Fireside Chat with Paran Johar '93
Global marketing powerhouse returns to his alma mater to speak about business and marketing in an era of advanced technology.
Guest speaker Paran Johar ‘93 held a packed auditorium captive during the Fireside Chat at the University of California Riverside, School of Business.
You had a few choices for college, why did you choose UC Riverside?
I got into UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, and others. I chose UCR because it provided me with the broadest curriculum and framework in my education, which helped me determine what I was passionate about and what I wanted to do.
What was impactful during your experience at UCR?
I was not your typical student. I was paying for a lot of college myself. I worked 40 to 50 hours a week on average. I would take my exams on extended lunch breaks. But it was great for understanding business, learning how to pay bills, and getting experience in socialization. I took accounting and hated it; economics - hated it. But marketing, I just knew it was part of me. If I were to give advice to an incoming freshman - the biggest advice I can give people is to go with your gut and listen to your instinct.
How early in your career did you find your passion?
When I graduated, I got offers from different companies. But I went to dinner with an alum and brought my resume. The next day he called me up saying, “There is this advertising job, but they pay 19K a year, and no overtime.” I went to interview and when I walked through the doors it was like the heavens had opened up. I found where I wanted to work. It paid less than all other offers but I went with my gut and that opportunity evolved and evolved. With jobs, find what you are really excited about, passionate about, and the money will come.
After experiencing several marketing jobs, what led you to start your own company?
I was a CMO speaking around the world. I would go to these shows and they were just really bad; bad speakers, bad location, bad food. And it was all one-sided, salespeople trying to sell each other stuff. So I created a conference that brought large scale brands, Fortune 100 brands, CEOs, and leading tech providers together. It was not meant to be a business. It was meant to just bring together my network of friends from the ad and tech industry. And all of a sudden it became a business, I started making money, and someone wanted to buy the company. Now Modern Marketing Summit is the largest marketing conference around the world.
What has made your model different?
I realized quickly that you shouldn’t charge big brands to come to a conference. Our model was to have brands and agencies attend for free and everybody else pays. That way, if you wanted to sell something to Facebook, NBC, and all of these brands that were coming, you would have more opportunities, because our conferences were around 77% big brand names. What also drives our shows is content, and content comes from speakers. We believed in no commercials, but we integrated sponsors organically into the content. And we didn’t have them in stale locations. We held them in old churches and in nightclubs. We had food trucks, DJ’s, and musicians. We mixed it up and made it fun.
What are some of the biggest challenges running your own company?
We were not venture backed but we were profitable from day one. I think too many people ignore the fundamentals: business profit, loss, revenue, staffing, and business metrics. In today’s economy especially, they forget that they have to make money and have a business model. Focusing on core business components, listening to your audience, and keeping it simple is important. We got rid of all of the noise and tried to stay simple and focus on the core value of our conference: bringing together big brand leaders. There has been exponential growth in media usage.
What are the most effective ways for marketers to harness that growth?
When I was starting out, this thing called “mobile” happened, and I saw it as the second coming of the internet. Now mobile is touching all aspects of the marketing mix. I knew we had to look at mobile first -- from experience, from utility, from the entire business. In a world where 50% of the audience is mobile first, I’m constantly thinking how I can provide the utility that the consumer wants.
What should marketers focus on to build a bigger audience?
Right now, the idea is technology enablement through programmatic media. That takes into account things like data, location, and efficiency. That was
a big theme of 2015. The big theme of 2016 is storytelling which is part context and content. Context is all the technology, and content is the message.
If you’ve got a bad ad, even with all the technology in the world, people will ignore it. If you have an amazing ad, but it’s targeted to the wrong audience, people will ignore it. What we’re seeing is the blending of art and science. The technology companies are enabling the science, and the art is coming from the agencies that are evolving how they create their messaging.
When you are hiring, what are you looking for?
I always look at where someone has worked. Find companies in the area you are passionate about. It doesn’t matter what position you are in. Get involved
in those big brand companies in the areas that are innovative and known in the industry. Do whatever you can to get your foot in there. Network like
crazy. Go to as many events as you can. Get out of your comfort zone and meet people.
What is the single most important characteristic that has made you successful? The secret to your success?
Passion! I don’t even have to think about the answer. The one characteristic that has helped me throughout my career is passion. I have passion for what
I do. Have passion for what you do every day and you will be successful and more importantly, happy.
ABOUT PARAN JOHAR
Paran Johar is the founder of the Modern Marketing Summit - the largest marketing conference in the world - and the Global CEO of ad:tech and iMedia. Originally from India, he immigrated to Montreal, Canada at the age of 12 and went to high school in Los Angeles. After completing his BS in Marketing at the UC Riverside School of Business, he pursued a career in advertising & marketing that led him to launch The Modern Marketing Summit in 2009 - a mobile advertising and media company that hosts global events that bring together the world’s leading brands to network and learn about the latest media and technology.