Laramie’s Project X
The Better Way To Do This
John F. Laramie, CEO, Project X
We have been friends with John Laramie, CEO of Project X for nearly 10 years. We first met, when he was creating and building an OOH software platform. Now he runs “the fastest growing independent Out-of-Home media specialist agency in the U.S.” He is a very capable and charismatic entrepreneur. It has been a while since John and I last visited, as you will read below. Here are perspectives from one of OOH’s brightest thought leader and outdoor media agency chief executive.
BB: How long have you personally been in OOH? Please give us a little background about yourself and start in OOH
JL: I got involved in OOH even before I started my company in 2010. I was doing some freelance marketing consulting and a client asked for help setting up an OOH campaign in New York City. I hopped on my bike and rode around town, writing down the locations and owners of the units I thought would work best for the campaign. When I got home, exhausted and with a list of a half-dozen or more companies I now needed to research and reach out to, I thought: there has to be a better way to do this!
What did you know about OOH before you started Project X? How much experience did you actually have in OOH prior to starting Project X?
Well, after the bike experience I began reaching out to as many people as I could within the OOH industry to determine whether there was a business opportunity in the realization I had. By the time my cofounder Josh Warrum and I started the company, we’d built a solid foundation of industry knowledge thanks to the time and guidance generously lent to me by people like John Miller, Ian Dallimore, Laura Segui, Rod Rackley, and many others.
Do you believe someone who leads an organization should have a minimum of 10,000 hours in that field to be successful? Or at least an OOH Professional who has that much minimum experience as a consultant or employee?
Absolutely not. OOH isn’t rocket science. Anyone can learn it. There are certainly nuances to be respectful of, but the industry does itself a disservice by over-complicating what we do. Anyone can become skilled at this medium if they have the right curiosity and enthusiasm for it.
Where is Project X today?
We’re thriving. We were Inc Magazine’s 65th fastest-growing private company in America in 2018, and #7 in NYC according to Crain’s. Last year, Adweek named us to its list of the top 100 fastest growing agencies in the world. And we’re continuing to scale and grow.
What determined your decision to move the company from what you initially envisioned to where it is today?
Despite the name change, we’re actually doing the same thing we set out to do when we launched the company 10+ years ago — providing a more efficient way to buy OOH with the help of technology.
In our early stages, we did that by selling the technology directly to the buying agencies. But what we realized is that many of these organizations were far more slow-moving and committed to the status quo than us, and that we could compete very well with them by deploying the technology ourselves. That led to the launch of the agency and all the explosive growth, and frankly we haven’t looked back.
Considering OOH software start up organizations such as Adomni, Ad Quick, Blip, DoMedia, Vistar, and any others you care to name. What/ Who are the specific companies in your opinion, who are most likely to be standing at the end of 5 years from now? What will be the key to their success?
These companies are all doing wildly different things, and I believe all can continue to succeed within their respective areas of focus.
Let’s talk about PJX. Tell us about your team’s experience.
We’ve been fortunate enough to attract some of the brightest stars in this industry. Decades of experience. Every client vertical. More awards than you can count. Talent is drawn to us because of our entrepreneurial nature. Because we have this exciting technology and are growing faster than anyone else within the space. And because we give our employees complete trust and autonomy that aren’t on offer elsewhere.
The investment you received from IPG, how does that affect what you do at PJX?
This is old news, Bill 🙂 We bought out IPG’s stake in the company last year.
What are the challenges you / PJX face going forward as a planning buying agency? What challenges does the OOH Industry face?
As in practically every area of life right now, I think it’s trust and misinformation. Companies misrepresenting themselves in order to score a quick buck that actually end up disenchanting advertisers and turning them away from our medium moving forward. Over-complicating things. Not cooperating to make the most out of the huge opportunity that lies before us.
Do you feel PJX is competing on an even playing field versus the larger Big 5 agencies? Please answer this question first before moving the next question.
I absolutely do. In fact, I think we’re the ones with the advantage. It starts with our technology, which enables us to stack up against headcounts of any size. And it provides workflow efficiencies for our media partners, which means we have tight, high-functioning working relationships with them that rival those of the majors. We’ve also amassed enough volume to put us on the same footing as anyone when it comes to negotiating pricing.
We’ve proven we’re capable of serving clients of any size, and we’ve already had a ton of success in winning business away from the big agencies, which I fully expect to continue moving forward.
Are you concerned about discounts, fees, self-dealing, back room deals, and kickbacks other agencies may be receiving?
Not at all.
We know fees charged to clients have to be small to be competitive, how does PJX make money?
By charging a fee commensurate with our level of service.
What is the future of OOH?
More digitization. Address-ability. Continued growth against other comparable mediums.
This new crop of digitally-savvy, online-first advertisers clearly already recognizes the value of OOH and I expect that to continue moving forward, to our benefit.
CES, DPAA, Geopath/OAAA convention, DSE- which ones do you attend? Why and why not?
The Geopath/OAAA National Convention is a mainstay on my calendar. It gives us the opportunity to connect with our media partners outside of our typical environment, opening up greater possibilities for creativity and relationship development.
It’s important for us to send members of our team to the others to stay engaged with the industry dialogue and share their learnings with their colleagues, but I can’t always step away from my day-to-day responsibilities to attend.
Name 3 things in order of importance you/your buying team takes into consideration when putting together a buy?
- KPIs — What specific goals are the client aiming to achieve?
- Audience — This will govern our selection of data partners, markets, formats, sites, add’l tactics, etc…
- Readiness — How long will it take to turn around creative? What steps are needed to get to approval? This dictates internal timelines and ensures expectations with the client are fully in alignment.
BB: Final word is yours.
JL: Thanks for the opportunity, Bill!