In episode 151, Erik and Kerel talk with Luis Romero, Senior Vice President and Head of Sales North America at The Guardian US, the world's leading liberal site in information and news. Luis grew up in New York City to two parents who immigrated from Ecuador. They often had various family members staying with them, in addition to his younger brother and sister, which taught him the importance of family and influenced his leadership style later in life. He has worked at companies such as NBC Universal, Univision, CATS Media, Media Nine Group and other tremendous brands and organizations leading multicultural and sales divisions..
Luis shares the work he and his colleagues are doing at The Guardian, how his experiences at previous jobs have taught him so much about business, different cultures, and the ways to market to specific people in the marketplace over various platforms. He talks about the changes that are currently being made in the marketplace as far as diversity and budgets and he gives advice for anyone who is looking to get into sales in the digital media space..
"If you're naturally curious, asking questions about anything is a great skill set to have as a salesperson. I think the better salespeople are just naturally curious. They're just going to ask questions, and not just because they have a script. Of course, you have to ask all those questions, but it's really just learning about someone's business and what makes them tick."
We want to welcome all of our listeners to another episode of MRP, Minority Report Podcast with Erik and Kerel. Each episode we talk with leaders in business, tech, and media. And today joining us is Luis Romero. Luis is the Senior Vice President and Head of Sales of North America for The Guardian News and Media. Luis, welcome. How are you?
Luis Romero 0:27
I'm doing great. Happy New Year to both of you. I know this is your first recording, so excited to be here.
We are too. I think we're really thrilled to kick off the year with you. And we're glad you could make some time to hang out with us and Happy New Year to you too. Luis, you know, for folks who don't know you, tell us a little bit about you. Where were you born and raised?
Luis Romero 0:59
Yeah, absolutely. I'd love to give you my background, but before I do I just really wanted to, you know, give a shout out to both of you for producing this podcast. I've gone back and listened to quite a few of them. And I have to say, you know what you doing should be acknowledged. It's great to see you guys to put a spotlight on diverse talent in our industry. It's just not done enough. And so shout out to you guys. It's absolutely great. And I'm really honored to be here. In terms of myself, I'm a New York City boy, Erik. I grew up on the island of Manhattan on the Upper West Side. My parents came from Ecuador, they're immigrants, sometime in the mid 60s, I'm not going to tell you exactly when because I don't want to give away my age. But they they came at a time when New York, some people would say was probably at its lowest point in terms of crime. The upper west side was not what we think of it now. It was a kind of seedy area, but that's where I grew up, that was home. And I'm still, by all intents and purposes, a New York City kid. Only recently, during the pandemic time that I actually leave New York City. My wife and I were in Brooklyn, and we had a baby, my wife had a baby, baby girl, she's now a little over two years old, and we were in this cramped Brooklyn apartment. And we made our way over to Jersey, a friend of mine had a beach home down in Cape May. And now we're in Jersey City. So, you know, I, you know, people ask me where I'm from. I'm from, you know, I'm from New York City, basically. And, you know, growing up in the city, you know, has a lot of advantages in terms of being exposed to culture and talk about diversity, you know, different backgrounds, different people. But I think what was important for me growing up was that I grew up in, I guess, what you would think of a typical, maybe stereotypical Hispanic family. In my apartment I had, obviously, my parents, myself, my two siblings. I'm the oldest, have a younger sister, and then I have a baby brother. But in addition, we had the aunt, you know, an aunt who lived with us, as far as I can remember. She was always there with us. And then we had an extra room by the kitchen, this little room and we had always somebody staying in our little room. So it was a cousin passing by, an uncle passing by, and then ultimately, my grandmother settled in for, I don't know, 10 plus years. So we were a household of seven as I was growing up, early on, and obviously in the formative years, a lot of that impacted me.
Yeah, it's amazing, as I hear you describe that I feel such a tremendous sort of parallel to my own upbringing and growing up with my mom and my stepdad. But that whole scene took place in Washington, DC, which was very different many years ago as well. And I was trying to explain to, you know, a friend, just that example that you gave about how, you know, we lived in a two bedroom apartment and I was the oldest and I have a brother and a sister. And we all shared a room and we had another part of the apartment that literally was for a cousin, an uncle or someone who was coming here just getting on their feet and just needed, like, just needed a place for a couple of weeks, a couple months. And then now, I see all my family now, and by the way, some of that family could have been like close family friends, right? And now we see just how our lives are different. And all they needed was that little half step right, you know, just to get there. It's fascinating to hear you describe it, because that's how it was for me too.
