KSL Media has always pitched itself as a partner capable of helping its midmarket client base go head-to-head with much bigger competitors. Indeed, that’s what the $625 million independent media services company, founded in 1981, did itself—eventually winning bigger name clients like Office Depot, Bacardi, and Eddie Bauer from larger full-service agencies.
So as data-driven marketing began to take hold in the ranks of the Fortune 500, KSL’s leaders knew business intelligence software would be an important tool in winning and keeping its client base. “We continue to focus on entrepreneurial companies—that’s our wheelhouse,” says Brian O’Donnell, media analyst at KSL Media. “We like to bring them the research and analysis tools that larger companies have. We make a lot of alliances with vendors to provide those kind of tools at prices that are more aligned with the mid-market.”
In the past, data analysis and visualization at KSL was limited to “whatever we could do in Excel,” says O’Donnell. Which wasn’t much. O’Donnell could do some basic visualization with pivot tables, but they could only easily incorporate information from a single database and O’Donnell could find himself bumping up against Excel’s two-million-data-row limit. There was no simple way to combine data from the agency side, like spend per channel, with client information, like calls and sales, to deliver actionable intelligence—never mind doing it in real time.
To improve the situation, O’Donnell opted for Tableau Software’s business intelligence software in February. Taking advantage of free software trials, O’Donnell found that the capabilities and ease of use won out over the eleven alternatives KSL Media evaluated, including IBM Cognos, Microstrategy, SAS, and SiSense. In addition to being as much as 80 percent cheaper than those other options, Tableau’s one-time cost versus annual software licensing fees, was a selling point for KSL Media. Tableau also offered the Tableau Server—a hosted, browser-based dashboard eliminating the need for internal software maintenance or hardware support. (Tableau and KSL declined to cite specific cost figures.)
Dashboards to Track Outcomes
The advanced analytics and rapid reporting enable KSL and its clients to track the outcomes of their media investments, illustrating information like total spend, cost per order, and return on investment, in order to optimize them over time. The clients can also drill down wherever they like, with the Tableau data engine updating the web-based dashboard with the latest information. Was the print creative in Better Homes and Gardens more effective than the Animal Planet ad? Is cable a better buy than Hulu? What does our media spend look like on a map?
“The ability to connect to data sources live was a key determining factor in choosing Tableau,” says O’Donnell, who used to email Excel reports that become obsolete the minute he sent them. “It’s saved us a significant amount of time and it lends so much credibility to what we’re doing. Most of our clients have never seen anything in the same arena as what this tool does.”
Visualizations reporting on key performance indicators answer a growing demand by executives looking for ROI data.”With continued economic and budget pressure, marketing leaders hold themselves more accountable for delivering results, and they will expect the same of their agencies,” says Tracy Stokes, principal marketing analyst for Forrester Research. Forrester’s October 2011 Global Marketing Leadership survey found that 51% of marketers say that marketing is holding itself more accountable to show the value of its initiatives and 31% say that senior management is demanding greater accountability and metrics.
As with any new software, there was a learning curve for O’Donnell. But today, he’s packaging up and sending off client dashboards at the rate of one a week. And it’s being used elsewhere within KSL—and not just to track the effectiveness of its media services.
The sales staff uses the application in presentations to woo potential clients. KSL managers have developed a human resource dashboard in Tableau, comparing each employee’s work hours per week to the agency average. “They use it to identify teams that may be being overworked and need additional support,” says O’Donnell. “We don’t want people to burn out here.”
KSL, which is based in Los Angeles and New York, also uses the tools to generate dozens of reports on its own key performance indicators, for example, on advertising spots ordered versus spots aired, and vendor efficiency. One account manager whose client does a lot of outdoor advertising buys is using Tableau’s mapping capabilities to make sure they don’t inadvertently put the same billboard up on the same stretch of road.
The next likely users of the software are the accounting group who could use Tableau to analyze profitability. “It’s taking over like a benevolent virus,” says O’Donnell. “The more we use it, the more management sees the power of the tool.”
Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter: @stephanieoverby.