This month in the “CEO Spotlight”, we welcome Ana Stewart, Chief Executive Officer of i-Design Group Ltd. in Edinburgh.
- You got your start in the business while still a student through an opportunity to do graphic design and improvements for the self-service kiosks of National Cash Registers. If this opportunity hadn’t presented itself, what do you think you would be doing today and why?
I was offered a job at an architectural design firm in London when I graduated, so if it hadn’t been for the NCR opportunity, right now I would probably be designing buildings, bank branches and interiors, rather than ATM screens and advertising solutions!
- You’ve been very successful heading your firm; you’ve been called strategic, flexible and a good listener. What would you say is your main quality that has given you an edge? And what is your weakness or quality that you would like to improve about yourself and why?
In terms of quality, I believe that it’s essential to listen to, understand and manage the needs and expectations of your clients, and to remember that these change, requiring you to respond and adapt at any time.
Delegation is always a challenge. I think I have improved over the past few years as the company has grown, but I don’t like being too far away from the day to day activities. If you lose touch of the day-to-day then you start to lose touch of what’s really going on and whether the organization is still perfectly positioned to respond to client needs.
- Like many companies on the UK’s alternative investment market (AIM), you seem to have struggled somewhat in being listed, producing quite good results but seeing your share price fall and fall. Are you doing or have you done anything wrong, or does AIM simply not understand your business?
Our first full year of being listed on AIM saw us post very successful results, so it’s important to put things into this context, rather than focusing on share price alone. As you point out many companies on AIM have seen share price falls, for example AIM has lost 60% of its value in the past few months alone.
Right now our priority is to concentrate on what’s right for the development of the business and the commitments we have to our shareholders, rather than be distracted from our goals by over analyzing the volatile stock market.
- Your business is ‘listed’ as i-design Group (IDG) and your brand is atmAd. One, we guess does software and the other does out-of-home advertising. Do you struggle having to support PR and marketing initiatives for both? And how does your sales force handle this?
i-design is actually the company and atmAd is one of the solutions which our banking partners purchase from us. The whole atmAd solution incorporates the software, third party media sales and production services. When we decided to launch the ATM advertising opportunity to the media industry, we chose to proceed with the same atmAd branding, since it fitted well with the media landscape and. of course, it is pretty self explanatory!
- I’m interviewing you from Canada where ATMs are very fast acting and carry little advertising. What is the length of an average third-party ad on an ATM in the UK and is there time for a solid message? Have you seen solid results in, for example, the recent campaign by the Lincolnshire Police to tackle unruly behaviour?
The average transaction length at a UK cash machine is between 40-60 seconds; within that time we deliver four unique message opportunities: a 10-second ad which plays continuously as a customer approaches the machine, a 5-second loop which plays while you are waiting for your cash to be counted and dispensed, a static screen displayed as people wait for their card and finally we offer a dynamically printed message on the front of every ATM receipt.
Brands on atmAd are not broadcast within a ‘loop’, so we deliver complete exclusivity for one advertiser, offering a unique opportunity to impart and reinforce core and secondary campaign messages across three on-screen segments. Importantly, we offer the ability to deliver a take-home call-to-action or redeemable bar-code voucher, in the form of the branded ATM receipt.
Brand recall is approximately twice that of traditional outdoor, so there is no doubt that atmAd delivers ample time to effectively deliver brand messages. Independent research has shown spontaneous recall levels as high as 86% and, of course, the unique branded receipt element has the added bonus of providing a take-away reminder and call-to-action.
- I believe that you have contracts with three banks with 12,000 ATM machines that comprise 34% of all ATMs operated in financial institutions in the U.K. and there is third-party advertising on 4,500 of them (’07 figures). Has that increased significantly, and if so, how?
