Grand Slam Media has earned a position in the upper echelon of online media marketing by building innovative solutions that benefit advertisers and publishers of digital content.
XBIZ World last month sat down with the Grand Slam team, lead by CEO Luke Hazlewood, to discuss the history, present trajectory and future plans of this award winning company.
Grand Slam Media has always believed it is crucial to invest in the future of the adult industry. Our tech room has gotten quite a bit larger already, we knocked down walls as part of our office redesign, and our tech team will continue to grow as we invest deeper and deeper to find even more ways to help move our clients forward.
XBIZ: How did you get into the traffic business?
Hazlewood: I personally began repping publishers and facilitating advertising deals back in 2007 when the traffic industry began to change. Grand Slam Media Inc. actually started off as Base Hit Inc., but we decided we wanted the name to reflect the much larger value we bring to the game. So in 2008, Grand Slam Media was born.
XBIZ: You mentioned traffic was changing around 2007. How so?
Hazlewood: Grand Slam Media’s first initiative in the digital ad space was to address the one-sided liability in ad deals that existed back then. Publishers were assuming all the risk through PPS and revshare deals and it was very clear that the landscape was not sustainable. It was too good to be true for the advertisers and affiliate programs at the time, so an inevitable change was on the way regardless of our involvement.
Our team addressed this one-sided risk by educating publishers about the potential value of their traffic, and by purchasing ad zones through flat rates or CPM deals. Ad zones were essentially a real estate play in that buyers could lease space for a period of time and monetize the space through iFrames from their own end. The broker’s goal at that point was to find the right rates, that worked the best for both parties, and to help drive a long-term deal forward that benefited everyone involved.
XBIZ: How has Grand Slam Media grown over the years since?
Hazlewood: One of the great things about Grand Slam Media is that we filled an important need at the right time, and the business grew quickly with 26 quarters of consecutive growth. Timing is really important, and capitalizing on opportunities for our clients is what Grand Slam has always been about.
Today, Grand Slam has grown into a team of 21 highly skilled traffic professionals. Staying lean gives GSM the ability to make smart decisions proactively and to act on opportunities immediately. The key to our strategy is having the right people in place to find, negotiate and close deals with a very strong portfolio of digital properties.
I can’t take credit for the timing of our success, and it has definitely not been a one-man show. The entire Grand Slam team has contributed in so many ways to our success so far and to our future plans. Many in the industry already know CFO Edmond Hazlewood, CTO Ian Lester and sales manager Kelan Stone, but as you go deeper and meet each of the key people who work so hard for us to make money for our clients, it becomes clear that what we do relies on every person involved each doing what they do best.
Another important fact worth mentioning is that Grand Slam Media has been self-funded at every step along the way, and has never raised capital. That level of autonomy gives us the kind of flexibility necessary to negotiate deals in real time, while carving out a very competitive ROI for our customers and continuing to pour resources into developing exciting new revenue streams for the industry.
XBIZ: A lot of companies claim to be innovative. What has Grand Slam Media done differently?
Hazlewood: There is a huge gap between claiming to innovate and actually offering something that really is new. About a month ago, Grand Slam released Adnium.com, the very first ad network capable of providing adult members area traffic for buyers within a programmatic real-time-bidding (RTB) system. Again, it’s an example of Grand Slam filling a need in the industry and being able to move first toward something we know many clients are looking to monetize. The results so far have been excellent and we have already proven that our investment in this new platform is worth continuing into the future.
AdRewards.com is another proprietary platform we have created, and it’s intended to host all of GSM’s direct sales deals (i.e. flat rate and CPM fixed deals). When we come to work, we aren’t just trying to make do, with the same methods that have already been established in the industry. We set our sights higher and are willing to be the first to try something, because the game changes quickly and the key to helping our clients succeed is being able to stay ahead of the curve by taking the initiative and becoming the first to find real solutions.
XBIZ: What’s the future of digital advertising technology?
Hazlewood: As I mentioned earlier, Grand Slam Media has always believed it is crucial to invest in the future of the adult industry. Our tech room has gotten quite a bit larger already, we knocked down walls as part of our office redesign, and our tech team will continue to grow as we invest deeper and deeper to find even more ways to help move our clients forward.
We’ve invested in programmatic media buying and are the first broker to bring the CPMv (cost per thousand impressions viewable) advertising billing model into adult. The nature of programmatic media buying has been the core of the mainstream market for the last few years and remains a focus point today. For anyone not yet aware, the term programmatic media (also known as programmatic marketing or programmatic advertising) encompasses an array of technologies that automate the buying, placement, and optimization of media inventory, by using your account settings to fine-tune ad buys by replacing some of the human-based methods and hunches with more accurate data-driven decision making.
I believe strongly that the ad market is headed in the same direction as the stock market, and that the future will be won by companies capable of extracting large data, refining it into a set of useful rules, and optimizing their ad buys accordingly. Right now, advertisers can leverage the Adnium API and write code to handle all of the Advertiser’s bidding practices in real time.
Also, if you recall, I mentioned in 2007 the ad market favored advertisers because publishers were assuming all the risk through PPS and revshare deals. Today there is a different aspect of ad buys that puts many advertisers at a disadvantage. The change to a CPM basis has leveled things out in some cases, but in others, Advertisers are still being asked to buy ad impressions on sites where it is unlikely that actual visitors are seeing every ad spot due to poor locational placement or other display issues. Grand Slam Media is solving that by being the first adult traffic broker to bring CPMv technology into the business.
For anyone new to media buying, the online advertising industry counts a viewable impression as a metric of ads that were actually viewable when served in part, entirely or based on other conditional parameters. The concept is simple. If you show an ad a billion times, but nobody ever sees it because it’s below the fold or outside the viewable area of the screen in some other way, you really didn’t provide anything. CPMv technology ensures that when you pay or an impression, your ad is actually in front of your intended target audience each and every time.
CPMv and programmatic buying are very powerful tools, but we understand they also require a fair amount of education for the marketplace. We don’t expect this to be an overnight success, but we are already seeing a steady and rewarding movement toward CPMv, and that’s why our long-term point of view benefits our clients now and in the future.
The future is clearly focused on maximizing revenue and the maturation process requires a willingness to push better tech forward. We are students of the game and are 100 percent invested in being the best we can be, so discovering new methods and supporting our clients during the learning process will always be a big part of what we do.
XBIZ: Grand Slam sounds like a terrific place to work during a major period of growth. Is that accurate?
Hazlewood: It’s a very exciting period for GSM because we have been optimizing our direct sales model since 2008. The new RTB bidding model along with the birth of Adnium has given the company a new identity along with many new tools to increase business with our partners.
As for working at Grand Slam, there is a huge list of reasons why our employees have remained fiercely loyal from the first day we started. Grand Slam employees have the same benefits plan as C-level execs and owners, our office has been designed to create a healthy winning environment including seemingly small things like desks that adjust in height so that staff can avoid back or posture challenges (which provide an amazingly significant improvement in quality of life), along with a gourmet kitchen and a floor plan design that was based on staff suggestions.
We bring in a chef to cook for the staff throughout intense sales weeks, make sure that the entire staff has a five-star benefits package, cellphone, gym membership, and we have made Wednesday virtual work days from home to provide improved flexibility for our team to get things done.
We are already anticipating expansion in the coming months, and while the Toronto office will continue to be the central hub of the company, we expect to expand our office presence internationally.
We are building something special in the traffic market, and we understand the people on our team are the most important ingredients of our continued success.