Interview with David St Laurent (from the #Influencer series)
(This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.)
David St Laurent has a strategy the goliaths can’t beat.
How a small independent flew beneath the radar long enough to lock up some very large markets.
If you’re a media buyer in Western Canada, there’s a good chance you know David St Laurent.
As the founder of Western Media Group, David St Laurent has been busy engineering a digital transformation that any CEO would envy.
“We started with one radio station as a client. So it was a bit tough in the beginning,” laughs the founder of Western Media Group.
“But now we have five distinct verticals. And we’ve built bridges between them so that media buyers can access solutions that can’t be found anywhere else.”
From 2011, Western Media Group slowly built its capabilities in new areas that agencies were clamouring for. This meant expanding beyond radio and television campaigns into digital offerings such as search, pay-per-click, programmatic display, online video, out-of-home, and – most recently – programmatic audio.
In November 2016 Western Media Group joined Triton Digital, a global leader in digital audio streaming. The exclusive partnership – a first in Canada – marries Triton’s inventory of Canadian audio assets (SoundCloud and Slacker Radio, to name two) with Western Media Group’s infrastructure of relationships and technology.
The Triton partnership marks the latest in a string of announcements the company made this year in the digital advertising space.
“If you look at what’s been happening in the UK, digital audio is preferred to digital video in many respects. We see the same opportunity happening in Canada. Digital audio will make sense for a lot of advertisers, especially those looking to hedge some of their radio audience.”
Programmatic advertising is similar to stock trading. In the same way that companies release shares to a stock exchange, advertisers release ads to an ad exchange. Buyers access the exchanges to purchase advertising space, just as investors buy stocks. The ads are purchased in real-time by sophisticated algorithms. But the analogy doesn’t stop there.
“In the same way that algorithms influence the financial performance of high frequency stock trades, so do they influence the performance of programmatic advertising,” says Mr. St Laurent.
In 2014 Western Media Group took its programmatic trading in-house, connecting to huge pools of ads on all of the major advertising exchanges.
With access to billions of ad impressions every day, the firm is looking to leverage its expertise.
“We were one of the first to launch our own trading desk in Western Canada. We’re very knowledgeable about how to maximize advertiser value for clients,” says Mr. St Laurent.
Working with direct advertisers and agencies across Canada, Western Media Group is assisting a greater number of advertisers that do not not have the technology – or expertise – by executing trades on their behalf.
“These days digital audio ads are in high demand. Because they are served one-to-one, precise information about listeners is available. Attribution is something that has eluded radio and other forms of advertising,” says Mr. St Laurent.
This isn’t lost on advertisers. In the first quarter of 2017, Western Media Group executed campaigns for some of the largest brands in Canada, including programmatic audio campaigns that are running in the US on behalf of Canadian agencies.
“A lot of media buyers prefer to work with independent free-thinkers, like us. The fact is, there are large media corporations that force advertisers to buy products they don’t want. So we have an advantage being the only independent media supply firm that provides cross-platform customized solutions. We’re the only one.”
The quest to be unique is why Mr. St Laurent decided to use his own money and reputation to build a new independent media marketing firm from the ground up.
“There was a major opportunity in the market,” he says.
An avid opera fan (La Traviata is his favourite) and amateur coin collector, Mr. St Laurent appreciates the exclusivity and rarity of a good production. He compares his growing media supply network to an Italian opera: “It’s taken several twists and turns but ultimately the storylines come together in ways that are surprising.
I read a book called Eating The Big Fish. It talks about how challenger brands like us have to be a lighthouse. I think we’re very much like a lighthouse! Here we are, shining a beacon to all the advertisers out there who just want to pick up the phone and do a national television buy alongside digital, out-of-home and radio,” says Mr. St Laurent.
Asked about his strategy for the year ahead, Mr. St Laurent leans in.
“When we launched our business we made a commitment that we would continue to build for the future. Our strategy hasn’t changed. We did more deals this past year than the previous four years combined.
We wanted to be the firm that the media companies could trust to over-deliver objectives. Consistently. Media buyers appreciate new products that bring new opportunities for their customers.
Now we’re uniquely positioned to make the kind of moves that the media giants can’t. We represent dozens of properties and services spanning online, television, radio, digital out-of-home, and now programmatic audio.
We’re doing campaigns in search, television, radio, out-of-home and place-based media. We work for advertisers that don’t want to be put in a box. Maybe they have an agency. Maybe they don’t. To us, the budget is irrelevant.
Every year our solutions get better. It took some time but we’ve achieved the scale we were looking for. We’re planning announcements that will make us harder to ignore.”