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The Evolving Media Monitoring Industry

A podcast interview about the business of media monitoring with Metro Monitor’s President

Metro Monitor’s president, Bryan Council, was recently interviewed for the Blueprint Podcast. In the interview, Bryan shares his thoughts on the ever evolving media landscape and how the media monitoring industry has changed over the years. Also included in this podcast, is a discussion on the history of Metro Monitor from the early days of broadcast news monitoring through the latest technologies that are being deployed today to assist clients in staying on top of how their brands are being discussed across all media outlets.

A transcript of the interview is provided below:

Speaker 1: The Blueprint Podcast with David Lamb. How great businesses are built.

David Lamb: Successful entrepreneurs are flexible, if nothing else, ready to respond to sudden and
drastic market changes. Today’s guest on The Blueprint Podcast has had to exhibit the flexibility of a
yoga instructor in the market he’s in. Bryan Council is president of Metro Monitor, a business that
monitors the media. And the media landscape is ever evolving and shows no signs of settling down.
We caught up with Bryan at his home office in downtown Birmingham.

Here with Bryan Council, we are in the offices of Metro Monitor. Good to see you, Bryan.
Bryan Council: Good to see you, David.

David Lamb: You and I go back a bit of a ways. One of the neat things about this podcast is that it
does allow me to spend some time with people I respect and admire, and you are certainly on that
list. This business is certainly on that list. So, thanks for the time, first of all, for being on the

Bryan Council: Glad to do it. Its exciting.

David Lamb: So, Metro Monitor is the name of your company. You’re president of this organization,
founded by your father?

Bryan Council: Father and mother. [crosstalk 00:01:21] Definitely a family business.

David Lamb: For the folks that may not know, what do you do at Metro Monitor?

Bryan Council: Okay, what we do is keep people in the know about what’s being said about them in
the media. So, we got our start doing broadcast media. So, our tagline is “Watching the news for
you”. There’s a lot of news out there, it’s constantly being refreshed. There’s a 24-hour news cycle
and its really difficult for people to always know what’s being said about them in the media,
particularly companies. We work primarily with media relations, corporate communications, or folks
within an organization. And they tell us what they’re interested in knowing about. And we keep them
in the know.

David Lamb: All right, I don’t even know if these folks are your client, but say an Alabama Power
wants to keep up with how they are being mentioned in the media, all the different media, you guys
keep up with that and kinda report back to them.

Bryan Council: That’s right. And that’s a good example, a utility that may have coverage, not only in
Birmingham but Mobile, Huntsville, Dothan. If you’re sitting here in Birmingham, its hard for you to
keep track of what’s being said in Mobile. So that’s the problem we solve for our clients. We collect
all of the information, whether its broadcast on TV, online, we’re also doing radio content now. So if
there’s a news program that’s radio oriented, we’re monitoring all of that content on behalf of our
client. And then they tell us, if we’re interested in power outages, “Any mention of our brand”. We
organize that content, and then typically send a daily email to our contacts, and it gives them a
summary of what’s being said, and that they can actually click on and see or hear the audio.

David Lamb: So how … When did your mom and dad start Metro Monitor?

Bryan Council: It’s been around for a while, since 1993. So we’re about to get into our 25th year in
business and it’s evolved over the years.

David Lamb: Tell me, because, if you’re monitoring media, the media landscape is so different now
than it was in 1993.

Bryan Council: It is. When we first started, I like to say our competitive advantage was we knew how
to program a VCR. And nobody else did. (laughs) [crosstalk 00:03:29] Exactly. So we started out with
four VCRs and a notebook was our database. My mom would literally watch four stations worth of
news and make notes of who was in the media. And then reach out to those folks.
David Lamb: How did they know there was a business opportunity there?

Bryan Council: That’s a good question. My dad was always in media relations, public relations, and
he had a need for this service. So he would get his clients in the media, and then he would run home,
try to catch the news on the VCR, so he could show his clients how the story played out in the media.
So that was kinda the idea. He was like “If I need this, other folks must need it as well.” And that’s
where it started. And for the longest time we thought we were the only people doing this kind of
business. And then over the years we started connecting with other players in this industry, and
learned a lot over the years.

David Lamb: Your father was … He seemed to cast a big shadow.

Bryan Council: Absolutely.

