The default strategy for many start-ups is to plan to be acquired by Google or Microsoft. But the M&A scene is much more complex than that. Jordan, Edmiston Group Co-President Tolman Geffs, speaking today at IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting in Carlsbad, California, joked that Google is set to buy Oregon, Washington and Canada “just to mess with Microsoft.”
Speaking more seriously, he noted that “we don’t need Google and Microsoft to buy everything.” Incumbent specialist firms would find higher value in a number of areas. These include marketing analytics, consumer data, cable and entertainment, Web delivery, infrastructure, major agencies, large display ad networks and performance advertising (such as Demand Media).
Geffs noted there is currently a vibrant deal environment, with 178 deals made in the second half of 2009 worth $13.3 billion. This was a major change from a “dead” first half when just 129 deals were completed, he said.
Still, there has only been a “partial recovery from previous levels for online plays. Classifieds is the only sector of advertising that was down,” he said. Especially hot areas include online media, interactive marketing, video and infrastructure plays.
A real “head scratcher” for Geffs is the $1 billion+ committed by Google ($750 million) and Apple ($275 million) for two mobile ad networks: AdMob and Quattro Wireless. “That’s the entire forecast for 2012 mobile ad revenue” he said, noting that the high prices have led to a stunning $211 million worth of investment in nine other mobile ad nets by VCs.
In fact, Geffs questions whether mobile is even a good ad medium. “They help consumers complete tasks,” he noted. But “is this a great promotional medium?”
Geffs, former president of IBS, a TV station Web site builder and advertising provider, is also critical of “vertically integrated” models that rely on content aggregation and search, such as Citysearch and ReachLocal. Costs are too high.
ReachLocal, for instance, is a vertically integrated play that only leaves 7 percent of its revenues to support its product and platform, after spending 55 percent on consumer traffic and 38 percent on sales and marketing.
He’s more excited about local companies that solve a problem and keep content, audience and sales costs low, such as Outside.in, Datasphere, Triton Media, MerchantCircle, Manta, Yelp and Angie’s List. “We are big fans,” he said.