CEO Spotlight: Ahmad Ouri, IZON Media, San Francisco

Gail Chiasson, North American Editor

This month we welcome Ahmad Ouri, CEO and President, IZON Media, nee Premier Retail Networks (PRN), San Francisco

  1. Why did you re-brand PRN to IZON Media?

    The re-brand reflects the company’s new culture of innovation and the dedication to leverage our vast footprint along with the latest in online, social, and mobile technologies to engage consumers and activate brand messages.

  2. You have been at IZON Media for almost a year now. What are some of the major changes you have made to the company since taking over?

    When I took over this job in October, 2011, PRN (as it was then) was doing three things well: ad sales, programming, and network operations. However, they were all treated with the same focus. In its core, IZON Media is a media company so it was natural for me to prioritize ad sales as our main focus and core competency.

    To that end, we made three major changes. First, we simplified our somewhat dated internal workflows to make it easier for our clients to work with IZON Media. Second, we refocused our development resources towards leveraging best-of-breed technology through partnerships, taking advantage of our close proximity to Silicon Valley. Finally, we kicked off our transformation to a true media company as opposed to a company operating advertising networks. Having said that, we will complete our transformation into a true media company very soon – stay tuned!

  3. There has been a fair amount of turnover at the executive level at IZON Media since you’ve taken the helm. Can you comment on this?

    Yes, I can confirm that there has been a lot of turnover at the executive level. However, there are many ‘types’ of turnover – planned or unplanned in some cases, unwanted, and, in others, welcomed. The turnover was a result of a combination of aspects. The redesign and simplification of the organization resulted in the elimination of some positions. There were also a number of cases where there were personal reasons for leaving IZON Media. Also, there were a couple of cases where there was no alignment with the new direction of the company. Having said all this, the result is an energetic and fresh management team eager and capable of driving IZON Media forward.

  4. Can you elaborate on your new COO’s role at IZON Media? How will you leverage his extensive technical background to carve the future of IZON Media?

    The COO role was critical in the redesign and simplification of IZON Media. The addition of Martin Fry to our management team brings years of experience in operations, technology, and quality management to our clients. Martin’s strong technology background, combined with our expanded product marketing team, will enable IZON Media to excel in seeking out technology partnerships and providing leading edge solutions to our clients. Furthermore, this allows me to leverage my marketing experience and focus on the front end of the business while Martin focuses on scaling the infrastructure and backend.

  5. When we talked in February of this year, you were interested in business model innovation. Where is IZON Media going with advertising and leveraging partnership strengths?

    We have evolved our business model by expanding into new verticals – mainly, the quick service restaurant and convenient store segments. By entering into these verticals, we are able to offer a different consumer experience to a shopper in a different mindset than in traditional retail environments. This enables IZON Media to offer a more diverse set of options to our advertising clients in terms of targeting based on demographics, average household income, and dwell time (among other factors).

    Needless to say that the addition of those verticals has increased IZON Media monthly audience by over 50%, thereby providing us further scale in the market.

  6. Please provide an update on the indoorDIRECT joint venture. How have you progressed on the goal to expand to 2,500 quick service restaurant (QSR) locations?

    When we formed the indoorDIRECT joint venture, there were just under 1,000 QSRs deployed. Since then, we have deployed an additional 700 locations taking the current installed base to around 1,700 locations. As we continue to deploy to new locations, we are targeting to surpass 2,000 locations before year-end. Our initial and main focus was to migrate all the operations, including programming and the consumer experience, seamlessly to IZON Media and to ensure the highest quality of service is delivered to our QSR clients and respective advertisers. We are proud to say that this has been fully accomplished and is running smoothly.

  7. In February, you also had plans to expand into the health-and-wellness sector. Please bring us up-to-date with where that stands. Any examples?

    We are still engaged in our efforts to expand into the health-and-wellness sector. However, given the fact that, in more than one case, we are dealing with partners looking at deploying new technology, the timelines for developing this part of our business have stretched and will likely not be concluded until later this year. We have started some organic efforts around health- and-wellness where we are conducting some pilot projects with some of our retail partners around their pharmacies.

  8. You mentioned that IZON Media would focus on being more transparent and open with partners and the press. Can you provide some examples of your increased efforts in this area?

    In terms of press, to be honest, we did not have much to disclose or share during the period when we were re-designing and simplifying IZON Media. Aside from that, we have announced all the business deals we have made and we have accepted any interviews we have been invited to partake in. This was not the case in the past. In terms of transparency and outreach with partners, you can ask our partners and even our competitors if they see a change in IZON Media’s approach in the recent months and their answer will more likely than not be “Yes”.

