Q&A with Avi Zimak, Outbrain’s National Sales Director, Publishers

I recently sat down with Avi Zimak, Outbrain’s National Sales Director, Publishers to discuss his new role and why he values content discovery.

What originally drew you to Outbrain?

The business model is revolutionary for the industry. It’s such a unique, yet sensible way for publishers to get their message in front of consumers without force feeding them a traditional ad. I respect that.

Tell me a little bit about your previous experience and how it pertains to what you’ll be doing at Outbrain.

I have fifteen years in the media business, specifically in advertising sales within the magazine publishing industry, working at companies such as Conde Nast, Time Inc. and Ziff-Davis. Most recently I worked in an entrepreneurial role at Hearst Corporation within a newly created department called Tablet Media, where I oversaw all ad initiatives across our 20 national magazine brands. To go back to your previous question, a lot of what we did at Hearst was presenting the end-user with an ad experience that was natural and not forced upon them. We insisted to our advertising partners that all ads had to be full-page creative, in a placement that was natural for reader discovery and that the reader could control, versus using the traditional web model of banners, pop-ups and other like disruptive ads that we know readers don’t want. What Outbrain does is essentially the same thing: allowing the user to control their own experience and selecting what content they want to consume.

Why is content discovery so important to you and to the industry in general?

The web has been such an important aspect of content discovery, but it has been all about search. Generally speaking, publishers were late to the game, so the only way they could monetize their business was by throwing all of their content onto the web for free and then hoping advertisers would pay for partial placement on their pages.  This one-sided model is flawed — for publishers to be profitable they need both a consumer and advertiser revenue stream. Outbrains two-pronged strategy of “engage” and “amplify” is a much smarter approach for both publisher’s and their audiences. As a publisher, that’s the end game: to make sure your audience is having the best user experience possible in all facets so that they’ll return to you again and again.

What do you do for fun?

I have two-year-old twin daughters, so my primary hobby these days is going to the playground, museums and birthday parties. When I do have time to myself, I’m a huge fan of everything New York City has to offer, from the arts and sports to just walking around and enjoying all the wonderful restaurants and sights. I also enjoy music and travel, although my leisure travel has seriously declined since my daughters were born.

Where’s the most interesting place you’ve ever been?

Of course I’m going to say Israel, as I think it’s an amazing country with such rich history and culture. Thailand is also pretty amazing. My wife and I spent nearly a month touring the country. We got to explore the jungles, rice patties, cities and beaches. The hospitality in Thailand is second to none.

Where are you originally from and how did you get into media and advertising?

I’m from a relatively small town in Westchester County called Yorktown Heights. After college I immediately came to New York City. I chose media and advertising because I studied business economics and communications, so figured it was a pretty good fit. I always knew that would be the type of role I wanted to go into. I actually started off in real estate working for Donald Trump, but quickly realized that was not a business I wanted to be in. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an amazing salesman with brilliant business acumen, but I had some friends who were writers and they always told me their business-side counterparts seemed to have a lot of fun in what they do for a career. I decided to give publishing a try, starting off in ad sales and I immediately fell in love with the industry. It really stems back to the principles of why Yaron started Outbrain: it’s all about finding and discovering great content, whether via a print product or online. Working in magazines, I’ve been able to follow my passion-points, whether it’s been technology, fashion, epicurean or general lifestyle. All these categories, and experiences for that matter, have really come full circle for me working for a company that provides every possible vertical to the entire universe. Not everyone can say they work somewhere that is changing the world…and I love that about Outbrain.

Avi most recently served as advertising director for Hearst Tablet Media, where he oversaw all aspects of advertising and marketing within the tablet media department for Hearst’s 20 national  magazine brands. Prior to that, he served as advertising manager for Town & Country where he managed the magazines advertising sales team. Avi has also held sales director positions at Business 2.0, Details and Gourmet magazines.






Content Marketing Will Change the Overall Media Landscape

For an excellent, in-depth analysis of why content marketing works and an examination of the industry’s future direction, check out this piece by Lewis D’Vorkin, Chief Product Officer at Forbes Media. In it, he niftily defines content marketing as “brands using the tools of digital media and social sharing to behave like original-content publishers” and rightly claims that “the idea that a company — as a brand and marketer — can be an expert content creator and reach an audience by disintermediating reporters is confusing, threatening and scary to an entire profession that had its way for a century.”