We now have over 6,000 ATMs exclusively running 3rd party advertising in the UK alone. The ATM has been around for over 40 years and pretty much everyone uses them so we, unlike the majority of other media channels, have sites in a varied range of environments. More importantly ATMs are only installed where there is a proven and established ‘audience’ so we know that 100% of the 6,000 ATMs are placed in high traffic areas, successfully reaching a very receptive and well established audience.
- Your company’s revenue jumped from £1.03 million in fiscal 2007 to £2.07 million in 2008 and your gross profits from £0.12 million in ’07 to £0.79 million in ’08. To what do you attribute such a major increase and why? Didn’t you still also have a loss per share? To what do you attribute that?
In terms of growth, in 2008, we experienced a 50% increase in the number of brands booking space with atmAd, including bookings from new industry sectors. This was due to a combination of us emerging as an established and trusted player in the media industry and advertisers realizing the unique benefits of atmAd and its one-to-one highly accountable delivery.
On the banking side, it takes time to get a bank to buy into such an innovative concept and so, often, the sales cycle is in excess of 12 months. Therefore, the success of the past 12 months has been a direct result of the previous years’ efforts and strategy.
When we secured our first banking sites for third party advertising it was critical that we ‘proved’ that both the atmAd software actually worked but also that atmAd, the media channel, delivered advertisers, revenues and. of course, results. The fact that we successfully achieved this, combined with our listing on AIM in July, 2007, gave us the springboard to secure other banking networks. Last year, we successfully launched atmAd on Alliance & Leicester, Tesco Personal Finance ATMs (via RBS) and increased our portfolio of Nationwide ATMs available for third party advertising. This means we are now delivering around 10 million one-to-one interactions a week, featuring third party brands.
- You have already done some business in Greece, Are you looking to expand your company’s various services beyond the U.K. elsewhere? If so, to where, and when can we expect your first move? And within the U.K., where can you still foresee growth opportunities?
We are global leaders in this space. atmAd’s ability to work across any ATM hardware platform, combined with its established media sales expertise has made us unique in the global market. We get enquiries from across the globe, but it’s important for us to stay focused on our long-term strategy of identifying territories that have the similar characteristics to the UK, in terms of banking infrastructure and maturity of outdoor advertising. As a result we have made substantial progress in new territories like Greece.
- What are the biggest challenges facing the digital out-of-home marketplace today and, from your perspective, in the future?
To be slightly controversial, you could say that one of the biggest challenges is for digital out-of- home to stand on its own feet and emerge from under the wing of traditional outdoor. In order for this to happen, the media community must embrace DOOH as a media which is timely, flexible and available for spontaneous campaign briefs, and media owners must invest in research which proves the contribution that digital media makes to campaign effectiveness.
We have succeeded where others have failed because of the accountable nature of the media offering. The ATM environment is a widespread and trusted service for all consumers and atmAd benefits from this stability in terms of continuous service, reliable hardware, technical infrastructure and support. Additionally, we are able to measure exactly how many times each ad is broadcast across a transaction and how many branded receipts are dispensed. We compare these stats to independent, commissioned consumer research and product redemptions/call-to-action results, to prove the effectiveness of the atmAd platform.
This level of accountability and insight is the key to the continued growth and success of digital outdoor; the more media owners who embrace this, working together to prove the sector, the better overall position for DOOH and the greater its share of the budget.
- atmAd has started taking part with Posterscope’s PRISM booking platform. What are your thoughts on the other online booking initiatives such as BookingDOOH, and your thoughts on the U.S.-style aggregators such as SeeSaw Networks and Adcentricity?
In terms of PRISM, we feel that any planning tool which delivers a level playing field for all outdoor media is a good development, especially where it allows the each diverse, effective and bespoke element of digital out-of-home to shine amongst the bigger, more traditional formats.
Our thoughts on aggregated sales networks are that they aren’t always suitable for many digital out-of-home formats or the more niche outdoor and ambient formats. By placing your media with an aggregated sales house, a media owner runs the risk of their media losing its voice and ultimately losing standout for its unique features and benefits.