s the way to do it and get those creative brains and those juices flowing. To get some use cases in the in the world. Even more than there are now right there are a lot that are really interesting. And people might not even know about and just go forth. And I think that’s what’s really interesting.

Norbert Horvath 18:39
So basically more ambient less interrupting long term relationship with a brand. That’s yeah, service oriented, not overbearing.

Zack Kazin 18:48
Yeah. Not overbearing, but also I mean, like, yes, and also the potential to create a stronger actual relationship with your consumer, right. Like, that isn’t ambient. In fact, it’s like a more direct part of that relationship with the brand, because it is designed in a way that is convenient, and non interruptive. And interactive in the sense that a user can initiate and stop, but come back to it. I think that’s kind of interesting.

Norbert Horvath 19:15
Are there strategies in your industry that actually are banking on this and are planning with this use? Do you see movement towards that?

Zack Kazin 19:25
Yeah, I see it. I mean, the biggest signals with the brands that I’m working with, like in the Vox world is just how much the adoption towards audio through podcasting has increased in the last even while I’ve been there for four years, dramatic, like truly dramatic the way that we’ve been able to go from let me talk to you about audio and podcasting and hope you get it a little bit to multi year multi month upfront deals with brands buying spots to brands who are asking specifically to launch branded podcasts. Even if they don’t know the ins and outs, like that is a signal that there’s a recognition of how much time people are spending with the voice devices. And it’s started with audio devices, voice devices being part of it. And the thing that I think, ultimately brands, brand leaders, agencies that rep them are always going to come back to how am I measuring success? What is this working? What are the metrics that show me that this is on par with or better than other formats? And the reason underlying the rise of this audio interest? The metrics don’t lie, they’re showing that it’s working. Brand studies are showing that people are having better recall for ad formats in this in this place. And so like, for me, the signal for where interactive can only make it better is you talked about something like brand recall or success metrics or engagement metrics. Interactivity is an obvious way to take that up further. So I think it’s, it’s coming right like it’s, I mean, it’s happening already, but I think it’s gonna grow even further.

Norbert Horvath 21:01
Now, this is fantastic. Thank you so much for your time today. And I’m looking forward to sending you these updates that we’re finding out about this trip. Love it. Thank you very much.