D’Vorkin also uses the piece to plug AdVoice, Forbes’ tool that enables brands to publish content on Forbes digital and print properties. Brands like SAP, Microsoft, Dell, Netapp and Merrill Lynch have used the digital platform; Toyota, Northwestern Mutual and United Airlines have used the print platform.

For brands, AdVoice and platforms such as the ones created by Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic and Gawker have become incredibly valuable because they enable companies to “produce content at will in an effort to be heard,” he writes. Just like journalists, consumers and the social community can, he added.

“Content is content, and transparency makes it possible for many different credible sources to provide useful information,” D’Vorkin writes.

Here at Outbrain, we couldn’t agree more. Since our inception in 2006, we’ve encouraged brands to focus more on quality content than on SEO rankings, direct sales and social shares. Our belief has always been that powerful content is the single biggest driving force behind consumer loyalty, and that one powerful piece of useful, entertaining or informative writing or video content can propel companies ahead of the competition.

What media companies like Forbes and HuffPo have been able to do is provide trusted names to a nascent industry. Branded content stamped with the Forbes seal of approval will have longer legs than content floating unsupported throughout the digital ecosystem. At Outbrain, our algorithmic understanding of consumption patterns provides a similar service. Audiences consuming written and video content on digital properties are looking for a trusted name to recommend valuable branded content. By predetermining what the reader will find interesting and recommending that story or video at the exact point when the consumer is ready to read or watch a new piece of content, we are able to maximize the likelihood that powerful branded content gets discovered.

Outbrain CEO Yaron Galai will moderate a discussion between Lewis D’Vorkin, Chief Product Officer at Forbes Media and Annalisa Camarillo, Senior Manager of Executive Initiatives at NetApp on Sept. 19th. Click here to RSVP.

Great Content Should Concern Publishers More Than Search Rankings

Imagine a day when reader engagement surpasses Google search engine rankings as the number one concern for publishers. Ten years ago this would have been unimaginable. However, with new platforms that enable consumers to more easily discover great content, the time has come for content creators to stop obsessing over search rankings. After all, search engines can drive people to content that they’re already on the hunt for, but if the content isn’t up to par, the reader will abandon the site after the first page view and head elsewhere. And, as Outbrain CEO Yaron Galai said, after his presentation at Digital Media Europe in London: “That second page view is magical.”

For more on why publishers can stop preoccupying themselves with search engine rankings, see Yaron’s post-presentation interview below:


Content Discovery Heralds New Engagement Era

We all love a good internet browse. With tablet technology now ubiquitous, it’s becoming the norm to wile away the time bouncing around the web. But the amount of time actually spent enjoying something new and interesting is often eclipsed by the time it takes to find it. The sheer volume of content produced is growing at an enormous rate. According to recent stats, in December 2010 the web contained 225 million websites, 21.4 million of which were new in 2010. There are an estimated 152 million blogs online and 25 billion tweets were sent in 2010, many of them in turn linking to more content. According to recent research by the University of Southern California, each person is bombarded with the equivalent of 174 newspaper’s worth of data a day. With all that content being produced, all instantly available online, the challenge for most of us has shifted from content accessibility to content filtering and curation.

Companies who publish content for a living are now adjusting to this new challenge. For the last few years, there has been an emphasis on creating more content more quickly, feeding an underlying assumption that if you build it they will come. But with so much competition, and given the resources it takes to continually create massive amounts of high quality content, many publishers now realise that simply creating it is not enough. They are investing in ways to break through the noise. This process involves honing techniques both to attract new audiences and, as important, to keep audiences on site, consuming more and more content once they’ve arrived. After all, with so many choices, patience runs thin and people will quickly leave a site if they don’t discover something of continued interest instantly, and within the flow of their experience.


Doubleday Publishing Group Leverages Content to Drive Awareness for New Release (Case Study)

Doubleday Publishing was looking for a new way to drive awareness and engage potential readers for the recent release of the new Bill Bryson book, At Home.

They were hoping to expand beyond their traditional marketing efforts of serialized book excerpts and display advertising by leveraging Bryson’s name and popularity to promote engaging online content.

In order to distribute the content at scale, Doubleday partnered with Outbrain to find the audience that would be interested in learning more about the author and his upcoming release.