September 28, 2007 People: The Madison Avenue Register
 

The FUTURE'S SO BRIGHT I GOTTA WEAR SHADES Interview, Part 2!

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We pick up where we left off yesterday with EyeWonder EVP, Business Development Mike Griffin and Director of Marketing, Jason Scheidt. We've been in a discussion on the risky business of Madison Avenue and Rich Media, just before Adv-Week's partying begins next week!

As I mentioned yesterday, now going on its 4th year, Adv.Week has become a big success, for two reasons:
Reason #1: It does something which Madison Avenue is very good at. It stretches the truth. For the most part, Advertising Week is not "really" 5 days. The most important events happen within 3!
Reason # 2: It's scripted. For once someone upstairs realized that "less is more."

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These were also at least two of the reasons why I wanted to talk with them. Their own new Trade Campaign is up for a couple of awards this month. Like Advertising Week it's also a big success, but for two entirely different reasons:
Reason # 1: There was "no" script. EyeWonder invited its agency clients to talk about anything they wanted to about Rich Media. What they got in return was how much their clients loved them.
Reason # 2: It has a cast of our industry's next generation power players. When they floated the idea out there, they received over one dozen people who said they'd love to do it. Sometimes "more "is" more!"

For those of you who missed part 1, click HERE. For those who want to get to part 2, here it is without further adeu!

Wendy

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Wendy: Okay, let's talk about categories of growth. Entertainment companies systematically now put their trailers online. What other categories do you see that are using Rich Media?

Mike: The retail sectors and DR-focused clients have begun using Rich Media in a very big way.

Wendy: Can you give me an example?

Mike: Take Beyond Interactive and their Staples's account. Their objective is to drive store traffic. We've worked with them and their couponing system that produces coupons with a 7 digit unique-identifying code so they can't be duplicated. It's on their website and we worked with them to tie that engine into our rich media ads for them. The first campaign we executed this on was scheduled for several weeks and they hit their redemption rate on the second week. It was a similar offer that had been living on their micro site for months, so the performance was clearly a testament to the power of bringing the offer out to more consumers via the EyeWonder ad units.

Wendy: What other categories?

Mike: We're seeing automotive and financial services grow as well. both of these have incredibly high audience expectations where the user is in control of the experience. Consumer's now expect companies to deliver on that promise because consumers themselves are trained, if you will, to seek a deeper level of content. This kind of information is naturally deliverable online with Rich Media. It empowers users the control to go as deep or as general as they wish with what's relevant.

Wendy: I can relate.

Mike: EyeWonder enables our clients to take their deep rich educational content and turn it into a rich media ad. Let's say the campaign is what I call a "fairly high threshold sale" like a financial services organization, where there's a high level of information sharing, EyeWonder is a perfect opportunity to add PDF's and other information for the user to be able to dive into.

Wendy: Okay, let's talk about the competition for a moment. Do you often get into a bidding war with another company? Let's say you meet with a client who has a wish list and then you come back with a campaign designed to achieve those objectives. Do you find yourself in sticker shock-moments when you're working with the marketer directly. What if a competitor comes back with the same campaign but can do it for less, do you tend to negotiate your price? How does that work?

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Mike: I'll answer that in a few stages. First is that EyeWonder's pricing is aggressive and comparable to offerings near-similar to ours. We really stress the value of the 360 degree approach of superior technology, as well as superior service and we offer volume discounts. However when it comes to value and what a client pays we stick to our value prop and believe that what we offer and what we're charging is a fair price to value.

Wendy: What happens when the marketer doesn't get it?

Mike: In instances where a client might be price sensitive and opt for a less robust solution-provider, we may walk away. But we'll still stay in touch. It's often only a matter of time. You know, the client had a nightmare of an experience and they'll come back to us saying, "Gee you were right, our experience was miserable and we failed." Again, we understand where they are. They chose to try to take a short cut. It self-educates them to understand the real value is ensuring the greatest opportunity for success. That's reaffirming to us because then those clients really understand the value that they're getting. It's what I call a "Eureka Moment."

Wendy: I like that.

Mike: The second is that when we have price discussions with media folks who are spending $10-30$ CPM on the media space, they find themselves wanting to trim anywhere they can. We understand and appreciate where they are coming from – it's their job to most efficiently spend their clients' budgets in order to meet or exceed the defined campaign objectives. So the math is simple: is that 25¢ to 50¢ CPM "savings" really worth risking the highest level of success of that campaign, or worse yet, its total failure to achieve the campaign’s objective? In those cases, we think it's akin to cutting off your nose to spite your space. As Jason said, as an industry many are still in an education mode and over time they understand the value of our 360 degree program more clearly.

Wendy: EyeWonder has been around a while. You pioneered the Instant Play Video ads in 2000. Now there's video content everywhere. It must seem like it's been a long time for the industry to catch up where you were 7 years ago. Is that fair to say?

