In episode 160, Erik and Kerel talk with Lynne d Johnson, Content Director at AdMonsters, about her childhood - born and raised in New York to her mom and dad. Her dad who was in the military taught her discipline, made her make her bed a certain way, her grandmother made her and her siblings polish silver, and other ways that made Lynne the woman and professional she is today.
Lynne shares the importance of community, what she’s looking forward to most in the ad tech industry in 2024, some bold predictions about audio ads, and the current state of diversity in the ad tech industry. Lynne also tells us where she goes to learn about fresh new ideas and topics in the ad tech industry, how she leans on her service to others being her biggest accomplishment, learning to be more of herself, and advice she would give her younger self.
“I'm here as a service. [...] And I don't know if I'm a service leader, per se, but when I think of my accomplishments, I think of how I served other people.”
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 real operators and leaders in media, tech, and business. And we're super excited today to have Lynne Johnson. Now many of you may know Lynne. Lynne is the Content Director for AdMonsters. Let's jump in and get to know Lynne a little bit. Lynne, welcome. How are you?
Lynne Johnson 00:32
I'm doing fine. Thanks for having me.
Before we jump into the conversation, can we just give Lynne a big thank you because she has been a friend and a supporter to the podcast since the very beginning from inviting us to AdMonsters, to sharing our content. And so Lynne, I just want to say from both Erik and I, thank you for always supporting the podcast and very excited to actually have you as a guest on the podcast now.
Lynne Johnson 01:05
Well, thank you, and no problem. I mean, I thought it was something that the industry really needed. So I was glad to help put it out there.
Thank you. Yeah. And Kerel, I'm so happy you highlighted that. And Lynne, we're so grateful for helping to amplify what you just described because over the last nearly five years, we've seen so many things sort of change, right, from the beginning of the podcast to what we talk about, all the way through the global pandemic, to a number of different, big, big changes, not only in the industry that we all work in, but also in just society, right? Also in just current events. All of those things were just massive. So a big thank you, again. Also super excited you're here. Some of the same questions we kind of talk about as we get to know each other, we always discover something new. That's what Kerel and I absolutely love, right, about each guest and storytelling, really. I want to ask you a little bit, though, about kind of like your journey into the industry in a sec here, but first Lynne, I got to know, where did you grow up? Where did you call home in the early days? And where were you born and raised?
Lynne Johnson 02:25
Alright, I'm a native New Yorker. We don't have many native New Yorkers in New York nowadays. But I'm a native New Yorker, I was born and raised in New York. Born in a hospital in Manhattan that doesn't even exist anymore. It was called Flower-Fifth Avenue. I think it's something like Terrance Cardinal Cooke Center now if it's even that, it might be something else now. But I grew up in the Bronx, the Bronx was where I called home, and two parents, with my grandmother in the home and my mother's sister in the home. So had like that extended family type vibe, and my brother and sister who are older than I, and just like, the Bronx, to me was like then as a youth, it was the bomb as we used to say back then, right? It was all of that and a bag of chips, as we used to say back then. These things sounds so corny nowadays, right? (laughs)
They'll come back. They come full circle. (laughs) You know, you mentioned having, you know, sort of extended family members in the household and even multi generational too, what was that like for you? How do you think that kind of like, impacted who you are today?
They well. (laughs)
Lynne Johnson 03:39
Man, it's funny, I was talking to my sister about this the other day because we were talking about her grandkids, and how, you know, their mothers, like one of these new generation moms, just like their discipline level is a little different than what we were used to growing up, you know? Like, my grandmother on Saturday mornings, and I'm not saying this was every Saturday, but when we got up some Saturdays, we were polishing silver, right, like, old school, like she had nice sets of silver flatware, and some other like silver like things for like, dinner setup, right? And we used to have to polish that down and refine it. And then we had house choice too, you know, like cleaning up around the house. And I think that you know, today, you know, a lot of kids like I don't know if some of us parents are slacking on those kinds of tasks and activities that help kids to be like focus, to think about, you know, just being grateful for what you have. I didn't notice it until I got older but it was like oh, that's why I'm so detail oriented. Oh, that's why I pay attention to cleanliness so much, you know, it's like you know, you make your bed when you get up, like, what you'll hear a lot of people, I know Erik you like to look at examples from the Navy SEALs, when you look at anyone from the military, the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is you make your bed and that starts a successful day. So things like that.
