We talked to Benjamin Billups of Billups about out-of-home (OOH) technology and the effects of COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Benjamin Billups: We are well, thank you. These times certainly give you a spectacular moment to focus on what really matters in life. I’m very blessed that my family and company staff are healthy and safe.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Billups.
Benjamin Billups: I founded Billups in 2003 and together with our the team have grown the company to become the largest, independent out-of-home (OOH) technology and managed services company in the U.S. Our mission is to transform the out-of-home experience through data science and technology — empowering brands to develop smarter and more accountable OOH campaigns that fully complement their broader marketing mix.
From the beginning, the driving force for me was about bringing growth-minded people together and delivering amazing service and award-winning work to clients. Earlier in my career, I worked at an integrated media agency that specialized in working with brands from the travel and tourism space. Given my early access to travel’s technological and online success, I wanted to solve OOH’s two primary challenges, automation, and measurement. As an entrepreneur, I wanted to stretch further to build a dynamic OOH media company at the nexus of creativity and data science — bringing left and right brain thinking together to transform the space.
How does Billups innovate?
Benjamin Billups: At Billups, our core mission is to deliver amazing and genuinely move our client’s world. This is the only internal success metric that matters. It requires our Technology Services group to work hand-in-hand with our Managed Services group daily. So producing pretty good teams that do pretty good client work with off-the-shelf technology really doesn’t interest us. We are looking to build everything and will never stop innovating.
Today, a quarter of the top OOH advertisers are major tech brands. Why? The availability of geolocation and mobile data, combined with AI and Machine Learning, now empowers brands to better understand audience patterns and build smarter integrated campaigns. By leveraging the ubiquity and hyper-local nature of OOH, brands are now able to directly map the impact of their campaign and see what’s driving results. In short, marketers can now understand when, where, and how to reach their target audience at optimal moments and specific locations.
We continue to invest in our data science team at Billups to provide brands with location-based audience intelligence. This not only helps determine which customer segments to target but also provides insight into the specific behaviors and locations potential customers frequent.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Benjamin Billups: This has been extremely difficult for many demand-side specialists and suppliers. As with many businesses, we are experiencing revenue setbacks in the obvious categories due to the pandemic. With that said, since the early days of the pandemic, we were very intentional in our Growth team’s efforts to educate and communicate new data-driven opportunities to our clients that our Sciences team uniquely uncovered.
These insights have really provided strategic guidance and thought leadership to many of our current partners and have most recently given way to a couple of massive new client wins.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Benjamin Billups: We’ve had a couple of difficult moments and choices during the pandemic. Right out of the gate on March 10th, as the lockdown was looming, we had to decide whether or not to complete the acquisition of MacDonald Media’s assets and team. While the timing was not favorable, we’re very glad we did. This action supercharged our New York, Portland, and Los Angeles teams early on in the pandemic, and we’re one of very few companies that learned a masterclass lesson on how to acquire a company without ever being onsite. We also had to make some tough financial decisions that resulted in employee layoffs. That sucked. While our company staff extends across the country in more than 16 cities, we are acutely aware that parting with valued team members is never an easy decision. Most of all, their faces and contributions are not forgotten.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Billups in the future?
Benjamin Billups: While I know it’s not good for my overall health, I thrive on a stacked plate that produces both stress and anxiety. In my opinion, these two emotions have the physical power to create really positive outcomes s opposed to the negative connotations they are usually associated with. Nervous energy? Fear of failing a client? These things can really drive us.
In terms of the company’s future, we’re focusing on three primary verticals of development: Managed Services, Technology Services, and Shared Services. As we look towards the future, we see ourselves as a global two-sided OOH marketplace with a platform and a managed services team powered by insights, connected with ad partners, accessible, and on the go. In other words, globally, translating the digital services experience into OOH’s physical world is what we’re all about. It’s a big vision, and yes, we’ve got work to do.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Benjamin Billups: There are thousands of potential competitors such as data providers, platforms, demand-side OOH specialists, and yes, even the suppliers. Our space is blurring a bit these days, but we truly believe that our competitor is within our four walls. And because we constantly strive for innovative, data-informed solutions to help solve for business outcomes, our patented technologies, data attribution products, and best-in-class managed services have given us the privilege to work with world-class brands such as Nike, Lyft, Twitter, and many others.
Your final thoughts?
Benjamin Billups: First, always tell the truth with passion, and you will inspire people. That’s how we move the world forward.
Secondly, and perhaps less energizing and more practical as my mom always taught me, being kind and having manners really matters. By giving a gentle, truthful, and kind answer, you really do show empathy for people, which deepens your relationships, and that’s what every great business requires at all times — genuine relationships. Whether you’re a startup or established business, go into the world and truly be interested in people’s well-being, say ‘please & thank you,’ and don’t be an asshole.
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