David Lamb: I met your father a couple of times and he … I would think following him, and working
with him, and learning from him, I’m sure he was an incredible mentor, in terms of how to run this.
So what was it that your father … What’d you learn most from him? Because I guess you worked with
him here for a few years.

Bryan Council: We did, and my mom’s still active in the business. From dad, we definitely learned
how to take care of our customers, and really not worry about competition. What we learned from
dad was to always be better today than we were yesterday. And that’s kind of been one of our
signature things, is to keep evolving the business, keep learning, and remaining relevant to our
clients.

David Lamb: And your mom? What less … Cause you work with her, what are her strengths and what
does she bring to the table to make this work?

Bryan Council: Well, she’s helped us keep it in the road all these years. She was really the founder of
the business, and the person who ran the business when it wasn’t easy. With those early years in a
business, when you start it up, you have to spend a lot of days and nights working, working on the
weekends, and not necessarily making a lot of money doing it. So she’s really, kind of, the person
that built the foundation of what we’ve been able to build here.

David Lamb: When was the decision made for you to take the family business over?

Bryan Council: That’s a good question. Prior to joining the business, I worked in the corporate world.
I worked for the Federal Reserve for about three years, and then I worked at Blue Cross and Blue
Shield for about five years. But it was always helping this business in the background. I’d come
home at night, help out with technology. And then I just drew a line in the sand in the year 2000 and
said “I’m gonna make the leap from the corporate world to entrepreneurship.” And that’s when I did
it and haven’t looked back.

David Lamb: Was that a difficult decision? Or did you always, kind of, know you were going to end
up here?

Bryan Council: I didn’t know if I was going to end up here. I knew I wanted to do something
entrepreneurial and I wanted to do my own business. And I always had an interest in information
based services, and it was good timing. It was right about the time the internet started getting real
traction. I had an affection for technology, so I was able to leverage all that and place it on top of
this existing business.

David Lamb: Did you … I know your … I don’t recall exactly when your father passed away.
Bryan Council: A few years ago.

David Lamb: A few years ago. What was … So, when he passed away, were you working here then?
Bryan Council: Oh yeah. I’ve been here for 17 years, full time.

David Lamb: 17 years, wow.

Bryan Council: Yeah, long time.

David Lamb: And so you all worked really closely together for a few years.

Bryan Council: Absolutely, yep.

David Lamb: So, talk to me about how you keep up when … What’s kinda different about Metro
Monitor, and your clients and your business, is that its kinda shaky ground, because it seems like
every two, three, four years it’s almost like completely different. It just seems hard to keep up. How
do you stay relevant when your industry, your livelihood, is just so volatile, if you will? Because,
you’re talking about the media, right. Shows come and go, networks change overnight. There’s just a
lot of turnover and shake up. So how do you stay relevant?

Bryan Council: We keep doing more and more for our clients. So, when we started out just doing the
news here in Birmingham, recording four TV stations, we kept evolving. So, geographically, we’ve
expanded, to do the whole country. So anytime the news is on anywhere, we’re recording it, and
archiving it, and keeping a database of everything that’s said. Over the years we’ve also added
online content. So, obviously, that’s been a big change over the years. So much news is now digested
online, on your mobile phone, through Facebook, all these different media outlets. So we’ve had to
add social media as a component, a thing we look at.

Recently we’ve added radio content. So, there’s still a lot of great news that happens in your car,
listening to the radio. And then we’ve also, literally, as of last week, added podcast monitoring. So
we now have a collection of podcasts that we run through our indexing engine and create text. So if
our client is mentioned in a podcast, they’re gonna know about it.

David Lamb: So your clients, do you target the nation? In terms of who your clients are?
Bryan Council: We do. We’re particularly strong in the south-east. That’s where we’ve grown up over
the years. But yeah, we have clients in San Francisco, New York, all over.

David Lamb: What’s the wheelhouse of Metro Monitor? What do you think you all are just best at?
What is your “A game” in this industry?

Bryan Council: We focus on, what I would call, the mid-market organization. Somebody that has … If
it is a news maker, that’s in the news with some frequency. We’re not looking for the person that just
had one story today and is never going to be in the news again. Our particular sweet spot is that
client that’s local in nature but has a high level of frequency in the news. So it could be a utility, a
college or university, a hospital chain. Anybody that’s … You hear them regularly in the news. That’s
who we’re going to try and attract as a client.

