Carlos Watson indicated Monday morning that he had much to discuss with advertisers, even though his company, Ozy Media, has been besieged by a torrent of difficult news about its relations with investors, vendors and staff. “This is our Lazarus moment,” the executive told interviewer Craig Melvin on NBC’s “Today.”
Madison Avenue isn’t so sure.
Watson is getting a cool reception among top media-buying agencies, according to one executive familiar with recent outreach that Ozy has made to those who direct the spending of billions of dollars of advertising on behalf of top marketers. Watson and Ozy have been talking to media buyers about the company taking a “temporary pause” and describing a vision in which “Ozy will be back up again,” this executive said. “That is probably falling on deaf ears.” A representative for Ozy could not be reached for immediate comment.
There are reasons for skepticism when it comes to dealing with Ozy. Since a column appeared in The New York Times a week ago, outlining how the digital-media outlet faked a testimonial from a YouTube executive in a bid to secure financing from Goldman Sachs, the company has been picked apart. Some media outlets have heard tough stories about overworked Ozy employees. Others have detailed flimsy — even nonexistent — relationships with media companies like A+E Networks or Amazon.
Just a few months ago, however, Ozy enjoyed amazing access to top advertising firms. WPP’s GroupM in April unveiled a two-year pact with Ozy that called for the creation of bespoke video and audio series for the agency’s clients. Ozy would also have provided consultation services on trends. Dentsu Media, another large media buyer, in March struck a three-year partnership with Ozy.
On Monday, Watson told Axios that the company’s deals with WPP and Dentsu were still extant. Representatives for Dentsu did not respond to queries seeking comment.
But WPP’s GroupM, which makes buying decisions for advertisers including Ford Motor, Unilever and IBM, was blunt in a statement Monday night about its dealings with Ozy: “Last week we suspended all campaigns with Ozy Media on behalf of our clients,” the agency said in a statement. “We have also terminated our agreement with Ozy Media at this time.”
Ozy likely benefitted from a recent focus by the advertising industry on redirecting client spending toward media organizations owned by executives of color. In recent months, Target, Verizon and Procter & Gamble have demonstrated new willingness to work with Black-owned businesses or forge partnerships with Black creative executives. Interpublic Group’s Mediabrands, a large buying agency, pledged to hold a series of “equity upfronts” that put advertisers in discussions with media outlets that cater to people of specific backgrounds. Most of the activity comes after months of reflection across the U.S., with individuals and companies examining their actions toward minorities and multicultural audiences in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
Advertisers have also faced new and growing pressure to consider how their dollars get spent. A group led by Byron Allen, the entrepreneurial owner of Weather Channel and a large group of TV stations, among other media assets, has been making a case to top media agencies and marketers over the past year that the time to support a broader mix of media outlets is way past due. Allen in April succeeded in prodding General Motors, the massive U.S. automaker, to pledge to quadruple the percentage of its advertising dollars that go to Black-owned media outlets between 2021 and 2025.
The ad industry’s treatment of diverse audiences, employees and media outlets has come under scrutiny time and again. But so, too, has the allocation of advertising dollars to digital venues that lack an agreed-upon measurement of audience. Trade groups like the Assn. of National Advertisers have called multiple times for more transparency of data about viewership and audience To be sure, there are raw counts of audience or minutes of video streamed provided by companies like Comscore. But there is also opportunity for skewing of audience behavior. And new ad relationships based on so-called “programmatic” distribution means that advertisers are less savvy about the kinds of media outlets their advertising supports.