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5 minutes with PMG's George Popstefanov

A.I., A.I., A.I.

It’s all the marketing world has heard about in the past 18 months. As a serial tech entrepreneur, PMG founder and CEO George Popstefanov is excited about A.I., but he wants the industry to be more disciplined and realistic in how it talks about its future.

Popstefanov sat down with The Current Editor-In-Chief Stephanie Paterik to break down PMG’s moves in the A.I. space, why streaming will become even more personalized and how the digital agency is growing by flipping challenges into opportunities.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Our team talks a lot about big swings — the big project or goal you're driving for. What is that for you and your team right now?

I don't want to start with a cliché about A.I., but we are working a lot with A.I. in our organization. Technology is my background, and a lot of our investments are really focusing on how we can use technology through A.I. Actually, one of the projects we're working on right now is very specific to the media landscape, and it's about audiences.

We believe as consumers, we've moved from a very linear, full-funnel journey to constantly bouncing across the funnel, interacting with mediums and properties and everything else. And so, one of our biggest projects right now is really trying to figure out, how do we better define audiences?

We're using A.I. in partnership with two or three of the big publishers to really understand how consumers are behaving and really develop audiences for humans as consumers versus just audiences in the traditional sense. So, it's probably one of the projects I'm the most excited about it. I'm seeing some tremendous innovation.

The Current ran an opinion piece recently that said the marketing funnel is dead, and I'm curious if you would agree or disagree with that?

I agree with you 100%. We go into conversations constantly with current customers, prospective customers, and we have to radically change our thinking because obviously with streaming, with being constantly on the phones, always on the go, we're constantly bouncing in different stages of these considerations and purchases and everything else. And so, the one thing that is true is we have to enhance the experience. We have to authentically engage with consumers wherever they are. We cannot think in a boxed silo anymore.

What is the biggest challenge facing us in digital media right now?

There is a lot of change. One of our values is to embrace challenges as opportunities so, I always reframe that. Inherently to me when people talk about challenges, I'll talk about them as opportunity. The thing about this industry is there is so much change that what we did yesterday is no longer relevant, which means you can be a relatively new player that comes to the industry and really make some tremendous impact in the space.

Change is driven really by technology and the proliferation in media. We’ve talked about how “TV is dead” for a very long time, but I mean look at what's happening with streaming TV. The biggest save for linear TV was sports and live events, but now if you see with the new sports partnerships, most of them are going to Apple and Amazon and Disney and Google. So even the sports, which were the true live events and maybe why you would lean into more traditional TV, now they're going to CTV.

You made a couple of your first acquisitions last year, one being Camelot. What have you learned from leaning into the CTV space?

Some of the innovation that's coming through the pipeline with CTV, especially with Amazon, YouTube and others that Camelot’s done, and also now PMG is partnering with, is absolutely tremendous.

We have to authentically engage with consumers wherever they are. We cannot think in a boxed silo anymore.

George Popstefanov, founder and CEO, PMG

We’re entering a world where a consumer can watch their favorite show and everything else in the content and creative will be personalized based on: Is it purchasing behavior, if you’re on Amazon? Is it creative behaviors? It’s no different from what we’ve experienced in digital; it’s entering the video and streaming world. And I think that’s tremendous because I’ve always been an advocate that advertising should be additive to our industry and should enhance the consumer experience — a la educate, drive, inform, whatever it might be — and not disrupt it.

Do you have a hot take about the industry?

Everybody's trying to figure out how different things are going to work, especially with AI. While we should embrace innovations in technology, if we overuse that [word], we make it too buzzy. So, I would say probably a little bit more discipline from the advertising industry about how we're using the words and how we're using technology and how we communicate about technology and what it can do today.

Being more realistic would probably be my most provocative thing I would say, because I think it's being used a lot in meetings and again, it's tremendous, but it's still early on. I think it kind of sets unfair expectations for different people across the board.