“The human factor is the biggest challenge at the moment.”

Florian Laszlo

Interview with Florian Laszlo, Secretary General of FIBEP and CEO of Observer, a leading media intelligence company in Austria.

Hi Florian, what is your background and what is included in your current role at Observer?

I studied law and held several positions in communications and event management, and then started at the family company, Observer. After a while, I became part of the executive team, and since 2013 I’m the sole CEO of the company.

As we are a rather small company, my role is quite diverse. I lead the key strategic product development and marketing; it’s a 360 degree role as is usual for executives in smaller companies.

What differs Observer from other social media intelligence companies in Austria?

We are the media monitoring company with the longest and best track record. If you count forums, we have been doing social media monitoring since 1999. We have been monitoring platforms since 2008 or 2009 on a regular basis with different tools to compile analysis for our clients.

We developed our own scanning and spidering technologies, but we use different suppliers so we can combine the feeds to the most optimal outcome.

Observer has been around for a very long time. How has the company been able to stay relevant through different trends over time?

My company is 122 years old and has been doing media monitoring since the beginning. You see that new trends seem to be really new if you look at them from a close range, but if you take a few steps back, they’re not so new, they’re just an aberration of the same thing.

I think that the human way of communicating and engaging with each other didn’t change over the years that much. I think that the development of the media industry will go way slower than you would expect if you see what new types of media are being developed. On the basis of human communication, it stays the same, regardless if it’s on Facebook or on a handheld device, it’s still human communication. The big question is how to create a business model that’s adapted to the changing landscape, but still takes into account the relatively unchanged basics of human communication.

What are your greatest challenges ahead at Observer when it comes to serving your customer analysis and developing your offer?

The biggest challenge is that while we get access to data from the platforms, mainly Facebook, the data has been reduced in depth several times. That poses an issue that we have to deal with.

Another challenge is getting the clients to understand the relevance of what we’re doing so they don’t just think that we have cool analytics, but truly understand the necessity of our work for their daily decision making.

Have you recently, or are you planning to, release any new technology-based solutions that will add to or improve your services?

I do not see any new solutions or technology coming around. We have to optimize the existing tools and approaches. The next challenge is on the side of implementation; we still see large limitations that technology and artificial intelligence has in delivering results that are final and can be sent directly to the client. The biggest challenge is the compilation of relevant and understandable results; the human factor is the biggest challenge at the moment.

All clients have different levels of understanding how media can be analyzed; what is the most common misconception that your clients have?

The biggest misconception that clients have is that gathering and analyzing data is easy, and the second misconception is that they feel that the data just falls out of the machine. That is not the case and can leave clients quite unhappy because they expected something different and are not satisfied with the result.

Clients often feel this process should be quite cheap or completely free, but social is actually much more expensive than some old school things because there is so much work involved. Data access alone involves three figure sums, which definitely doesn’t meet the expectation of the clients.

With the experience you have in this industry, being with Observer for the last 17 years, what changes in the industry have been the most unexpected over the years?

I would not see unexpected changes—as technology progresses, humans are sticking to their known behavior and perhaps will never change at all.  The big difference is seen between perception and practical life concerning the importance of social media. The clients still see print, radio and television as relevant, while everyone is talking about online and social.  The difference between the quality of a PDF document and a link, and the difference between seeing a physical result or visiting a website, is the important thing, and seen as more valuable and priceworthy, which leads to less price sensitivity there.

When it comes to the actual data behind the media intelligence you do, what kind of data or media can be interesting in the future that is not used today?

We are probably looking at much less data that we can access in the future than right now because the access will be reduced and limited as platforms are more reluctant to share data, and there is the legal issue of privacy. With less data from social media, the importance of analyzing the data that we get is also rising.

You are the Secretary General of FIBEP, which is heading towards the 50th FIBEP World Media Intelligence Congress in Copenhagen in October. What are your expectations for the event, and what do you think will be the hot topics and discussions there? 

The hottest topic will be design, specifically user interface and experience. As we have so much data, but no one can digest it, you need analysis that compiles it into digitized form and processes it to make it understandable to get insights. Getting more data is not the important thing, it’s more about getting smart and relevant data that can be extracted from the large number of data volumes we can access.

The second aspect of the event is to meet and network with colleagues from around the world. We share our experiences with each other so we can walk away from the event more informed.

What are the greatest challenges for FIBEP as an organization in the near future when it comes to supporting its members?

The challenge is the same for all organizations, which is staying relevant in the changing landscape and providing relevant information to members. I’m not doubtful that the challenge will be met easily in the future.

Since we don’t send out data, but make human contact and meeting possible and interesting, I’m sure it will become even more relevant as the world grows together and the media markets develops, making it more important to share insights.

FIBEP shares a lot of members and interests with AMEC, International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication. How would you describe the relationship between the two organizations today and in the future?

We have a very positive relationship with AMEC because we work together on many projects and will continue doing so. We have two different strongholds—AMEC concentrates on the valuation part, while FIBEP has the historic base in data gathering and processing, which was called monitoring once. It’s about data as a first step, and the second is analysis; no data means no analysis. That is the reason many of the members belong to both organizations, so that they can discuss analysis and evaluation.

How would you like to see FIBEP change over the next 10 years?

I would say it will change and needs to as the industry changes, but as I don’t know how the industry will change, I can’t say how FIBEP will. Predictions are a lot harder than in earlier times, so the solution is staying agile and adapting quickly. What is obvious is that the growing professionalization of the industry and corporate structures leads to a more professional structure of the association in general; not so much pro bono work and not so much interest of young professionals in doing that.

Members expect the same from the association as you would from a professional workshop organizer, that is the general change in Western society that affects FIBEP, and the organization needs to be flexible to adapt to what industry trends will bring.

How do you think the media intelligence industry will change in the next 5 years, and what are the greatest challenges?

I think the industry will grow in importance and will see new competitors coming into the field from consulting. We will see the move from monitoring and evaluation to insights and to consulting. For example, bookkeeping was once a simple service, and now the Big 4 are doing consulting on a quite consistent and high level, and they still do bookkeeping themselves as well.

That will happen in the media industry as well, so we will add on consulting and we will be much more competitive with classic consulting companies who will try to cover our special areas as well.

The greatest challenge is new competitors with a different background; the successful ones will move up the food chain from providing limited and specific services to broader consulting roles, as that is what the market expects and where the outsourcing trends will lead to.

Look what happened to companies that offered map services when Google Maps started doing it for free. Someone can say they will compete for free, making it a big threat to others.

By Renata Ilitsky