As a media buyer at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Boulder, Colorado in 2012, Alex Kronman was tasked with helping brands like Domino’s Pizza reach young people, particularly college students. As a recent college grad, Kronman thought of a neglected avenue: college newspapers. There were more than 20 million college students in the U.S. who grabbed physical papers, read campus news online, listened to college radio stations and looked at posters in dorms. Easier said than done to place the ads, though, as the college newspaper and radio business is a decidedly low-tech affair of door-to-door sales to local pizza joints and bars.
Kronman, a former editor-in-chief at Colorado College’s The Catalyst, decided to leave the agency world to start Flytedesk, formerly called College Press Club. The name breaks down to “flyte” — a flight of media — and “desk” — a trading desk and the newsroom. The simple idea: make ad buying easier within college publications.
“I heard brands say, ‘Hey, we can’t reach college kids.’ Colleges themselves have a lot of audience churn, but it’s always the audience you want,” Kronman said.
Kronman’s platform initially let advertisers buy ads in college-based print publications. It has since expanded to digital editions, radio and outdoor ads on campuses. The tool allows buyers and sellers to view and act on available inventory. After purchasing, buyers can process payments and verify the ads following publication.
For pricing to buyers and sellers, Flytedesk takes a cut of each campaign. Kronman said it varies depending on the scale.
Five years after launch, Flytedesk now has 20 employees and works with 2,300 student media organizations, including The Stanford Daily, Penn State’s Daily Collegian and Iowa State Daily. The company, still based in Boulder, is backed by $4.5 million in venture capital funding. His group of investors includes his old boss, Chuck Porter of CP+B.
“He always had the most high-fashioned glasses in the place. I thought, ‘Wow, this guy is a techie, but he’s got a great eye,’” Porter said.
Now, as an investor in Flytedesk, Porter meets with Kronman about once a month for a beer at the St. Julien Hotel in Boulder. He said he believes in the startup’s mission to serve the college market, as someone who still hears his clients crave the attention of younger generations, and that he sees the startup’s value even among the world’s gigantic media buying services.
“Clients spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out where are the fish. Even if a brand or a marketer knows [of college media], it’s really hard to buy. If I’m a marketer and I want to buy all the colleges in the Northeast, I have to talk to 100 different people. What Alex did is make it one,” Porter said.
Of course, Flytedesk has competition to solve the same problem. Refuel Agency, based in New York, works with more than 3,400 student media organizations, according to its website. Campus Media Group also helps agencies and brands with college marketing. MediaMate manages advertising for Tufts University and University of Connecticut, for example.
On the advertiser side, one of Flytedesk’s first clients was Trojan. The condom brand still uses the platform. Other popular verticals on Flytedesk are consumer packaged goods companies and financial services companies, Kronman said. About 30 percent of ads in the last year have come from political clients like campaigns, PACs and other advocacy groups.
“Anyone who thinks more about the lifetime value of a customer,” Kronman said. “My dream is to get AARP to be a client and show there’s no one that doesn’t need college kids.”
Porter said that Flytedesk probably doesn’t need to serve denture adhesives or stairlifts but that the majority of brands would find success buying ads for college campuses.
“Conventional wisdom is there’s less brand loyalty than there used to be, but I think that people do form habits. College is one of the biggest changes in people’s lives. While you’re in college, that’s when you become you. So for a brand to engage them, that matters,” Porter said.