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Jackie Donaldson Talks the Challenges of Consulting with Major Content Companies

What are some of the critical challenges of consulting with major media companies? Tim Siglin, Founding Executive Director, Help Me Stream Research Foundation, and Contributing Editor, Streaming Media, sits down with Jackie Donaldson, Founder & CEO, Velvet Hammer Consulting in this interview from Streaming Media East 2023.

Siglin asks Donaldson to talk about what she does with her consultancy business.

“It's called Velvet Hammer Consulting,” Donaldson says. “We primarily focus on technology and media companies. So, resource allocation, road mapping processes, tools, technology evaluation, and then also a little bit of organizational consulting, and making sure everything is in the right place. Occasionally it is, and very, very, very often, it's not.”

“So why Velvet Hammer?” Siglin asks. “That’s an intriguing name.”

“I have worked over the years with many fantastic clients,” Donaldson says. “One of them was Major League Baseball. And the former CTO nicknamed me that after the first meeting, he decided that I needed that nickname. So it just kind of stuck.”

“You bludgeon people nicely?” Siglin says.

“Yes! In a very nice way.”

“So, what is your background?” Siglin asks. “You mentioned Major League Baseball…”

“Back in the day when there was focus on undersea cables, I started in that business and then moved to IP engineering,” Donaldson says. “Then, from there, I went into CDN and broadcast and spent 13 years at Level 3, now Lumen. And then from there, I went to the dark side and worked for BAMTech, which was the spinoff from MLB Advanced Media, and then it got acquired by Disney, and then I worked for Disney.”

“And now you’re primarily out on your own doing this?” Siglin asks.

“I am only out on my own now,” Donaldson says. “I decided to take some time off last summer. I'd never done that in my career. And then when my son went back to school, I was kind of like, well, what am I going to do now? And I kind of just fell into consulting just through colleagues and friends, and it just stuck.”

“So it’s interesting you did subsea cable and then CDN with Level 3,” Siglin says.

“I was moving up the layers,” Donaldson says.

“I was going to say Global Crossing was in there somewhere…” Siglin says.

“Yes, we acquired them.”

“I remember a lot of that from my early career in video conferencing to streaming,” Siglin says. “So you have the perspective then across, as you say, all those layers as you moved up. When you're talking about the organizational piece, is it figuring out how to align business units? Or is it figuring out how to align talent to the task?”

Donaldson says that it differs per type of organization. “It's different in different organizations. “It's, ‘Okay, we were this before, now we want to be this. How do we organizationally structure to get there? What are the missing pieces? Sometimes it can get into the weeds so much [and] it's like, ‘Okay, I have this team, it's not functioning well, go figure out why.’ So it can be any and all of the above.”

Siglin says, “So because you've worked in both IP and also in the transport side and CDN and with BAM…one of the things that I've always found fascinating in the industry, having started back where you had people who understood 1 volt peak to peak, and then you had people who understood packets, oftentimes both groups. And I think of traditional broadcasters and streaming. Both groups have the best intent in mind, but there's no language that's correlating between them. So I found my consulting, I act as a translator.”

“That's exactly it!” Donaldson says. “There's different languages between different teams, right? Like, I speak legal, right? I speak marketing, I speak tech, I speak product. So sometimes it's a communication barrier, and sometimes it's that they've been doing something so long the same way that change is hard. So figuring it out, do you have the right people in place to make that change? And can they speak the new language? But what's interesting is you'd be surprised how many companies really need the extra help in having somebody unbiased, not involved in the call of politics or the culture, to come in and say, ‘This is what I see, and this is what your customer sees as a result.’”

Siglin says, “And I've often found that I know that I'm successful in consulting when, say, in the morning, I come in, and both sides are saying something, and I realize neither side understands it. So I translate between them. Then we go to lunch, and they've all worked together. They know each other, but by the time we get to about two or three in the afternoon, they're no longer talking to me. They're talking to each other. And then I can just fade away. Because ultimately, it is that outside perspective to say people feel like you're not getting along. And it's probably not because you're incompetent or you don't trust each other.”

“That’s exactly right,” Donaldson says. “And you know, throughout my career, I've been kind of that translator, referee, Switzerland, whatever you want to call it. I'm that person who can kind of seamlessly move between the organizations, and so that has become kind of a superpower for me.”

Siglin mentions that Donaldson is about to be on a Streaming Media East 2023 panel, and he asks her to describe what the topics will be.

“So the panel is essentially build or buy,” Donaldson says. “Lots of companies started off like the Netflixes of the world with ‘We're going to build everything ourselves.' And now we're starting to see a shift because now it's not just about subscribers, it's about profitability. So then you have to kind of look at your workflow and say, ‘Should I be building this anymore? Or should I be outsourcing, and what parts of it can I outsource? What parts should I not do [for] that? Because it inherently causes risk.”

Siglin agrees and says, “[If] you are a company that does sports broadcasting, you do not need to become a technology company. So maybe you have a technology partner that you work with to do those particular kinds of things as opposed to having to bring all that expertise in house and build the car from scratch.”

“That's right,” Donaldson says. “And you know, the pandemic taught people that it can be hard. You can't get all of that talent, particularly not in one place. So I think businesses are seeing that if you want to move to profitability, you have to look at outsourcing as one of the options to do so.”

Learn more about a wide range of streaming business and tech topics at Streaming Media Connect 2023.

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