Sam Bloom, the CEO of Camelot Strategic Marketing and Media, discusses the impact of the pandemic on the advertising industry, the importance of agencies’ expertise in various disciplines, the complexities of delivery and measurement, and the need for simplification in the localized CTV world. Watch our latest Screen Wars Thought Leader Interview here and read the full transcript below!
Michael Beach: Well, Sam, welcome to Screen Wars.
Sam Bloom: Thank you very much, Michael. I’m very excited to be here.
MB: Excellent. Would you mind giving our audience a little bit of background on Camelot and the specific problem you solve?
SB: We are in the business of media, but we position ourselves as strategic marketing and media. Generally, we work with large, complex advertisers that need an integrated approach to marketing. The media, to me, comes last because that’s the easiest piece of what we do. We focus on data, tech, and measurement planning. So we’re in the business of helping advertisers grow their businesses. Very simple.
MB: Do you cover all kind of ad types, or do you have any specialty?
SB: We cover all forms of paid media. First, I would say that we’re agnostic. We generally let the data drive us to what the execution is. That being said, at the moment, our area of interest is what’s happening in consumption of TV, CTV, and digital video. We believe that’s the area of greatest change at the moment.
MB: You just celebrated your 40th anniversary, which is awesome and an impressive feat. You had a very big footing in traditional media, but moving into this integrated view (another great accomplishment) where are the integration points with your team? Do you cross screen people, or is it just individual teams that collaborate?
SB: That’s a great question. First of all, when people ask me about running an agency business, we are not talking about just one entity. It actually is like managing 30+ pieces of business. You can’t just say everything is one thing.
Let me start at the beginning, at Camelot’s inception. The founder came out of P&G and came to Dr. Pepper, 7 Up, which was based in Dallas. After a couple of years, he was let go and eventually started the agency, in the early 80s. He saw that media was not getting the same care and love that we put on creative.
And he felt that, first, you needed objectivity. Second, you needed seasoned practitioners running the media campaigns. And the last piece: The agency should be very customer focused.
Those are the roots of Camelot. I always say we’re rooted in a very classic package goods marketing mentality, which is about understanding customers, understanding competitors, understanding marketplaces.
I got here 20 years ago, I was coming from Blockbuster. And I had gone through agency land, business school, and all these things, but what astounded me at Camelot was that it had a very hands-on approach in terms of how they were analyzing our clients’ businesses.
And I remember distinctly in my first week here. We had a room called the Star Trek room, where we would do all of our customer analysis. And I remember they were plotting Southwest customers in and around airports, and so forth, and all around the country.
And I was thinking, “Why are they doing that?” And the reason was that, there are multiple airports in the most competitive markets. So if you live closer to an airport, you’re more likely to go to that one and be more loyal to those airlines. And when I think about Camelot, it all starts with that customer analysis piece.
And that’s the one thing that has not changed in over 40 years. Our best clients give us their data from the beginning, and they let us understand, the business, the loyalty of the customer, the different product lines or services. We understand the nuances. We try to understand the competitors.
”Now we can buy media, and define precisely where we want the impressions to fall relative to the opportunity. That's what's so interesting about today’s media world.
SB: What has changed is that now we might analyze a business, and you might go, “Wow, there are eight DMAs that really over index. These other 20 DMAs, they’re okay. And these other DMAs, they’re well under indexed,” but the answer was always either national media, or local media. You only had a binary choice.
Today, that’s not the situation. Now we can buy media, and define precisely where we want the impressions to fall relative to the opportunity. That’s what’s so interesting about today’s media world.
Retaining that piece of Camelot is really important, but what is equally important is to ensure that we stay updated to where our client’s customers are consuming media. And that’s the activation piece, and we’re constantly refining that piece of it. It’s similar to a fashion business, where we have to make sure we understand that there’s big scaled mediums where we can go execute media in a way where the impressions can fall against the most important targets in the places that matter the most.
MB: The DMA piece is so key. I think people miss out on a lot by looking at everything in a binary way. Just look at the local level businesses breaking away from market level to cluster of zips. That’s an obvious next step for people.
