Sam Sebastian has an unambiguously bold objective for Pelmorex Corp., parent company of The Weather Network. It’s an aspiration that’s uncommon for many Canadian businesses: Becoming the biggest company on the planet in its category.
“We have been maniacally focused on his category,” he says. “We are good at it [and] we can defend it. Now we just have to do it beyond our border.”
It is a little over 18 months since Sebastian became CEO at Pelmorex, joining the Oakville, Ont.-based company after more than 11 years at Google—the last three of which were spent as head of Google Canada. At the time Pelmorex’s flagship brand was already in almost every home in the country with a cable-connection, and had been growing its digital business for several years.
But by handing the reins to an insider from the most powerful digital media business in the world, Pelmorex founder Pierre Morrissette seemed eager to usher in a new era for the business, placing data at its core.
Along with its French sister brand MeteoMedia, The Weather Network is already the number one weather business in Canada. Globally it’s number three behind U.S-based The Weather Channel and AccuWeather. But The Weather Network is growing. It is the market leader in Spain with its El tiempo brand, and has been expanding in both Portugal—via the October acquisition of Otempo.pt—and Latin America, under the brand name Clima. “We have got over 1 million users in India in our Weather Network brand, that just kind of happened,” he says. Continued expansion could come organically, as well as through partnerships and additional acquisitions. “We are constantly looking throughout the world at other markets.”
But how is The Weather Network changing and improving to succeed and evolve as it expands? The Message spoke to Sebastian recently about where the business is today, where he hopes to take it in the future and how he intends to make it the biggest weather company in the world.
Like any digital business, the starting point is data.
First, The Weather Network has scale. Lots of it. It is the fourth most downloaded app in the country and ninth most popular website, he says. That provides a lot of first-party data, which Sebastian says can be used to “build some pretty interesting audience segments.” Those segments can be targeted on The Weather Network owned and operated properties, but the data can also be used for behavioural targeting across the broader digital landscape.
The company is also helping marketers plan and execute weather-related campaigns by connecting historical weather data to sales activities. “We’ll say ‘This is what the correlation was in the past and, more importantly, here is what is going to happen across the country where you have stores over the next three, five and seven days, so make decisions accordingly on what to stock, what to market etc.,’” says Sebastian.
Finally, Pelmorex is using its expertise in delivering local information as a key business driver. App users can enable location services to obtain customized location-based weather forecasts in exchange for sharing their data in an aggregated anonymous fashion. Advertisers can use that data for targeting and analytics.
But The Weather Network can also use that data to generate real-world, offline, customer behaviour insights. “We can kind of make this connection between the online and offline world: foot traffic, attribution, lots of things like that,” says Sebastian. In other words, making connections between people who are served an ad via The Weather Network and if or when that person visits an advertiser’s business.
“We have all these smarter targeting and insight products that we can bring to our customers and have a much different conversation with an ad agency or a McDonald’s or Canadian Tire, than just filling out an RFP for an ad buy,” he says.
How has Weather Network changed since he arrived?
Many of the elements and offerings they are ramping up were already present when Sebastian arrived. What is different now—and what he brought from Google—is the placement of the product at the centre of entire model. “Where I have spent most of my time, and where I have tried to organize the company and our priorities, is around products,” he says. “Are we offering up the best user experiences to our millions of users around the world.” Everything else flows from perfecting the product first.
How has that changed the pitch to agencies and clients?
“I think we sell it differently,” he says. Those changes began before Sebastian’s arrival, with the mid-2016 appointment of former Torstar sales executive Simon Jennings as chief revenue officer. The focus now is on explaining to clients and agencies how this is a product with scale, that is brand safe, with increasingly advanced data and analytical offerings.
It’s also becoming much more attractive digital option as Facebook suffers through its privacy stumbles and YouTube is forced to address brand safety headaches. “That plays beautifully to the premium product we have,” says Sebastian. “So we lead with the premium, brand-safe nature of the product that we sell.”
Sebastian says he also wants to be the best digital option in Canada after Facebook and Google.
“So that is 1,000% our stated goal,” he says. “I think we have the scale, I think we have the team, and I think we are developing the product set.”
There is also considerable pent up demand for new options, he says. “There is a want for diversification in the market. Agencies are sick of spending this much money with Google and Facebook. God love them, the products work. I know it, I was there. But they can’t have that much supplier power, so [buyers] want other players.”
*This story has been updated.