Want A Captive Audience For Your Brand’s Messaging? Dubai’s Elevision Media Can Offer You That
If you’ve ever been in an elevator, you’d be familiar with the feeling of awkwardness that seems to pervade over everyone in that enclosed space for those few minutes that make a lift ride. While we’re all accustomed to dealing with it our own way -from fixing our gaze at an empty spot, to immersing ourselves into our smartphones- it’s safe to say that it would be good to have a medium that distracts and educates you in the elevator, at the same time. Having arrived from Canada to Dubai to explore business opportunities, Canadian entrepreneur Niall Sallam noticed that unlike most buildings in Vancouver, which had their elevators fitted with screens running ads and community-related information, he didn’t find any buildings in Dubai that offered anything similar in their lifts. Having observed this gap, like any intuitive entrepreneur, Sallam saw this as a ripe business opportunity in the commercial hub of the Middle East, and in 2011, he launched Elevision Media, a digital enterprise that broadcasts news, information, and advertisements directly to high-definition digital screens installed in elevators in the UAE’s premier commercial and residential towers.
Hosting timely content that ranges from business and traffic news in the morning to food recipes in the evening, Elevision engages with the city’s busy tech-savvy individuals who are constantly hungry for information. “We partner with property owners to enhance their elevator and lobby environment, while providing a digital communication channel for management to broadcast building news to tenants,” explains Sallam, the founder and CEO of Elevision Media. As a serial entrepreneur who’s founded and run a number of ventures in the F&B and real estate space, Sallam says that with Elevision, he found a way to provide advertisers access to brand savvy, spend-ready potential customers.
Launching with just nine towers in 2011, Elevision’s screens are now live in 180 towers, with Sallam noting that this figure will be increasing very soon. “I expect we will reach 300 towers this year, [and] from a revenue perspective, we are profitable and still focused on continued and rapid growth,” says Sallam. “Our networks are found in properties that house the regions movers and shakers, whether that be the financial community in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), or the media crowd living in Dubai Marina or Jumeirah Lakes Towers and working in Media City. We offer the means and a way to get these people’s attention, day in and day out, and in a way that is subtle, non-intrusive, yet extremely effective.”
As a form of digital out of home media (DOOH), a segment that Sallam notes is fast ascending to become “the world’s second fastestgrowing ad medium,” it’s easy to believe him when he stresses that Elevision Media has pioneered the format in the Midlde East. With the DOOH market expected to grow from US$12.5 billion in 2016 to $26 billion by 2023 (as per market research firm Markets and Markets), even as the gap between digital and traditional media spends shrink globally, Sallam says that the Middle East media ecosystem is still dominated by traditional channels- and it’s this misalignment from global trends that Elevision hopes to correct.
“Put simply, the Elevision network is the closest DOOH platform advertisers have to being inside of people’s homes,” he says. “With new proprietary technologies in play, we’re now positioning ourselves in the sweet spot between OOH and pure-play digital.” In fact, the fairly young enterprise has moved beyond their model of just elevator broadcasting. In 2015, Elevision diversified its offerings by entering into a content agreement with Bloomberg, under which the news organization provides dynamic financial data and market updates to populate Elevision’s LED display at the Gate Building in DIFC.
“There are some [more] exciting developments in the pipeline, which will expand Elevision’s portfolio of digital assets out of the elevators. Let’s say for now that the strength of our existing partnerships will result in some high profile projects in the region,” he hints.
Further, recognizing that the ability to crunch data is what often decides the market leader, Sallam says that Elevision plans to add analytics capabilities to its service. “For the past eight months, we’ve been testing new measurement technology that tracks how many people are using the elevators, how often, and for how long. This brings a higher level of measurability to DOOH and is also facilitating our entry into programmatic [advertising].” Essentially, with this new technology, Elevision will able to break through the clutter and have hard data on “how many people were in the lift at exactly the time the advertiser’s content was displayed.” The company is also working to facilitate deeper engagement by bringing together the physical (screens) and the digital world (the smartphones). “This concept and technology is set to disrupt advertising in a way that has never been done before- so stay tuned,” Sallam says.