Lynne Johnson 05:11
Yeah, my dad had been in the military so he even used to say, like, you got the quarter has to bounce a certain way on the bed, and you got to make sure you pull the sheets a certain way. So all of that was a part of my background and I think, yeah, it had a major impact into how I lead my life, right?
Yeah. Well said, and it's interesting, as you point out, you know, you, you slow down, and you're sort of working on those things and we'll just go with the polishing for the silverware thing, right, I mean, it's tangible, it's real, you feel it, you're connected to them. And so actually I had a similar sort of encounter with my grandparents' like silverware, you know, like, our family is trying to figure out what to do with it, not just use it on the holidays, right. And after they passed, it became this special thing that we all sort of could remember all these days, all around. What are some other kind of special things that you kind of remember about those times as a family unit that way, as a group of family members that spend a lot of time around each other?
Lynne Johnson 06:12
Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, dinner time, like, it was required, we are all sitting at the table together for dinner. And although my brother and sister were older, and my parents were always like, I don't care what you doing in those streets, y'all are coming back home to have dinner, you know, with the family. And so that was really important. And especially Sunday dinner. We spent a lot of time in church, so that's what we did as a family. And that's with my parents, and my brother and sister and I, like, I was heavy in church. I mean, like, I was President of the Junior Choir, I was President of the Junior Usher Board, which I think also plays a role in who I am today, definitely, without a doubt, but you know, we all went to church together as a family, and even my father's children from his previous wife went to the same church as us. And my cousins would come and spend over from both sides of my family, two cousins I had on my father's side, two cousins I had on my mother's side, they would also come over, come stay for the weekend, and we all would go to church, it was part of the family. So I grew up, you know, very close to my family. So like, community is a big thing to me, always has been.
Is that really front and center to sort of your passion around what you do today, specifically at AdMonsters? Because that's community too, right?
Lynne Johnson 07:39
Yeah, no doubt. You know, it's not until just talking to you guys now that I think about that like, and building community is kind of something I've been doing for 17 years or more in digital media, maybe even 20 years. I don't want to date myself here, but yeah, I think it definitely plays a role in how natural it was for me to do that kind of thing. And then, you know, to just pick up skills about digital on the way to help build community through digital media and digital platforms.
Why do you think building, whether it be church, digital media, politics, whatever, why do you think building community is so important and so vital?
Lynne Johnson 08:27
Well, this is interesting, too, because this came up the other day, I also facilitate, I should say, teach, I teach class, race and gender at a Labor College and through that Labor College, I also facilitate some diversity workshops for men and supervisors. I want to say for people, but saying men to everything is kind of, you know, it gets tricky sometimes, right. But it came up as I was talking to them about union, what a union does for its members and for society. And, to me, that's the same idea as community, right? When you have community, there's power in numbers, right? There's power in voices, but also within community there is mentorship, there's coaching, there is networking, right, it's just like about the ability to pay it forward, the ability to have collective think without it being groupthink, if you know what I mean. Like, in creating safe spaces to have conversations, right, so to me, that's what real community is, like safe spaces to have conversations and to agree to disagree if necessary. I think it's important to achieve real goals. Like a lot of people say I'm a self made, I'm self made and when you look behind the curtains you find out there was a community around them, right?
Yeah, I'm a big believer that no one has gotten to where they are in life on their own. It's impossible. It's impossible to be successful without some help from someone along the way. And to your point, I think, that that is definitely what community is. And Erik said something at the beginning, which is one of the reasons he and I love doing this podcast is because we get to find out things about people that we talk to like you all the time, but didn't know. I had no idea that you were a professor and taught classes.
Lynne Johnson 10:34
It didn't come up, it didn't come up. But that's why I used to always ask you about that course you took, I was like oh, maybe it's a little extra thing I can take on top of what I already have. I have an Advanced Certificate in Multicultural Studies, which kind of leaned into what I'm doing. That's why I always asked you about that certificate, that course you took in diversity.
Gotcha. Gotcha. Well, we can't let you off of the podcast without asking you a few industry related questions. And, you know, there's obviously a lot going on in the ad tech world these days. Some exciting, some not so exciting about our industry Lynne, what do you find most exciting, and I can't believe I'm about to say this, but you know, next week begins Q4 and we start planning for 2024. What about next year are you looking forward to the most?
