Ozy Media's biggest former advertisers are being left in the dark regarding the future of the beleaguered media company, even as co-founder Carlos Watson declared this morning that Ozy is still open for business, contradicting reports last week that it was shuttering following a damning New York Times report.
"We have not heard from Carlos. The last time we heard from him was a week ago," said one ad agency executive, noting they received bounce-back emails from Ozy's head of ad sales on both Friday afternoon and today.
While advertisers aren't able to reach executives at Ozy, Watson declared this morning on NBC's "Today" show that "we're going to open for business." In his “Today” appearance, the CEO acknowledged that Ozy’s leadership went into this past weekend with “a plan to wind down” the company. But after talking to stakeholders—including investors and advertisers partners whom he did not name—its board had a change of heart and will apparently push forward.
On Friday, the New York Times reported that Ozy would be closing its doors following its earlier report of the company's shady business practices that included grossly inflating web traffic figures.
Watson has reached out to the C-suite of at least one media agency, according to a person familiar with the situation.
While it remains unclear if and in what capacity Ozy will continue to operate, one thing is clear, Watson will have a hard time winning back advertisers.
It's certainly a rapid reversal in sentiment. Earlier this year, brands were flocking to the minority-led company that promised the ability to reach young, multicultural audiences en masse. Both WPP's GroupM and Dentsu struck multi-year deals with Ozy that backed up so-called "responsible investment" efforts.
Even after the New York Times revealed inconsistencies in Ozy's audience figures, media buyers said they still saw strong audience delivery for clients' campaigns.
Initially, after the first story broke, Watson responded quickly and defensively to the Times' claims, but then went quiet, one media buyer says.
"We didn’t hear much from the company at the beginning of last week and weren’t engaged in any new conversations on behalf of clients, but we had kept current campaigns up because they were still delivering," the buyer said.
But by Thursday multiple ad agencies began pulling campaigns, and up until Friday morning the team at Ozy was responsive, the buyer said.
On Friday, hours before a statement from Ozy announcing “with the heaviest of hearts” that it was going out of business, advertising heavyweight GroupM was advising its clients to suspend all spending with the media company. Recently, GroupM’s clients represented as much as $10 million in ad revenue for Ozy, according to a person familiar with the situation.
“Last week we suspended all campaigns with Ozy Media on behalf of our clients. We have also terminated our agreement with Ozy Media at this time,” a GroupM spokesperson said in a statement today.