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Louis Gump, former CNN Mobile boss, sets his sights on local media

A few weeks ago, Mr. Gump resigned as head of CNN Mobile and assumed the president/CEO’s post at LSN Mobile, the largest local mobile news network around the country. Based in Atlanta, the executive will turn his attention to the shifting power in media consumption and the local content and advertising opportunities that arise for publishers and advertisers.

“One of the biggest trends is that there’s more consumer control,” Mr. Gump said. “People want access to content and functionality in the simplest way possible.

“Phones are like a hand-held digital home,” he said. “People on their mobile devices will use mobile Web, apps, video and alerts the way we use electricity, water, TV and mail in our home, not to mention pizza delivery when we’re hungry.”

While media consumption is migrating from traditional mediums such as television, newspapers, magazines and radio to mobile channels such as mobile Web sites, applications and text alerts as well as PC Web and email, readers still depend on local news to stay in touch with their local communities.

It is this world that Mr. Gump will immerse himself in at LSN, taking over from cofounder and now executive chairman Lee Durham the role to spearhead growth in local mobile media and advertising.

The first-time CEO will work with the leading affiliates of broadcast networks such as ABC, NBC, CBS and Univision to deliver content and advertising to local audiences.

Mr. Gump has his work cut out, given the state of media nationwide and its struggle to monetize audience eyeballs as they move to smartphones and tablets for local, national and international news and entertainment.

In this Q&A, Mr. Gump spells out his accomplishments at CNN and The Weather Channel – now The Weather Co. – as well as his take on media consumption trends and the state of mobile advertising.

The executive also opines on the lack of mobile standards, brand attitude to mobile, agency hesitation over mobile media buying and his 100-day plan. Please read on.

Why did you leave CNN?
I had an extraordinary experience at CNN, with a remarkable team. We had a mandate to transform mobile at CNN and did that together by just about any measure.

Further, I grew a lot there and owe CNN a big debt of gratitude.

At the same time, I’ve long had a dream of leading a small company. This was a chance to pursue that dream, with a groundbreaking company in the mobile space that also has a talented and experienced team.

What were your key accomplishments at CNN?
With a dedicated group of people around the world, we chalked up a long list of accomplishments including product launches, usage milestones, financial results and various awards.

That said, there are three primary accomplishments that stand out.

First, we gathered a cross-functional group to develop, implement and update the global mobile strategy for CNN. This helped us to infuse a new way of thinking across many parts of the organization, and to deliver mobile excellence while simultaneously reinforcing the CNN brand.

Next, based on that strategy, we developed one of the most talented teams in the world to focus on our customers, establishing milestone after milestone, and extending our leadership position in customer service.

The third was a brand new, global, cross-platform initiative in 2012 called “Our Mobile Society.”

With coverage from six continents, the program highlighted how mobile is changing our world and resulted in original content that was particularly well-received by mobile consumers.

At the end of the day, mobile is not about mobile. It’s about unlocking the potential of a brand. All three of these accomplishments did that with lasting benefit.

What attracted you to LSN Mobile?
Switching from one of the most popular mobile destinations is a big move.

There are several reasons.

As a general rule, I always suggest that people have a few top-level aspirations in any role.

For me, one is to accomplish something meaningful with benchmark-setting results.

Another is to work with a great group of people who complement each other and share aligned values.

In my case, I’ve been around the block for a while in the mobile space so I wanted to work with a company where I could apply that experience in a way that brings tangible, distinct value to our customers.

I fundamentally believe in the importance of local media as a cornerstone of our communities and that, as a result, locally relevant media is highly valuable for advertisers and marketers.

LSN Mobile has deep expertise in both local mobile media and mobile advertising, so we can provide uniquely valuable services to both parties.

We’re in a growth market and LSN Mobile is well positioned to build on this momentum to accomplish even more.

Additionally, I’ve known Lee Durham and LSN for a long time. We were talking last year and as the company was growing, he noted that he wanted some more horsepower on the team.

With my work in the mobile space in the past, it made sense for me to join the team and we moved on from there.

What’s your mandate at LSN?
We have two primary goals: to build a highly successful business and to foster an environment that attracts incredible talent.

More specifically, our business strategy in the near-term will be focused on further developing our advertising and product capabilities and continuing to grow our local media and affiliate network.

At the end of the day, we intend to super-serve our advertising and media partners, in part by taking the many aspects of mobile and simplifying so that it’s approachable, effective and complementary to other platforms.