Lynne Johnson 11:30
Well, I'm looking forward to ad spend bouncing back so we could start talking about an ad spend recession that never really was, right? Like if you notice in the press lately some forecasts have changed, right? Things are not as dire as they seemed, initially, we're still not back to what was forecasted pre pandemic times, right? Still not looking like that. But I think 2024 I feel we can see that. The other thing I'm looking forward to because I serve publishers, right? I'm looking forward to see how they take the lead on this cookie-less era. There's really room for them to take the lead, and help us all figure out what is the best path forward. And even some buy side people I'm talking to is like, yes, now it's time for publishers to help us figure out how we do this. So I'm kind of excited about that. And I'm excited about talking to the publishers who are figuring it all out, right? And the other things I'm excited about in the industry, I keep hearing every year that audio is going to have it's year, audio/podcasting, right? I keep hearing that every year, but I don't think it's coming, I don't know if it's 2024, maybe it's 2025, but like, the stats show that advertising performs really well in the audio space in the podcasting space. And it's just, the money is not trickling in the same way it is into video and CTV. So I'm hoping that, you know, some of these studies that have been coming out in the industry lately will help to change buyers perspective on that. So I'm kind of excited about that as well.
I think one of the challenges there is, you know this just as well as I do, buyers like things that are easy and can scale. And while podcasting, for the most part can scale, it may not always be the easiest to execute on. And so I think that's where some of the challenges lie, but those are all great thoughts about what you're looking forward to in the industry. And I think Erik and I both share similar thoughts. I'm also curious to get your perspective on the state of diversity in the industry. As we said at the beginning, you've been a champion of this podcast, which we really appreciate, we know that you are very purposeful about when AdMonsters in particular has events that you have a lineup that is very diverse, quite frankly, diversity across the lineup for AdMonsters is usually much more diverse than a lot of other conferences that take place and we appreciate that. And so from someone who I know, this is top of mind for, what is your thought on the state of diversity in our industry these days? And you're shaking your head, so let us have it.
Lynne Johnson 14:29
I'm shaking my head because you know, I've been having conversations with Chris Kenna, I'm sure you guys know him from the events, and you know, he likes to talk about what is called the Black Tech Tax and how Black Media has to prove it's Black Media and they have to pay to prove that they're Black Media just to earn the share of the pie.
I know all about that as well too. (laughs)
Lynne Johnson 14:58
(laughs) Yeah, so you know, I think about that. And I think about like, during the pandemic, and during the social unrest that we had when people were pledging all these dollars to diverse media and diverse businesses in general and, you know, learning that a lot of companies never saw some of that money, right? And then, you know, looking at what's happening in education, how affirmative action has dropped, has given employees, I think, the feeling that, oh, we don't have to fill quotas anymore, whatever they wanted to call it, right? So I think things are not, people are like, oh, it's better, it's getting better, I don't think that's truly the case. I think actually, some things that have happened in politics, specifically, and I'm not going to - I hate talking about politics so I'm not going to go too deep into that there - but I think it has signaled to a lot of businesses, that it's not as important to honor the diversity code, so to speak, if I can call it that, although it's been proven again, and again, that diverse thinking whether we're talking about race, gender, diverse thought just makes businesses better because you're serving diverse clientele. So, whether you think so or not, you're serving diverse clientele. You know, we can all think of how, like, how many times ads just get it wrong, because no one of color was in the room, or no one of a different sexual orientation was in the room, when they decided to have you know, oh, let's do a LGBT ad or a bipoc at, right, and just like the tagline will be all wrong because no one was able to check that. I mean, I worked at an advertising industry for a short while in digital and social strategy and, you know, sometimes even in the room, I would bring up certain things, they would go oh nobody's thinking about that and I would be like oh, yeah, they are. And I don't want to say what agency but let's just say, and this might tell who, but one of their clients was Nike, right? And it was an influencer program that we were talking about. And it was like, if you don't have these people, then this influencer program is not going to work. And they were like, no, but [inaudible]. And I'm like, yes, those are because we're talking Nike. And if you go into any hood in America, that's all kids are wearing is Nike, right? Well, that was at the time, now things you know, more diverse, Yeezy took over and things like that, right? But still Nike basketball shoes, hands down, that's what all the kids wear who play basketball. So I think diversity is still really important. I think we're still not there. I think when you look at big tech companies like Google and Facebook, who have been tasked with showing their diversity report every year, and the needle has still not moved for the past 10 years, really, I would say, in companies like that, we've got to do more, the population is changing, the demographics of America are changing, they have changed dramatically, and 2024 we're going to be predominantly Latino in America. And we don't reflect that at all. I still hear people say stuff like "You're in America, learn to speak English." No, we should learn to speak Spanish as well, right? It goes both ways. So there's a lot of things I think, have to still be sorted out in our industry, in society, as well as in our industry. And I think, you know, Walter Geer, who we all know, talks about this all the time, if you follow his LinkedIn he's always drawing attention to things that come up in the industry, even at things that are supposed to honor people of color, right? Y'all know what I'm talking about with that one. (laughs)
Lynne, I'm super curious as Content Director for AdMonsters and for some of our listeners, and viewers that may not be familiar with AdMonsters right, which is a tremendous hub for digital media and advertising, news, great research, also great events and conferences to sort of build also that community. You know, it's a tremendous hub for all of that, so you literally make people smarter, you get people connected, you highlight industry, important topics and also within very specific important corners of our industry, right? So what do you sort of read and follow and sort of learn from to keep everyone else sort of smart. Like, what is Lynne following and how does Lynne stay informed with what's going on? Is it people? Is it other publications? Like, tell us a little bit about that.
