This month we welcome Rishi Shah who is the CEO of ContextMedia, Chicago.
- The health network sector seems to be among the fastest growing digital out-of-home networks. What factors to you see accounting for that?
The health sector is indeed growing very fast and at ContextMedia we’ve seen over 100% year-over-year growth for more than 36 months now. I think two factors are particularly important here.
(a) Measurement – While advertising in physicians’ offices intuitively makes sense for healthcare products, much of our industry is able to quantify an exact ROI through hard prescription data made available through data companies such as IMS Health. Access to this data clearly demonstrates if a program is successful for a brand and exactly how successful the program is. We’ve used this data to acquire new business through ROI guaranteed programs, but it has also been very helpful in making ContextMedia a foundational line item in pharmaceutical budgets rather than a transactional buy.
(b) Real Need – Unlike some DOOH media which can distract consumers from whatever activity they’re engaged in, our media directly addresses the topic for which the patient has come to the office. As a result, we have very high viewer engagement rates and more than 56% of our viewers ask their doctor about something they’ve seen on our networks. This contextual fit also affects the institutional client view of our advertising programs. Pharmaceutical marketers now view the point-of-care channel as a strategic and relevant place from which to message.
- What is your own personal background and impetus for entering this sector? Do either you or your co-founder Shradha Agarwal have any medical backgrounds that spurred you into this field?
Prior to founding ContextMedia, I grew up around multiple family members with diabetes. Three of my four grandparents had it and I was genetically predisposed to it, though I did not develop it. I saw first hand how empowering patient education could be and how important it was for people with a chronic condition to have the right information when they are making important therapy choices.
While my interests were always deeply rooted in media and technology, this personal background gave me the inspiration and impetus to apply the advances in DOOH media in healthcare. Today, less than six years after we started, I’m proud to count as customers more than half of all diabetes practices across all 50 states.
- How many networks, locations and screens do you currently have? Your website says that you have a dedicated account manager for each new member. How does that work: all members in a specific network or?
We call each of our healthcare practices members and, as a company, we invest a remarkable amount of time, attention and energy in developing deep relationships at the practice-level. In fact, each office has a personal ContextMedia account manager it works with to bring education resources to its patients and we are the only company in the space that has a dedicated member services group that proactively manages these relationships. This includes activities in the waiting room, exam room and also pre/post-appointment messaging. Today, our members include over 2,000 health systems, hospitals and private practices, and our advertising clients include more than 75% of all global pharmaceuticals.
- When was ContextMedia founded? You opened a New York office late last year. Why did you feel you needed it at this time?
ContextMedia was founded in 2006 when I dropped out of Northwestern University, where I was an undergraduate student studying economics, physics & political science.
We opened a New York City office late last year. As our business quickly grew into many verticals, we needed to significantly hire across all business functions. While most of these hires work out of our Chicago headquarters, we opened a sales office in NYC so we could competitively hire the best advertising and media sales talent, a lot of which is in NYC and New Jersey in our industry due to the large concentration of pharmaceutical manufacturers and media agencies in the area. We look forward to participating in the great media community that is thriving in NYC.
Describe yours screens in terms of size and how they look; percentage of advertising vs editorial; whether ads take over the whole screen when running; whether you have news and weather feeds, etc.
We use commercial grade LCD displays from LG that are typically between 32 “ and 55″, and we customize the installation to each office based on the individual waiting area. We take great pride in getting the details right in our field services execution and are known in our industry for engineering custom solutions that optimize viewer engagement in each office setting.
We do offer news, weather and sports feeds and continuously test and add new features to make our product more compelling. Up to eight minutes of time per half-hour is reserved for advertising and public serivice announcements; the balance is independent educational content licensed from over two dozen leading health content providers or produced internally.
- Have you developed your own content management software, or do you use a supplier? Why?
We have used BroadSign with great success since 2008,, but also use several other proprietary software tools and management systems in conjunction which gives us flexibility and added control. While a key core competency of ours is managing a network, we haven’t found it to be necessary or more cost efficient to develop our own content management software. By using an existing platform and building on it, we’re able to benefit from innovation in the DOOH industry that is included in software updates, while BroadSign’s API provides ample opportunity for the customization required to operate successfully in our field.
You have some very interesting statistics on your website in terms of length of dwell time; patients questioning doctors about products advertised; people visiting pharmacies or supermarkets within four hours of their medical visits. How do you compile your analytics? How often are they updated?
We are a very data-centric company. In fact, nearly each of our advertising programs is measured for exact ROI using hard prescription sales data. Our analytics come from a combination of sources including IMS Health promotion evaluations, intercept studies with Arbitron and others research organizations, and patient population/visit data shared by our member practices.
- Also on your web site, you say that ‘Media platforms stay with the patient after they leave the doctors’ offices’. Can you explain how this works?
While we will always maintain and develop media properties at the point-of-care, we are also building messaging capabilities to patients pre- and post-visit. This is essential to making sure the patient is fully prepared for the visit and also complies with the prescribed therapy. This is being executed through a multi-pronged strategy including SMS/mobile enrollment at the POC and in conjunction with certain provider EMR solutions.
- Do your screens allow doctors or office staff to add their own messages to waiting room patients?
Absolutely! 100% of our member practices have customized their content and added messages. In fact, no two ContextMedia members are playing an identical loop. Rather than thinking about our media as a ‘cable channel’ where we are making a few shows and syndicating them nationally, we’re using advanced scheduling techniques so that each office is receiving the content that will maximize viewer engagement.
- Do you plan to add additional networks? In what sectors? And have you any plans to move into hospitals, medical schools, or any other sectors?
Yes, we are quickly expanding into many new medical specialty verticals and I expect us to have at least 30% share of every medical speciality that requires lifestyle education by 2015. We are already in many leading hospital systems, including academic centers such as Johns Hopkins, and will continue to grow across all medical sectors.
As a media company, we do like DOOH but believe a focused audience strategically curated and served is important for success. If we found the right fit, we would consider opportunities to grow our portfolio beyond health organically or by acquisition.
- Who owns the company? Do you have any angels or venture capital backing you? Are you open to investment, and, if so, how would you plan to use it?
Our founders and leadership team own the company in entirety and we don’t have any outside institutional capital. While building the company without outside capital did increase the degree of difficulty in the first few years, today this gives us added flexibility, quick decision making, the ability to invest in the long-term and the freedom to prioritize our organizational values and commitment to stockholders. While we are aggressively investing in our business, we are not seeking any equity capital.
- Are you interested in acquisitions – or in being acquired/merged? And do you have interest in expanding beyond the U.S.? If so, where?
We have and will continue to look for opportunities to grow by acquisition. However, in a nascent industry such as ours, the number of high-quality companies with real assets of strategic value is very limited and so we expect the vast majority of our growth to come organically. We believe we have many years of high-growth in front of us and are not planning on selling our business anytime soon.