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Spot Runner Closes $50 Mil.+ Funding Round

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NEW YORK Spot Runner looks to begin international expansion with a full war chest following a $51 million funding round.

The Los Angeles-based company again tapped into strategic investors for its third round of funding, bringing on Daily Mail and General Trust in the United Kingdom, Europe and elsewhere, and Grupo Televisa in Mexico. