Running a publishing business is nothing short of a juggling act. Publishers need to strike a delicate balance between providing personalization while respecting user privacy, finding monetization opportunities without alienating audiences, and using data to better serve both users and advertisers.

Our CEO and Founder, Adam Singolda, recently sat down with The Weather Company’s CEO, Sheri Bachstein, to learn how her influence and direction helped the company transition from a weather website into a global content brand that engages hundreds of millions of users across multiple platforms and touchpoints.

As the conversation unfolds, Sheri discusses practical strategies The Weather Company implemented to engage different audiences, diversify its revenue stream, and address privacy concerns. She talks about the innovative ways the company uses data to tell stories, make editorial decisions and empower advertisers.

Toward the end of the chat, Sheri discusses why every business should strive to be value or mission-based and an exciting initiative she’s leading to mitigate advertising bias.

It’s an insightful conversation you don’t want to miss! Watch the video below.

Adam: Good morning, Sheri.

Sheri: Hi. How are you? It’s good to see you.

Adam: It’s great to see you. You know, we just had breakfast, and I guess we’ve realized that we know each other for almost a decade.

Sheri: I know. It’s been a long time.

Adam: We’re true, you know, OG, you know, industry veterans doing the work.

Sheri: Yeah.

Adam: When, you know, when you and I met, you were running product for The Weather Company. Now you’re the CEO. Now it’s part of IBM. And you know, The Weather Company, it’s such an interesting moment in time because you have hundreds of millions of people who look for your advice as to what to wear to work, what should they do. They talk to you before they go to TikTok and Instagram. Sheri, you run the world.

Sheri: Well, I don’t know about that, but I do think what we do is important. And you’re right, you know. People wake up with us in the morning; they go to bed with us at night.

Adam: And I’m very happy that you agreed to join us so thanks.

Sheri: Yeah.

Adam: So, I guess, you know, one thing I thought can be interesting to kick off is that if you’re a founder or an executive anywhere around the world, you know that doing anything that’s more than one thing really well is really hard. You know focus is difficult, and to do even one thing really well is difficult. To do two things is uniquely hard. And you had the challenge of picking up a business that is around the weather and building around that a global successful content business.

So, I’m curious to know, what was that journey for you? How do you like to do the weather but also have the content strategy? What can you share about those two things?

Sheri: So, what’s interesting about weather is that you start out, and it’s just a bunch of data points, right?

And then what we really realized is weather’s a story right, and everyone likes to see a story a little bit differently. Some people like to see a story through a map; some people want to see story through a video; some people want to see that person telling them what the weather is right that you see on television.

Same for digital. So that’s really our focus. It’s like we are storytellers. We’re telling you not only what the weather’s going to be but what could that mean to you. And so that’s how we kind of expanded, you know, the business, and it’s been great.

You know, people, not every user is interested in the content, and that’s OK. Sometimes you don’t have time for it; you’re getting up in the morning, and you just need to know what you need to know to get ready. And then sometimes, you know, different parts of the day, you have more time just like, you know, you watch videos, you look at content probably more, just like any other site. You know, there’s those periods of time that people really want to engage, and sometimes you just don’t have the time.

Adam: But one thing that’s very unique to you is that you have a huge app, loyal user base, right? And then you also have a huge web presence. And maybe they’re different people; maybe they’re the same.

I’m curious, from those moments, speaking about moments, how do you treat these different audiences in a way that feels authentic and relevant to them wherever they may be?

Sheri: Yeah, so what I like to say is our business is an additive business, right, because it started with web. Then we have mobile. Now we have smart speakers; now we have center stacks in cars; now we have wearables. And with being a utility, people want the weather on the device that they want it on.

And so, it’s not like you can stop doing web because you have all these other devices, so you’re constantly adding devices to your portfolio. And so, each device has a different function and what people want to see is different, so you really do – you have to pay attention to that. And so, like weather has to be everywhere.

So, it’s been interesting because we’ve had to grow the footprint of the business, and then you do have to figure out, you know, what is important for that particular device, for that use case for when someone wants to consume the weather on a smart speaker or other device.

Adam: So that means, by the way, you know we spoke about that earlier. You know, people have been speaking about data for the rest of time. For so long, we’ve been hearing about data, capturing data, what you do with data.

You have a lot of data. You meet people at multiple touchpoints during the day. You have hyper-data in neighborhoods and all the way to nationwide.

What do you think about the data? How do you use it? How do you empower your organization to make decisions based on data? To make it part of the workflow? To make it useful?

Sheri: Well, I think you know collecting data is really just the first step. It’s like, what do you do with that data? How do you make it meaningful to your users? You know, the weather data is a very unique dataset. You know it’s a very powerful dataset. People make a lot of decisions around weather. Buying patterns, right, weather influences that. Weather influences people’s health. So, when you’re looking at the data, how do you best give people the information they need to make decisions?

And so, now I think with so much technology, with AI, you know, we have the ability to go just from a data point to insights. How do we help this day become more meaningful to people to help them make those decisions? So, we’re really moving in that direction. So, you take your first-party data. You take data with the weather, and you can combine that to make some really interesting insights not only for consumers but for our marketers and our advertisers. You know, you think about, you know, different influences weather has on those buying behaviors. And can you inform your marketers so they can better advertise?

The business that we’re in, it’s really important, but again it’s not just about the data alone because it’s kind of meaningless now. It’s like, how do you take that data, how do you combine it with other data to make really meaningful insights? We’re doing it through the power of AI, which is great.

Adam: I can tell you now, as a public company, I’ve been asked a lot by investors about privacy, Apple’s IDFA, cookies. You know, to some degree, you know, it’s almost shocking to believe that social companies have been tracking consumers. I think that freaked out people, and that’s why it’s become such a huge, you know, point of reference for bigger tech companies to say privacy matters; it’s going to be part of our identity.

I think you and I, we participate in the open web. We want people to feel safe. We want to use first parties as a source of strength, but we want to keep people comfortable to navigate and be productive on the open web. How does all of this affect you – cookies, IDFA, data privacy? What do you think about that?

Sheri: First of all, you realize as an open web publisher that we have a lot of dependencies on a few companies, right? So that, as a leader and the head of the company, makes me very uncomfortable. I want to own my own destiny, right? And so, it’s really important that now publishers do that, right? We lessen that dependency on that. And, you know, cookies, they have a benefit, but they tell people what happened in the past. With new technologies, we can tell people what people are doing in real-time and certainly in the future. Add weather to that. We can predict the weather and so that’s really important.

I’m a huge advocate of consumer privacy. I think it’s critically important, and I do think it’s something that you know has been overlooked for, for many, many years. And so, I do think that that’s important. But the thing that I think is unfortunate is, as an industry, we’ve let a couple of companies educate our consumers, my consumers, right – they’re not their consumers – on what’s happening, and I think they’ve done it with a very scary tactic, right?

At the end of the day, I need you to give me a little information. I need you to give me your location if you want the best forecast. I can give you that. In exchange, I’m going to give you some value, and you’re going to give me some value about yourself. And that way, we can better have the marketers connect. I think what people don’t realize is, as an open web publisher, all the weather data we have, I’m giving to you for free. I’m not asking you to pay for it. You can with a subscription, and we can talk about that, but every web publisher is giving all of this information for free.

I’m not a ‘.org,’ right? Somebody’s got to pay for the 150 meteorologists that I have, and so I do it through advertising. So, I just need that value exchange in order to keep delivering that data, and that’s the part of the story that big tech is not telling when they’re telling people, ‘Oh, they’re tracking you.’ I’m not tracking you. I’m just trying to give you the best weather. And so, I think that we’ve done ourselves a disservice by not educating our own customers.

Adam: I completely agree, and I speak about it also a lot. I mean, what’s beautiful about the open web is that it’s actually the safest, you know, island for consumers to interact, consume information that matters to them. It’s contextual. You know what I am reading is a proxy for who I am. To give you enough information by first-party data so that when I come back, I can get more value from you. But you know, so much other stuff has happened, you know, in the industry, and we have to deal with it.

Sheri: Well, and you know, people do want personalization, right? They want more content that’s personal to them, but I have to know something about you to give you that personalization, right? So again, it’s a value exchange, and I think the companies that create that value are going to really be successful in the marketplace. The companies that aren’t, those are the things that they have to work on.

Adam: And we look a lot, from our perspective at time. People spend, you know, the average person spends 50 minutes a day on Facebook and north of three hours on TikTok. A day! And the average person on the open web reads about one and a half articles. How is that logical, and how do we reverse the attention that people spend with valuable editorial, premium experiences?

The open web really matters, and we need that value exchange to create enough value for marketers, for our own business, which leads me to kind of all this trend over the last few years, was kind of making publishers ask themselves, ‘how do we diversify our revenue stream so that we don’t rely on one thing but take advantage of the data we do have, of the AI we do have, so we can grow as a business?’ What have you been doing in that space?

Sheri: So, we’d made a decision a few years ago to diversify and start a subscription business, but we did it to give our consumers choice because at the end of the day, there are consumers that don’t want to see advertisements. They want to get in and out, especially of weather, and they don’t want any friction in the way. They just want to get that information, so we did that with cooperation with our consumers, right? We ask them, ‘Would you want to pay for this if we had the option?’ And we actually built that business in collaboration with our users and asking those questions and doing that research.

But from a business perspective, it’s smart, right? If you look at kind of where the economy is right now, you know where we’re kind of headed, marketing dollars do you get constrained during this time, and so it’s really smart to have that diversification plan.

I have another element that’s not in my control, and that’s the weather, right? So, when it’s a beautiful day, people are less likely to check the app, right? They check it once, and that’s fine. And so again, finding ways to diversify different forms of monetization, I think, is really important for anybody who, you know, has been traditionally dependent on advertising.

Adam: I want to step back and, kind of the last few years, they have not been boring, and it’s not boring. I mean, it’s not boring for a long time now. We’ve had the pandemic, inflation, a war in Europe. I mean, it’s just privacy. We talked about that – so many things are happening at the same time, and you know we are navigating this water, trying to not only sustain but to thrive during those times. So, I’m curious, how is that affecting you? What advice do you give anyone that’s dealing with all these things at once from your point of view?

Sheri: So, I think the biggest success around that is your value-based and your mission-based, right? Working for a company that’s mission-based has value; our mission has never strayed, right? No matter what’s happening around the world, whether there’s a war or whether there’s, you know, a recession, a pandemic, we’ve always had the same mission, and we haven’t strayed away from it.

We’re providing people with information. They can make decisions. They can stay safe. And, you know, that’s what’s really held the company intact.

Adam: I know you spent a lot of energy over the last year on bias in advertising. It’s a topic that many people have a view on, but you actually talked about it. You made some things available for the company. Tell us about that passion and what you guys are doing about that.

Sheri: So, it’s funny, you know. We started about a year and a half ago on a journey. It was a research project and, you know, being part of IBM – IBM has done bias in a lot of industries, healthcare, financial mortgages. And they have this amazing technology. We started thinking, ‘Hmm. We’re in the advertising business. Is there something here with advertising and bias?’

So, we started on this research project about a year and a half ago, saying, ‘OK, one is their bias and advertising?’ I don’t think anybody’s surprised to say that there is. And two, can we mitigate that bias? And we found that, yes, bias does exist, and we also found that a tool kit that IBM has used, again for all these different industries, we could apply it to advertising.

So, we set out to make this tool kit available. It’s open source. It’s free for anybody to use within the industry. Essentially, it’s a set of algorithms to help mitigate bias depending on what you’re finding. So, we’re partnered with the Ad Council, and we did their campaign around the Covid vaccines. And we found that because AI or segmentation is done by humans, unintentional bias creeps in, right, depending on your team that’s creating that.

And so, what happens is you wind up leaving out a subset of audience who would be very interested in seeing those campaigns. And so not only does it have a great societal impact and help with that, but it also helps marketers better target people that are interested. We found that, you know, you underserve customers with some of the bias that creeps in. And it’s not the bias around the creative. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

It’s the bias in the technologies, right? As companies in this industry, we’re having to rebuild advertising. Right, with all the privacy and the identifiers going away. As we rebuild, let’s build it right. Let’s build it with bias mitigation as part of our toolset. And it really does start with the ad tech companies.