David Lamb: Did it ever get … Have you ever considered selling? Have you ever considered …
Because I would think there’s a part of it, as I listen to you, and I’m entrepreneurial too, but there’s a
part … Like, if you’re selling houses, that’s a pretty simple … Folks need houses, folks need to sell
houses, folks need to buy houses. Right? It was the same thing twenty years ago. That need. With
you, there’s so much change. Has it ever been a burden? Has it ever gotten to where you’re pulling
your hair out and like “There’s got to be an easier way to make a living”?

Bryan Council: That’s true. It’s true of any business. There’s definitely been inflection points where
I’m like “Oh my God. What are we gonna do now?” It could be a technical leap that we have to make,
but its fun. To me, that’s the fun part of being an entrepreneur. You can look at it through either
lens. You can look at it like “This is discouraging. We’re going to have to keep evolving and investing
in our business. Or we can get out.” But really, staying static is not an option. So, you’re right about
that. You have to keep moving.

David Lamb: How do you stay encouraged? One of the things, when you and I were talking about you
joining on the podcast, you were saying you listened to a lot of podcasts.

Bryan Council: I do.

David Lamb: How many did you say?

Bryan Council: Probably about three a day, on average. I’m a bit of a … Probably no surprise. I enjoy
information, so I take it wherever I can get it. Whether its reading, listening to podcasts, watching
the news, listening to the news. I just really enjoy getting a lot of information. And that helps me in
my day job. It helps me to take a lot in, filter out what works for us.

David Lamb: As a leader, how big is the team here at Metro Monitor?

Bryan Council: We have six people here in Birmingham, at our Birmingham office. And then we
partner with about 20 other companies across the country. So collectively, we’re about 150 people?
Also, say we are … Our big secret weapon is all of our computers. We’re people plus about 500
computer servers who make this happen on behalf of our clients.

David Lamb: As a leader, how do you … What has kind of been … First of all let me ask you, who are
the most influential leaders, who have influenced you, and made you into the leader that you are as
you head this company today?

Bryan Council: Influences. Clearly, my parents. They’ve been a huge influence. From a corporate
perspective, I’m more in that tech focus. So I’m a Jeff Bezos fan. Those tech people that really
moving the needle in an interesting way. I just read the Elon Musk biography. Those kind of folks
that are doing really big things. I’m not trying to compare us to what they do, but I find inspiration in
those kind of leaders.

David Lamb: You also, ever since I’ve known you, you seem to be a “glass half full” kind of guy. Is
that a misread on me? Or is that kinda who you are?

Bryan Council: That’s mostly true. I think, being an entrepreneur, you definitely have days where
you’re, like, always a little bit paranoid, looking for the next shoe to drop. But that keeps us on our
toes. But yes, I’m mostly “half full”. But there are days, for sure, that I’m like “Ugh”. (laughs) It’s a
grind.

David Lamb: We all have those days. You also … It seems as though you surround yourself with
people that can, either mentorship or accountability, I don’t know what you … I know, there’s one
group, in particularly, that you’re a part of. EO, is that it?

Bryan Council: Entrepreneurs Organization, EO for short. I joined EO a couple of years ago, and it’s
an international group, but they have a local chapter here in Birmingham. And it’s really active. It’s
got … Right now we have 52 local entrepreneurs, and I would encourage anybody who’s interested
in the Birmingham community that’s looking for a group to join, that might be able to help.

David Lamb: What has been the advantage for you? Of being a part of that group?

Bryan Council: The advantage there is, we actually meet once a month for half a day, in small
groups. So you have about seven or eight other entrepreneurs you can meet with, that are similar
sized business. Some are bigger. Some are smaller. But you get to share your problems, your faults.
If you’re looking at new opportunities, you can vet them through this group. So it’s been very
helpful.

David Lamb: You also … Just again by observance, you and I … I don’t think we’ve ever discussed
this … As I think about Bryan Council … You seem to be big on Birmingham.

Bryan Council: I am. That’s a good observation.

David Lamb: And I mean big on the city of Birmingham. Your offices are in the heart of the city. Why
are you so bullish on Birmingham.

