Media Crossing, Inc.

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February 4, 2019 Issue



All About the Outcomes: How Connecticut’s MediaCrosssing Became One of the Fastest-Growing Companies in the Country



Michael K. Kalman

Chief Executive Officer


Media Crossing, Inc.



Michael K. Kalman



Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – February 4, 2019


CEOCFO: Mr. Kalman, what is the idea behind MediaCrossing, Inc?

Mr. Kalman: The idea for MediaCrossing was conceived in the middle of 2012. We put together a business plan and our goal was to provide middle market clients with access to the same tools and technologies that the largest advertising agencies in the world provide the largest advertisers in the world. We figured that with the advent of new types of technology we should be able to build a platform that allows MediaCrossing to provide middle market clients with those same tools and technologies and also the same level of leadership in terms of helping a client understand what the world of digital transformation looks like.


If you think about the largest two hundred brands, they have the benefit of access to multi-national agency holding companies to partner with. However, mid-tier brands that spend less than forty million dollars a year has a much more limited pool of agency partners. We make it easy for clients in that mid-tier to build one-to-one relationships with their customers, and we help them accelerate digital transformation.


CEOCFO: Were you confident the technology would be there or was it somewhat a leap of faith?  

Mr. Kalman: I have been in the media business since 1990, but in the very beginning I was a little skeptical of the efficacy of all these digital platforms, especially social media. Were people really going to engage with advertising that was not from traditional tactics, like TV, radio, print? I worked on PepsiCo for a number of years and it was amazing to see how they were migrating a larger percentage of their TV dollars to digital in 2011 and 2012. I realized that if the largest snack food/beverage company in world was going to make that bet, it was probably safe to say it was a smart bet for me, too.


CEOCFO: Would you give us a couple of examples of how you engage with your clients?

Mr. Kalman: If you’re a middle market pharmaceutical company, the question is how to you build a one-to-one relationship with your key customers? How do you build those relationships with your key customers in a marketplace where the shelf presence at CVS, Rite Aid, Target, Walgreens and Walmart changed so dramatically?


We have a client that had, when they hired us three years ago, ninety percent of their business spread across those pharma retailers. Our recommendation was, as they were losing shelf space to private labels, that they embark on a digital strategy that included Amazon. We spent a lot of time working with them to craft and execute an Amazon-first strategy. Almost three years later, across all their brands, 90 percent of their business is now on Amazon and  only 10 percent is at brick and mortar stores. Business is up. They are growing at between 18 and 22 percent, annualized on a compound annual growth rate. They are no longer beholden to brick and mortar retailers.


There are certain types of clients that need to embrace an Amazon strategy - and there are certain types of clients that have the luxury of being able to run from Amazon. If you are in packaged goods, pharma, or the health and beauty world, you need to figure out an Amazon strategy that works best for your business. In this particular case, our client was able to work with MediaCrossing to deliver advertising and messaging to key customers, drive them to a landing page that took them to Amazon and get people to buy more of the client’s products.


CEOCFO: Do you really have to tell people they should be on Amazon or is it just that mid-market companies may see it as beyond their capability and so do not even think about it?

Mr. Kalman: Every client you have is selling to big box retailers, but personally, they are Prime members and they are buying from Amazon, so I don’t think you have to convince anybody to be on Amazon. I think you have to show them how they can build an Amazon strategy and execution plan that yields sales, so you have to do some execution work for them. Everyone recognizes that Amazon is a leader in ecommerce. It is one of many channels that we focus on in terms our advertising. However, I think it is important for our clients to understand what our approach would be, how we are going to reach certain customers with certain messages and how we are going to increase their business through Amazon. Therefore, much of it is that they know they have got to be there, but they don’t have the internal resources to drive that transformation. That’s where we can come in and be a really good, effective partner to help them.


CEOCFO: When you are creating a strategy for a client what do you take into consideration that perhaps less experienced companies do not recognize as important?

Mr. Kalman: I think that is an amazing question. It’s a real differentiator for MediaCrossing, in my opinion. Most of our clients do not run advertising with us for branding. They run advertising with us because they want to drive revenue.


