The company is moving its data solutions from the strategic to the operational.

Hanley Wood is a company worth paying attention to. In the last decade—that is, the first decade of the 21st Century, or the 2000s, or whatever it is we call that 10-year period—HW was a consistent innovator. Its innovation and organic growth was propulsive. It sold in 1999 for $260 million to VSS, and again in 2005 to JP Morgan for $650 million, both times for huge multiples.

Then the housing market collapsed in 2008 and all bets were off. The company lost a huge amount of revenue, virtually year-over-year. Its executives at the time referred to a reduction in size by as much as a half, though maybe that was apocryphal.

HW’s owners could have just broken it up and sold it off. But over the next couple of years, as the housing market stabilized, HW reacted. Even as digital disruption roiled the media industry and virtually all economic sectors, HW came up with a plan.

It was sold to a new ownership group in 2012, with the effect of significantly reducing debt. It acquired a research company called Metrostudy in 2013, a major provider of data on the housing market. It sold off its expo business in 2014, reducing its revenue by $68 million in a clear and counterintuitive bet on a new direction. It focused on digital media, and particularly on data as its new true north. In the last 12 months, Hanley Wood has really pushed this direction, and CEO Peter Goldstone has come up with a remarkably cohesive theory of the case. In a presentation last year, he outlined the company’s path. There was a new mission statement:

“Every day we create engagement with our audiences in ways that help our customers grow.”

There was supporting evidence for how technology is changing marketing. There was a commitment to internal organizational change. There was a presumed progression in the ways Hanley Wood proposed to help marketers:

· Data That Informs

· Media That Connects

· Marketing That Activates

All these things are vital, but they’re also bullet points in a slick presentation, and lots of companies can do that.

In addition, it’s important to consider the context. Centrifugal forces are driving the media industry, pulling marketing dollars away from traditional channels and creating opportunities for new types of companies to come in with better solutions. Legacy companies—of which Hanley Wood is definitely one—are both dwindling and pressured as never before. Many are adapting well. Many are not.

So this week, when Hanley Wood announced a new data product, it was worth paying attention to.

The product is called DataScale, a “data-as-a-service” offering. The point is to enable a flexible and scalable lead-gen platform that HW’s salespeople can take to market and that advertisers quickly understand. It does all kinds of things, like database cleansing and enhancement and audience targeting and segmentation. It taps directly into Hanley Wood’s enormous 2.5 billion-record database. Whether it does those things well is anyone’s guess right now.

The important thing is that HW is moving from the abstract—the strategic—to the operational, and giving its front-line people and its customers a real, tangible set of tools to help convert data into action and, ultimately, to sales.


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