Lynne Johnson 19:59
I mean, I think everyone can read the publication's. I mean, yeah, the news is there, but what has been most beneficial to me in my job is what everyone likes to call adtech Twitter. Adtech Twitter has played a great role in the five years that I've been at AdMonsters with getting me up to speed. I used to also be on the AdOps Subreddit. I still pay attention to it from time to time, there's a couple of other Subreddits and Slacks that I look at from time to time. But adtech Twitter, like, and you know, there's certain characters and personalities there who dominate the conversation. But, you know, I've learned so much from those people. And some of them have their own newsletters. So there's a couple of newsletters I read like The Rebooting, Brian Morrissey, and listen to his podcast. Eric Seufert, who has Mobile Dev Memo, I check into that, I even subscribe to his one that's a subscription based one. I'm also paying attention to, I never pronounce this correctly - what Ari and those guys are doing with Marketecture - is that what it is, right?
Lynne Johnson 21:17
Yes, yes. Because, you know, I'm learning some things there that sometimes, you know, even when I sit down and talk to a vendor, I may not fully understand. But that's another thing too, just talking to these pubs. There are people who I just go to, who I call on, who teach me a lot about the industry. And I'm very thankful for those folks. And, you know, AdMonsters, I don't know if they had an advisory board before I came here, but we put together an advisory board this year for the first time since I've been here. And all of those people on that advisory board have made me so much smarter. And I'm looking forward to figuring out how to be better about putting that advisory board together next year, and in the future as well. And just yeah, like, there's certain people, like I sit down, and I talk to Jenna Morone. Marone, as she says. I sit down and I talk to Scott Messer, Terry Guyton-Bradley, I'm just gonna throw the names out there. All these people, I don't always agree with their takes on everything, but you know, I learn a lot from them.
That's great. You've been doing this for a little bit. You're good at it. What are a few accomplishments that you're most proud of? What are a couple of things that make you happy, put a smile on your face and you say man I'm really proud I did that.
Lynne Johnson 22:41
Already, I said earlier that like I serve the community, right? I'm here as a service. And I know, you guys had a service leader at AdMonsters Pub Forum in the past. And I don't know if I'm a service leader, per se, but when I think of my accomplishments, I think of how I served other people. So I think of throughout my career, people who I have mentored or coached and watching what they have gone on to do. And at times, I feel like they've surpassed even what my career is. Like someone I used to mentor who has started like three tech companies, now owns a farm and I was like one of her first mentors, when she first came into the space. She's had various tech companies. There's some other people who went on to be Editor in Chiefs of magazines who I mentored, or even, you know, wrote cover stories. I've never wrote a cover story for a magazine. But you know, people who acknowledge and say, Lynne really helped me to get here, because I wasn't just a boss. I was a friend, a confidant, and a coach, right. And really, when someone really wanted to learn something, and I always used my network to help people. So those to me are some of my biggest achievements and accomplishments in my career. Even more than, I could sit here and talk about, oh, I keynoted at a conference in London and in Australia, back in the day, which I have done, right. I was on the Advisory Board of South by Southwest, and all of this stuff, I can tell you that list of things as well, but that's not as important to me, as what I've helped other people be able to do.
Thanks for that Lynne. That's awesome. What about the flip side of that? What about the people that have helped you along the way? What's some of the best piece of advice that you've ever received by someone that's helped you or mentored you?