Business development is a task that makes any enterprise sweat in today’s economic scenario, and one wonders how this young media enterprise has managed to attract attention (and the big bucks) with its nascent and novel offering. While Sallam’s experience and track record in the region’s business world has definitely played a key role (he is also a co-founder of F&B venture The Salad Jar, and a board member of grocery tech startup el Grocer), he notes that his strategy is to rely on highlighting USPs based on “logic,” which are also measurable in nature. However, he admits that the process is not without resistance from clients, especially their questions on the capability of the medium to leave a lasting impression. “The reality is, all OOH mediums have wastage and some ‘viewer leakage,’ but if a marketing manager is deciding where to spend his or her budget, our medium simply has less wastage and more focused consumer attention than many other platforms out there,” he insists.
It is perhaps this confidence of the founder (and his persuasion skills) that led to Elevision raising around US$1 million from a group of angel investors (who remain undisclosed) just shortly after officially launching five years ago- and since then they have been essentially self-funded through their revenue. With a team of 17 members currently across departments, the company plans to onboard more people this year, thanks to some “exciting projects” that have come their way, Sallam says. And while the name of the company may suggest otherwise, Sallam stresses that Elevision is now evolving into much more than just elevator advertising. “Elevision is a media and technology company, first and foremost. Our elevator screens are most definitely the foundation of our model, and help support the tech strategies we are developing. [But], soon you will see that our elevator screens act as the first of many touch points that brands can use to get more consumer mindshare in a meaningful way,” he says.
And helping the new media entity in this transformation is its committed team, which enjoys “a culture of independence and accountability” fostered by the entrepreneur. “We [the management] are far from micro managers, but demand genuine[ness] in effort. When we get complete buy-in and commitment, we know the results will follow. Because of this we sleep well knowing that when we face a problem, it’s very rarely a personnel issue… Ultimately, I find that when your team knows that you trust and respect them, they’ll work much harder for both you and the company’s goals.”
As for the composition of the talent (including a creative team working on amending content to suit their platform) that executes the organizational vision, Sallam firmly believes that it is more important “to hire character and aptitude. If someone is energetic, switched on, and shows a desire and ability to learn, I believe they’ll do much better and fit in much more with our culture than someone who is perhaps a specialist but lacks ambition or drive, or perhaps doesn’t have that entrepreneurial spirit.”
Located in Dubai, a market that quite stands out in its digital outdoor advertising efforts (just take a look at the billboards lining Sheikh Zayed Road), Elevision Media has been quick to absorb that audiences today seek stimulating content, and its platform aims to offer just that. While “a captive and distraction free audience” are obvious advantages for Elevision, Sallam believes that his enterprise’s differentiation lies in “knowing who they [their audience] are, where they live, and the times of day they’re exposed to our media,” thus allowing advertisers to engage in a more meaningful way. “Aside from the online [medium], we are the first and last thing people see when leaving and coming back to their homes and offices,” notes Sallamand that’s a premise one can’t really argue with.
Niall Sallam, founder and CEO, Elevision Media
What’s your take on MENA’s digital transformation, and how do you see entrepreneurship faring in this sector?
“It’s clearly growing, with lots of room to continue. We have all heard the stats, facts and figures, so I’m not going to regurgitate numbers, but the bottom line is from a regional perspective, we’re still very much a frontier market. There will most certainly be more entrepreneurial fails than successes but that’s what is needed to grow a market. If there aren’t a lot of people out there trying and failing, then there simply won’t be enough people succeeding. Tech, innovation, and entrepreneurship are definitely the buzzwords du jour, but it’s great. They need to be! The more attention they get, the more people want a piece of the action. Some want it for the wrong reasons, and some for the right reasons. Those that just want to be part of the action to be, well, part of the action, won’t be around for long. But the reality is the excitement and opportunities that entrepreneurship creates, also attracts the people that have what it takes to succeed and this will ultimately raise the tide.”
What would you say is the region’s biggest challenge for entrepreneurs?
“The government has taken, and continues to take enormous strides to enable startups in the region. But the high costs of trade licenses, expensive offices and associated government fees can be a giant barrier for young entrepreneurs trying to get a business off the ground here. I started my first business at a young age, and was able to do so with almost no capital. I learned a lot of lessons by failing, and being able to pick up and start again. Unfortunately, failing is sometimes not an option here, but I can see this improving. It is a lot harder to take big risks when you’re afraid to fail, and I believe the big rewards come by taking those big risks.”
What are your top three tips for an entrepreneur to start a business in the MENA region?
“Have a clear vision, unrelenting determination, and access to enough capital!”