SB: There’s no doubt about it. Back then, Tom (Tom Kalahar, founder of Camelot) felt that people were building top down media plans, instead of bottom up media plans. We like to do bottom up media plans, and you view the world very differently when you do things this way. Before, the answer always used to be, “Here’s a national TV ad,” or “Here’s a national radio ad.” But in today’s world, for a large amount of the key demos that our clients try to reach, that’s not the answer anymore. Because they’re just not consuming the same way that they did 10 or 20 years ago.
Seeing the world that way is a real advantage. The other piece is, this is an area where you can bond with a client around data with very little disagreement around whom the customer is. Now, you can have different strategies. You can certainly go after under indexing markets. That’s a strategy. Do you want to go after over-indexing markets? Great. That’s a strategy too.
You can argue about that, but the facts of the business are something that everyone can agree on, and it’s an instant opportunity to get a client’s approval on what’s on the chess board. And I think that’s really important.
”In the world of data analysis, people talk frequently about proprietary tools, but there's not much that's proprietary, except just doing it.
MB: What’s the integration point with your team when working with customer data? Knowing that a lot of their media partners wouldn’t have access to that information gives you a pretty good advantage, but where do you integrate that at the team level?
SB: There are multiple ways that we bring in customer data, some more complex than others. The simplest one is when someone sends us a customer file with an address and a zip code. We like that. It’s old school, but it’s pretty good. If a client happens to have an email address, we have other tools that we can use to upload the email addresses into, and there’s also the standard tools, like TransUnions or Experian. The ideal situation is when a client sends us the whole thing with revenue, sales, demand centers, and any other important flags. Then, we can do our magic on it.
We have a big data warehouse at Snowflake. We use Alteryx and Tableau. We’ve got many talented data scientists and visualization people, and they help us surface insights that are not visible if you just plainly looked at the data.
Once we have the data in house, and you’ve appended the data, you can bridge that data to tools like MRI or Resonate. You can even work with some of your publisher partners. For example, you can upload the data into a CTV provider that also has ACR data. There are a full range of tools at our disposal, but a lot of it depends on the willingness of the client to let you go there and let the data take you there. And it’s a bit like pulling a thread, and when you pull on that thread long enough, you can get some really prescriptive answers.
In the world of data analysis, people talk frequently about proprietary tools, but there’s not much that’s proprietary, except just doing it. And then, understanding what’s in the analysis and taking those conclusions in a coherent way, from “Who they are, where they are, how do they consume media,” to a plan.
The challenging piece is how do you string it together to talk about how you want to go to market differently. The word we use internally for that process is “deaveraging.” One of our goals today is to deaverage things and look for areas where there are real breaks in consumption, geographic penetration, product consumption, and more. And to break them apart and treat them as segments that we need to approach differently. And what we want to do is put that tapestry together and figure out the things that we need to do to reach those audiences.
MB: I love that. We did a project a couple of weeks ago for a group. Five audiences are running unique digital creative too, and they are all rolled up to one big audience. We did an averaging on the top audience’s media consumption and how we’d reach them, but then we did each of the five, and none of them were even close to lining up to the average of the whole.
Had we applied that scenario to each of those audiences in the aggregate, they would’ve all been a wrong allocation at the audience level. That was really interesting for our customer to see, because they thought there would be an advance by just looking at convergent consumption to the big bucket.
SB: Absolutely. And one of the reasons I think I see you agree with me is that running a political campaign is very similar to the way we approach things. You have to think about your chances to win, and how much you’re willing to spend to get those wins. And some of the businesses we work in are zero-sum games, like a political race. You win or you lose. In other businesses, that’s not the case, and you’re looking for incrementalism, and that’s a different situation. But we have a lot of clients that fall into the binary. It’s a share business, and it’s either you or the other company, and you want your client to win that share.
MB: What do you think are the biggest challenges for your team when working with the customer data, but also the convergence of video specific data? Are you putting a holistic plan together for your end client?
