Five questions with Millennial Media CEO Michael Barrett

… for Michael Barrett, CEO of digital media company Millennial Media

  • Michael Barrett, CEO of Millennial Media.
Michael Barrett, CEO of Millennial Media. (Handout photo )
June 03, 2014|By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

While Millennial Media pioneered mobile advertising, it now competes with online household names Google and Facebook, which dominate the $18 billion market.

To Millennial CEO Michael Barrett, that's a good sign.

But it's also meant a rough start to Barrett's tenure at the Baltimore-based firm. He took over in January for Paul Palmieri, who founded and led Millennial from its days as a startup in 2006 to its debut as a public company in 2012.

As the company's stock tumbled amid a disappointing earnings report last month, Barrett acknowledged on an investor conference call there were challenges ahead and outlined a plan to address them. According to eMarketer, Google commanded half of a mobile advertising market last year, while Facebook took 17.5 percent. Millennial Media's share? 0.8 percent.

But Barrett, whose experience includes stints as a lieutenant to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and CEO of a Millennial competitor that Google acquired, said he is undaunted. He told The Baltimore Sun he sees the increased competition as an indication "we're clearly doing something worthwhile" as Millennial embarks on a major expansion of its Canton headquarters.

Observers have long been saying the "year of mobile" is here, in the sense of mobile advertising truly rivaling more established forms on TV and the Internet. Is it finally here?

I think we'd all agree that we're living in a mobile-first world. Millennial Media recently released a report that shows people now spend more time with their mobile devices than they do with their PCs. At this point, mobile must be an integral part of an advertiser's overall strategy. However, I wouldn't characterize it as a "rivalry" with regard to television and desktop. One of Millennial Media's great strengths is its ability to reach consumers across screens throughout the day, during the mindsets and moments that matter most.

We're basically creating a journey for advertisers to stay connected with consumers throughout the day. For example, one might see an ad on a mobile phone in the morning. Then at night, they might research the product in that ad and then see ads for that product on a tablet while watching TV. If the relevance is right and appeals to a consumer, they then could make a purchase the next day on their desktop. So it's more of a symbiotic relationship with other channels than a rivalry. Mobile is a cornerstone of that puzzle as consumers use it as their tether to the Internet while on the go.

How is construction going with the renovations and expansion of Millennial's headquarters at the Can Company, and what is the vision for the space?

Renovations have begun in the Factory Building. This is where all our Baltimore staff will be housed while we complete more extensive renovations on the larger Signature Building, which is where we are now. The Factory Building is actually where the Emerging Technology Center — the tech incubator that housed Millennial Media when it was a startup — used to be, so I guess you can "go home again." Millennial Media began as a two-person startup back then; we now employ more than 200 people in Baltimore alone.

We expect to move staff into the Factory Building in the fall, and then begin work on the Signature Building. We plan to move back into the Signature Building, but also retain the Factory Building space as the Millennial Media team continues to grow.

We want the space to reflect our company — forward-thinking, vibrant and exciting.

How has the competition evolved in the mobile advertising industry as players like Google and Facebook increasingly turn their eyes to mobile?

It's definitely an exciting time to be in mobile advertising. I feel that the entry of competitors into the space validates our mobile-first mindset. If these tech giant companies want to do what we're doing, we're clearly doing something worthwhile.

There are two sides to our business: the publisher side, meaning any site or app that would display ads, and the brand advertiser side, the companies and organizations that pay to place their ads with publishers. We've received great feedback from both of those parties recently, telling us that an independent mobile ad platform like Millennial Media is something they need to succeed. We're platform-neutral, and that's something that people appreciate and value.

Millennial has always pitched its strength as its independence from any one mobile device or operating system — is that still an asset, or has it become a liability at all?

As a company, Millennial Media has a very tightly focused goal: to deliver results for our advertisers, publishers and app developers. All of our technology, data and people work to achieve that singular goal. We're not trying to drive search, or monetize our own content. We're not using mobile advertising as a way to promote a particular device or operating platform over another. This is our business, full stop.

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