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Local focus of Spot Runner has appeal to global investors

Web-based firm raises $51 million. Backers include Televisa.

May 07, 2008|Alana Semuels | Times Staff Writer
  • Postproduction work is performed at Spot Runner. The L.A. company can put a TV commercial together for as little as $500.
Postproduction work is performed at Spot Runner. The L.A. company can put… (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles advertising firm Spot Runner Inc. said Tuesday that it had received $51 million in financing from Grupo Televisa and a slew of other international media companies, evidence that even global advertisers are interested in local ads.

In addition to the largest media company in the Spanish-speaking world, the new investors include luxury goods maker Groupe Arnault/LVMH, Legg Mason Capital Management and Daily Mail & General Trust, the British newspaper and radio company.

"It's now the time for us to think seriously about how to apply the Spot Runner model to markets such as Europe and Latin America," said Nick Grouf, chairman and chief executive of the 4-year-old company.

Spot Runner makes TV advertising available to small businesses through the Web.

The company can create a commercial for as little as $500 using pre-produced footage and personalizing it with the client's name, photo and contact information. Spot Runner's website enables companies to specify whom they want to reach and how much they want to spend, then Spot Runner buys airtime for them on the national broadcast feeds of local cable or broadcast channels. It generally costs less than $100 to buy spots on local cable.

"Small-business owners traditionally didn't have that level of accessibility and ease," said Mike Boland, a senior analyst at Kelsey Group Inc., a market research and consulting firm.

National companies also use Spot Runner. Coldwell Banker advertises local home listings, and Diamond Trading Co.'s "A Diamond is Forever" campaign promotes local jewelers.

The ability to target locally appeals to many larger businesses, including Northcliffe Media, the regional arm of the Daily Mail & General Trust that's responsible for publishing newspapers and websites across Britain.

"Customers and advertisers expect their media to be more personalized and expect the messages they consume to be more personalized," Northcliffe commercial director David Roddick said.

Spot Runner CEO Grouf said the partnership with Grupo Televisa, which draws 70% of the TV audience in Mexico, would bring a new category of advertisers into the market. Spot Runner's relationship with luxury products maker Group Arnault/LVMH will help the company target its advertising and "put the right brands in front of the right customers with the right message," he said.

The new investments bring Spot Runner's total funding to $111 million. Previous investors include media and advertising giants CBS Corp., WPP and Interpublic Group of Cos., investment bank Allen & Co. and Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son of News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch.

Spot Runner employs about 300 people throughout the United States, Canada and India, and has expanded into radio and Internet advertising. It plans to use the money to build technology platforms to help it expand in the U.S. and abroad.

"This really was an opportunity to build a bit of a war chest," Grouf said.

Grouf said Spot Runner follows a similar model to media titan Google Inc., which offered small businesses the ability to buy Web ads inexpensively.

"By solving problems for small advertisers," he said, "the largest advertisers show up at the front door."

Political campaigns have jumped on board. Spot Runner has created local TV ads for dozens of politicians across the country, including Stephen Meister, a Maine Democrat running for Congress.

Meister's campaign said his ads on CNN, Fox, MSNBC and ESPN helped him get noticed ahead of the June primary.

"It was absolutely critical that our money be well spent," said Dervilla McCann, Meister's wife and media buyer. "I've always been a bargain shopper and that's why we're pleased with Spot Runner."

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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