And then the second thing that we launched was this open-source tool kit. Again, free for anyone to use. We’re happy to partner with anybody and show you how to use the tool kit. And the only thing we’re asking is to put the information back into the tool kit so everyone else can benefit from it. But I think it’s just it’s a really important topic that we tackle as an industry, that we mitigate the bias. It helps our society. It helps better serve our consumers. And then it helps, you know, marketers as well.

Adam. That’s incredible work. And you’ve been very generous with your time. I’ve asked you a lot of different questions, so we’re towards the end of this, and I have, you know, kind of one or two last questions, if I may. So, one of them is, you know, you run the world. That’s how I started. I said, like how do you manage the people that rely on you for their morning advice and their end-of-day advice?

You, you know, you’re a female CEO. You’re very successful. There are many people listening to this, hopefully. I’m curious, what advice would you give to someone listening to this as you’re looking for them to be running the world, to progress themselves, to, you know, reinvent themselves in so many new ways? If you could choose one or two things for everyone listening to this, what would that be?

Sheri: So, the first thing I would say is it’s important to always have a mindset of learning and I’ve learned from the people that I brought into my organization. I think that bringing in a very diverse group of people is extremely important because you learn so much from them. You help to open up your mindset.

And so, it’s diversity and thought, diversity of where they grew up, where they’re from, what they do. And so, I like, um, you know, to look at people about who they are, not so much what they are. I think that’s really, really important, and so yes, I’m a female CEO, but I want you to partner with me for who I am, not what I am, right? I think that’s really, really important – based on my values, and based on, you know, how I can benefit you and how we can learn together, how we can grow together. And I think that it’s really important for people to get back to that value exchange and the value you can provide.

And then the second thing is, I think you just have to be true to yourself, right? And you have to always kind of question, and you know and motivate yourself and find those things that are important to you. You have to have the right balance between work and your personal life and the things that are important to you.

Adam: One last question about the future. So, as we imagine The Weather Company, IBM advertising, and all the exciting things you believe we can and should be doing, are we going to see you in the Metaverse? Where else are we going to check the weather and make decisions? What’s the future going to look like?

Sheri: Yes, so you’ll definitely see us in the Metaverse. I think that I’m very enamored by all the new technologies, even the AR and the VR, you know. It’s innovation, and that’s exciting – exciting for your teams to be building around. So, it’ll be interesting to see the journey of the Metaverse. How quickly will it be adopted?

But when you start exploring the Metaverse and what you can do there, and we’ve been working with a, building a strategy around that because you have to have a strategy. There’s, there are so many components of it, you know, is it Web3 which we’re all going to have to deal with. Is it NFTs? You know, are we doing blockchain? Are we doing crypto?

It’s like, you could be all over the place, right, so we’re spending a lot of time educating ourselves exactly what we want to do, but just like we have mapped the atmosphere in the real world, we want to map the atmosphere in the virtual world, too, right? So that’s what we’re going to set out to do. It’s exciting.

But what I will say about the future, just not to get on a serious note, but you know our climate is changing, right? And we’re seeing some real oddities in the weather, and it’s becoming a little bit more unpredictable for people. And so, what we’re going to do is continue to invest in our science and continue to invest in our forecasting.

Yes, we’re going to play in the Metaverse because I think it’s fun; I think it’s innovative. I think it’s where our advertisers want to be, but more importantly, we’re going to continue investing in the weather so we can provide the most accurate forecast so you can make the right decisions.

Adam: I’ll be there. So, Sheri, thank you so much. A storm chaser, a very successful CEO, The Weather Company, and IBM advertising, a friend. They came together so great. We should have had a toast here, really.

Sheri: We should have. Next time.

Adam: It just means we’re going to have to do it again.

Sheri: Yes, definitely.

Adam: Thank you for joining us.

Sheri: Yes, thanks, Adam.

Originally Published:

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