Bryan Council: I think it’s in the blood. I would say I’m a product of Birmingham. I’ve lived,
generally, in the city center my whole life. I went to Birmingham Southern College. I went to John
Carroll High School. Traveled a lot, but I always come back here. I think that Birmingham’s a great
place to call home. It’s a good base. It’s a great place to build a business. We have the right mix of
corporate customers that can help get a business off the ground. And I believe that Birmingham is
supportive of the entrepreneurial community. But, right now, I think we can all agree, we’re at an
inflection point in Birmingham’s history. There’s so much positive momentum, in terms of real estate
development. I would say anything from Avondale Park to Railroad Park is all good news. You can’t
walk anywhere on that path and not see something that should make you happy.

David Lamb: I know you’ve also been an investor and you are very entrepreneurial. You’ve kinda had
several roles in that. I was having a conversation with a fellow, similar to you, that kind of reminds
me of you. I guy who has a business here. And he is just really passionate about encouraging folks
with ideas to go for that startup, to take it out of your basement or just your brain, to go out there
and to do it. There seems to be a lot of that happening in Birmingham. So what would your advice,
first of all, to someone, who, kind of, thinks they’re listening. And they’ve got an idea, and they’re
trying to pick the brains of guys like you, to make sure their idea makes sense. What advice would
you give them? If somebody were listening, has a idea that they think is ready to go to market and
they’re ready to launch this thing.

Bryan Council: Two things. I think it is important to reach out to people who have done it before. I
think that listening to things, like this podcast, are helpful. So you have to reach out. You have to vet
your idea. But, at the end of the day, some of the best ideas that actually make it to market are the
ideas that seem not very good in the beginning. Even this idea, when my parents first discussed it, I
told them, I said “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of. People are going to pay you to watch
TV?” But here I am, all these years later, doing it.
So I think that … I also think, you just actually have to do it. You have to draw that line in the sand,
pick a date on the calendar and do it. I would say start as young as possible. Its easier when you’re
single, no kids, to take those risks. And if you’re not, be sure you’ve got some resources set aside
cause it takes a while to go from zero to a thriving business.

David Lamb: When you look at where Metro Monitor is today, versus where your parents started, its
like its a different business in many ways.

Bryan Council: It is.

David Lamb: I don’t know who came up with this, but I’ve been using it lately, quite a bit. And it’s the
philosophy of “ready, shoot, aim” is really the way to go about business. You spend as much time as
you can, try to get folks who are smart and wise and been there and done that. And get graded by.
So get ready. But then shoot, because what’s going to happen is, you’re going to have to figure out,
and maybe where you start is not going to be end up.

Bryan Council: That’s right.

David Lamb: You agree with that?

Bryan Council: We do that often in our business. We experiment with different tools we can use in
our business. And Sometimes we’re like “Eh, we’re not sure if it will help or not, but let’s invest a
little money, see if it works.” 90% of the time it’s a non-starter. It doesn’t help us at all. I think the
podcast I was just mentioning that’s a good example of something, where we believe there’s a
product there that will help our customers, and it’s a differentiator for us. Whether or not it’s going
to move the needle in a meaningful way, we don’t know yet. But we’re willing to take those small
risks.

David Lamb: It is interesting the momentum and all that’s going on in the city of Birmingham. It’s
exciting to see, to me. As the city goes, this whole area goes. So it’s incredibly important to foster
that. What advice do you have … Again, we have a lot of folks who listen … I get feedback from you.
And I actually got feedback from you about a podcast episode. I appreciate that. But, there’s a lot of
folks who have ideas and they’re sitting on them. They’re just like “I want to make sure the timing is
right.” And so often it seems like fear of failure, the fear of risk and … Its just moving from zero just
to start, its like miles long. Any advice to that person?

Bryan Council: Yeah, I think it’s important to start anything. If you try to … There is such a thing as
“analysis paralysis”. If you look at the whole business, and all of the million little things you have to
do, whether it’s just getting business license, own up. There’s million things that take time. But you
have to start with one thing. So that would be my advice, is just action. And view every day as brick
in your building that you’re building. And everything you do on your to-do list is adding a nice new
brick to your structure.

David Lamb: How important is it to get away and unplug, as a leader? And especially, you are a fault
leader. A lot of what you do is, really, think and strategize, and its less action. It’s almost what you’ve
got to do before you know the next step to take. You and I are friends on Facebook, I see some of the
trips you and your wife take, and they are fantastic.

Bryan Council: Yes.