Luis Romero 5:36
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, we chanced on this apartment, my dad did, because his brother actually had that apartment and his brother wound up leaving the United States and actually settling in Puerto Rico, even though we're not Puerto Rican, but he married a Puerto Rican woman. And he left that apartment for my dad, they still live there. My parents still live in this, now you look at it, and it's like, wow, this pre war apartment on the Upper West Side, and people were like, "Wow, you grew up nice." I was like, "No, you don't understand this is not what it was growing up." Very, very different. But I like to think of that time, especially in the apartment, I describe it as beautifully chaotic. Because, you know, it was a great time and it was nuts, right? You know, like waiting for the bathroom, and your grandmother, like, on you, your aunt on you, all this stuff. So, but it was great. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
Tremendous, tremendous. And, you know, I want to ask you a little bit about, you know, how you think that formed ways that you think now, right? Because like now, we almost might be able to rewind back to the age our parents were, not far off and sort of say, "Wow," right, like, and I want to ask you that in a little bit. But I also want to ask you a little bit about, you know, just sort of, you know, your organization where you work now, you know, tell us a little bit about, you know what's happening there, because I think there's some kind of cool things that a lot of people don't know about with The Guardian, Certified B, sort of status and things like that. So talk to us a little bit about what Luis is doing today. And I want to circle back a little bit to previous Luis.
Luis Romero 7:35
Yeah, and it's kind of interesting, because I'm at The Guardian. I've been at The Guardian since March. I head up sales for them. It's not sales, I guess maybe I should change my title, but I guess we call it the commercial team. So with that comes, you know, research, the marketing team pre and post branded content, ad ops, and account management, and obviously, the sales team. So I lead our efforts across all those different teams. And, you know, I came over to The Guardian for a lot of reasons. One of them is I love leading teams, I love kind of sparking new businesses and even though The Guardian - a little bit about The Guardian has been around for over 200 years, originating in the UK. And I think a lot of people still look and at least from the States, when they hear The Guardian, they think, "Oh, that's that UK paper, news site." And it is, right, no doubt that that's where it started. What they may not know is that The Guardian has been in the States for over 11 years. I think they came in over 11 years ago thinking this is a growth opportunity. They were still printing a paper, in addition to launching a website. And I think as many have seen that, you know, the newspaper business and print in general, you know, was on a severe decline. So they kind of shifted and focused only on a digital site. So we're strictly now a news and information site. We're, you know, growing tremendously, we had a spike during the pandemic. And we've been able to hold on to that audience. So people don't know that we're over 55 million uniques that we have a month and similarly to some of the other kind of better known news sites, you know, like The Washington Post or The New York Times, etc, we have similar profiles in terms of people that are coming to us in terms of affluence and in terms of college and education, that sort of thing. But what they don't know, what's different from us is that our audience actually is very unique to us. So we don't share audiences, or many audiences with a lot of those sites. So, they're coming to us, and only to us for their news information. And the reason that they're doing that is, again, unlike some other news publishers who are doing phenomenal jobs in their own right, we are independent. So we are owned by a trust that was established in the UK over 200 years ago. And it was established so that we can continue our work in perpetuity. So you know, we're never going to run out of money, hopefully knock on wood. And they also establish it so we can keep our editorial integrity. So we're not beholden to any billionaire owners, etc. And really, our mission is to give voice to the powerless and to hold the powerful accountable. So our journalism, there's a lot of deep investigative journalism, a lot of deep investigative reporting. And so we're going to go to places that, you know, people don't want us to go, we're going to report on things that people don't necessarily want things outted. And, you know, it's interesting that this mission was established so long ago, but yet given everything that's going on, particularly in the States, it's more relevant than ever now. It's more relevant than ever here in the United States, given the political, you know, economic and obviously, racial issues that we've had for not just the last three years, but for many, many years going. So I was really happy to join The Guardian, not only to do what I think is I do well, which is lead teams and manage business and etc., all that great stuff, but really because it aligns with my values. And I love doing that.
