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Pinterest Poaches Top Talent From Mondelez, Ford Agency GTB

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Pinterest's vertical strategy team is small -- there are only seven positions -- but the company is banking on big things from the group.

Formed last December, the team is intended to play a crucial role in generating more revenue from major brands in six key areas: CPG, retail, travel, financial services, automotive and entertainment.

It's a shift in strategy for Pinterest as it tries to transform itself from being a niche player among brand marketers to a formidable foe against juggernauts Google and Facebook.

John Gray
John Gray Credit: Pinterest

The company said Wednesday that it has added John Gray, previously director of platforms and partnerships at Ford agency GTB, as its automotive and entertainment vertical strategy lead. It also quietly poached Arthur Sevilla, who left Mondelez as its global director of e-commerce and strategy in April, to join as Pinterest's first-ever CPG vertical strategy lead.

Sevilla spent a decade between both Kraft and Mondelez, and managed $70 million in discretionary ad spend for the cheese maker. He spent the last two years creating a global e-commerce playbook for Mondelez.

"I think it's unusual," Sevilla said regarding his role. "I'm not a seller. I sit at the center between sales, product development, insights and act as a hub with all those resources, but with the filter that's ultimately my vertical and client -- CPG."

Sevilla's arrival comes at a time when CPG marketers are faced with growing top-line revenue despite flat or declining ad budgets. Pinterest feels Sevilla can bring in more business because he speaks the CPG language and understands the strategic decisions CPG brand marketers face.

Sevilla also hopes to show both new and existing clients how Pinterest can be used for better performance than the status quo. Pinterest says it has more than 15 billion -- yes, billion -- pins saved just about food.

"CPG marketers have media channels that are overly reliant on reach and frequency, but they are not taking into account the consumer mindset of when that impression is placed in front of them," Sevilla said.

In one example, Sevilla said Pinterest was able to show a "CPG client in the midwest" how its customers were using one of its existing products in a new, quirky way.

"Because of our usage and intent data, we have been able to open that brand to secondary areas of store placement," he said. "We then went to the retailer and captured a secondary end cap display not normally associated with that product."

Arthur Sevilla
Arthur Sevilla Credit: Pinterest

Sevilla declined to disclose the client or product.

In the end, Sevilla said he wants to shift the narrative about Pinterest being a solutions-based company that's focused on its products and product attributes to one day becoming more of a strategic partner that's capable of solving issues for brand marketers.

Meanwhile, the company has seen a major upswing in the number of searches for vehicles: More than 202 million pins were saved to some 30 million boards in 2016, a 77% increase year-over-year. Pinterest also says it has more than 25 auto brands advertising on the site.

"As that user base grows, it becomes an opportunity for brands to speak to them," said Brian Monahan, who was formerly head of marketing at Walmart.com and joined Pinterest in December as its head of vertical strategy.

Monahan said the company's recent hires will help train Pinterest's team how to "speak the language of our partners" and what insights to highlight and bring forward that will also drive in new business.

"The knock on media companies, in particular, technology companies, is we show up and we're so excited about our tech that all we talk about is our technology," Monahan said. "As [Pinterest] is maturing as a business, we want to talk about solutions and how we can drive business for our clients."

The company still has two vacant positions on its vertical strategy team: travel and financial services. Pinterest promoted Amy Vener, who's spent more than three years at the company, to be its retail vertical lead late last year.