Jason: When we pioneered the Instant Play Video ad back in 2000 we were so far ahead of the curve that when we would meet with companies in their offices or conference rooms or at trade shows they would look at it and not believe what they were seeing. We would have to say, "Hey, we're telling you the truth! This is actually happening live!" It was both humorous and more than a little challenging.

Wendy: I can imagine.

Jason: You're right, now the wave of video and rich media has come along like a tidal wave. We've not just been waiting for it, we've advanced our technology lightening years ahead of where we were even then. As evidenced by what our clients tell us, our taking the longview has really paid off.

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Mike: To build on what Jason said in 2001 – 2003, we were ahead of the curve. You could say "We were cool before it was cool to be cool." I was actually summarily dismissed or should I say, kicked out of one or two interactive agencies back then. In 2001 I remember one situation where I came in to discuss the ability to incorporate the brand's video assets into the Rich Media banners and distributing it on line.

Wendy: What happened?

Mike: Well, I really felt for them. It was with an interactive agency division that was part of a larger agency. They had no access to the video production. The Interactive shop I was calling on felt that I was promoting the use of EyeWonder to their traditional counterparts, who they had almost no exposure to. At that time if you recall, mixing the two groups was like water and oil.

Wendy: Oh yeah! Those were the days!

Mike: It was strange, I remember having this "Pink pigs that fly around the screen" moment. I realized that the online division was dismissive of the creative potential for video ads on the Internet. They weren't involved in the video production piece at the time. I felt a little like the guy they thought was trying to take food off of their table. I wasn't – in fact quite the opposite. The mantra back then was that repurposed TV spots didn't work online. It's something I'll never forget!

Wendy: Yikes!

Mike: I thought back then and continue to believe today that there are ways to edit or create original video that may work better in a lot of different aspects. So we've been patiently growing and evangelizing to the community for 7 years. The analogy I once used was that the video wave was coming and you can either stand on the beach and be crushed or get on the surf board and ride it. Like that one?

Wendy: Love it! You've really helped steer the direction of Rich Media.

Mike: I think EyeWonder's definitely led the charge in terms of video. It's been a long process of educating the community to what's possible and really what the expectation should be around ROI. I think we've been at the forefront of that. Video is one of the hottest things now. Video content and the monetization of that. Let me mention for a moment that earlier this year we launched the EyeWonder In-Stream 2.0 Research Initiative. It's another indication of where we are as company and our mindset in taking a leadership role in the evolution of interactive digital advertising; beyond online.

Wendy: Like wireless?

Mike: You guessed it. It's no news to anyone today that next platform of evolution or maturity in the U.S. is with wireless. So today it's online in the in-page space, which we're leading with continuous innovations and new features. Another next step of the evolution is a major research initiative we're fielding with Insight Express. We've enlisted several key advertisers, publishers and technology partners such as NBC Universal, OMD Digital and Akamai as our technology partner. There are others but these are the companies we can announce publicly.

Wendy: Very cool!

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Mike: These companies are really helping to try to take the in-stream advertising opportunities to the next level. They see the unique experience EyeWonder has from our 7 years of knowledge and learning around interactive video advertising. You'd be surprised how much of that translates into creating the most compelling interactive digital advertising experiences for video content and online gaming.

Wendy: Gaming. We haven't even discussed that yet. You just mentioned mobile before and I'm sure you've seen the research which indicates consumers are fairly resistant about having some kind of ad served on their cell phone. Do you think that will change once you're able to create something compelling like we have on the web?

Mike: This is my own personal opinion based on my experience of being in this space for the last 7 years, I think that research was similar to the data available back to the early 2000s about consumer acceptance of almost all kinds of online advertising including online video ads in front of content. It's what you might call "The life cycle of acceptance" which will also happen with wireless devices.

Wendy: I fully believe that as well. I was chatting with Jim Spanfeller, the CEO of Forbes.com recently and asked him if the Forbes video network has seen more or less acceptance with video ads? They run them prior to and during the video. He agreed but said, Forbes.com has never had much pushback because the audience is on average much more sophisticated and so they understand that it's the price of entry, so to speak.

Mike: He's right. Mobile's going to leapfrog consumer resistence much quicker because of that. We'll soon find out from our research.

Jason: There was a study done last year by the OPA shows some of the publishing sites that ran a lot of online video ads actually became a draw for audiences. The research showed that it was in the top 10 of the reasons that people visited the site. It's come full circle. The sites are benefiting from the fact that they're delivering more interactive video ads as opposed to delivering less rich media.

Wendy: So what keeps you up at night? Excitement or anxiety?

Mike: I look at it as what gets me up at 5:00AM. I go onto my back deck and use this time to not focus so much about what I'm going to do that day but open my mind up and think, "What if?" Call it what you want. I think of it as a Jerry Maguire-type business plan. Letting my mind wander in order to consider different ideas. Often they are inspired by ideas I've gotten from others, both internally and what I hear about in the field. I have a pen and a pad and try to get it on paper while their fresh in my mind. It has the effect of getting my juices flowing as I get on with my day. I think everyone should do it.

