Ex-PMI Executives Launch Mach9 to Bridge the Gap in Digital Marketing of Regulated Industries

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Jaime Suarez and Albert Moufarrij, previously rising stars in Philip Morris International, recently unveiled their new venture, Mach9, to the world. Both Suarez and Moufarrij, after spending over a decade at the tobacco giant, were frequently frustrated by the challenge of finding advertising partners who understood digital marketing within their regulated industry. They eventually resolved to venture off their salaried path and set their sights on the agency side of things.

From Problem to Solution

“Working on restricted brands is akin to learning a new language,” Moufarrij reflects. He states that a primary concern was the agencies’ inability to comprehend the distinct actors involved in the tightly regulated sectors – such as government bodies, opposers, and supporters. Initial onboarding time for ad agencies often proved lengthy and obstinate.

Another hurdle encountered was the deficiency of the technology used by many media and digital agencies to ensure accurate audience targeting, excluding minors, for instance. According to Suarez, the options accessible at the time weren’t engineered for industries with stringent regulations. This technological void led to uncertainty for regulated companies when launching ad campaigns, as there was no guarantee of reaching only the intended audience.

Improving Social Media Advertising

Given the ease with which people can lie about their age on social media sign-up processes like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, Suarez and Moufarrij conceptualised an innovative method during their stint at PMI. The duo developed a predictive tool that gauged people’s ages based on their online behavior, surpassing the limitations of traditional filters. Suarez points out that tools like these are impactful for not just tobacco companies but also various other regulated industries.

Expanding the Tech to Clients

They are currently offering the age-gating tech solutions initially conceived at PMI to Mach9 clients across various platforms—SEO, paid media, and social media. Their compelling pitch to brand owners is a promise that Mach9 will market their products online while adhering to all the regulatory requirements and successfully appealing to their audiences. The company has so far been discreet about their client roster, but it’s known to cover the tobacco, pharma, gambling, alcohol, and cannabis sectors, with many clients making the Fortune 500 list.

Leveraging Industry Insights

Moufarrij asserts that they spotted a golden opportunity to combine their understanding of the challenges faced by regulated brands and their rigid standards into a consolidated solution. Expansion plans are also significant, with offices already established on New York’s Madison Avenue and an employee count of around 50, transparently aiming to hire experienced people in digital marketing, SEO, CRM, and data analytics.

Rising Above the Challenges

The founders aren’t blind to the complications in attracting talented individuals in an industry currently gripped by ‘brand purpose’. Infractions by traditional advertising agencies like Ogilvy and Mather and recruitment firm AMV BBDO serve as cautionary tales. AssessFirst’s chief executive, David Bernard, advises companies associated with tobacco, gambling, and cannabis to employ a personality-led recruitment approach rather than relying solely on qualifications and experience. This strategy allows them to identify candidates who understand their industry and the customers they are targeting.

Looking Ahead

Despite the prospective obstacles, Suarez remains positive that they haven’t encountered any issues in attracting potential employees. He cites labor market heat and sudden shifts in the marketplace due to Covid as being more challenging. With the gradual legalization of cannabis across the US, the surge in sports betting, and increased investment into e-cigarettes, Mach9 anticipates doubling its size within the next six months if it successfully wins over potential staff. They’re strategically positioned to absorb business that purpose-oriented ad agencies might reject due to regulatory constraints.