Meet the entrepreneur redefining the TV advertising industry

Interview | Leisure & Tourism | Technology

As a founder and CEO, Calum Smeaton is committed to international expansion for TVSquared, his Edinburgh-based business.

Building credible brand integrity within new markets demands a great investment of both time and air miles. Still, Smeaton realised the value of his efforts when proving to clients that TVSquared was unique in its position to provide innovative solutions across the advertising ecosystem on a global scale.

Can you tell us about your background before co-founding TVSquared in 2012?

Before TVSquared, I spent 20 years creating and scaling software startups. I was the CEO of Sumerian, which provided big data analytics for retail and investment banks. Prior to that, I was the co-founder and CTO of Orbital Software, which we merged with Sopheon in 2001.

Being entrenched in the world of analytics, I saw how data could transform an industry. That’s why I founded TVSquared: to bring state-of-the-art analytics to TV advertising. For a £142bn global industry, it was astonishing to me that there was no way of knowing how campaigns were performing. Brands spent millions on TV but had to rely on ratings or audience data for measurement – two metrics that told them nothing about real-world performance.

In the seven years since TVSquared started, we have turned the industry on its head by making TV campaigns measurable everywhere (whether they are linear, OTT, VOD or a combination of platforms). Brands, agencies and media owners can know exactly how TV is impacting the bottom line in real time, and then make optimisations to continuously improve performance. That’s a game-changer for the entire advertising ecosystem.

As founder, how did you approach delegating roles as you scaled your company?

The hardest part was putting together the right team, so I focused on finding specialists for each area. With the right people, you can hand over and delegate roles confidently, knowing they’ll likely do a better job than a CEO who is stretched too thin. Although it sounds like a “quick win” formula for success, giving away key roles during the early stages can be a hard transition for founders to make.

Delegation was the foundation I needed to allow me to focus on expanding the company globally. By 2014, I was regularly travelling between New York, L.A., Munich, London and Tokyo. As a result, I began to delegate more work to the leadership team I’d established in the U.S. offices to complement the team in Scotland.

Of course, some roles are more difficult to delegate than others. The roles that are hardest to let go of are the ones that heavily incorporate your own ideas. For me, this was product management and development. When transitioning from a small team of people who wear multiple hats, to key specialists, it’s also important to make sure you’re still leveraging the company’s best intellectual ideas and assets.

What led you to realise the value of your personal commitment as your business expanded globally? 

Breaking into the U.S. is challenging and it demands a lot of time, commitment and resources. By 2013, we had signed quite a few big-name U.K. brands. But what we soon realized was that needs and challenges of big UK brands didn’t “translate” to the needs and challenges of big U.S. brands.

Signing that first US client was critical and required me physically being in the country. That’s not something to delegate. Growing internationally requires that the CEO be on the ground to help make that happen.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are looking to expand their business into new geographical regions? 

Enter new markets with eyes open to their unique challenges, opportunities and nuances. That is crucial to establish and then sustain growth in every country.

For example, in Japan, it was imperative that we carefully navigated the language barrier and cultural differences to show we respected the market to ensure our proposition was taken seriously. In the U.S., it was easy to underestimate the sheer market scale and the logistics of establishing an on-the-ground presence.

What’s your CEO style?

My mentors have always influenced me, so I’m not sure I could identify with one specific style. In my first company, I had the privilege of being the CTO and co-founder and, as the Board evolved, we ended up having an amazing collection of people who I looked up to as business mentors.

As a CEO I’ve learned to treat everyone fairly and with respect, while always demanding high-quality performance. If you want to create a world-class company, it must be reflected in everything you do.

What do you see as the biggest challenge that the television industry will face over the decade?

I prefer to look at challenges as opportunities – and TV advertising is filled with opportunities at the moment. It’s an exciting time.

Today, the term “TV” encompasses much more than just linear; it spans multiple forms of video content across devices. With fragmentation comes silos – which have plagued the advertising industry for decades – and talk of linear vs. digital TV has dominated headlines. But for advertisers, fragmentation brings opportunities to reach different audiences, amplify messaging and drive sales and growth.

In response to this fragmentation, TVSquared expanded the capabilities of our ADvantage platform. Originally focused just on measuring and optimizing linear, advertisers can now use it to look at the performance of digital TV initiatives too. We are the only company that provides this level of unified TV measurement, everywhere in the world, for every player in the advertising ecosystem (from brands and agencies, to publishers and networks).

Within one platform, advertisers get global linear TV measurement (immediate response and longer-term impact), household-level TV attribution and 100% OTT ad measurement coverage.

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