Behind closed doors: the intrigue and reality of platform marketer councils

CMOs were out there on stages and in interviews, wagging their fingers at Meta execs, accusing them of caring more about cash than the disharmony it fueled. But behind closed doors, it was all hugs and handshakes as they cozied up to the bigwigs, letting their concerns fade into the background.

Fast forward four years, and it feels like déjà vu.

Just last month X’s (formerly Twitter’s) CEO, Linda Yaccarino, met with marketers on the X client council in London, as well as a number of agency execs for various meetings separately and the outcome was similar despite the gloomy outlook for the platform’s ads business. 

No drama, no hardball negotiations, just a casual chat. It was almost as if the marketers there were in thrall of Yaccarino and her pitch. Not that this should be a surprise. Platforms like X and the executives they enlist have a well-honed knack for engaging marketers, always knowing the right things to say to keep their interest piqued.

“She’s [Yaccarino] magnetic. She’s everything you’d want a struggling company to have from a leadership perspective,” said one ad exec who exchanged anonymity for candor on what happened during their meeting. “She brought her team in at the right points, she was honest, she was just very normal. Like, she was easy to speak to. She’s brilliant. She’s absolutely brilliant.”

This is precisely why client councils and their offshoots are so crucial. They provide platforms like X and their sales bosses to do what they do best: turn skeptics into believers. In the world of advertising, few are as adept at this as Yaccarino.

“I came out of that positive and I thought there’s a lot that we can do with our clients here,” continued the ad exec. “I’m not saying we’re immediately [going to spend there]. We’ve been on the fence about recommendations.”

Simply put, the council did exactly what it was supposed to do for X, striking just the right note and opening the door to possibly spending more there, as the exec’s optimism clearly shows. 

Whether it’ll actually pay off for more marketers is another story, though. Yes, this exec was all smiles, but there are many others who have been through this before. They’ve heard these optimistic pitches time and again, and more often than not, X just hasn’t lived up to the hype — or still involves too much risk. 

This came through even in the latest meeting. Yaccarino made big promises about major advertisers returning and the platform becoming safer for ads, but these were overshadowed by the stark admission that Elon Musk’s controversial posts are here to stay. Advertisers will simply have to accept them or look elsewhere, as Musk isn’t changing his approach. It almost felt like a replay of the first call Musk had with the platform’s client council after his takeover, just updated for the current moment.

Boondoggle or business advice?

Which begs the question: what’s the purpose of a client council if it merely results in a laid-back gathering? 

It’s clearly not as cut-and-dried as the traditional view that these councils are essential focus groups, made up of key clients handpicked to provide direct feedback and fresh ideas to a platform.

No, the truth is, these councils are ways for the platforms to curry favor with senior marketers and extract market intelligence from them. Sometimes, this arrangement proves mutually beneficial for the marketers involved, but other times, they find themselves more as an afterthought.

And speaking of afterthoughts, this seems to be the fate of Snapchat’s AR council. What once convened ad executives on both sides of the Atlantic to discuss the potential of augmented reality now leaves them uncertain if the technology is even a priority anymore — all in a matter of months.

“The moment the AI boom happened, everything changed for the council,” said a senior agency exec, who asked to remain anonymous in exchange for candor. “The meetings stopped as the company, like so many others during that time, decided to focus more aggressively on AI.”

Sure, marketers should always be wary of these shifts when working with platforms — and the agency exec was on the ball with that — but it’s still a bit of a letdown. Especially when Snapchat’s execs put so much effort into getting marketers hyped about their AR plans. They even convinced the agency exec to pitch the tech to some clients who were actually considering diving in.

Whether they would’ve followed up on that interest is a moot point for now. The council hasn’t reconvened since final quarter of last year, and while Snapchat execs have been in touch with its members, it’s pretty obvious to the exec, at least, that those big AR plans they were discussing not too long ago are now in serious rethink mode. 

“It’s made things difficult for me in terms of my relationship with certain clients because I was an ambassador for this council in some ways ,” said the agency exec. “But it wasn’t always like this. Snapchat was excellent at making me, as a member of its AR council, feel special.”

Councils tend to have this sort of effect on marketers — for better or worse. And they’ve got plenty of tricks up their sleeves to make it happen. 

From whisking CMOs off to the Deer Valley Ski Resort in Park City, Utah (Facebook) to getting them to sit in a circle and share something personal while holding a stone (Snapchat), platforms have a knack for engaging the instincts of senior marketers, leaving them feeling anything from fulfilled and inspired to, occasionally, a bit puzzled. 

Wise to the ways

Marketers aren’t naive to any of this . They recognize that the benefits of these councils can fluctuate with the platforms’ changing priorities. Yet, they’d rather be inside the tent, as it were, actively participating than standing outside looking in. This way, they’re not caught off guard by whatever comes next. They’re right there where they can see how things unfold and adjust their expectations accordingly.

And for those who’ve been doing this for long enough, they’ve even started to pick up on some telltale signs that help them predict where things might be heading.

Lou Paskalis, CEO and founder of AJL Advisory, is one such seasoned marketer. 

With nearly two decades on various councils including for then-Twitter’s influence council and currently Snapchat and Vox, among others, he notes that the most effective councils are those that truly value marketer feedback. That was certainly the case for Turner Broadcasting System, which at the time was a Time Warner Company, before later being acquired by AT&T. Then-CEO John Martin made frequent appearances at the company’s client council — something which wasn’t very common for CEOs. But his purpose on this particular occasion, became clear soon after.

“He asked us, for example, should we buy Barstool Sports? And that was a very senior group of marketers that were on the council, perhaps maybe a dozen in total, and we had a fulsome conversation about the pros and cons including the financials of acquiring Barstool Sports,” said Paskalis. 

For Paskalis, this experience was particularly fulfilling, affirming the council’s role in empowering marketers to shape pivotal business decisions.

Jeremy Hull, chief product officer for Brainlabs’s business in North America, has a similar take. 

Before deciding whether to join a council, he evaluates it based on three criteria: whether his feedback will genuinely be heard and acted upon; if the council is merely a testing ground for new pitches aimed at senior marketers; or if it’s mostly for show, offering little chance for real input and featuring the occasional staged Q&A where questions are heavily curated. 

“I’ve found that the further down you get in these opportunities for feedback, the closer you get to the teams and people who are building the tools, which usually means the conversation is a lot more productive,” said Hull. “A decade ago this happened when Microsoft had 12 developers waiting to talk to us about a new UI they were launching. Anytime this has happened I come out of the meeting enthusiastic, inspired or more knowledgeable about whatever the company is trying to do.”

LinkedIn’s own client council definitely fits into this category. It was established last year and serves both B2B and B2C marketers located on the east and west coasts.

“A lot of it involved their execs talking about what sort of products LinkedIn should have compared to other platforms,” said Shamsul Chowdhury, evp of paid social at Jellyfish. “That said, there was also a lot of time spent on understanding the amount of data the platform has and how that’s enhanced by the fact that LinkedIn is part of the broader Microsoft ecosystem.”

This included its plans for measurement as well as understanding how it’s going to dabble in the b2c space, continued Chowdhury.

No two councils are the same, that’s a given. The benefits that marketers derive from LinkedIn’s council aren’t the same as those from Snapchat, or any other platforms like X, for that matter. 

Each council is crafted to serve a specific goal, aligned with what the platform intends to accomplish. Essentially, they represent a practical alliance — a marriage of convenience — between platforms and advertisers.

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