During the earnings call, Mr. Barrett was frank about the
company's position. He also laid out his vision for a shift in the
business' focus toward automated buying and away from reliance on
app-downloads and banner ads. The former is familiar terrain for
the 52-year old: The last company he led, the ad-tech firm AdMeld,
acquired by Google for $400 million
in 2011. (After seven months at the search giant, Mr. Barrett moved
to a brief stint as chief revenue officer for Yahoo then took a
year off, before joining Millennial Media
Mr. Barrett took a significant step in that direction last
month, when he recruited Marc Theerman, a former AdMeld colleague,
from his role as head of mobile platform sales at Google. Mr.
Theerman now serves as executive VP-business strategy for
Millennial Media; his arrival gave the company's stock a slight
boost. The stock reached $4.21 in after-hours trading on Monday,
down 82% from its IPO price. At least three Wall Street firms have
downgraded the stock since its first quarter results.
In an interview with Ad Age, Mr. Barrett detailed the company's
plans to reshape its strategy, as well as its role against the
growing behemoths in the mobile-ad business. The interview has been
edited for brevity.
Advertising Age: After selling AdMeld to
Google, you probably didn't need to take another job. Why join
Michael Barrett: I have three teenage daughters
-- so I did, both for getting out of the house and a burn rate. By
design, I took a year off. I had the good fortune to be able to sit
on a few boards, do some investing. I saw, one after the other,
ascending companies. And every one of them, in talking to them, the
overhanging question was, 'And what about mobile?' 'Oh, yeah, we're
working on it. We'll be mobile-first by the end of the year.' That
kind of thing.
You were just seeing it on the consumer side, on the publisher
side, how fast the adaption was on smartphones and tablets.
Millennial always had a strong reputation. But, to be honest, I had
thought, 'This is ad-network 1.0. You know, that's not a huge
appeal.' But when I started to take a look at all the assets that
they had and the platform strategy -- that was embryonic at the
time -- that really became a huge appeal.
It's really hard to differentiate yourself and your services to
the supply side, to the publisher. Because ultimately, everyone's
got the same kind of algorithms. What I saw with Millennial was
this media business -- $300 million plus -- and a nascent platform
business, and the combination of the two is insanely powerful.
We're in the first stage of that metamorphosis -- but that's the
real appeal. We have all the pieces necessary to build a really
important mobile platform company.
Ad Age: Mobile ad dollars are increasingly
shifting to four major players -- Google, Facebook, Twitter and
estimates that Millennial Media will claim 0.7% of mobile-ad
revenues this year.] How can you compete?
Mr. Barrett: They're certainly doing well in
mobile, there's no question about it. From my experience, one thing
gives me comfort: if ever there was going to a player that was
going to run the table -- and suck all the oxygen out of the room
-- it would have been Google on display; they owned everything.
And yet, there's a crazy explosion of innovation in all these
companies that exist finding these opportunities, even though this
behemoth should have closed all the doors. You're going to find
that that's the case in mobile -- there's going to be a handful of
outsized winners, but there's going to be so much [ad inventory]
This concept of us not owning our inventory is valuable to
buyers and sellers alike. Facebook says, 'Tell us who you want to
find. Don't worry, we'll find them for you. And we'll tell you if
we hit them.' By and large, it works fine. But it doesn't make you
any smarter the next time you do this -- off Facebook or somewhere
else. So, the idea of an independent, open alternative that scales,
we feel resonates, and we certainly hear it from our clients.
Even though there will be turbulence, if that tide keeps rising,
which it will, the big guys will help figure it out for everyone.
It just makes it a more attractive medium for advertisers. The
total addressable market is so huge. You know, we can chug along at
5% of the market; in most cases, you wouldn't be elated about that.
In mobile, we could plant the flag and claim victory.
Ad Age: You've recently introduced features for
cross-screen tracking and attribution. What can you offer
advertisers in cross-screen as a mobile company?
Mr. Barrett: With our SDK [software development
kit] embedded in these apps, we have a whole lot of data exhaust.
We've been able to create a sizable pool of deterministic matches
-- this is a person that we now track with a cookie, online and on
mobile. Every day, we're doing those kinds of campaigns. Facebook
has a method to do it -- it's their log-in.
It's a helluva lot easier moving from mobile, what we have, to
online than having all these cookies and trying to figure out what
the person looks like on mobile. We're in a very leveraged position
to take advantage of that. It's a significant piece of the revenue
now. In the coming months, we'll open that up and make it part of
the transaction stream in the exchange. That will give us a nice
Ad Age: In April, Facebook took this same
approach -- of spreading its SDK widely -- when it launched its own
Mr. Barrett: Look, I don't think you're ever
going to win an argument that we're going to beat Facebook in
reach. If they're far behind today, check back in 12 months. Who
wouldn't want to take a Facebook SDK.
Our argument isn't, 'Uh-oh, we get knocked out.' It's:
'Somebody's going to get knocked out; it ain't gonna be us.'
There's always going to be the mainstays SDKs -- Apple's, Google's,
Facebook's, ours and Twitter's. And after that, you wouldn't want
to be the sixth guy trying to crash the party.