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On-the-Spot Seller

Robert Yallen is the chief executive of Inter/Media Group of Cos., including Inter/Media Advertising, a full-service advertising agency specializing in direct response campaigns. Yallen’s father started the company in 1974, initially focusing on media placement. The company has grown to multiple offices across the country, managing campaigns with internal creative and production teams with its own proprietary assets, including a television network, and an attribution company and research division. 

Inter/Media Advertising has launched many “connected television” and over-the-top (OTT) campaigns for clients such as Carshield, a monthly subscription service for car detailing and repairs, among others. A connected TV is a device that connects to a television to support video content streaming, such as an Xbox, Roku, or Amazon Fire Stick. OTT is the delivery of media directly through the internet either via on-demand or a streaming service, such as Netflix, Hulu or Disney+. 

QUESTION: Did the pandemic change how consumers interact with advertisements?

ANSWER: So our default, growing as an organization, was television. And television still is the primary medium. Television raises all boats in the harbor, so to speak. But what happened, probably three months before COVID hit, we saw a very big uptick in our over-the-top streaming advertisers. And once COVID hit, television viewership actually had an increase; and there really was a younger demographic. So we’ve had tremendous success with over the top (OTT) and connected television. And now while it used to be a small percentage, that percentage is growing. So I won’t say the other media are going down, but the over-the-top is increasing.

How do celebrities play into your campaigns?

What I do personally with our in-house counsel is, we both are entertainers, and we have an entertainment division that specializes in acquiring celebrities that we call brand ambassadors. Now, we’ve really figured out matching the right celebrity with the product. We only will acquire a celebrity that we believe is a true brand believer, so they have got to be totally connected with the brand; they have to use the product and they have to be an authority figure. The one thing that we learned is you can’t just stand a pretty face or somebody that’s very well-known and expect it to perform well, because it won’t and you’re just paying for the celebrity. So you have to have a story.

How has the use of brand ambassadors changed?

Probably 20 years ago, nobody was using celebrities. And if they said something, it didn’t matter. Now consumers have become much more aware and smarter. So our creative, we really tried to embrace the celebrity-user personality as part of the brand. One of our larger clients is Carshield. And we have Ice-T, Chris Berman, Ernie Hudson, and a bunch of other celebrities like Ric Flair who tell a story about how they use Carshield. That has been very effective. And we measure everything, so we’re going to measure that before we used a celebrity, in a control spot, versus how did those spots perform with the celebrity.

How do you make use of celebrity brand ambassadors in the age of social media influencers?

We’re looking at using that celebrity as an overall brand ambassador, so we’ll also use them as an influencer, which is really our specialty. We do, occasionally, like a one-off deal where we’ll get an influencer who’s well known on Instagram, but not necessarily known outside that one area of specialization. For example, Ice-T for Carshield, he’ll do so many posts per week as an influencer on social media.

Has the content of advertising shifted with the pandemic?

Obviously, in our messaging, we take different things into consideration. With COVID, if there’s a personal health company, yes, we’re talking about safety. But overall, I don’t know how much that’s changed. I think it depends on the brand.

How has COVID impacted your business?

Most of our clients actually did better during COVID because viewership went up. So we did very well. We had about six to eight clients that went off the air because they had to do with travel. Nobody’s going anywhere. But other clients made up for that loss. And then, most of those clients slowly started to advertise again. 

What about your employees?

It was a very good year, but not without our challenges. Just like every company, we quickly needed to be able to have a remote workforce. And we have offices in New York, South Florida, Denver. We’re headquartered in Los Angeles and then we have some people in other cities. What was interesting is I was very anti work-from-home and didn’t like the whole virtual deal. But I’m happy that we had people that were working with either another office or remotely and now my default is not so much to not hire a great person that’s not in the same city office. However, we still believe that there’s nothing like personal contact. Some things just can’t be on the phone. So we’re requiring people to come back to work, right now the question is just when. We had planned to return after Labor Day, but with the Delta variant, everything is back up in the air.

What are the trends in your industry?

Media is evolving and the consumption of it is evolving. I think digital media is going to continue to increase. I still believe that the traditional media had a lot of brand components and a lot of things that are positive, but I think you’ll see a bigger increase in digital advertising, you’ll see different advertisers or companies that have not advertised previously start to advertise more. What’s interesting is the age of the C-level management in a company really dictates where they start. 

How so?

As an example, if they’re very young, where do they start? They start with digital apps. Conversely, older management, there are a couple of levels of offline advertising. And they don’t want to think of any additional searches. So I think you’ll see maybe those two meet and they’ll look at an entire media plan, and it depends on the brand and depends on the target. But I think you’ll see more people embrace all media going forward.

What clients does InterMedia specialize in? 

Any type of company looking for a material increase in their sales, or their client customer base. But for our clients, our focus is primarily what we call “concern purchase.” Big decisions, whether you’re going to buy a car, a product protection plan, or a home warranty, a new house, these types of purchases that take a much longer time to determine. And one thing that we like to look at are brands that have a continuity aspect built into the model, such as continual sales where they receive something monthly, intermittently. 

What do you consider when developing a campaign with a new client?

The first thing that we’re going to look at is what are their metrics? What does it cost? Where is the profit? What’s the lifetime value of a customer? What is it reasonable to pay to acquire that customer or client? It starts with getting somebody interested all the way down to a conversion of a sale. And then if it’s the type of business that has a back-end continuity component to it, what’s the lifetime value? So you might acquire a client, and it will take a couple cycles before you’re actually profitable. We look at maximizing lifetime value and decreasing the cost to acquire a customer.

Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert
Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert
Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert is a Los Angeles-based reporter covering retail, hospitality and philanthropy for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. In addition to her current beat, she is particularly interested in criminal justice topics, health and science stories and investigative journalism. She received her AA in Humanities from Moorpark College in 2016, her BA in Communication from Cal Lutheran University in 2019 and followed it up with a MA in Specialized Journalism from USC in the summer of 2020. Through her work, Katherine aspires to help strengthen the fragile trust between members of the media and the public.
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