A prominent local market intelligence company is set to makes its first move into the advertising technology space. With it comes a foray into building a company culture that’s remote from the beginning.
East Liberty-based CivicScience announced last week the formation of a new advertising data business as a subsidiary under the parent company. While the official name has yet to be announced, the new CEO will be Doug Lauretano, who has previously worked at adtech companies such as Media.net and OpenX.
Most notably, though, the company attracted $15 million in funding for its launch from prominent investors including Jeff Wilke, former Amazon CEO of worldwide consumer business, and Thomas Tull, former chairman and CEO of Legendary Entertainment. Wilke has ties to the region as a graduate of Keystone Oaks High School, while Tull owns multiple properties in the area and is also a partial owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The move will create two business entities within the central corporate structure of CivicScience, Inc., CEO John Dick told Technical.ly.
“We’ll just loosely call them our research business and our media business,” he explained. “The research business is ostensibly still CivicScience as it’s defined, but the media business will have a new brand and name that we’ll unveil in the next couple of months with separate leadership.”
The media business is CivicScience’s first official foray into adtech. Though much of CivicScience’s current business revolves around collecting consumer data through digitally published polls for clients, “we always sort of viewed adtech as a bad word and a dirty place,” said Dick, adding that CivicScience had “never really played in that space before, because of all the concerns we had about privacy and surveillance of consumers.”
But increased regulations around those issues, paired with an increased awareness from companies for protecting customers’ privacy made the industry more attractive to CivicScience. Launching now, in a market that emphasizes data privacy compliance, gives CivicScience an edge over competitors, Dick added, because “our unique position in the market is that we have a massive amount of privacy compliant data across all of these sites.”
"Things that concern me include, probably first and foremost, establishing and entrenching a culture — which is a lot easier to do when everyone's in meeting rooms together."
The new company will be headquartered in Pittsburgh just as the parent structure is now, while Lauretano will be based in New York, where there’s a solid talent pool for advertising and media expertise. But CivicScience still plans to hire technical talent from the Pittsburgh area for the new entity. (Check out some currently open roles.)
Since the start of the pandemic, CivicScience has been working remotely, and plans to operate virtually for the new company launch as well. Given healthier work-life balances and increased productivity levels Dick witnessed at the company since going remote, he’s confident that continuing operations in this way will be successful, particularly as the spread of the Delta variant has continued to encourage some measures of social distancing.
Still, launching a company remotely is different from shifting operations of an existing one to an online format, and Dick said he and his team will be on the lookout for certain challenges during the buildout.
“Things that concern me include, probably first and foremost, establishing and entrenching a culture — which is a lot easier to do when everyone’s in meeting rooms together and decorating their desks in their workspace and going to a happy hour after work,” he said. “Those kinds of things that you can do to ingrain camaraderie and culture in your business. That’s obviously much more challenging to do remotely.”
With an early company too, Dick also wants to ensure that employees are able to experience the entrepreneurial and innovative environment of a startup, which can also be difficult to replicate over video chat. To help address that, CivicScience will likely have some physical flex workspace available that employees can use should they decide in-person work is more efficient or productive for a given task. But, importantly, Dick emphasized that he can’t envision CivicScience mandating in-person work again.
“We absolutely anticipate a future where we have collaborative space available to people to work together in person when they want to work together in person” he said. “Is there going to be some scenario where people are required to spend X number of days or hours in that space? Not likely, unless we learn really definitively that it’s necessary, and I don’t believe we will.”
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.