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Breaking new ground with Scott Mitchell, Vistar Media’s Managing Director for Canada

His thoughts on programmatic evangelism, connecting digital cookies to foot traffic, and the power of a hunger for knowledge.

December 1, 2020

This interview is part of our new series: Something to write Out-Of-Home About. Every month, we’ll be interviewing innovative marketers and innovators thinkers on their perspectives. Click here to subscribe to a monthly reminder for this series.

Scott Mitchell’s career is an object lesson in the power of curiosity.

Mitchell, now an out-of-home industry leader with experience at Microsoft, TubeMogul, and Yahoo, didn’t even consider a career in advertising until a chance encounter in his final year of university.

“There was this guy I’d see every Friday at hockey,” says Mitchell, now Vistar Media’s Managing Director for Canada. “His name was Chris Sharpe. He’s like, ‘Hey man, what are you doing after university? You’d be great in the advertising space.’”

With the help of some introductions from Sharpe, Mitchell jumped into the industry after graduation. After 10 years of relentless learning, he’s risen from his first job as an account coordinator at an agency to running the Canadian arm of the programmatic platform Vistar Media.

Read on for insights from Mitchell on the state of the industry and his advice for those just launching their careers.

On advertising’s relationship with technology

Mitchell has been drawn to new technologies and new firms over the course of his career. The thread runs from his current post at Vistar, which is a leading platform for programmatic ad buys, to his early days working with clients who developed nanotechnology for medical applications. 

Which makes his take on the OOH advertising industry’s adoption of technology surprising.

“Advertising has been very late adopting new tech,” he says. “Look at other areas, like finance. Fintech was way before. Travel was before that. Netflix was before that too.”

Despite this, he feels advertising, and the OOH space in particular, has passed a tipping point in the last few years.

“It’s kind of like mobile phones,” he says. “They’re part of who we are now. I think the outdoor advertising space has adopted tech in the same way.”

On how to introduce marketers to digital out-of-home buying

When Mitchell meets a marketer unfamiliar with using programmatic buying or OOH, he connects them to three pillars of all modern marketing: data, automation, and measurement. 

“I start the talk with those three pillars,” he says. “I keep it at a very high level.”

“We have to understand that as special as we think we are—yes, digital OOH is great—marketers are also worried about content, about photoshoots, about CRM. Our slice of the pie completes the pie, but we have to help them understand that value and why it matters.”

He often draws a comparison between cutting-edge digital OOH tech (like Vertical Impression) and the more familiar digital cookies that follow internet users around the web.

“Say you’re McDonald’s and you want to reach Tim Hortons coffee drinkers,” he says. “You could be like, ‘Hey I wanted to understand every person who has been to this Tim Hortons three times in the last week.’

“Keep in mind, we’re not saying ‘Scott is going to Tim Hortons.’ We’re saying, ‘this mobile device ID has been to a Tim Hortons.’

“So that definition layer can be extrapolated on a couple different levels. In this example, we can create that and build an audience strategy based on people who have been at Tim Hortons.

“A platform like Vistar makes connecting all the different lines of data with media owers much easier”

On the pandemic’s impact on OOH

A pandemic slowed by staying at home presents undeniable challenges to an industry predicated upon people leaving their homes. But Mitchell sees the impact of COVID-19 on OOH as more of an opportunity than a crisis for the industry.

“In a traditional OOH mindset, you have 8-10 hours to reach an audience. I wake up, jump on the street car, go to the office, have lunch, go the gym, go to the bar, and come home,” he says.

“Our new COVID window is completely different. It’s four hours depending on who you’re trying to reach. And that movement pattern is completely different.”

With less time to reach the audience, Mitchell says, OOH players need to be more precise in their use of data and incorporate it into new parts of their strategies. There is a world of difference between residential, commercial, and traffic oriented OOH. 

“And a larger message is that we need to continue to talk about investment in OOH because people are still out of their homes,” he adds. “We need to look at this holistically and say ‘all boats will rise.’”

On his advice for up-and-comers

Mitchell’s top tips for young people in the OOH space are to never stop learning and to be excellent to each other.

“I would say keep an open mind. Continue to learn about something new in this industry every day. There’s so much to learn. When I first started, I didn’t know anything about OOH,” he says. “Be thirsty to want to learn, and be innovative. Think about how you can continue to change and add to this ever-growing channel.

“And I would say be kind. Help lift other people up. 

“I think that’s really important if we want to see this grow.” 


BONUS: On what he’s reading

Mitchell recommended two books as powerful reads for those in the OOH industry. 

The first is Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear. The book is a guide to creating good habits and breaking bad ones.

The second is The Four Agreements For a Better Life by Don Miguel Ruiz, which presents wisdom from the pre-Colombian Mesoamerican Toltec tradition.

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