April 13, 2010

The Innovator: John Cecil, Part One.


(That's not him. It's one of his video spokespeople).

Meet John Cecil, a former "Yahoo Brat" from the pre-web 1.0 era. Since then, like so many of his Yahoo Alums, John has spent the last five years of his time and experience into nurturing his own powerhouse; the next-gen web 3.0 company known as Innovate Ads, or i-ads (TM) for short.

As CEO, John has turned i-ads into one of the hottest online video advertising firms in the country.

With i-ads having divided and conquered the direct marketing space, John is now taking MadAve by storm with his "out-of-the-pre-roll-box" video solution. Located in Orange County, within the footprint of LA, John casts almost as many actors and actresses as "Video Spokespeople" than American Idol screens contestants. No doubt "Idol" may soon be turning to John for tips on spotting talent, if not using Innovate Ads to promote tune-in to one of their programs.

Producing web-centric video content for a number of top tier companies, including Canon, Chemistry.com, Service Magic, Napster, a former presidential candidate and virtually dozens of direct marketing companies, John's company now offers a series of world-class online video solutions in - as John calls it - our "post pre-roll world." Examples: Innovate Ads.

You should meet him. Recently I did.

Mr. Cecil and I worked together to "co-produce" a video unit, separate from AMC, which promoted MAD MEN's recent "win a walk on roll" video audition contest. We did it all for you, our MadAve Journal readers and for aspiring actors everywhere. The MadAve Journal wrote the script. Innovate ads did the rest. If you haven't seen it yet, click below:


Wendy:: How's it going?

John: It's going very well!

Wendy: Before we discuss Innovate Media and industry trends, tell me a little about your background. You were at Yahoo!, right? Where did you go to school?

John: I attended San Diego State. I originally thought I would pursue a law career but found that speech and marketing were much more my calling. Once I graduated I joined Comcast Local Cable in sales.

Wendy:: Selling local cable is great training for a sales career! LOL

John:: (smiling) Especially back then. My next move was into national cable. I went to work for A&E as their west coast rep. All this time I had been watching the Internet. It was still very early. AOL and Yahoo! were the two main properties back then. I pitched a sales position at Yahoo in Los Angeles and the rest, as they say, is history!

Wendy:: Cool.

John:: It was great. As the company started growing, the deals started growing. Still we were essentially selling a new medium that people didn't know much about. It was so much fun! It was best business experience I had up until that point.


Wendy: How long were you there?

John: From 1998 to mid-2001.

Wendy:: Definitely a great time period.

John: Back then Yahoo! was very hot. Most of the dollars that we were getting in advertising were VC-based. I called on several studios. We would have meetings there and they'd be like, "We think you should pay us, for having the content on your site."

Wendy: LOL!

John: It was interesting. That was the result of those meetings. I would close low 5-figure level deals with them. We'd get objections like, "Once you start selling tickets online, we'll buy it from you." That's how early it was.

Wendy: What did you do after you left Yahoo?


John: I checked out a number of firms. I'm a big surfer so I've always been attracted to the action sports industry. Eventually I got my first taste of being an entrepreneur. I founded a sports marketing firm called "Gherkin Ruckus."

Wendy: That's an interesting name! What does it mean?

John: I could give you the long story, but in the interest of time it was a term my friends and I used when we were in high school. Think food and cafeteria!

Wendy: LOL! Double secret probation, I guess.

John: That's all I'll say! In actuality, Gherkin Ruckus was a media services firm that was geared towards introducing the Internet and digital programs to the action sports industry. After taking that as far as I could by myself, I talked to Bob Allison, who was both a friend and mentor of mine.


Wendy: Interesting.

John: Bob told me about a company called Innovate Media. It had video production business that appeared to have great potential, so they spun it off and created Innovate Media. It was originally a company called Video Scape, which was a victim of the dotcom downfall. It was a company before it's time. It was a video teleconference company.

Wendy: What happened then?

John: Long story short, Bob put together Innovate Media and Gherkin Ruckus, the outcome of which is what we have morphed into today. Under Bob's direction the video production business had established contracts with companies to shoot their videos for delivery over the web. Bob introduced me to Dave Winters and his team. Dave is a film school-trained cinematographer. He's a guru on how to shoot video for delivery over the web. He and his team are experts in online video over the web. They are are responsible for the creative / technical growth of the company.


Wendy: Sounds like an interesting group of guys

John: They are. Between Dave's experience on the online video production / creative, side and his team under the Innovate Umbrella, combined with mine on the advertising and marketing side, we're now in our fifth year in business. His team has produced hundreds of videos for delivery over the web and work with a variety of different technologies.

Wendy: Congratulations!

John: Thank you!

Wendy: Let's talk about the industry. There are other companies also doing video online like Eyeblaster, EyeWonder and PointRoll. Do you put yourselves in the rich media category?


John: Yes and no. We use flash which I guess puts us in the rich media classification. However, that's where the similarity ends.

Wendy: How so?

John: We're in the online video production business. We focus on the human touch, not technology. As you know, our specialty is producing video spokespeople. We work with the advertiser, from concept to launching it on the web. That means selecting the right actor. Writing the script. Creating the graphics, shooting it in our own studios, making sure it meets a variety of standards critical to the net and then launching it and serving it.

Wendy: Wow!

John: The other Rich Media companies are really in the technology business. Put any one of their programmers and designers in front of a MAC and out comes a Rich Media unit.

Wendy: True.