SB: One of the challenges is that there aren’t many modern tools that are good enough, and we’re just starting to see that. And also, a lot of the tools are biased towards not-digital. And, another thing is that the data in them is not updated. So there’s a lot of triangulation that occurs.
For example, with a tool like MRI, the good news is that it is stable. The bad news is, if there’s a new season of Stranger Things, it’s not going to show up there for a year and a half.
And then, there’s the other side of it. If you look at the Resonates, for example, they are fantastic tools. Their product really leans on digital, the questions are very current, and the waves are every six weeks. You get incredibly good reads on things, but it has some digital bias associated with it too. So, I think you need to be blending tools along those lines.
I am a little excited about the future, because I think there is going to be a tool of tools, that we will be able to put on top of things that will allow us to do more modern planning. One of our clients is Nielsen, and we’re helping them roll out Nielsen ONE. And I have a lot of confidence in where they’re heading with it. There are conflicting feelings about it on the marketplace, but I believe they will be in a great position because they have incredibly rich digital data. I would argue that it has the same perspective from their linear data, which is still rich.
We are definitely looking at tools like that, but the biggest piece for us is triangulation. I would not rely solely on one tool’s information. I think the first decision you have to make is look at whom the consumer is, and the consumption of media.
For example, we worked with a client, and there was some really interesting data from Resonate, that showed that 60% of their customers had cut the cord, and yet 60% of the media they were currently running was in linear. And when you see a big disjoint like that, it allows you to focus your plan on digital first, using your most targeted dollars to get to the point of diminishing returns, before layering on the linear media part.
We think a lot about that process. How do we change the approach to planning? And the second aspect is thinking about the measurement side, because oftentimes the measurements do not have a thought in front. How are we going to measure success for this business? What do we want the consumer to do? How are we going to truly measure that there’s a cause and effect in the business?
We think a lot about the outcomes, and how we’re going to measure them. And different clients are different. If it’s a physical retailer, foot traffic is very important, as well as isolating markets, doing geographical testing, and more.
What’s funny to me is that the planning and measurement in some ways go very hand in hand in thinking about those things, and oftentimes they’re very disconnected. We try to connect them on the front end.
MB: On political, we went backwards. We built planning first, and everyone else built measurement first. Today we see the value of connecting the two. Your second plan should be completely derived from your measurement results, right?
MB: It’s interesting that the market definitely went the other way. For us, our biggest problem was incubating the product in an agency. We started out, and our customer knew their broadcast budget, their cable budget, and their digital video budget, and they wanted us to optimize those. That was a pretty easy problem to solve, but the minute they said, “Here’s $10 million, tell me what to do in these 30 markets,” that became really complex. So that’s why we went planning first. It’s really interesting to see the market.
SB: For certain. And the beauty of what’s happening right now is that there is a lot of complexity. And we need to focus on the handful of things that matter the most and execute on them.
I think one of them is picking the handful of partners that really matter, on the media side, the measurement side, and even on the audience side. You can’t do everything with everybody, so what we try to do is lean in on the partners that are going to give our clients the most bang for their buck, and go very deep with the most strategic partners.
When I started, we had a client, and we were one of two agencies that serviced the client. I remember seeing the media plans for them, and they were like 30 publishers deep. And when I looked at the bottom 10 or 15, I knew they all did the same thing. And I was thinking, “What is the point?” So, there are people that are building things to look complex, but that’s not solving complex problems. Solving complex problems is where you need big scale partners that you can go very deep on, and do a handful of things really well. And then demonstrably prove that what you did was the cause of that improvement. And that’s very hard.
MB: Can I get you out of a couple more questions? Having such a vast experience at Camelot, what has changed the most about running an agency in recent years?
SB: That’s a great question. Certainly, I would say the physical nature of an office is the thing that I think has changed the most now. That was a game-changer for us.
When the pandemic hit, we went hybrid, and we were not very rigid about whether people should come in, or whether they should work from home. We let things happen naturally. I think the number one thing is the flexibility of it. We’re a lot less rigid in terms of that.
