Brian Berner holds almost two decades of experience as an advertising media and technology executive. For the past decade, he has been the Head of North American Advertising Sales at Spotify, where he oversees all personnel related to the country’s Advertising Partnerships. Berner works with management to set forth Spotify’s go-to-marketing strategy. He also leads the development of ad product and sales strategies to create products for Spotify’s Advertising Partners to market to their consumers in an authentic, yet impactful way.
Advertising has been a passion of Berner’s since he was a college student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Here, he studied Management Information Systems with a concentration in Library Information Systems. It wasn’t until he began selling advertisements in the school newspaper, The Daily Illini, that Brian Berner knew he would pursue a career in advertising rather than his original path of investment banking.
After graduating in 2003, he accepted a position at an email marketing firm that would eventually become MySpace, the premier social media site at the time. Brian Berner was the first salesperson to spearhead revenue efforts for the company. He began his tenure as an individual contributor but quickly advanced to Sales Manager and, eventually, became the Sales Director for the Midwest. In 2010, he moved to another marketing solutions firm where he worked as Vice President of Midwest Sales for a little over a year.
In 2011, Brian Berner accepted a position with Spotify as their Regional Vice President for the Midwest. His experience and leadership was vital in their expansion into the Midwest and throughout the United States. It was this oversight that elevated Berner into overseeing all of Spotify’s U.S. advertising sales.
For Brian Berner, working at Spotify was a no-brainer. At the time, combining social sharing with music streaming was a newer innovation, so there were a lot of learning curves as companies attempted to refine their services. Berner recognized that Spotify was the first company to really get it right. They seamlessly aligned tech, social connections, content discovery, with a world-class user interface. Out of all the music services, Spotify was ahead of the game and already planning for the future. Berner knew he wanted to be a part of this future.
Brian Berner’s biggest accomplishment at Spotify to-date has been taking their salesforce from private to public. This was a massive undertaking that required the implementation of new business rules, accounting practices, and customer communications. Berner has grown Spotify’s NA Sales team from 40 employees to over 170 employees and is actively involved in cultivating their talent so they can continue to achieve career growth in advertising.
Brian Berner also encourages his team to get involved with as many philanthropic organizations as they can throughout the United States. Spotify supports various fundraising efforts, as well as offers hands-on volunteer days to their team members.
Berner is excited to help Spotify break into the podcast space and continue expanding their operations overseas. This will continue to open up new opportunities and customers that will continue to grow their services and user base.
While he has achieved more than he had set out to accomplish at the beginning of his career, Brian Berner is continually looking for the next milestone to strive for, whether it’s in the professional sphere or in his personal life. He has a deep interest in philanthropy and education, and one of his long-term goals is to lend his efforts toward further building upon Chicago’s startup culture and improving their education system, where he grew up.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
Spotify was created to make music more accessible to everyone. That means giving listeners access to millions of songs and podcasts for their enjoyment, while also giving creators a platform to share their talents. Spotify Advertising helps businesses discover how to showcase their brands within this audio content to reach their intended audiences so they can continue to expand their outreach.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Overseeing all personnel related to Advertising Partnerships across North America keeps me pretty busy. I work directly with management to develop Spotify’s marketing strategy, create our ad products, and build out all of our sales strategies to create products for our Advertising Partners to market to our Spotify consumers.
Staying productive is critical to my role. There are so many different ways I could answer this question, but one of the biggest habits that I’ve implemented that has had a positive impact on my productivity — which is a relatively small, but powerful habit — is putting “Do Not Block” time slots in my calendar throughout the week. This is time that’s reserved just for me where I can work undistracted. I use this time to make progress on major projects, but I also use it as an opportunity to go through my inbox and create some white space.
If you are strict and consistent with this habit, people will respect the time you allot for yourself and won’t approach you during the blocks in your calendar.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It’s important to do your due diligence and thoughtfully explore every idea you have. If you’re struggling to envision your idea as a reality, then maybe it’s not an idea worth pursuing and executing. If you don’t even believe in your ideas, it will be impossible for you to convince others of the validity of your ideas.
Once you do have an idea worth executing, it’s important to be organized and have all your ducks in a row. Then, fight hard to bring that idea to life and sell others on your vision. And don’t forget to utilize your network. Bouncing your ideas off of your support system can help you strengthen your ideas even more in ways you might not have thought of yourself.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The continued evolution of streaming audio. As more consumers turn to streaming, especially podcasts, it will continue to push the audio landscape into the future and change the way people experience audio entertainment. As the audio landscape grows, we will also see it leave an impact on other industries as well — like smart homes and connected cars.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Paying homage to question #2 again. Our calendars can be a pretty scary thing, so it’s up to us to build space in our calendars that are dedicated just to our time. By eliminating distractions and giving ourselves time to focus on projects uninterrupted, we hold ourselves accountable to make more progress on the tasks that are laid out in front of us. I can’t talk about the power of “Do Not Block” calendar events enough.
I will add something else here, though. Contrary to popular opinion, I’ve become even more productive after I ditched the traditional to-do list. I’ve found better ways to organize all the tasks I need to get done that don’t read like a glaring, endless list of unstarted/unfinished projects.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Lose the ego and stop trying to do everything by yourself.
I wasted so much time thinking I’d feel more accomplished or proud if I didn’t ask for help, only to realize how ludicrous that mindset really was. It’s so foolish to not want to learn from the people who have been there before you so you can avoid the same mistakes they made when they were just starting out.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Ditch the carts when you golf and walk the course. It’s the best way to unwind and get some fresh air.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Investing in myself. I’ve been lucky to have such an incredible and exciting career so far, but just because I’m over two decades into my career, that doesn’t mean I should stop trying to better myself. Entrepreneurs, no matter how old, should constantly be learning and growing in their roles.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Know what your value proposition is, and know your client’s objectives.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Letting my ego and pride get in the way of some of my business decisions. When you realize that you are actually working against yourself and not in your best interests, you immediately stop repeating the same mistakes and actually come to the table prepared to make any and all changes necessary.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Maybe I’m biased, but I believe everyone should start a podcast. There are so many interesting people in the world with passions and interests that other people would love to listen to. This isn’t a newfound concept, but it’s something I always tell people they should consider.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A day out with my family. That time spent together and the memories that follow are priceless.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Salesforce. I am a huge fan of the CRM and the insights it provides.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Raving Fans” by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. It hit home with how we should define and lead with customer service. I can’t recommend it enough.
What is your favorite quote?
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
- Make time for yourself
- Don’t let your ego get in your way
- Invest in yourself no matter how old or experienced you are
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.