5 Questions with Verizon Media CEO Guru Gowrappan

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During the past few months, the media industry has gone above and beyond its main role to inform, entertain and connect society by finding new ways to make an impact and Verizon Media has been at the center of it all. The company creates what’s next in content, advertising, and technology with brands like Yahoo, HuffPost, TechCrunch and more. Daniel Binns, CEO at Interbrand New York, speaks with Verizon Media CEO Guru Gowrappan about how the brand is adapting and evolving in an ever-changing landscape, balancing the needs of consumers and its employees.

How has the company championed the key issue of mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Mental health has always been a big issue, an issue that we’ve cared deeply about even before COVID. If you think about it broadly, mental health challenges affect one in four people. This implies that the customers you work with, the employees who work for you, and society in general are heavily impacted.

Recent surveys show that 75% of people  are feeling socially isolated right now with 60% saying they  feel greater anxiety. Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; costing  the global economy $ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity. So mental health isn’t just good for humanity but good for business. Every dollar you put into a scaled up treatment for common mental health challenges  has a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. This frames how we have been thinking about the issue at Verizon Media providing critical tools to our employees to support their mental health during this critical time. They can call a therapist for free as part of their benefits, we’ve instituted  mandatory mental health training for everybody, and we also launched  Wellness Fridays with  experts like Deepak Chopra who do a deepdive virtual guidance or meditation session for all our employees.

Thinking about our customers, we’ve built a platform for inspirational figures  like Serena Williams and  Mark Cuban to talk about what they do regarding mental health for themselves, as well as for others. . In terms of products, we launched a new site called Yahoo Life dedicated to well-being education, news and resources for mental, physical, and emotional health. Additionally, to support communities at large, we donated a $10 million in advertising inventory to support mental- and public-health response efforts to COVID-19. No one is immune to mental health issues but approaching wellness holistically can transform the experience. Physical and mental health go hand in hand and for us, supporting our employees during this crisis is key. 

Verizon Media is committed to create a more inclusive and diverse work environment. How are you supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and elevating Black voices across the entertainment space?

Verizon Media is committed to building a workforce as diverse as the communities we serve. We aim to provide the best possible care and resources to help our employees thrive so we’re focused on creating and enhancing opportunities for diverse talent in multiple ways. We’ve  recently launched a three-fold plan to help foster a more inclusive and diverse work environment; support Black-owned small businesses with sustained efforts and resources; and elevate Black voices, perspectives and content across our platforms. 

In the U.S. all of Verizon has 100% pay equity in salary with respect to race/ethnicity. To support Black-owned small businesses, Verizon Media  donated $5 million in ad inventory to drive marketing and awareness. Our donation was in addition to $10 million  pledged by Verizon  to seven social justice organizations. We also committed to elevating trusted content that’s representative of Black voices and experiences.

And I would also mention that diversity isn’t optional, it’s key to success. The most diverse companies are more likely than ever to outperform their competitors. Coming back to the earlier point about mental health being good for business, diversity is important for humanity but it’s also good for business. With that said, we know there’s a lot of work to be done and we are committed to being part of a long-term, permanent solution. 

With 5G around the corner, how do you see that affecting media consumption in the short and mid term?

5G has the potential to drive the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As it rolls out, one of the first industries  to benefit is digital media, especially as more of us are at home connecting online with content, friends, family and coworkers amid COVID. 

Verizon Media’s mission has been creating networks of purpose and connecting people to their passions. Let’s take Yahoo Sports as an example, we did a demo during the Super Bowl last February – it feels like 10 years ago now – we partnered with the NFL to bring 5G technology to 17 different stadiums, including the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. Those attending games could use 5G their smartphone to view multiple camera angles and obtaining player-specific data without any latency. This marked the first time people were able to access a commercial 5G ultra-wideband network.

The biggest thing right now is Augmented Reality (AR), we recently launched a new extended reality (XR) toolset called Verizon Media Immersive, the largest XR platform for creating augmented, mixed, and virtual reality advertising and branded content. It will have a massive impact on live events for example, people can’t go to crowded spaces right now but Verizon Media Immersive can be used to create a virtual substitute for those in-person events, like watching a gamein a stadium or at home with friends. Verizon’s 5G network will enable all of that with ultra-fast speeds and massive capacity, making the experiences more robust.

Beyond media, 5G will also transform commerce. Most Americans are shopping online for groceries and doing it more often since the onset of COVID-19. The pandemic has made consumers adapt to new shopping habits and behaviors. We partnered with Walmart to make it easy to buy groceries online using Yahoo! Mail. Users are able to browse Walmart’s aisles from within their inbox, add items to their shopping cart, and purchase their order. 

There is an increasing need for tech brands to ensure the privacy and security of their customers. How is Verizon Media as part of the broader Verizon brand addressing this?  

I would say it’s foundational for us. When we think about security and privacy, it’s all about customer consent and what the consumers want. In terms of privacy, Verizon leads. Being a mobile carrier you have a much higher bar for privacy and security because customers trust you. It’s a one to one relationship with each customer and we really focus on that for all of our brands. We had to change our strategy in a way for this. Companies can’t be in the user-generated content business if you want to maintain very deep trust. That’s why we decided to exit Tumblr, our user generated content product, to really focus on creating a trusted ecosystem. Trust starts with privacy and security, and we really wanted to make sure that we are taking care of our consumers’ data.

Could you tell us more about the role of Verizon Media as a B2B publisher brand and how the shift from Oath has helped in that regard?

At Verizon Media, we’ve always stayed true to what matters most and have put our consumers, partners and advertisers at the center of everything we do. After our rebrand two years ago, we’ve continued to launch new products and scale our ecosystem tremendously. We reach nearly 900 million users across our ecosystem, providing access to content across entertainment, finance, sports, lifestyle and breaking news. In our B2B business, our focus is on creating engagement through trust and brand safety as well as transparency and accountability. We’ve aimed to set ourselves apart by introducing new and enhanced advertising solutions for advertisers and publishers. Our omni-channel ad platform features market-leading supply and demand solutions for advertisers, and our media platform facilitates streaming content across connected devices for over 10,000 brands like Disney, Fox and Discovery. We’ve launched products like our unified ad and media platforms to help our partners solve their most pressing business challenges and create stronger engagement. Additionally, we’re leveraging emerging tech including 5G connectivity, XR and more to help our partners create innovative content creation and immersive experiences.

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