I want to talk about the values in a second, but Kerel...
Yeah, yeah. Well, first, thank you for that description because I think I just learned more about The Guardian in the last minute and a half than I did previously, so definitely, thank you for that. One of the things that you said there was about sort of leadership and you love leading teams, and I can't help but sort of connect that to what you and Erik were talking about a couple minutes ago about supporting family members as they, you know, come into the states and are getting on their feet, so on and so forth, and I feel like there's a connection there between how you were brought up, and potentially your leadership style, and maybe how you mentor people. And I would love for you to sort of talk about that for a minute, if I'm right, if I'm accurate there.
Luis Romero 13:17
Yeah, no, you're spot on Kerel. I mean, I think that's exactly right. You know, we, you wonder how you develop your leadership style. Sure you learn a lot of things over the years, but I think it all started there. I think a couple of things. One is, I was the oldest of three, and I was the typical big brother, in that I protected my siblings, but I also saw how we took care of each other, to your point, in the family. So, you know, their success, our family success, whether immediate cousins or uncles, but even more immediately with my siblings, and my parents, and my aunt, you know, their success is my success, and my success is theirs. And I grew up believing in that. And so from a leadership and management standpoint, you know, I love making sure that everyone, that I can try to get everyone to perform at their highest level, but do it in a way that is respectful of their talents, because not everyone is built the same, and also keeping integrity. So you know, and I think anyone that's kind of worked with me or informed me would attest to that sort of management style. And, you know, I've heard, I don't strive to make it, you know, family, when I'm working with teams, though it's in the back of my mind. So people have different reactions to, you know, when you talk about families, some people may have had not the same sort of family. But as they walk away or ultimately talk about the experiences with me or even my team or the team members, not just me, they talk about the familial sort of nice experience that they've had of being part of something larger. It's not just about themselves, it's about, kind of like the unit. And again, kind of using the family, the family unit. So it's really important to me in the way that I lead and manage teams,
Gotcha. Okay, cool. I'm gonna switch topics here for a second. And so first, congratulations on you and your wife on your newborn. And welcome to the fatherhood club that Erik and I are both in. And obviously your child is younger than our children and I'm always curious to find out from people what does work life balance look like for you, if there is such a thing with a newborn as well, too?
Luis Romero 16:12
Yeah, no, great question. I will say that I do have two other kids, older kids from my previous marriage. This is my third child, but it's like starting all over again, Kerel. It's, you know, I will say that, you know, I can probably speak to work life balance now and compare it to perhaps my first two kids when I had them many, many years ago, you know, definitely very pre pandemic. I think that it's really super important to me to be there for my kids. Particularly for the youngest one now, I think this pandemic, and I'm sure you've heard this, the pandemic has been, I mean, in some ways, a blessing in disguise, and that you do have the opportunity to work from home, you can actually be there for all these many moments that perhaps if you weren't, if you were traveling, if you were going to the office and trying to get home at a certain time, you'd miss these really crucial times. And so it's really important to me to be there when she's going to sleep, when she's waking up at any moment. And if a day goes by and I don't see her, either in the morning or the evening, my daughter, I miss her. So, I miss my wife too, but I really miss my daughter. I think it's important that you spend time with them. And I think from a work perspective, I think it's kind of interesting, and it'd be interesting to talk to kids who are growing up in this pandemic world where they can see their parents work from home almost exclusively, 15, 20 years from now, what they think, but I think it's a good thing. They see that, you know, daddy, or mommy needs to get on a phone call, they're at the computer and they kind of mimic that work, you know, so I see her like, you know, tapping on the computer, and, you know, trying to do something on there. So I think it's really important. And it's important to me, and luckily for me at The Guardian, it's important to them as well.
That's great, I want to ask you a little bit about your experience even before The Guardian, because I think it's kind of unique, you know, you've had the opportunity to work at some tremendous companies, NBC Universal, Univision, CATS Media Group, Group Nine Media, tremendous brands, media brands, tremendous organizations. And within that, you've had the opportunity to also even be focused on multicultural sales and things like that that I think are a little bit sort of newer for some folks, you know, so can you talk a little bit about what some of those experiences were like for you?
