Tom Martin: Hammond Communications president says company evolves, thrives in digital age

Contributing columnistJune 15, 2014 

Ron Mossotti is president of Lexington's Hammond Communications.

  • Tom Martin's Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader's Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.

To be in the communications business these days is to remain up-to-date on the latest developments in the endless evolution of digital technology. It's the focus of Tom Martin's conversation with Ron Mossotti, president of Lexington's Hammond Communications.

Tom: What are the most significant changes you've seen in your business as a result of digital technologies?

Ron: Well, the hardware has completely changed over the years — because we no longer use tape, we no longer have to do all of the processes that we once did.

But the most significant part of that is the cost. Our hardware costs have dropped considerably and it offers many more folks the ability to be part of the industry, diminishing the amount of work for traditional production companies.

When we began in 1980, there were so few video cameras in town that you could command a good price for those services, as well as editing. Now, everyone you pass on the street has a video camera in their pocket. Their phones are able to edit video, let alone their laptops. So, the entry point to being able to work and thrive in the audio-video industry has come down to very, very low dollars.

Tom: And how has the technology impacted employment?

Ron: It has diminished the need for more human talent because the software allows one person to do many, many jobs.

However, on the other side of the coin, web development companies and folks working in the interactive world and streaming video and everything, there are much more opportunities out there for them outside of the broadcast industry.

Tom: Your menu of offerings at Hammond include digital signage, including outdoor billboards and the big wall screen displays that we see at places like Rupp Arena.

Ron: Right.

Tom: Is this a growth area in your business?

Ron: Well, industry experts predict it will be a $14 billion marketplace by 2017. And while many folks would think of digital signage as what you've just described, there are many other areas where it's currently being used that may go unnoticed, which sounds kind of silly because that's the whole point of it.

But, let's take the gaming industry for example. If you walk into a casino, there are video displays everywhere and if you're sitting a slot machine, you'll notice a little 2-inch-by-3-inch screen that is trying to sell you on the buffet for instance. So, everywhere you look nowadays, digital signage is creeping in and getting before our eyes.

Tom: I'm assuming that because back in 2007 the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council pulled the plug on digital signage in Fayette County you're not doing that business in this area?

Ron: That's correct. Outdoor display advertising isn't one of our fortes anyway. But let me say that you may be throwing the baby out with the bath water. If you were walking down Short Street and one of the finer restaurants down there simply had their menu displayed very tastefully on a digital panel outside their door, you might stop and look at that. But that's prohibited because it was thrown in with all these other large-format traffic-distracting type devices that they originally intended to prohibit.

Tom: So, the ordinance could use a little fine tuning?

Ron: I believe it could.

Tom: We're fairly inundated with media and information. Are electronic billboards viewed as an effective tool to cut through all that clutter or can they become part of it?

Ron: Well, I think both. The advantages to electronic billboards for instance is that they can be changed easily and for no production cost whatsoever. For instance because I deal with the Bluegrass Fair I have reserved the digital billboard down in Jessamine County on Nicholasville Road. That allows me the ability to change that daily to reflect the schedule at the fair. You couldn't do that with vinyl or paper.

So, there are some very good advantages. The owner of the digital billboard who is trying to monetize that space and that significant investment can now have six advertisers up there that rotate every 10 or 12 seconds, thereby increasing his profitability.

Tom: The 1985 Final Four tournament at Rupp turned out to be a pivotal event for Hammond Communications. Can you tell us a about that?

Ron: As a matter of fact, it's still the foundation business on our broadcast video side. In 1985, Jim Host of Host Communications, who was deeply involved with the NCAA at that time and responsible for a lot of their branding and marketing efforts, asked us if we would provide a pool press feed whereby our cameras were the only ones that would be shooting the press conferences and we would feed those signals up to a satellite and to local affiliates around the country, as well as in the press conference room itself where electronic media attending could grab that signal and record it.

It's mass chaos if you were to do it any other way because as the tournament grew in that year from 32 to 64 teams, to have four nationally recognized teams in one place and all the media attention would cause chaos. And everybody wants to bring their own lights and their own microphones and such, so we cleaned up that process and for not a lot of money at the time.

We produced the first NCAA press conferences and from that point on, we were asked to come back. And lo and behold, 30 years later, we're not only doing the Final Four, but the Women's Final Four and the Men's Regional. We're involved in 19 sites over a three-week period just for the NCAA.

I think it proves the point that someone with vision who's thinking about the future and wants to bring a large event like that to Lexington, it not only pays dividends in the immediate time around the event or just after it, but for us it's paid dividends for 30 years because we gained valuable clients because of their visit to Lexington, and they've kept us strong ever since.

Tom: Is traditional broadcast television losing ground these days to video-on-demand and live-streaming over the internet?

Ron: You have to think so because the capability nowadays of the live-stream is such that the quality is remarkable, the convenience is very easy.

Tom: We've got Apple TV, Roku. Now, Amazon Fire.

Ron: Right.

Tom: Are we getting to the point where all we're going to need cable for is internet to access those services?

Ron: I believe it is. There is quality programming coming out of companies like Amazon and Netflix.

Tom: You mentioned being an analog man in a very digital world. What's your experience as an employer of 20, 30-somethings?

Ron: Well, it's all been very positive. I've always made a point to hire folks that I know are smarter than I am. And, I probably learned more from my employees than I have from many other sources over the years. You know experience is the greatest teacher, but some of these young folks that come in truly understand the internet, the way it's supposed to work, and how computers are functioning and why this won't work with that. I'm way beyond that point with my technical learning curve. And so, to surround myself with those younger folks that are growing up and have grown up in the digital world is probably the thing that has saved our company.

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