Q&A: Bidstack CEO James Draper on Bringing Programmatic to the Great Outdoors


James Draper, CEO, BidstackOne of the more interesting companies to launch in 2016 was bidstack, a platform that aims to automate the trading of digital out of home (DOOH) inventory. Here James Draper, Founder and CEO, bidstack explains how the technology works, the company’s connection with Norwich and the future of DOOH.

Could you explain what Bidstack does and the role it’s going to play in the DOOH market?

Bidstack is a platform where anyone can buy or bid on last minute digital billboard space. Essentially, we’re democratising the digital out of home space, allowing anyone to use our platform in order to be seen. You can research the best places for your advert to be displayed and you can even design the ad on the platform. We’re in beta with spaces available in London and Norwich at the moment, with a wider roll out next year.

Through bidstack you use maps to see exactly where space is available – we have partnerships in place with leading out of home providers, they tell us what screens are free and when, and these are listed on our site. You can narrow down what you’re looking for using our search functionality, and our data-rich and free to use marketing tool gives you the insights you need to plan and deliver your campaigns. Our design studio also means you can upload and create custom ads within the platform.

We see our role as bridging the gap between the few and the many, opening up key out of home players to the masses, so that anyone from a local independent coffee shop to someone who wants to propose can bid on our screens.

You’ve launched in London and Norwich, and Bidstack are also the shirt sponsor of Norwich City’s football team. Could you explain the Norwich connection?

I’ve always loved Norwich as a City, and through a friend, the option to test bidstack in the area became available. As we’re in beta, we need to test demand outside of the capital as well and following a chat with a provider, it was clear that if we could break Norwich, we can break anywhere. After we committed to supporting the Canaries – additional perk, the Jersey’s match our bidstack yellow – we’ve been talking with other local partners to support the area and show our commitment.

Many say that the supply-side of the DOOH is locked down by a small number of powerful players. Is that true in your opinion and how are you going to go about sourcing inventory?

With bidstack we’re able to take unused inventory and make it open to all. The benefit to providers is more business on stale stock – we’ve already got committed partnerships with Clear Channel, Primesight and Kong Outdoor among others, who are really excited by what we’re doing. We’ve found a new way to sell their space and we’re making it easier to do so. Others have been highly interested, but we only want to work in our own bidstack way and not adapt to fit the providers needs.

Tech and media giants Facebook and Google are dominating advertiser budgets worldwide by democratising the purchasing/data. Out of Home needs to catch up and drop its ego in order to compete. Letting advertisers bid for space showcases the true value of the industry and bidstack is the first company worldwide to have a public-facing open marketplace, where bids alone set the price of billboard space.

We’ll be adding more partners but we were delighted with the support we’ve been given by some of the UK’s leading names for our beta. Eyes are on us and if we perform well, we’re sure we’ll be adding new partners soon.

How is DOOH typically measured and how is that likely to evolve in the coming years?

The industry has tried to sell on ‘impressions’ – aka eyeballs on screens. Route Data is the source the majority of the agencies and media owners use for audience metrics. For me, data sources always need to be impartial – with a humble acknowledgement that each data-set, regardless of media genre, when aggregated, has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Out-of-home networks have obsessed over beacons, cameras in screens etc. – but I think the obsession with directly correlating measurement metrics is actually getting away from what digital billboards do so well. They’re fantastic brand recognition tools. For me, a company’s out-of-home budget should be 5 percent of total marketing spend for an established player, with closer to 10 percent if you’re starting out.

As DOOH becomes easier to buy in a more granular way, the audience metrics for agencies will be the same as they use for mobile. When the space opens up to individuals using digital billboards for personal messaging, I can see the space and the data used within it changing further again.

What about data – how do you go about targeting a DOOH campaign?

There has to be an element of logic. You don’t need data to realise that Canary Wharf has a higher targeting of bankers and traders than Brixton. On top of that we’ve added in a free-to-use marketing hub, enriched with mobile-sourced audience data, weather, traffic, transport updates and social media feeds – that are all free to use, to help give our clients some additional tools to make their buying purchase.

By democratising the buying process – the flexibility to buy for retailers, brands and individuals will lead to far more localised trading of the space. We’ve had thousands of brands talk to us – and the demands are pretty similar. As we’re new into the market we have to fix one thing at a time – first thing is to allow the space to trade more fluidly, with shorter and cheaper time slots.


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