This month, in the CEO Spotlight, we welcome Peter Bowen, Chief Executive Officer of SeeSaw Networks in San Francisco.
- You spent about 25 years in the packaged goods field with Procter & Gamble and mainly in senior roles and as president of various H.J. Heinz companies. Was there anything about these companies as an advertiser and marketer that spurred you to develop something to make the media buyer’s job easier?
I have to admit that media planning and buying was a much easier task when I started out at P&G over 25 years ago. It was all about tonnage, and for national brands, there were really only two viable options – TV and print – and even less of that from which to choose than there is today. Clearly today’s media landscape is much more complex and can’t be effectively navigated without the use of new tools and technology.
For new media to be considered by very time-pressured media planners and buyers, it has to be easy to plan, buy and measure; otherwise it won’t get into the plan. So, one of SeeSaw’s founding principles was that we had to make it easy to plan, buy and measure place-based digital networks.
But that’s only part of the story. I’ve always thought of media as being part ‘science’ and part ‘art.’ Technology has clearly improved and made the ‘science’ part easier. Based on my years of experience, it’s the ‘art’ part that makes a media plan truly effective, as well as cost efficient.
What excites me most is working with advertisers and media planners to understand their business and communication objectives and their consumer insights. What we do at SeeSaw is bring the ‘art’ and ‘science’ together to make it easy to develop and analyze place-based digital advertising opportunities. I find that very exciting.
- Was SeeSaw a startup company for which you were consulting, did you start it from scratch, or join it after its launch? It’s quite a different field from the packaged goods world. What intrigued you about it?
I am one of the co-founders of SeeSaw along with several others who individually brought different skill sets to the company and collectively provided a tremendously strong management team to get the company started. In fact, it’s my experience as a packaged goods marketer that helped shape the company and provide the customer focus and marketing/sales orientation. We’re all strong believers in generating new ideas to help solve business problems.
New media has always been intriguing to me. When I was at Heinz, we were one of the first companies to enter into the cable market and worked with Leo Burnett to cobble together a cost effective cable alternative to broadcast TV. This allowed us to stretch our media dollar while still reaching our target audience. Place-based digital media has similar characteristics – highly fragmented, regional dispersion, lack of scale – but, when aggregated together provides a very powerful, yet cost effective media.
- I looked closely at the demo on your Web site for buying a campaign. You seem to have covered all the tools necessary right down to the reports. Did you develop this in-house? How long did it take to develop? And have you added to it since it was launched or did you have it complete from the beginning?
Thank you for your comment. We have an incredible and very experienced product development staff who are totally responsible for the development of SeeSawAds.com. We spent the first year of the company’s life talking to literally hundreds of media buyers, media planners and media executives in addition to dozens of place-based digital networks and their technology providers. These conversations were critical in our design process and drove our product strategy and direction in a way that was fundamentally customer-centric.
Leveraging insights from our target customers along with our design process allowed us to establish early market leadership. We have continued to build upon this with the addition of several innovations to our service offering on SeeSawAds.com. And it doesn’t stop there; we are continually improving the service based on feedback from national advertisers, media planning agencies and our network partners.
- How does what you offer differ from say Adcentricity or BookingDOOH?
From the outset of the company, we have focused on the needs of national advertisers and their agency partners. This focus drove the design of our unparalleled media planning and optimization technology, the creation of a common currency for our place-based digital media networks and also was the catalyst for the principles behind our Life Pattern Marketing methodology and market research efforts. National advertisers are interested in reaching their audience with impact. The scale of our network, our planning and optimization technology and our internal and external methodologies are all key to our leadership.
Our core expertise in servicing the needs of national advertisers and their media agencies also drives our close working relationships with our network partners. We have created a unique qualification process by which we evaluate each of the networks from a national advertising perspective. This provides the basis of each contract we sign with our networks. We have removed networks that have not passed these tests. Our networks are more effective as a result and our agency partners benefit from the operational excellence that we have created.
- Have you ever thought of expanding your offering to other types of media? Or is there enough growth in the DOOH sector to keep you busy?
With the continued growth of place-based digital networks and the increasing interest from advertisers in our media, we see tremendous growth opportunities near term. Moreover, we have just scratched the surface of how advertisers can take full advantage of this media when it is fully integrated into the media mix and is a part of a business’ strategic communication plan.
- What are your revenues and how have they been affected over the past 12 months? Based on your business, can you see the economy getting worse, staying flat or improving over the next 12 months? And for DOOH?
We are a private company and do not provide financial info. However, I can say that our business continues to grow year over year as more advertisers are discovering place-based digital video advertising and the business benefits it provides – namely an efficient and effective way to connect with mobile audiences with media that captures their attention.
From a macro perspective, the economy has definitely had a negative impact on advertisers and spending, which, by all reports, will last for a while. On the flip side, the micro perspective is positive for place-based digital video advertising as advertisers are looking for more cost-effective ways to reach their consumers. With our current scale and continued growth, SeeSaw is a viable alternative or complement to traditional media. So in some regards, the economy is providing a catalyst for advertisers to experiment and is creating a shift in the way many advertisers are thinking about media. Call it a forcing function if you like; we view it as positive in the mid- to longer-term timeframe.
- Where do you see growth for SeeSaw? And expansion? When and where?
Our focus is on aggressively growing our U.S. business. We are just experiencing the ‘tip of the iceberg’ relative to what we expect to see in terms of opportunity and growth. In the U.S. we have yet to tap the full potential of this media. Moreover, our industry has not reached its ‘inflection point’ and when it does, we plan to be in a very advantageous position to capitalize on the tremendous growth the industry will experience.
Having said that, our business model is very portable and global. I get approached almost weekly to consider international opportunities and there will be a time when we believe market conditions in other countries are right for SeeSaw to enter.
- Can you envision ever owning your own screens?
Our business model requires us to be ‘Switzerland’ to all networks and our clients expect us to be ‘network neutral,’ so owning a network or networks might be perceived negatively by some clients. Interestingly, since we work very closely with so many partners, we are in an ideal position to help our affiliate networks by providing operational best practices, counsel on the marketplace, etc. In many respects, it is in everyone’s best interest for us to remain ‘Switzerland.’
In this role, we have been able to drive operational excellence in executing national campaigns across multiple, disparate networks. There is tremendous work involved with placing a digital video ad across dozens of networks, from trafficking the creative to providing cohesive and comprehensive reports. This is a tremendous value-add to our agency partners and allows them to focus on the core aspects of their clients’ needs.
- You have partnered with LocaModa mobile social platform for connecting people and places to the Web. How is that working out? Have you other partnerships and/or are you interested in others?
We value our partnership with LocaModa – a terrific company with a great business model and product offering. We have worked on a number of campaigns together and believe the triad of place-based digital media, the Web and mobility will play an integral part in virtually all media plans. This is one of the reasons why we launched the first integrated place-based digital video and SMS campaign planning solution on SeeSawAds.com back in 2007. We continue to see experimentation by many advertisers as they look to take full advantage of what these media offer when used in combination.
- You published a Global Digital Forecast for 2008-2112 on your Web site. Who did the research or how was it developed?
We are often told that our Web site is the first place that people come to learn more about place-based digital advertising. In the case of the study that you referenced, this research was conducted by PQ Media. In order for this media to flourish, research and consumer insights are critical to drive the industry forward. This is why we freely offered the OTX Digital Out-of-Home Awareness and Attitude study to the broader community as an open resource and why we feature research from industry leaders like PQ Media, Arbitron, our affiliate networks and many others.
It has been a pleasure working with so many of the brightest people in the industry to educate and build awareness for this media as a strategic part of an advertiser’s media mix.