Luis Romero 19:11
Yeah, absolutely. You know, my experience has been predominantly, at least my beginning three to four jobs were exclusively in Hispanic marketing. And I did that, again, going back to your roots, I did that because I grew up speaking Spanish and I grew up in a very Hispanic household, and I wanted to be part of that world from a media perspective. I originally went to college to study and I've heard you ask this question before about, you know, what people study is not what they wind up doing. And I actually went to study filmmaking because I love telling stories and I love film, and I think I quickly shifted out of that because like good immigrant parents, my parents were like, you know, get a degree and then get a job. Neither of my parents had a college degree, they're blue collar workers. But they really wanted to push us education wise. So when I had an opportunity to get my first job, it was definitely in media. It wasn't necessarily, my very first job wasn't Hispanic, but I knew I wanted to be in that kind of Hispanic Spanish language world. And so I went to work for a Hispanic agency. And then from there, I went to represent stations, radio stations, that focus exclusively on Hispanic and most of them were Spanish language. And way back in the day, there was one or two that was, quote, unquote, bilingual, which was very controversial, like, you know, 20 plus years ago. But those were great experiences for me. And I was kind of in a bubble of working only for Hispanic media, with Hispanic agencies and, you know, I didn't know anything else. I think there was a big aha moment for me when I went over to Univision because Univision was an 800 pound gorilla in the Hispanic or Spanish language, you know, market world. It's the network that everyone had on, it's what I grew up with, so I was super happy and excited and proud to be part of Univision, and they launched their digital division, and I joined them before they even had the website. I say that in quotation marks, you know, "the website," went out and talked to advertising partners, for about eight months before we even had a site to show them.
You were almost like selling the medium, not even like - web is the thing. Internet is a thing.
Luis Romero 22:03
Yeah. And it was the year of the.com, you know, bubble burst. And it was, like, as I like to say, it was the best of times and the worst of times, because it was super exciting. But what I learned there was that, to your point, it was like really selling not just the medium, but like the market. So you know, marketing, how to work with partners and advertisers and trying to solve their business solution. Because as we know, still know, you know, you can talk to them about numbers and population and growth of, you know, economics and, and people still didn't get it. So really, what I was trying to solve is like, you want to sell more widgets, then this is the population that's going to get you there. And here are the ways that we can get you there. So, you know, I learned how to work with clients directly. And, you know, as you say, some agencies, you know, and clients weren't really ready for the digital world when I started. But it was a kind of easier barrier for them ultimately to get into. So that was exciting for me. And I was there for a while and got to lead their teams. And from there, I went over to NBC, which owns Telemundo, and Telemundo was partnering with Yahoo. And so they kind of wanted me to replicate that kind of growth and success that we had at Univision and I was kind of ready for the change. So I worked with Yahoo, Telemundo had offices in both places. And there was kind of a different sort of experience in terms that I already knew how to talk to clients and what they were looking for. But it was kind of more of an internal sell. So it was really working with the Yahoo team and showing them the opportunity with the Hispanic marketplace. And on the NBC side, it was really kind of, I don't want to say teaching, but educating the TV kind of legacy sellers on what digital could bring to an overall campaign. And so that had its different challenges, as well. And I learned tremendously as well, I had a lot of learnings from Univision that I brought over, including how to run an actual business and I think from a sales perspective, you know, you're always against the the goal or the budget, but from a digital perspective, at least, even now, back in the day for sure, you wanted to make sure you were running a tight business. You were bringing money in but you were actually, you know, God forbid become profitable, so that you could continue that business. And so, you know, we I learned how to really handle a P&L and how to work with the editors and how to sell stuff that, you know, you knew was going to be profitable and not really focused so much on things that weren't as profitable, so, tremendous learnings. At Group Nine Media, I think that was, you know, I look back at all these places, another pivotal experience for me, in terms of of growth. Again, I'm naturally curious. I like asking a lot of questions. It's one of the reasons why I'm still in the digital space, because it changes so quickly and I feel like I'm always learning something. But at Group Nine, what they wanted to do is basically open up a multicultural center of excellence, that focused not only on Hispanic, but also on the black segment, the AAPI, the indigenous segments, as well as LGBTQ+, so I got to learn and represent all those communities. Obviously, didn't have the wealth of experience or expertise that I had with Hispanic, we had been doing that for so many years, however, because I kind of already knew how to sell these specific markets and segments, I knew exactly, you know, what to look for, and ultimately how to represent these communities, both internally and externally to clients. So it was a great growth opportunity for me being at Group Nine Media.
