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LinkedIn brought on Penry Price -- a long-time Google sales executive who most recently was president of the ad-tech startup Dstillery -- as VP-global sales for its ad business at a key moment six months ago.
The company was in the midst of a transformation into a vehicle for content marketing, powered by "sponsored updates," or native ads that be slipped into user streams alongside updates from connections and posts by high-profile writers like Bill Gates and Richard Branson. (It recently announced it will open up the "influencer" program to the masses, letting anyone post long-form content on LinkedIn.)
Launched last July, sponsored updates are an area of strategic focus for the company, but it hasn't disclosed how much revenue they're bringing in.
Mr. Price talked about LinkedIn's usage trends (mobile now accounts for 41% of its traffic), its recent focus on providing insights to marketers, and why it's nothing like Facebook. Our conversation with him has been condensed and lightly edited.
Ad Age: Do you want to change how advertisers perceive LinkedIn from being a place that's almost entirely for b-to-b marketing?
Mr. Price: Part of my own thinking about coming here was I recognized how differently I was engaging with the platform, so not just for recruiting purposes or even from a networking perspective, but much more for content discovery and exploration. I saw it becoming much more of a publishing platform... We'll continue to invest heavily and even more in b-to-b to continue to add new offerings for lead generation and all sorts of things that we think we can do really well. But I will say maybe an area I can assist the team with and help grow is professional consumers, the high net-worth individuals, or generally again, professionals -- that are interested in automobiles, banking, credit cards, luxury travel, travel in general.
Ad Age: ComScore data showed that desktop usage of LinkedIn was down [in terms of unique visitors and page views between the third and fourth quarters]. Is that a concern?
Mr. Price: We have exploding growth, so there's no concern in terms of growth or usage. It's a matter of managing how members are accessing us… Clearly everything we're doing is [being thought about] from a perspective of how people are going to access and engage with us from a mobile device.
Ad Age: What sorts of mobile ads might we see on LinkedIn apps in the future?
Mr. Price: What we're going to be doing is thinking much more about that user experience. You will not see us running big display ads. We're not going to be doing takeovers. [We're] going to try to utilize the feeds in a smart way and think about what do we make as a differentiated ad product for LinkedIn and its members.
Ad Age: Last year LinkedIn was public about phasing out big custom sponsorship deals in favor of a focus on content marketing. Is that still the strategy?
Mr. Price: We're going to work with brands. If they've got big ideas and we've got a big solution for them that fits their objectives, then we're going to happily work in that capacity. But what I want to build is a business that performs well and that's repeatable and our clients know what they're getting from us. When you do these large programs, they're generally one-offs. They're hard to scale, hard to repeat, so it takes everybody -- both our teams and the clients and agencies -- a lot of work to execute those. But also, it's very hard to measure the long-term impact of those deals, so what you want to do as a business is to bill the fact that every day we can deliver for marketers with the products that we have. So we're investing a lot in the area of our insights to do that… [to show] not only that we have good performance metrics, but that we can actually give intelligence to our marketing partners about their audiences or about their brands.
Ad Age: Do you see more competition coming from Facebook? They recently launched job-title ad targeting.
Mr. Price: We see ourselves completely different. And everybody, when I get into a room with a CEO or the head of an agency, everyone immediately agrees that there's nothing similar about the platforms. Mostly because it's all driven by mindset and context really matters. When I see folks that are spending money on Facebook and are thinking about it as a business platform, it excites us because we've been slower; we've just been building this business over the last few years. They've been building it for a longer time.