Content Marketing All-Stars Q&A: David L. Smith of Mediasmith

By NativeAI / December 12, 2017



If you want to know where digital marketing is headed, there may be no one better to ask than David L. Smith.

Smith, the CEO and Founder of Mediasmith, has been a longtime pioneer of new media strategy, execution, and measurement. Since the early days of the Internet in Silicon Valley, he’s been using, refining, and explaining emerging digital approaches.

So, which trends has Smith seen take shape in 2017? How does he see digital media and advertising evolving in the coming years?

Check out our All-Star Q&A below to find out:

Q: What is your background and what does Mediasmith focus on?

A: I go back all the way to the Mad Men era.  I worked for an agency as a media planner in New York in the late 60s.  A lot of what you see in the show is true, though we didn’t drink before lunch.

I learned a lot from that period. In the early 70s, I came out to San Francisco and I’ve been here ever since.

This company, Mediasmith, has been around since 1989. We were founded in a marketplace where many of the independent media services at that time were just buyers.  Their thing was: “We can buy it for you cheaper.”  Because I’m a planner and a strategist, I saw a place for a  company that was more strategy-oriented rather than just execution-oriented, or what they call now, activation-oriented.  

Because of our proximity to Silicon Valley we’ve been involved with new technologies from the start. We got involved with the web in the mid-90s, and worked with a lot of early metrics companies such as DoubleClick.

Even today, metrics and data are a strong part of the underpinnings of Mediasmith.

People know us as being digitally-oriented, though 30 to 40% of what we do is still traditional media. We provide clients with a media mix that includes online and offline.  We work in literally every medium that you could imagine for clients both in the US and abroad. It’s media strategy, planning, buying, tracking, optimization, and analytics.  

Q: Which digital trends have you seen take shape in 2017? Specifically, are there certain approaches, tactics, or platforms that you’ve seen as a major impact this year?

A: Certainly the emergence of new platforms like Snap. The continued growth of social media in general is an all-encompassing thing, whether that’s the president commenting on Twitter  or simply the clout of a company like Facebook.

Another trend is the maturation of programmatic buying. We’re seeing more programmatic direct buys, not just using programmatic for leftover inventory. While that’s been around for a  while, it received a big boost this year.  

A third trend is the whole area related to quality, fraud detection, brand safety, and  transparency; understanding who’s getting paid what within the digital ecosystem. It comes down to ads being seen by humans and making sure that your advertising is going to be effective. The first step of that is viewability; making sure that people rather than bots are  making the call to a page.

Mediasmith comment

Also, an increasing number of clients and advertisers are using multi–touch attribution. They want to know how much credit should go to different digital channels. Search, which is often the last-click, has tended to get all the credit versus a display ad where somebody was initially lured in.  

It’s about understanding how everything fits together – mobile, display, social, video, email, etcetera – and understanding how to credit each of those things properly.  

Then there’s the holy grail of measurement: being able to do attribution between online and offline.  That is what more and more clients are looking for.  Nobody has the silver bullet for online and offline attribution, but there’s a lot of progress being made.

Q: What are some examples of new or different things that you have worked with your clients on this year?

A: One is kind of a man–bites–dog story: twenty years ago when we wanted to buy digital, we bought a lot of it from print media and the digital was bonus. These days, and especially this year more than ever, we will buy digital campaigns and the print will be bonus.  

That shows the maturation and power of digital. The fact that the publishers are willing to bonus ads in their magazines or in their newspapers in exchange for a significant digital buy.  

Another thing that we’ve seen this year, and that we’ve started to apply more and more for our clients, is the whole area of influencer marketing. There’s a lot of controversy about it, but when done well it can be very effective.

An example is that we were able to use celebrity chefs for a promotion with our client, BJ’s Restaurants Inc.. It was an effective promotion because it used chefs outside of our own client but had an association in the related area.  

Something that’s old-is-new-again is that clients today are looking to work across multiple media. Many agencies have sprung up focusing on a single channel – say Facebook or search – but increasingly, brands want to work across online and offline, or within multiple areas of digital. The idea of maximizing effectiveness across channels is coming back to the fore, rather than having a lot of individual efforts.

Q: As you look towards the year ahead, which digital trends are you watching?

A: So much of the stuff that’s going on is really exciting.

Whether it’s twelve months or it’s two or three years, over the next period of time we’re set to see the big impact of AI. And that’s already becoming visible. A great example is the way that Amazon uses it. If you like this, you might like that – that kind of thing. And Facebook and Google are using artificial intelligence to bring us better targeting and to bring the consumer more appropriate content.  

Another area is augmented reality. There’s been all this talk about virtual reality but augmented reality is going to be a bigger and bigger factor. It’s not just Google Glass 2.0; you’ll be able to walk down the street and see what’s in various stores through an overlaid display, or see the ingredients in a package, or see what a sweater is made from. And then there’s the inevitable combination of AR and VR, mixed reality (MR), which will be even more impressive.

Then there are driverless cars. People talk about it hitting the mainstream in years, maybe 2020, but in Arizona there are literally going to be driverless taxis in the next few months.

That’s going to produce a whole new medium: if the average person commutes for 60-90 minutes a day in their car and the driving is automated, then there’s an opportunity to install screens in the cars. Passengers can do conference calls, check their email and schedule, watch  entertainment, whatever they want.

One more is the blockchain.  It is being seriously looked at to help with the whole area of payments; to make sure that we’re paying for something that is legitimate and understanding who’s getting paid what in the media ecosystem. Blockchain is not necessarily fast enough to assist programmatic advertising today, but it will as computers inevitably get faster and faster. It’s going to be a big part of our industry.


IOT is starting to penetrate many homes. This is the deployment of sensors in almost everything new that you buy for your house. Thermostats, front door locks with cameras, lightbulbs, and many other things that can be controlled from your phone remotely.

Lastly Voice, led by Amazon’s Alexa but with significant entries by Google (OK Google), Apple (Siri) and Microsoft (Cortana). Voice is quickly becoming the new I/O mechanism, replacing the keyboard.

As a result of the above, the number of new media channels and platforms will explode over the next 5 years. And they will all have their own “native” metrics. Making the job of  attribution even harder.

It’s an exciting time to be in the media business. And I can’t wait to see what is next.

Written by NativeAI / December 12, 2017