Spot Runner Lays Off 60, Refocuses on Video

It won’t be long now before Spot Runner stops pitching its services to local businesses entirely. In the past the company offered a range of small biz marketing channels, including search, video, directory, and lead generation. Going forward it will transact strictly in video ads, including both TV and Web-based spots, and will only sell them to national advertisers.

To achieve that narrower focus, the company just laid off 60 people and is preparing a sale of the assets of Weblistic, the local search ads provider it acquired a year ago. Those who lost their jobs were primarily in that local search unit or in Spot Runner’s outbound sales for its local platform business. TechCrunch first reported the headcount reduction.

Spot Runner said it expects to sell what remains of Weblistic within three months. Until then the company will continue to maintain account management and operations for existing local search clients. Spot Runner originally acquired Weblistic last March, and with it picked up local search, directory marketing, and lead generation technology built by the developers behind the YellowPages.com platform. The decimation of the business represents one of the more sudden flame-outs in the local digital ad space in recent memory. That said, the local category is facing broad challenges. Yellow Pages providers Idearc and R.H. Donnelley both reported bleak 2008 earnings last week. Idearc, which owns Super Pages and SuperPages.com, noted in its report that it may seek bankruptcy protection. “Unprecedented economic challenges this nation is facing are creating never-before-seen obstacles for our clients,” noted Idearc CEO Scott Klein.

“Advertising is down across all kinds of media,” said Spot Runner spokesperson Rosabel Tao. “Local’s been hit particularly hard. Local search in particular was out of our core focus area.”

Tao said the company will still offer local television ad sales, but its focus will be on national companies with regional marketing activities, including through franchises and subsidiaries.

Additionally, the company is developing a video ad brokering platform, dubbed Project Malibu, that’s now in testing with buyers and sellers of video media. Tao described the technology as an “all-digital platform that streamlines and enhances the buying and selling process for TV and video advertising.”

Malibu is designed in part to serve long-tail advertisers eager to try TV and online video ads but lacking the internal or agency resources necessary to do so. Those without creative assets can use the platform to pair up with video producers and other creative talent in the Spot Runner Production Network, acquired by Spot Runner early in 2008 when it was known as GlobeShooter. The company plans to make the platform widely available to marketers this summer.

Last week’s layoffs marked the third headcount reduction in nine months for Spot Runner, which laid off staff last August and again in November.

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