Targeted messages help grow Dayton company

The days since 2008 when Russ and Katie Gottesman launched their CommuterAds at The Entrepreneur Center in Dayton have provided quite the ride.

The husband-wife team continues to lead the locally headquartered business that patented a way to send 15-second audio and digital text scroll commercials wirelessly to public transit vehicles. Those messages play at targeted locations and at specific times of the day fleet-wide.

They first were heard in Dayton, but later spread to a dozen cities nationwide, reaching more than 181 million riders annually, and continuing to grow. Sales have grown over 600 percent from the first year into a multi-million dollar company.

Russ Gottesman recalls a snowy January 2008 day when the company pitched its idea to the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority (RTA). At the time, the company consisted of the Gottesmans and Scott McPherson, one of its first investors.

Their visit was in response to the RTA’s request for proposals for potential advertising partners in a search for new, innovative media partners.

“Our small, but burgeoning company jumped on the opportunity,” Gottesman said.

Next came the bid, a three-month review process and a three-month testing process followed by the company’s official birth.

Two of the first — and most loyal — customers were CareSource and Sinclair Community College, which used CommuterAds’ onboard advertising to talk directly to customers about their programs.

“That early period building CommuterAds was exhilarating, exhausting, challenging and rewarding for both Katie and me. The idea of geo-targeted ads was beyond its infancy and was at the forefront of mobile advertising, which brought both great opportunity but great risk,” Gottesman said.

The business has changed considerably — operating today in Jacksonville and Tampa, Fla.; Champaign and Chicago, Ill.; Lexington, Ky.; Kansas City, Mo.; Rockland County, N.Y.; San Bernardino Calif.; and Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo.

However, the core tenets remain largely intact, Gottesman said.

“We try to ethically create value by fulfilling an unmet need in the marketplace, align with the right types of partners and communicate with both our employees and customers in a meaningful way. These goals have not changed over time,” he said. “Location-based advertising that reaches customers on the inside of the bus had never been attempted in the United States before CommuterAds came along; as such we’ve had to tweak our model in a number of interesting ways.”

Among them were price, with the team implementing a cost per thousand pricing model.

The company has 15 to 20 team members throughout the country with about half in Dayton. They include sales representatives, an operations director, a professional audio production studio employing voice over talent artists, a creative team charged with developing engaging copy for advertising partners, a finance team and professional service partners.

Gottesman said the company was founded with “a culture of hard work, respect, gratitude and a desire to be part of something special. We seek employees who share our values and vision and can be a steady force as the company evolves each year.”

Among recent CommuterAds experiences was an invitation to the team to the White House in October. The team is an official media partner of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room campaign supporting the president’s North Star goal of America again having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

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