Typically, we talk to the people who are directly responsible for generating revenue for the organization: marketing teams and people in sales and strategic business development. At the onset of every single client relationship we actually immerse our team within the client’s organization, and we sit in front of all stakeholders at their site. Marketing today touches nearly every department in a business, so we feel it’s important to meet as many people as we can. We talk to people in accounting; we want to know what their goals are. We talk to leadership; we want to know what their overall vision for the business is. We talk to sales people because we want to understand, by business category, what their success metrics look like and what their barriers are. How much revenue by retailer or how many new customers do they have to find to be successful? What is their attrition rate? What do they have to do to refill the funnel and drive incremental sales? At the same time, we are talking to the marketing people about their overall communication strategy with customers and what their overall three- to five-year marketing goals entail.


Unlike a lot of agencies, I don’t view our business as selling media. I believe our business is about engineering the best possible outcomes for our clients. Those outcomes vary, but may be, “Did we find new customers that we never talked to before, did we come up with a brand extension that drove incremental revenue, did we help a client reposition a brand, did we expand beyond a core geo?” I think what makes me proudest is the fact that our team is exceedingly bright, we are super nimble, and our job is to be an extension of a client’s overall team. That’s how we are able to build strategies that lead to media plans that deliver against client KPIs.


CEOCFO: Do you work on an ongoing basis with many of your clients?

Mr. Kalman: Most of them have evergreen media budgets and we work with them on an ongoing basis. We have been in business for nearly six years, and our longest-standing client has probably been with us just over five. The average client is with us for over three years – half of our existence as an agency.


CEOCFO: How do you know when it is time to embrace a new technology?  Where does gut feeling come in throughout everything you do?

Mr. Kalman: Because I am usually the oldest guy in the room, I’m the first one to say, “We are not going to spend a whole bunch of money on Snapchat. I don’t think it is a great platform for brands, especially because I don’t necessarily know if it has the reach that Instagram has.” What we try to do is figure out a digital media mix model, where we are thinking of how much display, video, mobile, social, streaming audio and search we are going to plan against a client’s dollar. We take a ‘test and learn’ approach to new channels and platforms where it’s appropriate.  For example, if a client is spending $3 million on social, we may take five percent of that, which is about $150 thousand, and test some emerging platforms.


To my earlier comment, we have done some tests with both Snapchat and Twitter. For our clients, the most successful strategies on social were operationalized through Facebook and Instagram. We did an enormous amount of testing with those platforms and even built some tools to run those campaigns.     


CEOCFO: How quickly are you able to tweak a campaign or do a major adjustment if need be?

Mr. Kalman: What MediaCrossing did to build trust in an opaque universe was build a reporting dashboard that provides our clients with real transparency in real time. If we are running campaigns across display, video, mobile, and social, we can look at a screen and it will tell us = the click-through rate for the ads we are delivering on those platforms by geo and by data set. It will also tell us where the revenue is coming from. In fact, if one or two of the tactics running is not producing the anticipated results, we can shut it off and reallocate those dollars into tactics that are producing better results. It is almost instantaneous.


CEOCFO: That is where the newer technologies come in!

Mr. Kalman: We have got people that are doing this in season, in fourth quarter, literally every day, seven days a week.


CEOCFO: How do you figure out the cumulative effect? How are you able to dig a little deeper into the combination of venues that result in a response?  

Mr. Kalman: We do want to get a sense of what the attribution is. It is not uncommon for us to set up a campaign with a ton of data tags. We can tell, with a certain degree of precision, how a consumer arrived at a landing page, through which referring page and which ad. Therefore, if someone clicks through an Instagram ad, we have total visibility as to where they went. If someone clicks through a display ad and we can calculate the efficacy of those engagements, we get a lot more data about which creatives and which third party data sets work because of the way we set up the campaigns.


The juxtaposition is that when you run a TV commercial, you can’t tell if someone saw the commercial in its entirety, or if they saw the commercial with the sound off on their TV. In digital, if someone watches a video, I can tell you with confidence whether they watched the whole video, they watched the first five seconds, ten seconds, fifteen seconds; whether they watched it with the sound on; if they expanded that video to full screen so they could see the whole thing; if they clicked through, and if they converted. With the technology we use we have pretty good analytics around the actions people take and where they came from.


