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Q&A: Rick Ducey, BIA/Kelsey

After our recent collaboration on our eBook, The Win of Going Local, we asked Rick Ducey, Managing Director at BIA/Kelsey, about his perspective on the media industry and how local activation has changed the advertising landscape. As we have seen, one of the biggest trends is the growth of national brands activating local media strategies. In tandem is the use of data to identify and hyper-target audiences. We both agree–The industry continues to be unchartered waters and there’s always something new to discover. It’s all about how deep you’re willing to go.

As an industry veteran, what trend has had the biggest impact on local advertising?
In my mind, the biggest impact is the rapid shift toward digital advertising and particularly mobile ad formats with audience targeting. Facebook and Google are the poster children but it gets deeper and more interesting than that. Inside the digital story, the headlines are mobile, social and video and the ability to target audience segments as defined by literally thousands of potential attributes. From a marketer’s perspective, the ability to work with agencies and publishers to find matches between their strategic consumer segments (actual customers or look-alike matched audiences) in their media buying is just so powerful. Digital platforms can provide fast feedback, support A/B testing and campaign optimization across screens. Furthermore, since we specialize in the part of the market where local media investment and activations happen, I’d have to say that a renewed focus by national brands in local marketing is becoming more pronounced. Lower friction in local activation is possible with better data, analytics, technology platforms and business models to support marketers and their agencies reaching out to publishers in the market.

You’ve been at BIA/K for more 17 years. How has your perspective changed on the ad industry?
Well, I was most excited originally about the promise of digital technologies for empowering new capabilities and connections among audiences, publishers and marketers. The fantastic rise of data science and the integration of technologies into platforms in recent years has just elevated the whole workflow, execution and ultimately market impacts to levels I could only dream of back in 2000. I’m not saying there’s no frustration or need for further innovation in the market. Quite the opposite, there’s always room for improvement. But consider that when I started at BIA/Kelsey in 2000, Google was two years old and Facebook was four years away from its launch. Now just those two companies pretty much define the digital space. Phenomenal change in one generation.

The industry is constantly evolving. What should be keeping marketers up at night?
From the marketers I speak with, it’s a matter of balancing the promise of change with the stability of prior expectations and culture. There’s not a good history of stopping change, and I know that’s keeping some marketers up at night. It’s hard to change a company’s culture even when there are dramatic changes in the outside world. Sort of amazing that so much ad spend transacts now on just age/gender demos as we see in television given the enormous advances. But culture, people, buying systems, training, expectations and relative openness to change frame what is possible. Some marketers jump into change and figure it out, willing to accept hard lessons along with surprising victories. Other marketers are followers. Ultimately for marketers, what has to keep them up at night is ROI – am I getting the best job done with the marketing resources I’m putting in to play. If they can say yes, it’ll be an easier night’s sleep.

If you had a crystal ball, what do you predict will be the biggest influencer in local advertising?
It’s interesting to see that when you break out advertisers into local SMBs, regional and mid-sized advertisers and national brands, the local ad growth segments are local and national businesses. I have to believe that tech and data are driving this. Local SMBs now have the kinds of power that just a few years ago were available only to say the Fortune 500 CMOs but at a price point and level of usability they can find attractive. I love to do demos where I can set up an account with a publisher or ad platform, define an audience target segment, assemble my creative assets, set campaign parameters and launch it. All in under five minutes. As a marketer looking to reach local audiences, it can be that easy. Having said that, you have to love that it’s rarely that easy. And that’s why we have such a wonderful ecosystem in the local advertising market. It calls for a variety of skills and knowledge sets to really optimize and maximize outcomes.

What do you hope to do in 2018?
The thing that probably gets me most excited is living at the edges of what’s happening and what’s possible and trying to figure out the best strategies for making powerful connections between these spaces that deliver high impact results for clients. What works in existing business models and what needs to change? What’s the best way to plan and deploy technology into workflow like programmatic advertising? What are the drivers behind trends and disruptions that a company really needs to understand, embrace and organize around?

So in 2018, my personal hope is to get as smart as I can about these things, broaden and deepen my relationships with people who know way more than me and bring all this to our clients and partners.

If I can get anywhere close to that, it’ll be a very happy year for me.

How about a personal goal you look to achieve in 2018?
I’m a scuba instructor and most of my diving ends up being teaching and leading students. For 2018, I’d dearly love to get to some world-class destination diving. Like the Great Barrier Reef (while the coral’s still there).

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