As an aside, I’ve been struck by how few people know about LSN, even though it’s been around for over 10 years. It has access to a huge pool of content nationwide and is one of those quiet companies that has changed a big part of our world without most people knowing.

We’d like to position ourselves as one of those companies that are active in shaping our mobile future in responsible, sustainable ways.

Mobile is rapidly infiltrating every sector and every business. What changes do you expect this year for brands?
More marketers are going to be devoting a larger portion of their budget to mobile.

For example, Mondelez publicly decided to dedicate 10 percent of its budget to mobile, globally. That’s huge.

Unlike three to four years ago, we are now seeing more substantial budgets allocated to mobile.

I also expect that just about every company will have a dedicated mobile presence for customers on mobile Web or apps, or both.

Mobile video will continue to grow in prominence. Tablets are like a big sandbox for many companies with lots of room to build new offerings.

And, perhaps less obviously, I think more companies will continue to discover how different mobile actually is from TV and desktop Web.

As this realization crystallizes, they will find that an approach involving focused, dedicated mobile experts and teams that are aligned with the rest of the business will deliver more satisfied customers than one oriented around cross-platform generalists, which alone is more likely to result in mediocrity.

Publishers and media have still to figure out mobile, haven’t they?
Media companies have lots to do in thinking about their video, print, and digital properties, so focusing on mobile requires real organizational discipline and foresight.

In my opinion, to be truly successful in mobile, organizations must approach it as a distinct platform, identifying who the customer is and how that customer is similar or different from their traditional customer.

Then, they should align mobile with these other platforms and do it in that order.

One of the things we do with LSN Mobile is to help local media execute and monetize these mobile strategies so they can build a larger and more effective mobile presence, ultimately realizing the kind of revenue that helps them feel good about the additional investment.

And what about ad agencies? Are they taking mobile seriously?
The Super Bowl ads were anything but mobile.

We have to keep in mind that many ad agencies are also covering a lot of ground.

The most progressive ones are taking mobile seriously and building an extensive track record of success.

In fact, some are using it as a key differentiator. We see this every day in our business and actually seek out the agencies that see the impact and potential already.

Often, in my experience, it takes one vocal and persuasive mobile evangelist within an agency to transform the way the whole company thinks.

That becomes even more obvious when they build a team and make a commitment to mobile. Those of us who have watched the development of this space can name some of them.

Don’t get me wrong: TV is valuable and so is desktop Web.

Super Bowl ads don’t require a mobile component to be effective, but we will see even more compelling companion experiences over time in addition to the standalone ads.

For example, local sports scores on mobile phones could actually be as effective as, if not more effective than, Super Bowl integration, since people who are on the go often have a passionate, sustained interest in local events as opposed to being in front of a large screen TV with a bag of chips.

Even the mobile service provider landscape is evolving. The old guard seems to be giving way to more established online-focused companies. Or is there something else going on?

The mobile service provider landscape is clearly changing.

Some handset companies, service leaders in categories like gaming and social media, and digital portals have all gained in prominence.

Mobile operators are deepening skills in some areas while partnering in others.

I think that successful companies in the old guard are getting even better at figuring out what they’re good at today.

One of the biggest trends is that there’s more consumer control.

People want access to content and functionality in the simplest way possible.

Phones are like a hand-held digital home. People on their mobile devices will use mobile Web, apps, video and alerts the way we use electricity, water, TV and mail in our home, not to mention pizza delivery when we’re hungry.

If we think about it this way, then there are lots of ways to look at becoming a preferred provider for large numbers of customers in this evolving mobile neighborhood.

Mobile seems to go through these favorite-son phases: someday it is applications, other days QR codes and geotargeting. Is there going to be some stability or standards that marketers can hang their coats on?
It’s important to keep our eyes on what customers want, or would want if fully informed. Then we can adapt technology to meet those needs.

Standards can help a lot, from apps to QR codes to geotargeting.

The biggest barrier is often when people see technology as the end, rather than as a means to a broader end of serving customers.

A variety of folks from creative shops to publishers are calling for standards, but the question remains as to where it’s feasible to shape guidelines within the evolving mobile landscape.

Industry organizations can sometimes play a valuable role in helping to sort out the areas that can benefit most, and I’ve had the privilege of being part of some of those efforts.

I would encourage anyone who’s serious about helping to build a sustainable industry to look outside of their companies and find at least one leadership role where they can contribute to the industry.

Apple, Google and Samsung seem to be sucking all the air out of the room. Are they setting the tone for mobile?
All of these companies are establishing reference points for the industry and driving innovation, but there are other companies that are setting the pace at the same time.