That's great. I want to ask you just a little bit about, kind of, the marketplace and just your general observations now, because those are, I think, big endeavors, but then, you know, also kind of specialization a little bit, if you will, then sort of media and marketing. Where do you think things are, kind of, now, compared to, you know, everything you just described in terms of planning and budgeting, and where you see brands sort of stepping up and activating more? Like, what are your thoughts and observations around, you know, what you're able to see now, kind of compared to what you've seen before?
Luis Romero 27:19
Yeah, I mean, I think before, you know, I guess very early on - again, I'll speak specifically about the Hispanic market, because that's where I grew up and what I knew, and what I know - I think there were a lot of, you know, challenges to overcome. And just like talking about the marketplace, and the growth of the marketplace, and how the Hispanic market was different, and what language means to the community. So there was a lot of education that needed to happen. And, you know, I think there was a lot of progress done, but, you know, the market as everything else changes, and so it gets younger, it diversifies more, even within our own communities. And obviously, with the change in media engagement, so, you know, those were very TV or linear centric, sort of companies that I had worked for, with the growth of digital, we just saw things completely change. And so everything else became more important - social, this, the other. And so, I think, you know, in our, in what we do in sales, you constantly have to be educating and keeping clients abreast of what's happening. I think that the budgets in some ways have, well it depends on how you look at it, I think they acknowledge now the importance of these audiences, but how do you actually reach them is completely changed. So you can reach Hispanic or black audiences or, you know, Asian American audiences, not just in their endemic channels, but across the board. And that's a good thing, right? I mean, it's not like, you know, we're only watching a certain channel or, you know, consuming a certain type of media, you know, we're like anyone else, we're adapting and engaging in all sorts of media. But it's like more how, when you talk to clients, it's really more about, like, where can you have the most impact? And that's usually not only in an endemic sites, but in sites that are really engaging audiences. It doesn't have to be, you know, just Hispanic or just black. So, I think that's a change in terms of budgets. And obviously over the last three years, we've seen budgets go more and more - or shift. I think, however, we want to make sure, I know, you know, the word performative was used a lot, a couple of years ago. It's still true, you know, you want to make sure that if they're doing sort of general buys that it really means everyone and not just a specific, you know, sector. So, you know, budgets, you know, this is a, you know, we talk about the economy, this is a, it's gonna be an interesting year, right? I think people have been talking about recession, etc. I think the importance of, you know, engagement with whatever it is that you're representing, or selling is important because clients, they want to make sure that their dollar is being well spent and having a big impact. So it's not just about reach, it's also about engagement as well.
Yep. Luis, where do you draw inspiration from?
Luis Romero 31:10
Yeah, my inspiration comes from everywhere, I swear. And I'm not just saying that. I am a person that I'm not sure, I'm open, right, and you talk about, I'm an open sort of person, and that kind of let things come to me. I'm obviously looking for it, but I kind of stumble across inspiration. And inspiration comes from my family, as I've talked about, it comes from, you know, my dad, my mom, my wife, my kids. You know, kids, you know, young kids, they don't know any better so they're always saying stuff and they're asking questions, and I draw inspiration from them. But you know, more immediately in business, you know, people I work with, people that work for me, inspire me. I think it's a two way street. And I'm constantly learning. And so I look for that, you know, I look for inspiration anywhere and everywhere, it comes to me all sorts of places.
Awesome, awesome. For anyone listening to this podcast that is thinking about a career in sales or entering the digital media space, what advice would you have for them?
