Jeff CarterPhoto by Dan Dickson
A Lexington business with a national profile was officially incorporated at a tough time to launch any new business — September 18, 2001, exactly one week after the attack on the World Trade Center. To say the least, it was a jittery time for America, but a couple of local cable TV ad men felt the time was right to plunge ahead.
“[It was] probably the worst advertising economy you could start a business in,” recalled Jeff Carter, president and CEO of Viamedia. “Prior to that, the Internet ‘bubble’ had burst and the economy was beginning to go downhill. The stock market was plunging. It put [all of] us into quite a tailspin.”
Carter and co-founder Todd Donnelly, now Viamedia’s executive vice-chairman, decided to create “a world-class ad-sales representative company that handled everything from soup to nuts,” Carter said. “We bought equipment, hired the people, acquired the research and did the traffic, billing and collections.”
The pair partnered with local cable operators and told them to focus on what they did best and to leave it to Viamedia to provide ad-sales representation and a revenue stream.
Today, Carter said, Viamedia is the industry’s leading independent advertising representative for cable and online services. The company offers local, regional and national advertisers media solutions by inserting their ads on major cable networks from ESPN to Fox News and Lifetime to TNT.
Since its founding, Viamedia has branched out, placing ads on the Web’s most visited sites. It does that in four ways: with video; pre-roll (online video commercials that appear prior to an online video); search engine optimization; and search engine marketing.
Headquartered in Lexington, where Carter said he found “considerable talent,” Viamedia has a total of 465 employees working in 57 markets around the United States. All commercials are processed, encoded into the necessary format and stored on servers in Lexington. The commercials are then transmitted to servers in individual markets to be inserted within the network breaks, and the insertion data is recorded and transmitted back to the main office in Lexington for billing. The company has satellite offices in each of its markets, with three offices in New York City, four in Los Angeles and two each in Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia.
Carter said the cable and online advertising landscape is extremely competitive, “with direct satellite broadcast companies, telephone companies, municipal cable systems and even power companies that all go head-to-head with traditional cable operators.”
“Lexington hasn’t seen much of that yet,” he said, “but it will in time.”
Viamedia does not represent Lexington’s main cable system, Time Warner Cable, which recently finished its conversion from Insight Communications. However, it does represent Time Warner in other Kentucky and national markets.
“We’re becoming better known in the local business community,” Carter said.
Carter said Viamedia offers targeted opportunities for a typical business, such as a local car dealership, looking to market itself via cable or the Internet.
“You can run your ads over 2,000 Internet sites through our company with live pre-roll video,” Carter said. “If the dealership appears on YouTube, I can target specific markets geographically and demographically. I can guarantee their message will reach a certain number of people in that area.”
If customers searched for one of the dealership’s models online, “I can assist with search engine marketing that identifies their business website as the place to go to get information on that model. Using search engine optimization, I can review their website and make sure it’s search engine friendly, so it’s optimized to receive traffic based on certain keywords.”
Carter likes to say his advertiser base ranges from Joe’s Transmission to General Motors.
“Our ability to target specific messages on specific [times of the day] on specific cable networks and within specific geography helps local, regional and national advertisers who want to purchase certain markets,” he said.
David Solomon, Viamedia’s executive vice president of sales, has worked with Carter since 1994.
Solomon said the media landscape has changed as much in the past two years as in the previous 20. He believes business owners leave money on the table and don’t execute as smartly as they could.
“If you’re a business owner and not evaluating your business and its marketing on a regular basis and are doing things the same as in the past, you’re making a mistake,” Solomon said. “Don’t guess whether your media schedule is effective or not — know for sure.”
Solomon also believes the way media is being measured today, such as with Nielsen ratings, is archaic and flawed. He prefers hard data so advertisers know exactly who saw the ad.
“I want advertisers to say: ‘I ran an ad trying to reach women 25-54 years of age, and now I know exactly how many women I reached in that demographic with my message.’ The products will be measurable and therefore accountable,” Solomon said.
Solomon said TV has gone from three main TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) to hundreds of networks and thousands of shows coming and going year-round. People aren’t watching TV like they did years ago, he said.
“They’re calling up TV shows on their iPads and computers to get what they want on demand, almost on an a la carte basis, from the Internet,” so advertisers need to carefully pick how to reach out to potential customers, he said.
That’s vitally important, Carter said — not only for their businesses, but for his, too.
“Without successful advertisers, we don’t have a business model,” Carter said. “All of our efforts are spent finding ways to make advertisers’ cash registers ring.”