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Getting Hyper – Local

When Macy’s Inc. wanted to produce a series of “wish fulfillment” ads, it turned to Vimby Inc., a Van Nuys production house that specializes in making local video for use in TV commercials, on websites or in social media posts. The wish campaign, organized in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, involved about 20 children with life-threatening conditions who had their wishes come true on the same day. Vimby sent 20 film crews to record the big moments in 20 different cities. The raw footage was transmitted to Van Nuys, where Vimby editors supervised every cut. Within 24 hours, the videos were submitted to the client for approval. The next day, with the client’s tweaks incorporated, the final videos were loaded onto the brand’s website and social media pages for distribution. “We do a lot of that – multiple active crews on a single day, then upload for client approval, then on the site within 48 hours,” said Dean Waters, Vimby’s founder and chief executive. At a time when conventional TV audiences continue to fragment, and consumers are growing picky about what ads they watch, Waters believes his company has two advantages that grab advertisers’ attention: He can deliver video faster and at lower cost than traditional production methods. And Vimby video has the reality-TV show look that young viewers find “authentic,” especially on the Internet. “The biggest challenge for advertisers is building relationships without the hard-hitting sales messages,” Waters said. “Vimby has incredible storytellers and documentarians who produce authentic work that penetrates their world.” Traditionally, a brand would hire an ad agency, who hires a director, who puts together a crew and takes them to a few cities for production. Vimby saves money by eliminating travel costs and utilizing an abundance of young videographers who already own high-quality, relatively low-cost cameras and equipment. Vimby provides training to the freelancers and exercises quality control in the editing room at headquarters. The company maintains a network of about 650 freelance videographers, sound technicians and other artists in 82 cities. These freelancers work for Vimby regularly, but not exclusively. About 30 percent of Vimby’s business comes from agencies, with the rest coming directly from corporate brands. Clients include Hertz Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., General Mills Inc. and Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. Mary Ellen Verrusio, director of brand content at New York ad agency J. Walter Thompson, said she decided to work with Vimby on a recent production because she needed crews in multiple cities who could work unsupervised. “Vimby’s ability to guarantee such coverage affordably sets them apart from a standard production company,” she said in an email. “There is so much social media and live content being shot these days, I see a huge opportunity and market for a company like Vimby.” Local appeal Before starting Vimby – whose name and tagline is a play on “nimby,” a derisive acronym for local opposition to development projects – Waters worked for 16 years in cable TV, including 12 years for Adlink, an advertising service at Time Warner Cable Enterprises LLC. As part of his job, he constantly met businesses that wanted to make local ads, but production costs posed a barrier. That’s when he got the idea for Vimby. Waters started the company in 2007 and in 2010, landed an investment from TV producer Mark Burnett of “Apprentice” and “Shark Tank” fame. In addition to Waters, some top employees at Vimby and executives at United Artists Media Group, Burnett’s production company, have equity stakes in the company. Waters said since coming aboard, Burnett has encouraged higher production values and has promoted the company to brand partners on his TV shows. “His instincts told him Vimby was the future of advertising, and he was right,” Waters said. Burnett could not be reached for comment. Budgets for Vimby projects vary widely, based on number of cities and length of finished products, but digital projects start in the $5,000 to $25,000 range. Local TV commercial projects go from “mid five figures to mid six figures,” Waters said. Don Kurz, chief executive of ad agency Omelet in Culver City, said with media audiences continuing to fragment, technologies and companies that can target people by interest or geography are proliferating. While Vimby’s infrastructure and multiple-location capacity is attractive, the company faces plenty of local competition because in every city there are skilled filmmakers who can work quickly and inexpensively. “Omelet, or any agency, can always find locals to do the work,” he said. Global strategy For brands, the big problem is making sure the message remains consistent, despite the fact the multiple crews are filming. “A challenge for Vimby or anybody is that all this activity should relate to the overall global brand strategy,” Kurz said. But Waters believes Vimby has addressed the consistency issue as it has invested in training for its freelancers to ensure quality. Most of all, he believes there is a growing market for his services and a study by BIA/Kelsey, a Chantilly, Va.-based research firm, seems to back that up. It found local online video revenues will grow 30 percent this year to $3 billion, even though overall ad spending will grow only 3 percent. “With the trend of fragmentation in national media, the last thing left will be local,” Waters said. “No one is more passionate about a city than the people who live there.”

Joel Russel
Joel Russel
Joel Russell joined the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2006 as a reporter. He transferred to sister publication San Fernando Valley Business Journal in 2012 as managing editor. Since he assumed the position of editor in 2015, the Business Journal has been recognized four times as the best small-circulation tabloid business publication in the country by the Alliance of Area Business Publishers. Previously, he worked as senior editor at Hispanic Business magazine and editor of Business Mexico.
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