Luis Romero 32:27
Yeah, I would say, if you're, you know, if you're naturally curious, I think asking questions about anything, that is a great skill set to have as a salesperson. I think that the better salespeople are just naturally curious. They're just going to ask questions, and not just because you have a script, about, you know, what is the budget happening? Or, you know, of course, you have to ask all those questions, but it's really just learning about someone else's business or someone's business, you know, what makes them tick, that sort of thing. So I would say, be curious, ask questions. You know, I've heard on this podcast and everywhere, you know, I was thinking about networking, super important. I think it's very important. So, you know, when I look back on my career, I think it's something I probably could have done more of, but I think it's not only doing well, and performing well, but making sure that other people are hearing about that and one way to do that is just by meeting people. And ultimately, your performance will get out, but the more people know about you and know about what you do, the better it is. So I think performance is important. And I think, you know, we talked about, you know, what inspires you and mentors, I think, like, ask people for advice, you know, and reach out to people you don't know, even if you can't get a connection, even if you don't know somebody who knows somebody just reach out to them because I think we all love to talk. And I think the older I get the more I want to kind of, you know, share and share with everyone and again, it's a two way street because again, I learned as much from people as I think they learn from me. So, I think that's important as well.
That's great. Luis, I want to go back to the beginning again, like, your family and your parents and, you know, grandparents and you know, would they be surprised at what Luis is doing today? Surprised? No surprise? What are your thoughts on that?
Luis Romero 34:59
No surprise. You know, especially my immediate family. I'm sure my sister and my little brother will say something opposite. No, they won't, I'm the person, I'm just the person that they go to. I don't have all the answers, obviously, no one does. But I'm the person that go to, so I think leading teams and kind of being an inspiration and being inspired by others, I think it's something that starts at home. So I don't think there'd be any surprise.
Alright, so Erik, I'm gonna switch it up here a little bit. Usually, I ask people for their top three apps, but I think for 2023, and sorry to put you on the spot here, Luis. I'm going to switch it up. What's in your music rotation right now? That's what I want to know. That's where I want to start going. I want to know what people are listening to these days.
Luis Romero 36:01
That is so funny. I was so ready for the app question too.
Luis Romero 36:09
I will connect it though. Alright, so, my top app is Spotify. And the reason it's Spotify, is that I love music. And I know people say that they have a wide variety of tastes, but I really have a wide variety of tastes. I mean, my rotation is nutty. You know, if I take a look at, you know, my favorite artists are always there. And you know, I have probably three or four favorite artists. And so David Bowie, Prince, Duke Ellington, and The Stones. You can probably tell how old I am by what I just said. So that sort of group of artists are always in rotation. But you know, sometimes I'll connect it to, you know, my second app, which is V sync. So V sync is one of the smart apps that you can control, like your humidifier and all sorts of things. I'm big into humidifiers, and usually when I'm putting my humidifier is when I'm going to sleep. And I'll have Beethoven on you know, so I'll have you know, some of that music on. But my last one is, my last app is Zero, which is, I'm trying to, you know, it's January I'm trying to do intermittent fasting because, you know, I'm trying to drop some pounds. So I usually have a very heavy sort of, like, workout music going on. So that's very different. That's combination of like, you know, hard, you know, I guess, hard metal sort of thing and hip hop, like something like very hard to just drive me while I'm at the gym. So that's what I have in rotation right now.
I love it. I mean humidifiers, Beethoven, hip hop I mean, it's great.
Thanks for being a good sport and let me put you on the spot like that.
I love the humidifier thing. Another episode we'll talk about, I got oils, I got lights, I got humidifier, I got a whole thing happening, you know, but I love it. I love it. Luis, thanks for hanging out with us. Thanks for spending time with us. And a lot of our audience likes to stay in touch, maybe reach out and connect. What are some ways that our listeners and viewers can stay in touch with you and reach out to you?
Luis Romero 38:46
Yeah, I would say that the easiest way to do it. I'm also off IG right now. I'm taking a break. So...
That's okay, Erik has never been on IG. So, that's okay.
100% truth. Can't get in now.
Luis Romero 39:02
Yeah. So I think LinkedIn is probably the best way to do it. So you can just look me up, Luis Romero. Happy to hear from folks on there. And if I don't respond right away, I try to do it within 24 hours, so I'll respond back to you.
Awesome. Thanks, Luis. And everyone, thanks again for listening. And we're excited this year. We've got a lot of great guests coming up and we can't wait for you to join us for the next one. But if you want to find some more episodes, you can find us where you find all of your audio and video, just search Minority Report podcast and look for the logo. Thanks for joining us for another episode of MRP.