CEOCFO: How are you reaching out? Why are people turning to you? Do they recognize the depth of your approach or is it sometimes a surprise when you are talking with a new client or a potential new client?

Mr. Kalman: When we started in this business it was not uncommon for us to get on airplanes and explain to people what was going on in digital and what was happening relating to the growth and evolution of programmatic advertising. We would explain that businesses were now able to reach target customers that want to engage with their brand. I think B2B buyers are much savvier than they were six years ago. I view our clients as professional buyers of media. Buyers have gotten much smarter about understanding the dynamics of the marketplace. I think that most of the companies we compete against have access to similar technology to ours. However, we have built some tools that provide automation, and we have an exceptionally talented and dedicated team. It’s how we are able to put different tactics together with different strategies that produce better outcomes for our clients.


CEOCFO: What do you look for in your people? What is important for MediaCrossing?

Mr. Kalman: As I explain to our board, I think you can build a company where everybody is focused on revenue and you have no culture – and no one will want to work there, and everybody will hate it. Or, you can build a company where the culture is awesome, but there is no revenue and you’ll have about 90 days before you go out of business. You need to have a balance.  


I break it down into three areas; people, platform and process. Number one is our people. I really like the fact that we have a culture that allows people to think on their own, make some mistakes, share what they’ve learned, and be collaborative. I also think that if I am a bottleneck and every decision has to go through me, we have got a bigger set of issues and we will never scale this business. Therefore, I look for the absolute smartest people. I look for people that have incredible emotional EQ. I look for people that are really good at talking to people, that are good at having conversations, that are good at engaging with not only their peers here, but with clients. I look for people that are happy. I also look for people with a solid work ethic. If you look at the executive leadership of our company these are all smart people who are awfully hard working. They had good role models. They are super honest. We have minimal turnover in senior leadership. Some of the people in senior leadership started as interns at MediaCrossing six years ago and they now run departments. That is because not only do I like them and do trust them, but they have delivered.


CEOCFO: We came upon MediaCrossing from your positioning in the Inc 5000, which indicates business is good. How do you continue the trajectory? What is ahead for you?

Mr. Kalman: Our business has grown about 40 percent this year, and there are a few factors behind that. I think that we have to continue to stay true to the types of clients that we know will be successful with. Part of it is an honest conversation internally about every engagement we enter, every prospective client.


Part of it is certainly our team. When we add new members to the team, everybody gets a chance to interview. They get to tell me their unvarnished opinions about a candidate. We have genuine debates about whether or not we think that person we bring in is going to be successful here. People are critical to our success. Our asset goes down in the elevator every night, it comes up to work every day, so we have got to be really conscientious about the quality of the people we hire and then fit into our culture. We’ve grown our staff by 30 percent over the last year, and everyone weighed in on every hire.


It really does come down to the three Ps that we talked about, so part of the success is due to our process and platorms, too. Regarding platforms, we have to make sure that we are partnering with the absolute best, brand-safe platforms providers that are well capitalized. And with respect to process, we spend a lot of time on: building a really sound process. Our business has gotten so large in such a short period of time that it’s no longer a business we can run with yellow pads and spread sheets. It is a business that requires internal infrastructure, data systems, data warehouses and technology to help us manage everything.


Therefore, what you should expect from us is that we will thoughtfully continue to grow. We will probably add additional offices outside of Metro New York. We are contemplating an office expansion to the west coast. We are looking at a number of potential acquisition targets. My expectation is that the mission of the business will not change. The ability to source new clients and the types of clients we know will be successful. We will not change there. We will just work to grow the platform by adding the right people and the platforms and the process to drive growth and innovation.


“Unlike a lot of agencies, I don’t view our business as selling media. I believe our business is about engineering the best possible outcomes for our clients.”- Michael K. Kalman


Media Crossing, Inc.



Michael K. Kalman








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