Lynne Johnson 24:44
So see, that side is tricky, because I haven't had like a legit mentor. Like I've never had like a legit mentor like someone I can say this person was my mentor. Or I asked this person to be my mentor or coach, never had any of that. But I have had people on my journey, who the ways in which they took a chance on me, maybe even when I wasn't qualified to do something, but because I spit good game, that's the best way to describe it, was like, have them believe in me and then along the way, learn some things from them. So best piece of advice was, I mean, even I'll tell you, my current boss, Bill says to me, "Keep being you, your authenticity shines through." He's like we want you to be you, that's what we love. That's what people love, they want you to be you. Whereas, you know, growing up in my career, I may have felt like, I had to dress a certain way or talk a certain way or act a certain way. Other people, I would say, you know, my days in digital media goes so far back like web 1.0 that there was a guy named Omar Wasow, who was one of the cofounders of blackplanet.com. And I went to work with Omar. You know, Omar was the first person who got me out there publicly speaking. And at the time, he was on TV with Oprah. He was like Oprah's digital guru, or something like that, or tech guru, and he spoke all these places. And, you know, I was like, I don't know how to do this thing, what, and same thing, it was a similar thing. Just be you. You know what you know. Just be you. Don't let the questions trip you up. So it's kind of interesting. I never thought about this until you guys asked that. Like, that's kind of bookends, like, Omar used to tell me the same thing that Bill always tells me, which I think is great. It's been a great, great piece of advice. Would that piece of advice work for everyone? I don't know. I don't know. But I have told some people to just be them.
Lynne Johnson 27:05
What advice would Lynne today give Lynne back in the era of web 1.0?
Lynne Johnson 27:14
(laughs) Lynne today would have told Lynne and web 1.0 to stop judging herself, I guess, right, cuz it's funny, I was reading an article about impostor syndrome recently. And someone was saying, "Oh, black people have - black people and women specifically - have impostor syndrome even worse." So somebody else said, "Well, no, that's just racism, or that's just sexism," right? And I know growing up, my parents always told me, you have to work twice as hard to be the best because of who you are. And I think I would tell myself to trust my intuition a little more. And to not be afraid to speak up. When I was younger in my career, I didn't speak up as much. I sat back and listened and waited and me today, will be like, girl speak up, what are you doing? You have ideas, you have thoughts, you have... share, you know, for sure.
Well, there you go, that's good advice for anyone listening right now. Speak up. Don't be afraid. Share your thoughts. Share your ideas. Fun questions, a little bit less serious than the last question. What's in the music rotation right now?
Lynne Johnson 28:41
Well, I was, it's funny, I had to pull this up because Spotify they give you your rotation, right, on repeat, right. And a song that I've been digging a lot is off of Janelle Monae 's latest album, and it's called Float. I think I like it because, and it's kind of in line with what I was saying I would tell my younger self, right. It's like, "float on them. I float on them, just float. They're hanging on that goose down in my coat. Float on them, I float on them, I just float. I don't step. I don't walk. I don't dance. I just float." Right? And that's like, yeah, that's who you have to be when you step into the room. You have to float. So people know you're sure of yourself, you're confident, you don't have your head down. Now you're not conceited, right? But you have your self esteem intact. And like I said earlier, you know what you know, and you shouldn't be afraid to share.
Wow, I think that's the first time we've got a few verses Kerel.
I think so.
That was good. I like it. I like it.
History in the making. I love it.
Lynne Johnson 29:59
Well, y'all know who I am. I'm from the boogie down, I told you from the beginning.
There you go.
Here we go, here we go. Lynne, it's been a lot of fun hanging out with you and I want to make sure that everyone listening and viewing has a way to get in touch with you and follow you. What are some ways that they can stay in touch and follow you?
Lynne Johnson 30:17
Well, on LinkedIn, I am Lynne D Johnson. L-y-n-n-e, D is my middle initial, Johnson is my last name. Johnson with an H. On Twitter I am @LynneLuvah. It's so funny people think it's l-u-vah. It is not l-u-vah. Why would it be l-u-v-ah? L-y-n-n-e-L-u-v-a-h. I'm public on Instagram, I'm public everywhere. I'm either Lynne D Johnson, or LynneLuvah everywhere.
Alright, Lynne D Johnson, AdMonsters, thank you so much, and everyone thank you so much for listening to another episode. You can find a whole lot more episodes wherever you find all of your audio and your video, just search for the logo. And thanks everyone again for listening to another episode.