John: Online video has changed the game. There are a number of variables that sets it apart from Rich Media. It requires experience in media, in production, in motion graphics, in understanding the complexities of creating video and how to push/serve "large file" videos.

Wendy: It sounds a lot like television production.

John: It's more. The difference is we have the ability to provide state of the art metrics.

Wendy: Right.


John: And it's on the web, which is invariably different from TV. Companies are now just beginning to understand that. We're on the cusp of change. There's still work ahead, such as hammering out new specs for sites. That's inevitable. Online video is quickly establishing itself as another advancement on top of Rich Media.

Wendy: How do you price yourselves?

John: In terms of the serving, the same as PointRoll does. The difference is that we can "pre-bundle" the production cost and the delivery costs together.


John: If the dollar amount is large enough on the delivery of the videos, we'll make it easy for an advertiser. Let's say a company comes to us to develop an ad solution. We'll concept it, shoot it, launch it, serve it and measure it, all under one house, based on a CPM.

Wendy: Sounds great!

John: And it's all done under the expertise of our video production / technology team.

Wendy: Let's talk about metrics. Is this very similar to launching a video? Let's say I'm running a pre-roll video...


John: We're different than pre-roll. Once a pre-roll ad ends, there's nothing left to invite a viewer to take action.

Wendy: What about your metrics?

John: Since the videos are running off of our servers, we have the same sort of variables that other rich media company would offer a client. A new variable for online video is "percent viewed." We have the ability to measure the length of time it was viewed, the number of people who viewed it, the number of people stopped it, and of course the click through and click through percentage on the product.

Wendy: Cool.

John: We can schedule it to run at a specific time. We're a great solution for "tune-in" ads. When you watch TV now, you see the networks overlay their video spokesperson during sports breaks or even in the middle of programs Our technology has the ability to do a 5-10 second max, no sound, full motion video play that launches on the sites you buy at say, 4PM, for the upcoming program in prime later that night.

Wendy: Let's talk about how you're selling it. You know how much I love the Mad Man video spokesperson that you did on this site. The first time I saw it, I thought this was the coolest thing and I told everybody, "Oh you have to go here and you have to see this." And they had the same reaction. When you go to pitch this to brand or agency, what reactions do you find? Does everybody love it? Does everybody think that this is something that next gen?


John: Up until now, direct marketers and online marketers have been the low hanging fruit for us as an organization. We know that from A/B tests that the video spokesperson product increases conversions 90% of the time. They get it.

Wendy: How about brand marketers and agencies?

John: We're just now taking it out to them. As an organization we're small. We're flexible which means we're easy to work with. There are still lots of work ahead of us. There's the education curve, but once a marketer takes a look at it, it sells itself.

Wendy: Okay, say I'm a marketer who gets it and wants to work with you to produce their campaign. Now what?

John: We listen to their objectives and what their competition is doing in the marketplace. From there they go immediately into casting to select an actor. We have numerous to choose from. Those who speak English and/or Spanish.

Wendy: Where do you find your actors?

John: We're more based in Orange County, California, so we're in the footprint of, obviously, LA. We find our actors by doing auditions there. We'll do a casting call for a web video product. During those auditions, we typically have 200-300 actors and actresses show up, for our auditions. Typically, the B-level actors and actress audition. They may not be celebrities but they are immensely talented.


Wendy: Do clients go with you to the casting call?

John: If they really want to, but it's much easier to go to our site and choose from the dozens of actors who have submitted video auditions. They upload snippets and clips of their work to our site. The client goes to the site and watches them. They choose what actor they want, based on their preference of talent. Or they can they can provide their own actor. We can also go out hire a specific actor for them, whatever they want to do.

Wendy: Interesting.

John: Once they just go through the process that we have of choosing actors off of our site. (See talent site: www.innovateads.com/talent.php), ask the client to make a first draft of the script. They know their business a little bit better than us. We give them our script template and then once they're done they review it and tweak it if needed, based on our understanding of what works best for this medium.. We have a diverse team of copywriters here who know both direct response and branding scripts.


Wendy: Then what happens?

John: Once the actor and script is finalized, and any other graphics that are needed, we go into our production facility and load the script into the teleprompter and do a number of takes, which can vary slightly based on Dave's creative eye. From there we go into our post-production facility here and add the graphics if the client needs them to tell their story.

Wendy: Okay.

John: After that, the client approves it. Then the video goes right into our system, which generates a line of code. The client puts the line of code on their webpage, wherever they want the video to appear and the line of code essentially instructs the site to launch the video as it is downloading its own content. It's actually being served from the Innovate servers, though to the consumer it appears as if it is served by the site.

Wendy: I just read the other day that almost one out of every two Rich Media ads are video. Most of that is pre-roll. What do you think of pre-roll?

John: Like any advancement, pre-roll had its moment in the sun. Our clients come to us because they no longer feel it's the best they can do. A good portion of pre-roll spots run versions that were originally used for broadcast. They don't really work though. For one there's no chance to take action. The interactive marketing universe will soon be a "post pre-roll" world.


Wendy: You're right.

John: Our videos are made specifically for the net. There's no issue of having DRM (digital rights management) issues with our talent. The contracts that we do with our actors are for the web only.

Wendy: Hmmm... I think you're one of the few that's figured that out. What else can you tell us?

John: LOL! What else would you want to know?

Stay tuned for part two as John discusses video spokesperson-based research from Stanford University, online video in a "post pre-roll" world, his three online video products and what it was like to produce a video spokesperson ad for 2008 presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, among other things.





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