Amidst Sale Plans, Harris DS Unit Says Business As Usual

I caught up by phone today with Denise MacDonell, who runs the digital signage/digital OOH team at Harris, and has been engaged for the past day or so in a running variation of “Keep Calm and Carry On” in the wake of news that the parent company was going to sell off the broadcast division, which includes her group.

The message she’s passing on to clients, prospective clients and partners is that it is business as usual. “We’re absolutely, positively not being wound down,” she stressed, adding that she and her key industry-facing account people, Carre Dawson and Rebecca Walt, aren’t going anywhere either.

She conceded the announcement that the broadcast division was discontinuing operations would tend to get tongues wagging, but said that is a phrase finance people use that shouldn’t be literally interpreted by mere mortals (my term) as meaning operations really are being discontinued.

MacDonell, who’s just coming off maternity leave after having baby #3, says any perception that digital signage and digital OOH doesn’t really fit within the Harris broadcast business has a lot to do with observers not understanding that the group is all about media management and digital distribution. “We’re seen as a very strategic initiative.”

As the company has asserted in its official statements, MacDonell suggests the broadcast group getting out from under the huge Harris umbrella is a good thing. A lot of the business done by Harris is government and military, so there is a lot of process and procedure to decisions and operations. That doesn’t work so hot in the media business, where most of the competition is infinitely more nimble. Just making some hay about bagging a client takes a pile of work and approvals.

There are at least a couple of scenarios that could play out here:

1 – Another big broadcast service company buys and rolls in Harris;

2 – An investor group buys and grows the group.

I asked her about the 7-Eleven program, and my take that it is a big ball and chain for her group and for Harris Broadcast. She conceded the DDN digital OOH network has been slow going on the nation-wide advertising uptake.  There are now 4,300 stores installed, which is crazy to think about how fast that went in. Sales have been going up month on month, she says, and DDN is meeting its commitments to Harris.

But 4,300 is a BIG media buy and national ad sales, via ABC, have been tepid. That’s certainly not unique to this network. Where there has been some genuine success has been with regional buys, notably with state lotteries such as California’s. I don’t know if California has its own in-store digital screens, but if not, this medium really would be a natural fit.

The impression I was left with is that the 7-Eleven network is not flying high, but it’s not a drain on Harris like I kinda thought, as do others, that it might be.

Just about everybody reading this has probably at some point been at an acquired or for sale company and been reassured that all is well and nothing will change. I got that once as a VP, and found myself walking a plank six months later. So we’ll see. It depends heavily on the new owner/investor.

But for now, MacDonell says things are just rolling as always. Keep calm. Carry on.