ADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — Ad networks are a tricky business. They could turn out to be advertising gold or end up being a flash in the pan for a company. Setting yourself apart is key and many networks are finding that being transparent is the key to longevity. Michael Katz founded interCLICK in 2004 and took some time to discuss the success and the future of his ad network.
ADOTAS: What need did you see in the industry that encouraged you to create interCLICK in 2004?
KATZ: We saw an inefficiency in the marketplace caused by an unwillingness from networks to communicate with their clients the way they were doing business. We reasoned that if we did good clean business that we may not grow as fast overnight as some of our competitors but it would help to establish long-term credibility.
ADOTAS: Can you give readers who may not be familiar, a rundown of what interCLICK does and what your position is with the company?
KATZ: interCLICK is a truly transparent ad network combining advanced behavioral targeting with the site by site reporting, allowing advertisers to identify and track their desired audience on an unprecedented level. I am the founder and president.
ADOTAS: What is your professional background and how long have you been with interCLICK?
KATZ: Before I founded interCLICK in 2005 I worked at Accenture doing financial modeling and analysis. Prior to that, I was at an internet consulting firm called ZEFER. It was at ZEFER where I learned my most valuable lessons about growing an organization, seeing how to treat employees, how to create the right type of office culture, and how to avoid a lot of the pitfalls of growing too fast.
ADOTAS: What standards do you feel interCLICK has set for other ad networks in the market?
KATZ: Honestly, I think we have a ways to go before I can say interCLICK really changed this industry in a profound manner. I think our biggest opportunity to do so is in our transparency and communicating our data with the client/agency but we need to get our name out there more. There are still a lot of planners and buyers who are unaware of what interCLICK brings to the table.
ADOTAS: You say there are planners and buyers that are still unaware of what interCLICK brings to the table. How are you changing that? What are your marketing strategies?
KATZ: Our strategy is pretty comparable to what most of the big networks are doing. There’s no set formula but you need to constantly stay in front of the planners and constantly find new ways to associate our brand with our message so when they have a need for one of their clients they think of us first.
ADOTAS: What have been your greatest challenges in differentiating yourself from your competitors?
KATZ: interCLICK has never been worried about what our competitors are doing. We have always been focused on maintaining an advertiser-centric mentality vs. competitor-centric. We never say, “Did you see this network just launched that?” We are constantly asking ourselves how we can provide more value to the client given our own capabilities. If everyone did that, the industry would be that much better off. In fact, there are many individuals at different networks that I have a tremendous amount of respect for and I want to see do well. Their collective success will further the industry as a whole.
ADOTAS: Given this mentality, have you seen a difference in your customers’ loyalty towards interCLICK?
KATZ: We have very high customer retention levels, higher than the industry average. I would certainly attribute that to the results we deliver and the value that we provide.
ADOTAS: Ad networks have become extremely popular. How do you feel about the influx of ad networks being created by various brands and do you think these new ventures are in any way a threat to your business? Why or why not?
KATZ: These collections of sites are not really ad networks in the sense that they can’t do what the top ad networks currently do, they are simply trying to cash in on the success of the ad network model. The biggest advantage networks have over individual publishers is that networks can target users on one site based on behaviors that user exhibited on a different site. Lumping 15 like sites together and using a boxed solution to create a network doesn’t put them on the same playing field.
ADOTAS: Do you feel that advertisers suffer from partnering with these companies using the ad network model?
KATZ: That depends on their objectives, I can’t necessarily answer for them but in the event that they are unable to distinguish between the value that a large horizontal network like interCLICK can provide and what a vertical network can offer them, then they would be doing themselves a disservice.
ADOTAS: What is your stance on contextual versus behavioral? Which do you think is more effective and why?
KATZ: I don’t think it’s a matter of saying one is better than the other. I think certain clients have had good and bad experiences with both and will demand one or the other based on those experiences. An advantage to working with us is that we offer both and we tailor each solution to what the client desires.
ADOTAS: Who are your clients?
KATZ: We work with most of the major agencies and premium brands across a number of different verticals.
ADOTAS: Can you give us some examples?
KATZ: I’m not looking to dodge this question but I also don’t know if I have clearance to start name-dropping. It’s primarily major retailers, wireless companies, automotive manufacturers, pharma, and some movie studios.
ADOTAS: Has the company vision transformed over the past four years from the original concept?
KATZ: Of course. Both on a macro and micro level. As we’ve grown as individuals, we’ve grown as a company. When we started out it was about making as much money any way possible. Now as we’ve matured it’s still about making money but we’ve gone from running the direct response type offers to working with much bigger brands.
ADOTAS: In October of 2007, interCLICK was named one of the fastest growing ad networks by comScore. Where does the company stand today?
KATZ: From December 2006 to December 2007 we grew faster than any other ad network, growing at 192%. That level of growth has accelerated in 2008, from March 2007 to March 2008 we grew 205% proving that we didn’t just get lucky in 2007. We have been able to attract and retain clients with relative ease due to our sophisticated targeting and transparent model.
ADOTAS: What’s next for interCLICK?
KATZ: We’ve expanded into Chicago and San Francisco this year, so we’ll continue our expansion efforts to establish our presence in key local markets. In the process, we will continue to hire top talent with the industry.