For example, content brands like The Weather Channel, ESPN and CNN are helping to set the tone for content.

Social media royalty like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest are changing the face of interaction.

Mobile operators like AT&T, Verizon and Sprint are driving the ways that we access our content and contacts.

Media titans like Time Warner, Disney and Viacom are fundamentally and, sometimes quietly, transforming cross-platform media consumption.

Local media outlets are also especially strong, being individually smaller but collectively among the largest properties of any sort.

So, yes, Apple, Google and Samsung are making lots of waves, but there are other companies within the ecosystem that are driving the evolution of the industry.

Each of those groups is affecting the behavior of others, so it’s difficult to isolate down to one or two organizations or groups to say they are dictating the direction of mobile on their own.

What do LSN’s clients expect of the company?
First, I’m still listening to lots of people and will always do that.

Some of our best ideas come from listening to the individual and collective thoughts from our customers about how we can best serve them.

Our media customers expect quality products that work as expected and help them to have a strong presence for their communities. That’s especially true during peak periods, for example, during the recent elections, or a severe weather event, or high school sports.

They also want us to help them make mobile easy, and bring our expertise to bear for the benefit of their businesses.

Increasingly, they are looking to us to help them generate revenue associated with the premium properties that they are offering.

Advertisers are looking for compelling ways to reach consumers at scale on mobile devices and also to make that experience simple. We’ve been excelling at that for a while and look forward to doing even more for them.

You can claim, quite comfortably, to be one of the pioneers in mobile, having shepherded The Weather Channel and CNN into becoming two of the three most visited mobile destinations nationwide. What would you say is your proudest achievement?
Well, the accomplishments fundamentally come from team efforts over a period of years, with the involvement of some of the most talented and dedicated people I’ve ever known.

Sometimes we knew that we would build something impactful and sometimes we just tried a few things and succeeded beyond our highest expectations.

We’ve seen tremendous advances over the last 10 years and more. I suppose my proudest achievement is shepherding The Weather Channel’s mobile business from a nascent stage to being one of the core growth drivers of that company, in the process setting the standard by which many companies have measured themselves since.

I can assure you that in the 2002 timeframe, we were celebrating when we had a few hundred Java downloads, while many still questioned why we were making the investment.

We observed in awe when the first radar maps appeared on a small screen and actually created a new approach for panning and zooming with them.

Then in 2007 and 2008, the mobile Web and apps businesses started taking off in new ways, along with video and messaging, changing in some ways the complexion and even valuation of the company.

We owe that success to hundreds of people, including our teammates and partners. This was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had of any kind.

What behavioral change has the mobile medium wrought in consumers and businesses over the past decade?
Mobile has fundamentally changed our lives.

We are more connected to each other and more informed. People can get a weather alert every morning, and check the news throughout the day on a phone or tablet.

Phones are, for many people now, the only camera they use.

We check in and find our friends, and even prepare for business meetings with our mobile devices.

We watch TV with higher bandwidth on more powerful devices.

Maps take on new meaning when nearly everyone has a GPS-enabled phone and can navigate to and from the ballpark or the airport.

Farmers in Africa use mobile devices to check on their crops, and the music industry has been transformed worldwide with the proliferation of offerings on mobile devices.

Medical care increasingly relies on mobile handsets for connectivity, and we even use a phone to buy a cup of coffee.

Mobile devices can make it easier to stay in touch and even to share games together, from Words with Friends to Angry Birds and many more.

Newsgathering has changed as people can participate in the reporting of stories, from elections to New Year’s Eve to the Olympics and far beyond.

It’s hard to find a part of our world that hasn’t been affected.

We even have new questions of how to handle respectful interaction, in situations from meetings in the office to dinner at a local restaurant.

All this aside, behavioral changes resulting from mobility can and should be additive to the other parts of our lives so that the devices help us to be connected.

We should always remember that it’s really about the people around us, enriching our daily experiences.

As a first-time CEO, what is your 100-day goal? Or is that too long in mobile time?
This is a successful business that’s ready for its next big growth stage.

My 100-day goals include reinforcing customer service with intense focus and also tapping into the skills and interests of our team members and partners. These things make all the difference.

I know that it’s tempting to think of 100 days as an eternity in mobile time and to observe that things change rapidly. And there’s truth to that.

At the same time, some trends are predictable over a period of years and the increasing use of mobile devices in many respects is one of them.

We want to position ourselves as the clear, recognized leader in helping local media be compelling and sustainable on mobile platforms far into the future.