  9. How has IZON Media been able to leverage the scale and infrastructure of Technicolor to spur growth?

    We have been able to leverage the entire infrastructure Technicolor has to provide, which facilitated our IZON Media redesign and simplification process. Further, we have been able to leverage the technology depth of Technicolor, including its Research and Innovation organization with a lab just down the road from us in Palo Alto (a couple of blocks away from Stanford University). Finally, we have been able to benefit from the deep relationships Technicolor holds with the major Hollywood studios.

  10. Have you started integrating more third party products and services into your business model as previously mentioned?

    We definitely have started to integrate best-of-breed third party technology, products, and services into our offerings. However, as we all know, there is lead-time for the innovation cycle to progress from its starting point to its final destination. As such, a number of the innovations and partnerships we have launched have not been announced or commercially deployed yet. A number of those are in field/commercial pilots as we speak. You will hear more about those as we get ready to launch.

  11. Your sales organization is the cornerstone for which IZON Media has become known. Can you share some details about the changes in that department in 2012?

    Our advertising sales organization continues to be a cornerstone for IZON Media and we will be putting even more emphasis and focus on that organization moving forward. This is how our business can really scale.

    Unlike some other companies, our sales organization has a number of support functions that support the sellers – the first being the Sales Development function that is responsible for prospecting and delivering compelling and customized offers and proposals to be presented to perspective advertisers. The second function is Research and Analytics, which provides insights and research results that quantify our audience size and supports campaign studies. Finally, our Sales Operations team ensures the delivery of advertising including proof-of-performance reports and invoicing.

  12. IZON Media offers both end-to-end turnkey solutions as well as specific individual services. Please compare and contrast these two aspects of your business model and speak to how today’s economy has impacted both.

    There have been fewer requests for turnkey solutions in the past 12 months or so. This is mainly driven by the macroeconomic environment and the decrease in capital expenditures across most market segments. Of course, there is always the fact that digital place-based media is not a mature industry yet and many are skeptical in investing in large deployments until the industry has more scale.

  13. There are a lot of companies involved in the DOOH industry. There’s been a lot of talk that it would be better off with some consolidation. Is IZON Media interested in acquiring other companies or perhaps merging with another company that has similar or complementary services?

    There is no doubt that the industry needs consolidation to scale. Both agencies and brands will violently agree. There is too much fragmentation in our industry, which causes confusion and thus lack of confidence to place advertising on our collective networks. The target for companies in our space should be to become a budgeted line item in media plans. This is certainly one of IZON Media’s goals.

    We have entertained and will continue to entertain merger or acquisition opportunities. The indoorDIRECT joint venture is a recent example. Of course, there are other ways of consolidation seen from the vernacular of the agency or brand. One of those ways is advertising representation alliances similar to what we recently announced with DDN, making IZON Media the exclusive ad sales representative for the 7-Eleven TV network.

  14. In what sectors do your think IZON Media should invest more? Please explain.

    We believe IZON Media should invest more in leveraging our screens and networks to trigger mobile and social interaction, thereby amplifying consumer engagement. We are leveraging our presence in San Francisco and our proximity to Silicon Valley to interact with many startup as well as mature players in the mobile and social media space to advance this aspect of our business.

  15. Do you see IZON Media expanding its area of expertise beyond your roots of the retail sector? If so, which other sectors are you most interested in?

    As mentioned above, we have already ventured into the quick service restaurant sector as well as into convenient stores as we continue our efforts to launch our presence in the health-and-wellness sector. Clearly, there will be opportunities in our industry to acquire or merge with existing companies. We will have to examine these opportunities carefully in terms of fit and complementarity to our existing properties.

  16. What advice do you have for today’s younger generation looking to start careers in the DOOH industry? Do you think this industry provides solid long-term opportunities for incoming talent?

    This is actually probably the best time to start a career in the DOOH industry. The industry has a few years of growing pains behind us, but we know that all we can expect is growth in the coming years. Further, proliferation of smart phones will enable us to create (measured) interactivity between our digital signage and these mobile devices, providing more credibility and attractiveness to DOOH.

  17. What do the next three years hold for the DOOH industry in North America?

    Depending on the macroeconomic conditions, we predict moderate to high growth for DOOH. If the trends from the past years continue, we will most likely be seeing double digit growth year-on-year through 2015.

  18. How does IZON Media fit in that 3-year outlook?

    IZON Media’s ambitions, at a minimum, will be to grow at the same pace as the industry, in a base case leveraging both organic and inorganic opportunities.

On 1st October 2012, PRN announced a re-brand to IZON Media

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