David Lamb: Is that one of the ways that you recharge?

Bryan Council: I do. And I think, travel to me has always been, A: Its enjoyable. But we like to travel
internationally. I think it’s been a big factor for me, just to totally get away. When you go to a totally
different culture, its hard to worry about what’s going on back home.

David Lamb: And you’re going totally … I think I remember a picture of you on a camel.
Bryan Council: Yeah that was recent. We went to Morocco. So when you’re on a camel, you’re not
thinking about what’s going on back here at the office. You’re just trying to stay on the camel.

David Lamb: (laughs) Exactly.

Bryan Council: But you do. You learn a lot by trying to … When you’re traveling, especially in a
different culture, you’re learning 24-7. You’re not on autopilot. So, your senses are up. You’re trying
to communicate with people that don’t speak the same language. You’re eating different foods. So
yes, its easy to get in a rut when you’re doing the same thing every day, 365. So I think it is
important, at least once a quarter, to reboot, whether it’s just a day off to go somewhere locally. But
if you have the luxury of being able to travel somewhere that’s different, I encourage it.

David Lamb: We have a guest-fellow coming up on the podcast, who is the president of a company
with 300 employees. And he was talking about how he used to think being in charge was being able
to do everything and anything. And he doesn’t discount the value of being able to do that. But he
says the greatest thing he can do is to get away and think about where they’re headed, where the
markets headed, where they need to be in a year. That is where he’s most valuable. Not doing a job
that somebody else can do, because as president, as leader, only he can head the company in the
direction. He’s the one that people depend on for the vision of where we’re headed and where the
market is. Is that something that you’ve found out as well?

Bryan Council: Absolutely. The EO group we talked about, I spend a lot of time out of the office
meeting with other entrepreneurs, other business leaders. And it’s at least a couple times a week
that I’m not in the office, physically. I’m out in the community, either talking to a customer, talking
to a partner. SO yeah, I spend a lot of time … I was actually looking at a notebook, I keep a lot of
notes on strategy and what I think we can do next. And I was looking this morning and for the past
year, you can look back … It’s fun to look back in time and see “What were we thinking strategically
six months ago?” And seeing some of those things actually happen, right now. It’s fun.

David Lamb: A couple of different questions from me. First of all is about this succession here. From
your father leading this venture to, now, you leading it. Any secrets or tips as to how that works?
Sometimes that does not work at all. So, how did you guys make it work?

Bryan Council: It was never a thing. We were lucky, I guess. I mean, we’ve always had a close family
relationship. So that’s never been a problem at all. [crosstalk 00:22:54] Its just been pleasant.
David Lamb: Strategically, was there anything you guys did that you think … If you were to advise
someone, a father who wants to pass it on to his kids, any tips or advice there as to do it effectively?

Bryan Council: Personally, I think that my work prior to joining the company was an important piece.
Like, being out in the corporate world, working with other people, for other people, gives you some
experience. I think it’s hard if you just grow up in a family business and never have been out in,
quote, “the real world”. I think that was a key thing for me, to be able to come in with some real
experience in the corporate world.

David Lamb: How are you different, as a leader, today as we sit here, versus when you got the keys
to all this? How have you changed? Because, that’s how many years now?

Bryan Council: 17. I would say, if you were to look at me 17 years ago, there’s some things that
haven’t changed at all. Still, basically the same guy. I would say I am less hands on, today, than I
was in the beginning. Because, in the beginning, you’re doing everything. You’re doing the books,
you’re signing the checks, you’re editing the video clips, you’re recording the news, you’re the tech
guy. So yes, its evolved from that. And, over the years, I’ve found different ways to outsource some
of those functions, so I do have more time to think strategically.

David Lamb: You like where you are, still?

Bryan Council: I do. I love it.

David Lamb: You having fun?

Bryan Council: I am having fun. And I’m looking forward to the next 17. We’ll see what happens.

David Lamb: Yeah, you’re a young guy.

Bryan Council: I’m youngish. (laughs)

David Lamb: You’re young. It’s awesome to catch up with you, Bryan. It’s good to see you as always.

Bryan Council: Good to see you.

David Lamb: And congrats on the success of Metro Monitor and all that you’re involved in. You’re
certainly an asset to this city. So thank you.

Bryan Council: You are as well.

David Lamb: Thanks Bryan.

Bryan Council: Thanks.