Pretend this is a media buyer, says Shawn Riegsecker, president and founder of local media buyer Centro. Assume she has to reach out and send RFPs to 15 different publishers — 15 smaller Playmobil characters appear below her — but even before that she has to find the appropriate contacts. Red trails shoot back and forth between the doll at the center and her many contacts, standing in for the spreadsheets, word documents and emails traversing between the parties. I’m slightly discombobulated, but I urge him to press on.
Insertion orders are sent via fax machines, the creative specifications from publishers are sent to the creative Playmobil figure and a wobbly dialog takes place before the traffic manager enters the picture. Delivery issues appear in dotted green while the accounting figurine jumps into the right-hand corner along with tiny people below the publishers, all linked in a tangled web of colors, arrows and dotted lines. The invoices and reports stack up, as well as discrepancies that run rampant within the towering mound.
Soon I’m begging him to make the madness end — I don’t know if I can watch one more seemingly innocent Playmobil character enter the slide only to be lassoed into a rainbow of emails and spreadsheets. Riegsecker pats my quivering hand and with a solemn glance asks me to imagine dealing with such a fiasco in real life — this is the agony of the media planner.
“The saddest part of this.. is the media planner in the middle, who becomes an uber-switching station, doing transactional activities and making sure nothing breaks when a computer and the web can automate all these processes so that person can focus on more strategic activities,” Riegsecker says.
Alas, ad agencies and advertisers suffer as well, missing out on engaging digital media plans and innovative ideas. “They’re getting a lot of what we consider to be a lot of watered-down, low-CPM tonnage buys on ad exchanges and ad networks… This is the process we’ve been working on fixing,” he adds.
The solution is Transis, streamlined media-planning software that Centro has been perfecting with its own operations over the last four years. As the company’s goal was always to bring the software to the industry, the release of Transis today marks nine years of toil in developing a system for automating a wildly fragmented process.
“Great software takes a lot time and a lot of hard work,” Riegsecker says. “You don’t get it perfect right out of the gate.”
The software automates the planning process across all mediums including mobile and video while trashing all the “20th century” technology — no emails, faxes or phone calls, everything is handled through the browser-based application. Currently all of Centro’s media operations run through the Transis platform, from site selection, planning, buying, digital insertion orders to accounting through integration into the financial department. Depending on campaign type, initial research shows a 31% to 69% increase in efficiencies across the digital media planning process.
Centro and Transis have their roots in Riegsecker’s experience in working with RealMedia (which later merged with 24/7 to form 24/7 Real Media), that first company helping ad agencies place ad across local websites, primarily premium publishers ranging from local news stations to alternative weeklies. While others were wrapping their heads around ad networks, he was looking at all the little guys scattered across the Internet. In the late 90s he heard it all — local is too difficult, you can’t scale, it’s too fragmented, there’s no money to be made, the digital buys are too small….
But Reigsecker did see the potential in the space — with the epiphany that the only way to scale digital media is through automated software.
“You can’t scale the digital industry through spreadsheets and fax machines and emails and phone calls,” he says. “We figured if we could create automated software that simplified the entire process from front to end, we could actually help the industry scale all of display media.”
In 2001 he founded Centro, which is based in Chicago and now boast 120 employees spread across offices nationwide. A third of the staff is involved in software and technology development while the rest handle sales and account services. In 2009 240 ad agencies used Centro to buy local online media on behalf of nearly 600 individual marketers.
At the same work began on developing Transis. Through the “weeping and gnashing of teeth internally” to arrange campaigns across thousands of small websites throughout the U.S., the team determined the regimen for automation. Built on web 2.0 technology, Transis features an extended database of local sites interfaced with comScore Media Metrics. Users can filter sites via channels, including geography and demographics.
In addition, the software features immense functionality and workflow tools for media planners that bypass the need for separate files and programs like Excel. (“We had to recreate Excel inside of the browser with more features and robustness,” Riegsecker says.) Through an updated network of publisher contacts estimated at around 5,000, the publisher collobration system, which Riegsecker compares to Google Wave, connects all parties through the browser and gives a history of communication.
The final pieces to fall into place were the digital insertion orders and integration with accounting software, which Riegseeker admits took a few more quarters than he expected.
Last week Riegsecker and I had an insightful conversation about Transis at Centro’s New York City office. Here’s the man himself on video and my disembodied, quite congested voice.