The backstory on the most frequently cited chart in digital media

When Terence Kawaja started working on a map of the digital advertising universe in 2009, it was never meant to see the light of day.

At the time, he worked at investment bank GCA Savvian and wanted a way to wrap his head around the mushrooming digital-media industry. As he updated and augmented the chart, he said, his colleagues would just roll their eyes.

“Especially when I said this is going to be really, really important for us. They didn’t agree with that,” said Kawaja, who now advises digital media executives and brokers deals through his own company Luma Partners (when he isn’t lampooning the industry with funny videos and commentary at conferences). “I was like the crazy guy with the slide.”

Three years later, he’s still the guy with the slide. But it would be hard to argue that his pursuit was a crazy one. In fact, just this week he introduced a similar slide on the exploding gaming industry.

Since unveiling his chart of the online advertising landscape at a conference in 2010, it has flown around the Web, ending up in powerpoint presentations, business school case studies, and cubicles industrywide. And Kawaja, himself, has brokered some of the biggest deals in the digital ad business in the past couple of years, including Yahoo’s purchase of InterClick and Google’s Admeld acquisition.

To date, versions of his slide have received more than 350,000 views online, from people in 116 countries. Sure, compared to YouTube videos of cute babies and cats that rack up millions of views in a matter of days, 350,000 is quite small. But given the obscure nature of the material (a chart full of ad tech acronyms “SSPs,” “DSPs” and “DMPs”) it’s a fairly impressive number.

The slides have also prompted “hundreds, if not thousands” of requests from marketing and PR departments that their companies be included in the slide or given a different location on the slide, he said. Fitting an industry of more than 400 companies on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper means that by default it’s wrong, he said, acknowledging that there are differences among companies in any given category, just as there are companies that operate across several categories. “[They] are merely snapshots of some version of the present,” Kawaja said. “Simply a conversation starter.”

When companies complain about their placement or absence on the slide, he tends not to adapt it (he just advises them to download it and annotate it for their own marketing materials). But he has tweaked the slide for another reason: copycats.

Catching the copycats

By December 2010, Kawaja had split with Savvian to create his own strategic advisory and investment banking shop Luma Partners. But he noticed that several rival investment banks were plainly taking his slide and passing it off as theirs. “I chuckled at that and said ‘I’m going to try something,’” he said.

Kawaja went to to create a logo for the fake company Ad Pro (“with a swish and everything,” he said) and added it to his slide. Then he sat back and waited to see who would take the bait. Sure enough, within a matter of months, at least three firms had attached their names to charts that included the non-existent company, he said.

When Luma Partners updated the online display slide in June 2011 — and added five more slides to the series for categories like social, search and mobile — Kawaja decided to solve the ownership issue for once and for all by calling the media landscapes “Lumascapes.”

The branding seems to have worked. The blatant copying has ceased and, as Ad Age has noted, the Lumascapes are recognized industrywide as Luma Partners’ “calling card.”

So how did Kawaja know that he might be onto something with the slide? In part because of how the investment bankers around him were reacting. “I’m of the view that, as you go through life, think about what an investment banker would do and do the opposite,” he said.