I had the pleasure of interviewing Burr Smith — chairman, president and CEO at Broadsign. Burr is highly involved in the digital signage industry and an active member of FEPE as well as the DPAA (Digital Place-Based Advertising Association) board. Burr has a keen eye for identifying trends that move the digital out-of-home industry forward.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Business has been my family’s passion for generations. It all started with my grandfather who was the CEO of a large American grocery chain. He was the first in our family with a spark for entrepreneurship, and from there, the fire grew, and we now have a multi-generational business with 24 family members involved. So while I can say that joining the family business was the career path that was expected of me, it has definitely been an exciting and fulfilling one.
One of the most exciting and fulfilling parts has been becoming CEO at Broadsign. To be honest, we sort of stumbled upon Broadsign during an investment round, with the initial plan to sell quite quickly. However, a decade later, I’m still here, working with some of the most talented, passionate and inspired folks I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting thing was transitioning from a simple investor to the CEO of Broadsign. It was a huge decision to make the transition to run the company. In some ways, I became directly responsible for the careers and livelihoods of dozens of employees. I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing for everyone, and it’s a responsibility I continue to cherish every day.
Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
With digital signage, people have access to information everywhere they go. Bus schedules, interactive maps, entertaining content and even free public WiFi is made available through screens and kiosks across some of the world’s largest cities. What’s even more interesting is that screen content is now being made available in a hyper-targeted way to add context to every message. This is where our technology comes in. We focus on getting the right message to the right people, at the right time and place.
This is especially important for digital out-of-home advertising. Similar to the way online, social and mobile ads are targeted to the audience in question, digital out-of-home creatives have the possibility to target certain audiences to make sure the message is relevant and well received — benefitting both brands and consumers.
This is made possible through our programmatic platform, Broadsign Reach, that enables brands to carefully target their messaging in a fully automated way using anonymous data. If a brand wants to reach men, between the ages of 18 to 25, who work in the financial sector, they can do so using digital out-of-home. What’s more, with programmatic, ads can be triggered based on live events like current weather, traffic, sports scores and more.
Basically, what was once a mass-media channel (standard out-of-home billboards and posters), was made digital (digital out-of-home screens), which we then enhanced using data-triggered, automated processes for buying, selling and delivering the media (programmatic digital out-of-home). I like to think that our tech is leading the way to the future of digital signage.
How do you think this might change the world?
Digital signs are already changing the world, and with new technologies, the information and content shown will be even more relevant to each viewer. As audience demographic data technology evolves, so too can targeting and messaging techniques. Perhaps one day, every screen in every city will be augmenting the lives of citizens.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
As with any advertising medium, we must be sure to not be too invasive. We always keep people’s privacy in mind and ensure that digital signage content augments their lives, and not get to a place where it takes over. We don’t want the world to become like episode 15 Million Merits, where the characters spend virtually every waking hour surrounded by digital screens. While we want to deliver targeted messaging, we want to find a good balance between privacy and efficiency.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
There are three actually, all thanks to our wonderful customers. In 2006, the company was a struggling start-up. We landed a partnership with the largest digital signage network at the time. Their faith in us gave us a lot of momentum and we’re happy to say they are still our customer to this day and we are ever grateful for the boost they gave us.
The second tipping point came in 2008, when we partnered with the world’s largest out-of-home company, JC Decaux to help deliver on their digital transformation plan. This is where we really focused our business on digital out-of-home advertising and it is what led to countless platform features in the decade to come.
Lastly, we started working with Intersection, one of the innovative companies driving the future of smart cities a year ago. This further brought to life the benefits digital signage can have on entire communities, and from there we continue to strive to brighten the world, one screen at a time.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
A little bit of time. As with anything, it takes a few early adopters to get the ball rolling. We’ve been working really hard to make automated, programmatic digital out-of-home the norm and we hope to see more momentum in the coming years.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
It’s really our customers doing the advertising for us! Some really great programmatic digital out-of-home advertising campaigns have been run using Broadsign Reach. Just recently, a Dutch music video brand ran a highly-targeted programmatic campaign that used mobile, online and digital out-of-home to reach young adults as they headed to music festivals throughout the summer.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Almost everything worthwhile that I’ve learned in life, I’ve picked up from my grandfather in some way, shape or form. We used to drive around for an hour or two, and he’d just talk, and I’d just listen. Everything he had to say was valuable.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I hate watching Hollywood movies where the corporation is evil, doing something only for money, while hurting and abusing people. I’m not saying that doesn’t exist, but I also believe you can be successful if you try to treat people with dignity and respect. Honesty and integrity work to your advantage, because people will want to do business with you. Incorporate this as a golden rule for your business, corporate culture and personal life every single day — that’s what I do.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Listen to those more experienced than you
2. When you’re doing business with someone, try to look at the world from their point of view.
3. Don’t do business with people that you can’t trust. It almost always ends badly.
4. Make decisions quickly — try to target being right about 66% of the time. If you’re right more than that you’re probably too afraid of making mistakes. If you’re wrong more than that, you’re not doing enough homework.
5. When you make a mistake, don’t let your ego deny it. Face up to it and take your lumps.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
In the world right now, we’re having an epidemic of people mistreating people. If there was some bigger movement to get our world back to treating others with respect and decency, we could get to the point where we actually listen to those who don’t agree with us, instead of surrounding ourselves with groupthink echo chambers. Society would move, and the world would be a much better place, rather than treating others with words and actions based on fear and hate.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My grandfather had a saying that I love: run a scared race every single day, and don’t look back because something may be catching up with you.
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