Q&A: Comcast Spotlight's Jonathan Bernard

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Jonathan Bernard is an expert in automotive sales and Comcast Spotlight is putting that know-how into action by naming him director of automotive ad sales. His most recent responsibilities have been in Pittsburgh where he’s led Spotlight’s automotive sales efforts in the Tri-state area. Before that Bernard successfully ran Comcast’s first automotive sales team in Chicago for several years.

Bernard’s new role at Spotlight will focus sharply on building strong internal communications and relationships between the company’s local and regional/national teams. He will also play a lead role in Spotlight’s relationship with Vehix, which Comcast recently purchased all of, as well as oversee the company’s licensing of Polk Insight data. Bernard recently spoke with Local Ad Sales. An edited transcript follows:

Q: Comcast already owned 49% of Vehix. Why buy the rest of the company?

A: Vehix is one of the largest third-party automobile sites on the Web today. We wanted to buy the rest of the company and push it forward so it can become one of the top three. We are already one of the top 10 sites. We want to be one of the top three. We want to take Vehix to the next level in terms of ubiquity and sign up as many dealers as possible. We have doubled the number of dealers that advertise on the site since we started this program last summer and we hope to have every dealer in the country on board by the end of this year.

Q: How does Vehix generate revenue?

A: Going forward, there are many revenue-generating models we can take advantage of. Auto dealers pay a fee to be included in the dealer list. We are also now selling Internet banners, offering showcases and providing tie-ins with the web and our on-demand product. For instance, a manufacturer or dealer can create a two-minute video showcase that could be shown on Vehix and then also shown on our on demand auto channel.

Q: How will Comcast’s 100% of Vehix affect affiliation deals with other operators?

A: Vehix is owned by Comcast, but the company will continue to operate as a separate entity. The affiliation deals between operators and Vehix differ among operators and that is not expected to change. We’re not taking Vehix in-house, but we think we can improve the strategy of the service and communications among ad execs selling auto ads in all our divisions.

Q: What have you done to help AEs sell auto spots?

A: We have created a certification program that ad executives can take that will enable them to sell auto ads. Without that certification, they can’t sell auto ads. It’s a series of tests and classes AEs can take that will help better prepare them to successfully sell auto ads. The program teaches AEs about technology, knowledge of the product, terminology, how to pull reports that will help them sell ads and even some role playing so they are prepared when they walk into a negotiation.

Q: What is the mix of local, regional and national ads on Vehix these days?

A: The ads on Vehix right now come predominately from local dealers. But we are beginning to see more regional dealer groups advertising on the site and manufacturers are beginning to see the value of advertising on Vehix as well. Our banner ads and showcases are popular among the larger, more corporate entities.

Q: Is the threat of a recession and poor sales for auto manufacturers affecting your sales?

A: Actually, it’s not affecting our sales as much as you might think. The number of impressions on Vehix is up every month and the number of visitors to the site is also increasing monthly. Clearly, we have room to grow the business. But consumers want to be armed with information and that is what we provide. When a consumer is informed, he or she is more likely to buy something like a car and that is part of the value Vehix provides.

Q: What is the biggest hurdle in getting auto dealers to advertise on Vehix?

A: It’s not a new entity (Vehix’s predecessor AutoMall launched in 1996). But a lot of the things we’re doing now, like the banner ads, are new. Like most businesses, auto dealers are very interested in return on investment and because we only just started selling banner ads last summer, we don’t have a lot of history to go on just yet. But as the product grows, it’s becoming clear that advertisers like the opportunities they see. The banner ads in many of our markets are sold out. We also expect to use our multi-year licensing deal with Polk Insight to provide AEs with information they can use to provide in-depth sales information such as market share that is broken down into zones or even ZIP codes. That is valuable information to both the AE and the dealer.

Q: What kind of car do you drive and what would your dream car be?

A: I drive a Ford Explorer but I was in Denver last week and rode in a Rolls Royce Phantom. Now I sell cars and I know cars and I knew that there were only about 50 of them ever made. I was staying at the Ritz Hotel and asked for a cab but they said they could drive me to wherever I needed to go. I headed outside and here was this magnificent car. It was marvelous.

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