How Roku's ad sales boss Alison Levin successfully steered through the pandemic


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ROKUAlison Levin, Roku’s VP of ad sales and strategySource: Roku

In late spring 2020, Alison Levin was outside in her backyard with her young daughter and golden retriever. Both were running as quickly as they could — at one another, for the same ball. Inevitably, they collided. 

“She went down, and we held our breaths,” she said. “And then she popped right up and just kept running.” 

Levin, Roku‘s VP of global ad revenue and marketing solutions, saw this as a metaphor of sorts. Roku, where she’s helmed the ad sales business since 2015, saw massive cancellations in March at the beginning of the pandemic. Roku let businesses out of deals as advertisers pulled or paused budgets across the board.

At first, it wasn’t pretty. Roku stock had been trading at $127.50 on February 3, before pandemic volatility sent stocks diving. It cratered, shedding more than half its value to hit a low of $63.84 on March 16. 

“We got hard at work doing what it was that we were there to do. Focusing on the things that were unique to us: Flexibility, precision, real-time analytics, all those things matter,” Levin said. “Plus, the background of streaming was booming and linear was collapsing. We just kept hitting hard. We immediately released all of this data to the market about what’s happening on linear, what’s happening on streaming…” 

Things started to bounce back. Then the company saw an inflection point for advertisers shifting budgets from traditional linear into streaming, where they could turn campaigns on and off quickly, and where they could swap out campaigns depending on what was open and what was allowed in that particular state or region. 

For the streaming world, and for Roku in particular, it was a big moment. 

“When things opened up in the third quarter … we knew that the dam that would break and the tipping point would happen,” Levin said. “I think we all were really pleasantly surprised that marketers leaned into this moment, and it happened in Q3.”

Since then, the stock is up to $342.97 as of the close of trading on Friday, an increase of 437% from its