CEO Spotlight: Bill Fordyce, HyperMedia, Dubai

Gail Chiasson, North American Editor

This month, we welcome Bill Fordyce, COO, HyperMedia, Dubai.

Bill Fordyce

  1. Please tell us about your own background and how you became involved with HyperMedia.

    I joined the founders of HyperMedia, Habib Wehbi and Philip Matta in 2008. Prior to HyperMedia, I was the business development director for News Outdoor Group out of Moscow, Russia, working across 35 countries, mainly in Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.

    I joined HyperMedia right in the middle of the financial crisis, when many of the traditional Out-of-Home companies in the UAE went out of business. I knew HyperMedia was the right company for me when we could see in our operation that clients were flocking to quality media with proven ROI like retail OOH. We were growing by 20% per annum when the rest of the OOH industry was reeling.

  2. HyperMedia was founded in 1999 with three staffers, trolleys and security gates in, I believe, one grocery store. It now has Traditional and Digital Out-of-Home media across the Middle East in a plethora of different locations and has offices in Dubai, Jeddah, Qatar and Beirut. What has spurred such spectacular growth?

    The company was founded by Habib Wehbi and Philip Matta – who are still servicing as the CEO and chief marketing officer respectively – when they found that FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) brands did not have an efficient avenue to advertise to their shoppers on a nationwide level. By creating long-term relationships with over 70% of all modern retailers, HyperMedia was able to create a new advertising platform for clients, other than traditional billboards, print and TV.

  3. Since HyperMedia is a subsidiary of Rotana Media, the marketing and advertising arm of broadcaster Rotana Group, how much of your advertising comes through Rotana Media? Is it largely because of integration through Rotana’s radio and TV campaigns?

    Cross-selling advertising across TV, radio and HyperMedia’s assets has proven to be an unsuccessful recipe since HyperMedia’s mall and instore assets are unique assets that require unique creatives and campaigns.

  4. Do you have your own advertising sales people? Is your advertising usually bought nationally across networks? What percentage is by local advertisers?

    HyperMedia has 16 sales executives that consult with over 200 regular clients across the region. Our instore network of 170 hypermarkets targets both local and international brands, and our network of 25 malls hits mainly local banks, local automotive, telecom, and, of course, retail partners.

    Large advertisers typically take the full network, although we are starting to see advertisers use different messages and visuals based on each mall’s demographics.

  5. At what point did you get into DOOH and in which of your network sectors was that?

    We were fortunate to be exclusively partnered with Emaar Malls Group with The Dubai Mall from its opening in 2008 until 2013. In those early years, The Dubai Mall had one of the most advanced and successful digital signage platform in the world. In those four years, we developed the technical knowledge to install and operate digital signage networks, as well as learning the ins and outs of selling retail-based digital signage.

  6. What percentage of your total signage is now digital? Please give us a breakdown of your digital signage in each of your verticals.

    In our UAE operation with the hypermarkets and malls, approximately 33% of our revenue and media mix is from digital signage. This figure is growing every year.

    In Saudi Arabia where we operate the largest airport terminal in the country and the largest mall, we are just starting to install digital signage.

  7. How do you personally compare the progress of DOOH in the Middle East compared to that in Europe, the UK and North America?

    We are fortunate to work in the Middle East, as the malls, which we are partnered with far surpass, in terms of size and footfall, most malls in Europe and North America. For instance, one of our flagship malls is Yas Mall (owned and operated by Abu Dhabi-based Aldar). The shopper experience and the mall design is truly world class, in addition to its having a world-class digital network.

    I am convinced that many of our partners such as Nakheel, Meraas, Majid Al Futtaim, Aswaq Malls Group, Aldar and Gulf Related are developing some of the most beautiful malls in the world.

    In addition, with many of our partnerships, we are lucky to be able to work with malls at the planning stage and, therefore, can install networks that aesthetically and operationally fit perfectly with the mall.

  8. How is DOOH received and engaged with by viewers in the Middle East? Do they like/use interactivity, gesture-based, beacon, NFC and/or QSR technology?