The second thing would be removing geography. I’m amazed at how much talent is around our industry, and around our country, in the field that we’re in.
There’s a lot of really smart people. You realize that there are other craftspeople like you in and around the country. I think in this industry we all live in our own ivory tower, and that was eyeopening for me. There’s expertise in every part of this country. You go from New York to Oklahoma City to Seattle to Southern California to Florida. We’ve got people in 19 states who care about the same thing we care about, and the only thing that removes us is time and distance.
And with that comes one more thing: You have to be a lot more intentional when you get together. One of the things we strive for is to remove red tape from people’s lives. We don’t want to be like a big company in terms of the way we operate. We want to be very nimble, and we are very account centered.
We try to make those accounts the nucleus of the agency, as well as the discipline that they are a part of. We put a lot of emphasis on that. That’s the other thing, the disciplines in the agency have changed. When I got here, the data was very different from the data now. We have true data warehouse engineers, we’ve got data scientists. The division of labor has changed quite a bit. We used to have a jack of all trades running various campaigns, but now have very specialized skill sets and craftspeople in those roles.
You need those craftspeople because they understand the nuance of the pallets that they’re painting on. And whether it’s someone that understands linear TV, or local TV, or a Facebook versus a TikTok, you need people that are real experts. That division of labor is very interesting, and the more fragmented we get, the more fragmented our agency gets in that aspect.
But how do we make sure that we’re doing cross-training and giving people a sense of what those various disciplines are? That’s hard. We try to surface that stuff in a way that makes it come alive a little bit.
MB: One last industry question. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the local video space, what would it be?
SB: Well, local TV is in a tough spot right now. And I think probably the single biggest problem that most people deal with are ADUs and under delivery at the local level. That’s probably the single biggest issue. Our teams are spending vastly more time on post buy than they are actually on the buy itself.
And also, there is this very complex measurement between Comscore in some places, and Nielsen in other places. That’s another wand.
But I’m looking forward to the day when you can see everything in a particular platform and be able to buy a local linear TV ad alongside with a local CTV or digital video, see all that and be able to buy it in a way that you know you get your delivery.
Local TV is really, really complex right now. And I think the delivery issue is only going to exacerbate over the coming years. It’s not what it used to be. Now, saying that, where we are waving the magic wand is on localized CTV. In that world there’s a myriad of inventory, not a myriad of quality inventory, but a myriad of certainly local impressions. That world is super complex too. And removing complexity from that would also be a huge part of what we’re doing.
That is a buying challenge. One of my peers showed me a Tableau graphic of one particular inventory partner, and all the places where that particular inventory is available, and my head almost blew off. The other thing is that it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s in one place versus what’s in another place. So the data around that is gnarly, and I would love to have some more simplistic approaches to that.
MB: Yeah. That’s a huge problem. All right. Well, Sam, I loved the conversation. I’m grateful for your time.
SB: Thank you very much, Michael.
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Sam Bloom is the CEO of Dallas-based Camelot Strategic Marketing & Media, a fact-based, bottom-up, independent agency with 155+ employees in cities across the U.S. – including Dallas, New York, Los Angeles and Baltimore. Camelot partners with a select group of the world’s biggest brands – from TurboTax to Whole Foods to Michaels – to provide media-agnostic, transparent, insight-driven media and marketing strategy and execution. In Sam’s 19+ years at Camelot he has helped transition the agency from a traditional media shop into one of the leaders in integrated marketing and advanced analytics. Prior to Camelot, Sam was an executive at Blockbuster Video as well as several start-ups, including Broadcast.com. Sam was also a goalie for the University of Virginia’s National Championship soccer team and keeps his passion for soccer burning with regular visits to the UK to attend English Premier League matches.
Cross Screen Media is a marketing analytics and software company empowering marketers to plan, activate, and measure Connected TV and audience-driven Linear TV advertising at the local level. Our closed-loop solutions help brands, agencies, and networks succeed in the Convergent TV space. For more information, visit CrossScreenMedia.com.