When Brian Wieser strolls the Palais during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, he flies under the radar. "I'm not a celebrity in the industry. I'm definitely B-list," he says.
While he may go unnoticed at industry events, his analyses are anything but unheeded. When Pivotal Research analyst Wieser speaks, everyone from small investors to holding company titans like WPP's Martin Sorrell listen. His recommendations and reports can lift or sink an advertising or media company stock.
Just ask Snap. When the company launched its initial public offering on March 2, trading opened at $24. That very day, Wieser valued the stock at $10, saying it was "significantly overvalued given the likely scale of its long-term opportunity and the risks associated with executing against that opportunity." Poof went the price: Snap shares as of mid-August traded around $13, down nearly 46% from the opening.
Still, Wieser doesn't put much stock in his influence, saying lots of share price moves get attributed to analysts, and it's hard to tell how meaningful those shifts are or to specify what source caused them.
It all points to Wieser being a remarkably unassuming guy who can talk a blue streak about valuations but is far from comfortable discussing himself.
"A profile on me?" he asks incredulously during our first phone interview.
Wieser doesn't work out of a cushy office on Wall Street; he operates out of Portland, Ore., where he lives with his wife, Amy Edwards, and two kids, Alex and Brooke, age 7 and 9. He's Canadian by birth, and his ambition, says 43-year-old Wieser, is to form an "early '80s post-punk, French new wave cover band."
Wieser is described by his friends, followers and peers as "chill," "quiet" and a "genuinely super nice guy," who just also happens to be respected, if not feared, for his reports—which don't always take the expected turn.
Many investors were breathless over Facebook's stock, which rose 50% this year, when Wieser poured cold water on the valuation. "Despite a decent 2Q17 and an outlook that appears consistent with our expectations, we are downgrading Facebook from Hold to Sell given the stock's remarkable run this year and a current price that is now 19% over our price target as of Friday," he penned. The July 31 report was issued just a few days after Facebook stock hit its all-time high of $175.49. Wieser valued it at $140.
The move sparked over 100 news stories with headlines like "Facebook Receives an Incredibly Rare Sale Call" and "Meet Facebook's New Skeptic." (As of this writing, Facebook was trading at about $170.)
From Radio to Rock to Wall Street
During his time at the University of British Columbia, Wieser worked for his college radio station, where he developed a program modeled on CNN's "Crossfire" in 1992 named "Get in the Ring." A year later, he decided the show should be streaming, so he tried to get the station on the "pre-web internet," which he says was a fun adventure, but he couldn't get it to work. He did, however, put the station's print magazine online.
In addition to his radio show, Wieser helped organize one of the largest hip-hop festivals in Canada at the time—DJ's Sound War. It was dubbed the biggest hip-hop festival west of Toronto and north of San Francisco, with more than 1,000 attendees.
Next, Wieser went to the University of Western Ontario Richard Ivey School of Business to earn his MBA, and his love of music went with him. He had his own band, the Tonebursts, and played with Bossanova for a while—a separate project with many of the same people from Tonebursts—that's still in existence today. Wieser says being a full-time musician would be a "little too repetitive for my taste." Though he did, he says, "gain and maintain an appreciation for the craft of performing and the beauty in the details," which he compares to writing where "every word matters."
Wieser sarcastically jokes that the transition from radio to investment banking is a "natural progression." He did rotations in both media and entertainment at his first post-MBA job as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers in New York City, but in 2002, the economy got tough. Wieser wanted to stay focused on the media industry, but no opportunities were available, so he moved to Deutsche Bank to cover the cable industry as a research analyst.
Not only does Wieser say he enjoyed his time on Wall Street, he says he also learned an important lesson: "Never trust a number unless you're sure the number you're working with is provided by someone who could go to jail if that number is wrong. This is so important because people will take numbers and pass them for facts without understanding where they came from."
He took this lesson with him when he joined the agency world, he says, making sure to ask people to present hard facts rather than assertions around topics or concerns, such as the death of TV because DVRs were invented. "There was no reason to believe that this death was happening," says Wieser.