    Due to our scale, we are able to invest into many interactive technologies and we have created real-time broadcast reports, integration with social media client feeds and facial recognition.

    We want to fine-tune this before introducing it to the commercial market, but it is a key strategy in 2017 and 2018.

  9. HyperMedia is in 23 of the busiest malls in Dubai and in all six other United Arab Emirates. What kind of screens do you have in them?

    Well, we now actually have 25 malls and almost 700 screens. Our screens vary in size from our standard free-standing double-sided 65” digitals, up to 12 x 8 m LED screens.

  10. Who is your biggest advertiser? And who is the advertiser that has been with you consistently the longest?

    We have a long list of clients, due to the low CPM, nationwide reach and timeliness in broadcasting. Our main clients are automotive, telecom (both in Saudi Arabia and UAE), our retail partners, and FMCG.

    Knock on wood, we don’t tend to lose clients – even in challenging economic times.

  11. You recently contracted BroadSign, allowing real-time broadcast reports to your advertisers, so that they can see photos, locations, CPMs, number of plays and more. Why did you decide to choose BroadSign?

    We chose BroadSign after a competitive bid against other great systems like Scala and Four Winds Interactive. BroadSign seems to be the preferred software amongst most OOH leaders in various regions, such as oOh! Media in Australia. We liked the flexibility in creating new applications for our partners and advertisers (like the broadcast reports) and we like the ease of creating playlists with both commercial and non-commercial content.

  12. How is that working so far? Are you using this service from BroadSign with all verticals? If not, do you intend to add it to others?

    We are always looking at new software services, as at the end of the day, we are interested in broadcasting our advertisers’ messages. Any software that we can entrust to do that, we are fine with.

  13. How much, if any, of your OOH and DOOH products are used by companies for internal corporate use, eg. for employee communications? Is this an area in which you are considering expansion?

    None, we are fully customer facing.

  14. I noticed that your lamppost backlits offer exclusivity for campaigns except during the holy month of Ramadan. What do you do during that month with these – and perhaps other media products?

    In the Middle East, the Holy month of Ramadan is time when most families are celebrating large meals with their friends and extended families. This month is imperative for many food brands, and, therefore, demand on our advertising platforms often exceeds supply. In order to serve all our clients, we do not offer exclusivity in that month.

    It is important to note that we never offer exclusivity in our malls or in our Saudi-based airport and malls.

  15. How much of your content is news, entertainment, etc., compared to advertising?

    Approximately 25% of our time is non-commercial content, as our in-house development team has created real-time prayer time, weather, and news apps. We also work with our mall’s marketing departments to integrate with their social media feeds to broadcast to their shoppers. We believe delivering interesting and relevant content to shoppers is another step towards enhancing the consumers’ experience in malls.

  16. You recently launched On-the-Go Media with screens in Eppco, Enoc and Dubai Metro stations. Since many women don’t drive cars in the Emirates, does this limit the type of advertising content you can show? Is On-the-Go a major growth area for you?

    On-the-Go media is in 191 convenience stores, and gives our advertisers another avenue to communicate to shoppers at the point of service. The project is new, so it is too early to tell about growth. But, it fits well with our position as the leading retail-focused OOH company in the Middle East.

  17. Does HyperMedia have its own staff of engineers to develop your products or do you mainly use solutions
    developed by others? Where are the major technology centres in the Emirates?

    We develop most of our add-on software in-house. For instance, our team just developed an application for our production teams to manage their on-site job orders and to seamlessly manage our tens of thousands of proof-of-performance photographs. Our clients can now log-in on our website to get updates on their campaigns and to download their photos for their reports.

  18. Tell us about your growth strategy, both in terms of products and in terms of area? Do you expect to grow largely organically or through Mergers and Acquisitions?

    Our goal is to continue to grow our mall network in the Middle East. In the UAE, we work with 75% of hypermarkets and with more than 2/3rds of malls, so our goal in the UAE is to improve our digital networks and to improve our service to our clients.

    In Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East, we are always looking for organic growth opportunities.

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