Wendy: That's the perfect time to do it, before the hustle and bustle of the day begins.

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Jason: I'll answer your question this way. EyeWonder is fortunate to be in the position we are but we have to continue to advance the position we have. It takes a lot of diligence, a lot of hard work and we have a lot of great people here that make that happen and we need to make sure that we keep hiring great people, training them properly and making sure they can do the best job possible for our customers.

Wendy: Sounds like you're both dead-on based on the different roles you play. Okay, last question. What advice would you give a person getting out of school today? Do you have a college intern program or see yourself having one down the road?

Mike: We've had an intern program for years! We are fortunate in terms of our location here in Atlanta to be surrounded with a lot of great institutions of learning like Georgia Tech, Emory University or U of Georgia, Morehouse College as well as the Atlanta Art Institute here in town. We actively recruit from all of those schools and we do bring on interns all year long, many of which grow into being full time employees, which is a core strength of the success we've had.

Wendy: So you're educating them as they're still getting their education.

Mike: In fact some have elected not to go back to school and instead stay with EyeWonder. Many are folks in graduate schools from very prestigious universities who decide that after they spend just a few months with us, they self-elect to take leave of absence. They believe they're learning more here at EyeWonder than in an academic environment.

Wendy: I was an intern and it gave me a real edge, before I even got out of school.

Mike: We hear different things from them, like how very important they realize the value of customer service, which you can't learn in school or help develop new products. There's one person who's not even of legal drinking age! He's brilliant, one of our star developers. It was a joke around the office that everyone had to watch what he was drinking at the company Christmas party!

Wendy: We're all operating at lightening speed. How do you keep people feeling fresh when everyone's working 24/7?

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Mike: I think our CEO John Vincent and our COO Romey Connell get a lot of the credit for that. They're down to earth. It's the difference between loving what you do versus not loving it. It's a really open friendly company kind with a family atmosphere in the best sense of family. Everyone is excited about servicing our clients and seeing the great work they do and have the campaign see the light of day. Our people are dedicated. You can't explain it but we all know it when we see it.

Wendy: I think your clients explain it pretty well in your ad campaign!

Mike: LOL! One of the stories I tell when I interview people is that on Friday we have happy hour in our conference room. There's beer and munchies and everyone files in at 5:30, has a beer, mingles and this amazing thing happens, most if not all of these people hang our for 30, 45 minutes and catch up with each other, then take a beer, go back to their desk and are here for another 3 hour working with customers. We all find it continually amazing. Everyone. It's about individual and group ownership. It's not even a question like it's a job, it's what we want to do. Happy hour is just a time to reinforce that we're all one big team and we've had another week of hard work and we celebrate together and then go back to doing what we do.

Wendy: That's great. I know what that feels like and also know when it's anything like that. When people can't wait to get out the door.

Jason: I'm going to add to that too. You know, it's much more fun to work for a company that has its act together than work for a company that's still trying to figure it out. I've worked for companies like that so I know what I'm talking about when I say that. This company is fun to work for because we do things the right way. And when our employees see these client's that are in our campaign saying great things about us, it makes us all feel great about what we do and makes us want to keep doing it. People want to make a difference with their lives. EyeWonder gives each of us that opportunity. The trade campaign made a contribution to the company that we hadn't fully realized at the outset. People came up to me after it went live said to me, "Wow, I'm working with ___ and he/she referenced the work we did on ____ in the ad! That is so cool."

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Wendy: Mike? Final thoughts?

Mike: I think it's also that we're a focused company in one of the most exciting places to be. We focus on interactive digital advertising and innovation. We're not one of these big holding companies that have multiple divisions that are generalists. Everything we do focuses on digital advertising and innovation. We were the first ones to make flash video 8 standard on every video campaign, we're the first one's making flash video 9 standard on every campaign with flash 8 as the default. These are little things that don't get written in the press about that much, but what we do everyday ensures that campaigns are richer and better on more browsers, more operating systems than any of our competitors. The focus that we have on richer media and innovation keeps our nose to the grindstone and keeps us ahead of everyone else. We're committed to doing that and we'll never lose that focus. Our clients appreciate it and thus we know that consumers do as well. It enhances their lives and gives them useful information that saves them time or stimulates their imagination.

Wendy: Is there anything EyeWonder does on an individual-by-individual level?

Mike: We do everything we can do within the organization to enable people to follow their dreams. We're very open to cross pollenization. We have a lot of folks that started in one area of the company who have expressed a desire to move into a different discipline or if they would like to move to LA or be in sales. That requires that you really listen to each other to make sure the moves work for them. It's also great that our clients said the same thing. People appreciate when their hard work and dedication gets noticed. In the last year we've grown dramatically. We were then a 30-person group. Now we're a group of about 100 people. We don't take this growth for granted. It's something that we must prove to our clients that their confidence is worth it and to each other everyday.

Wendy: Thanks, Mike and Jason. This was great.

Jason: Thanks to you as well, Wendy!

Mike: It was our pleasure!

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