Q & A With SEAN RYAN — Digital Media Veteran and Founder of CATAPULT
Welcome to the first of many Q&A’s with people in the media business who, well, are willing to talk to me. I first met Sean a few years ago when he was the East Coast Sales Director for People.com. Since then, he’s ditched the corporate world, delved into a start-up and, now, has launched his own digital advertising rep firm. I talked with Sean to get some perspective on his plight in this market and what his insights are on starting his own business.
Before we get started, why don’t you give the people a two-minute elevator pitch on who you are and your experience in this business. …I have over 17 years of sales and management experience and I’ve sold and managed some terrific people and properties over the years, including Rolling Stone, People Magazine and People.com, EW.com, The Graffiti Group, Raygun Publishing, Katalyst, ManiaTV and Gear Magazine.
At your last job, you were in charge of sales and operations at Mania TV. Like so many of these pure play digital companies, the executives above kept realigning their business objectives, which, as I understand it, caused you to pursue other job options. Was this a difficult decision for you, considering the state of the economy? …There are two sides to every coin. One the one hand, I gained tremendous knowledge and experience being part of a start-up. On the other hand, I was too aware of the challenges we could not overcome, so when I decided to leave, I knew it was the right thing to do. As a salesperson, your reputation is your single biggest strength and when that becomes compromised, its time to move on.
After you left, did you go on many job interviews? And, if so, what was your overall impression of the jobs being presented to you? …I’ve learned a great deal from many people but one of the most important lessons is to always sell yourself. It’s also really important to maintain relationships with colleagues and clients that you’ve met throughout the years. As a result of doing just that, I’ve been able to have a decent idea of what job opportunities were available for me. In the digital space, there are still a lot of interesting jobs and although the economy is tough, this is the place to be.
Ultimately you decided to open up your own rep firm. What made you decide to go out on your own? …I’ve always wanted to do this ever since working for a rep firm back in the mid-90s called the Graffiti Group. I’ve joked through the years that if clients paid their bills, I would still be there. The name of my company is CATAPULT – a nod to one of my favorite bands of all time. I really felt like this was the right time to launch this firm. There are a lot of companies that have strong products but they don’t have a sales strategy or lack the means to make full-time hires. With my digital experience, I offer a very cost-effective national sales solution. Clients pay less up front and more when they bring in revenue, so it’s a win all around. The key is to have a roster of clients that target the same demographic so that you can be efficient in prospecting and generating revenue. If things go well, my hope is that clients will immediately think of me as a one-stop shop when they are looking for innovative digital opportunities targeting the 18-34 year old set. But this business is still in its infancy and I definitely feel the pressure to deliver for my clients right away. It’s early and certainly a unique time in the ad space but I feel really good about it.
What would you say is the hardest part about going out on your own?…For starters, my office is in my bedroom. My children keep coming upstairs and wondering when I’ll get off the phone.
Health insurance. (Please help President Obama!)
No more expense accounts so you’re approach to travel changes. When traveling, you hit up all your friends for rooms versus hotels. If I could borrow their cars in LA I’d save a mint too. Lunch with clients, if at all, is at Chipotle, not Blue Ribbon Sushi. Also, when traveling at larger companies, you tend to take a long-term view to moving business and take trips to meet key clients that are looking to run with you 6-12 months down the line. For me, that’s not going to be very cost effective. The pressure to bring in revenue is there because you don’t have a nice salary to fall back on. You have to deliver, and quickly to grow your business and keep clients happy.
How do you sell for one company and then call on the same agency/client and sell for another company the very next day? …I think it actually helps. I represent clients that all target the same demo and I understand that media executives have little time to see reps so if I can bring them multiple opportunities to review in one sitting, it’s great.
Is there anything you miss about working WITHIN an organization?…The expense account was nice. The healthcare and other benefits too. Large companies also have great resources. Also, I worked with so many great people who I learned from. It’s nice to have and build those relationships within a big organization.
Do you think this is a long-term career strategy for you or do you think eventually you’ll go back to heading up sales for another dot-com? …I would love to do this long term . In this economy, or when it gets brighter, companies like mine fill a void so I think there will always be opportunity. It’s not for everyone but it certainly feels right for me.