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Building the largest DOOH network in SA – it’s a little like Lego

Starting a business is a notoriously difficult exercise, with as many as one in five failing within the first year of operation. But starting up a business in the relatively young field of digital out of home (DOOH) media, based on a completely new concept that requires media owners – who tend to be highly territorial – to trust each other and work together? That takes guts – but this is exactly what Polygon’s Managing Director, Remi du Preez, did when it was first established in March 2023.

Polygon, a programmatic aggregated digital out of home (DOOH) publisher network, is made up of thousands of screens belonging to multiple media owners. The network is designed to maximise omnichannel advertising campaigns, while integrating accredited audience data. This gives advertisers a single point of entry into the network, allowing them to target audience sets across multiple touchpoints and venues along the customer journey.

Just over a year after opening Polygon’s doors, Remi now heads up a team of seven full-time employees and runs the country’s largest network of DOOH inventory. We sat down with him to find out what he has learned after the first year of business.

Almost a year on, how has Polygon’s journey progressed?

While we managed to get a lot of buy-in from advertisers and publishers alike, we’ve had to move and grow pretty fast to support the demand from both areas.

We had a couple of hard and fast learnings, especially around some of the technology platforms we utilise. We’re realising that things don’t always work the way they should; but, through much perseverance (and sleepless nights), we’re now at a point where we’ve ironed out the kinks and proven that we have a viable business model.

What have been some of the other challenges you have faced along the way?

I definitely had a few nights where I lay in bed thinking, ‘What are you doing? This isn’t going to work,’ but you somehow push through and make a plan. We’re also lucky to have an exceptionally resilient team.

Recruitment has also been an interesting exercise. I specifically set out to bring in talented, capable individuals, but without conventional experience in the OOH industry, as I didn’t want “the way things have always been done” to cloud the thinking. I wanted fresh ideas brought to the table and a new way of approaching things – and this is what our core team brings.

Because we talk to digital and programmatic strategists, it’s been great to see things from a different perspective and build a product and service that caters to those needs. One of the best parts of the job is coming out of meetings where my team has taken over and taught me new things in our space.

What have been some of your major successes and wins? 

My goal this past year was to grow our network to 600 screens. By our eighth month of trade, we had onboarded 1400 screens, which now makes us the largest DOOH network in South Africa. 

We have a further 1300 screens coming onboard by June this year, and we’re entering another six African countries as well, so we’ve been rather busy!

Our business model and what we’re striving to achieve has also gained attention from the industry. I was invited to serve as a keynote speaker at the World Out of Home Organization (WOO) Regional Forum this year, which has led to more speaking engagements and new partnerships.

I was quite pleased that we moved into the black within a short period. Not being so concerned about cash flow means you alleviate some of the constant pressure that comes with running a business.

What has the feedback been like from your stakeholders?

Overall, really great. Our advertisers find immediate value as, thanks to our advanced measurement capabilities, they can see what drives attribution when they run campaigns with us. We have spent quite a bit of time on our customer service component and make sure that we work very closely with our clients so that we can manoeuvre quickly in the middle of a campaign if needs be, as we move to near real-time evidence-based models.

As for our publisher partners, they see our partnerships as a steady, low-maintenance revenue stream, so it’s good to grow incomes while doing good work for advertisers too.

We work with quite a number of independent, black-owned publishers that have very small networks. They often find it challenging to sell their inventory due a highly competitive and fragmented outdoor media landscape. Polygon helps drive their business growth by making them part of a larger, easy-to-buy network. We also offer free coaching and mentoring to smaller media owners, helping them to operate their businesses more efficiently.

We’re driven to increase DOOH’s share of market. It’s well-known that online media takes a large chunk of the advertising pie, which ultimately leaves the SA economy and goes to big tech overseas.

When advertisers decide to move some of their budgets into the DOOH space, there is a direct investment into the local economy. Big tech still makes its money, sure, but the main recipients are the media owner and the site’s land-owner, which is often a non-governmental organisation or school, which benefits from the extra injection of funds.

On a personal level, how has this transition into business leadership been for you?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have led teams at a senior level previously, so it wasn’t too tough of a transition. My vision and mission are my northern star, which I use to drive and excite my team and clients alike. I liken my work to playing with Lego; it’s about following a roadmap or plan, getting a little creative when you get stuck and having fun with it.  

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