Chait Moves Up, Out-of-Home Business Grows at MediaVest

Sep 12, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Norm Chait presides over the great outdoors for MediaVest.
Promoted last month to senior VP, his out-of-home group has been expanding as clients see that technology and targeting have improved what was once a humble business of buying billboards and other advertising, ranging from transit ads to promotions on coffee cups and dry cleaner bags.
When Mr. Chait arrived at MediaVest 2½ years ago to help move the firm’s out-of-home advertising operations from St. Louis to New York, the group had a staff of four. Now it’s up to 19.
The move to New York allowed the out-of-home specialists to be more integrated with the planning teams. The out-of-home business overall has been booming, with growth rates that trail only the Internet among categories of media.
“What keeps it exciting for us is that no day is exactly the same,” Mr. Chait said. “We’re dealing with lots of different touchpoints and opportunities to make connections with our consumers.”
Mr. Chait had been on the traditional side of the media buying business until a few years ago, when he noticed that if he had a client with a $10 million budget, the $100,000 outdoor program was the thing people talked about.
“With out-of-home we can build experiences,” he said. “We can create things that have stopping power, create events, infiltrate areas that people don’t necessarily expect. We can be surprising and engaging,” he said. “Now that the technology piece starts to bring you opportunities where it’s less of a passive exposure—it’s more of a one-to-one engagement with things like Bluetooth and text messaging—we can now have a much richer dialogue with our consumers.”
Out-of-home is being helped by better research. Mr. Chait pointed to figures from Arbitron that show people are spending more time commuting, which makes outdoor a better solution for reaching them. Also, the Traffic Audit Bureau is launching a massive study called Eye On that will show down to the individual billboard level how visible a message is.
At the same time, out-of-home displays are getting more sophisticated. Many are turning from billboard to video displays. Mr. Chait said that eliminates some production costs and provides greater flexibility by allowing advertisers to pick which time of day they want their messages to appear.
There are more than 700 place-based digital video networks in malls, cinemas and health clubs, Mr. Chiat said. That means advertisers are able to take a traditional TV message and potentially run it in different environments and reach those people while they’re engaged in leisure and other pursuits, he said.
Mr. Chait sounded particularly excited about one project the agency has handled for Starwood’s Westin hotel chain. It has essentially taken over the subway station in New York’s Grand Central Station, using several technologies to display the calming, soothing nature of Westin hotels in a place that’s usually chaotic, to say the least.
The interior of three subway cars of the Times Square shuttle are wrapped with graphics: One makes riders feel like they’re in a tropical rainforest, another depicts a coral reef and the third surrounds commuters with images of the mountains of Iceland.
Mr. Chait said he’s gotten anecdotal reports that some people in the station have urged fellow passengers to let a train go by because the next one is the Westin train.
The station itself features about 100 different advertisements using varied technology. There’s a lenticular sign, whose image changes as the viewer changes position, that flips from a chaotic image to a soothing one. Another uses CeeLite technology that allows specific areas of a billboard to be illuminated, while another lets commuters get a Westin ring tone via Bluetooth technology.
“It definitely compliments that whole experience that people have as they navigate through their daily commute,” he said. “It will hopefully bring a little sanity into their otherwise hectic lives.”
When he’s not at work, Mr. Chait’s own hectic life is largely filled by his two sons, who are nearly 3 and 8 months old.
“That doesn’t leave me very much spare time or time to sleep,” he said.
Born in Latvia, Mr. Chait came to the U.S. with his family when he was 3 and has lived in the New York City area ever since.
He discovered marketing and communications while attending Baruch College, and an internship with Backer Spielvogel Bates confirmed that was what he wanted to do.
He was offered a full-time post at Backer, then left to work at a smaller agency, Avrett Free & Ginsburg, to get a broader range of experiences. He then moved to Ammirati Puris Lintas, then to Ogilvy & Mather. So many of his Ammirati colleagues also moved to Ogilvy that they called Ogilvy “Ammirati West,” he recalled.
It was in Ogilvy’s media department, which became part of MindShare, that Mr. Chait decided to specialize in outdoor. Then he moved to MediaVest.
Mr. Chait said one of his passions is cooking. He’s taken lessons and loves Italian dishes and recipes from Provence. But these days, he’s mostly whipping up mac and cheese for the boys.
“That’s the audience I’m catering to these days. But on the weekends, I like to get a little creative with the barbecue,” he said. Cooking is “something I’ll come back to in a bigger way when the boys get older.”
Ditto for traveling. These days, the preferred destination is Disney World, but “eventually my wife and I will try to get back to traveling like we used to.”
Who Knew: Mr. Chait has what he calls a “pretty solid comic book collection from when I was a kid.” He started with superhero titles, such as the Hulk and Spiderman, then started thinking like a businessman by buying the first installments of new titles to tuck away.
He also spent his allowance and odd-job money to go to comic conventions and have the books signed by artists to increase their value. Mr. Chait said it has probably been 20 years since he’s looked at a comic book. “But there’s definitely some boxes in there that I’m glad my mother never threw away. And hopefully my kids will benefit some day, because there was a lot of love and time and care put into them.”

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