How One Advertising Pro Cuts Through The Noise By Approaching Brand Partnerships Differently

The Infatuation brings you the most honest and trustworthy opinions on where to eat worldwide, written by a small group of highly trained, food-loving writers and editors.

Meet top companies and startups, like The Infatuation in-person at our epic networking night, Hustle Summit. and check out their job openings here.

Want to know what it’s like working in sales at a dynamic, food-centric startup? We asked Hustle Summit employer, The Infatuation about what it takes to stand out and land a position on their team and working on exciting projects and partnerships.

Brock Manheim, Partnerships Strategy Director at The Infatuation shares how to keep things interesting in the ever-changing advertising landscape and how to break new business in branded content and partnerships.


What drew you to startup world?

In all honesty, I wasn’t searching for a particular role that HAD to be at a startup; it could have been at a much larger corporation. My personal barometer for success was rather to identify companies with a purposeful mission and a potent community. These are often the most challenging aspects of building a brand (you can’t buy them, you have to earn them), and I had observed that in The Infatuation, even during its earliest days, which was crazy to me. I knew that with my help, this could be translated into an enormous business opportunity as the brand continued to evolve, and naturally, I wanted to be part of it.


What made your application and interview stand out?

Man… You’d have to ask my boss (Infatuation Co-Founder Andrew Steinthal). I built a mock pitch deck as part of the application process that was better than anything else he had seen at the time. I was also one of the few humans to sit down and refrain from talking about how much I love food (everyone loves food, btw). Frankly, it was my passion for the business opportunity and the gaping void in the marketplace that was there for the taking. Pretend you have $1M dollars to invest in a company; but it’s your money, and you have to spend it. Where do you put it? At the time, we lacked a lot of the “celebrity” that we have today and we were cooped up in a little one-bedroom apartment, but The Infatuation was still one of the first companies that I would have invested all my money in. I think it was that kind of foresight into the business that made it hard to pass me up.


Can you tell us a little about what you do at The Infatuation?

Since 2016, I’ve been responsible for leading the charge on our efforts to plan and develop strategic partnership programs with like-minded brands. Whether it’s content on the web and social, or events and experiences, most of the initial planning and ideation starts with me. If we win, it gets transitioned over to Jackie Widmann and our incredible Account team, who take the baton from the point of sale and execute all of our programs. These days I lead a group of sales strategists and have a lot more help, but the mission is still the same — to help sell branded content, events, and experiences that adds value to our audience and our partners at the same time.


What’s different about sales at a startup vs. a larger publisher?

The amount of effort that goes into proving who you are and why someone should write you a check. It’s challenging sometimes because you don’t necessarily have the huge impression numbers of larger media companies, and you can lose out that way. But you do have the power of a passionate community; an audience that’s genuinely engaged and responsive, and a jackpot for advertisers. Brands forming a deeper relationship with their audiences is where the industry is going, and why we’ve continued to be a leader even as a fast-growing startup. It’s fun to be able to prove that to brands and agencies the hard way and ultimately win over hearts and minds.


Can you tell us about one of your favorite projects?

JetBlue asked us to help them amplify a 3-day promotion called Pie in the Sky this past May. They were actually flying New York’s Patsy’s Pizzeria from JFK to LAX and hand-delivering them (cooked) to local Los Angeles customers in order to remind everyone that they are indeed New York’s “Hometown Airline.” It was a pretty cool promotion that I knew had the most potential as an Instagram Story. I wanted it to feel stunty and dynamic, but also authentic to the content our community is used to seeing every day on our channels. We came up with the idea of a Pizza “Fly-Along,” riffing off the Restaurant Review Ride-Along Series that our editorial team does multiple times a week in all of our markets. I wrote the initial script and built a series of Keynote decks that storyboarded/mocked up the planned narrative. Then, our hilarious Creative Director Nick Bilardello shot the real thing on an actual JetBlue flight from NY to LA with an iPhone and pizza box in hand. The story ran a week later and made a ton of noise across the industry, with many people in our world taking notice and applauding our ability to create organic branded content that barely felt like an ad. When you can do that and still make the brand happy, you’ve uncovered your holy grail.


The Infatuation's Jet Blue Pie in the Sky Pitch Deck Intro Slide


Your background is in international relations and philosophy. What transferable skills helped you successfully leap into sales/partnerships?

I didn’t go to a large university that offered business or advertising courses, so the closest thing I could take was economics, and I didn’t want to study spreadsheets and graphs all day. Studying government and philosophy taught me not only how to think, but also how to win a persuasive argument. You’re writing papers about the ebbs and flows of power and diplomacy, and in philosophy, you’re taught that the best ideas win. Whether we’re trying to persuade people to take a chance on us, or we’re negotiating the last steps of a major deal, these are skill sets that directly translate to my day-to-day. In retrospect, I would have made the same decision ten times over.


What is a key skill people should work to acquire in order to succeed in sales?

Knowing that using your EQ is just as important as your IQ. The ability to connect emotionally with your counterparty on the other side of the coin is vital when you’re asking them to write you a check. We talk a lot about the power of relationships and interpersonal/social “capital” at The Infatuation, and there’s no question it’s made us a different kind of company that looks at partnerships differently.


Brock Manheim and Jackson Lynch at The Infatuation's office space


Any final advice for those looking to break into and excel in the world of media?

Too often, you see 22 year-old post-grads taking jobs at huge, well-known media agencies, and they end up getting overworked and burned out in their first few years of real-world employment. The wild world of media doesn’t have to be like this. The right brands and publishers, like The Infatuation, are out there and they’re doing incredibly innovative things. My personal advice would be to try and find a home at one of those shops before you default to a larger company, where you’re one of 10,000 people and can get lost in the white noise. I’m biased because I’ve had the opportunity to carve out my own niche and take on a lot of responsibility in a fairly short period of time, but it all comes down to the opportunities put in front of you and what you do with them. Millennials have this awful reputation for expecting to be recognized and respected, and so I’ve always worked twice as hard to try and disprove that through my work. Actions will always speak louder than words.


Meet Brock and The Infatuation’s team, along with other awesome companies at our epic networking night, Hustle Summit–in NYC’s Irving Plaza Friday, July 20th.

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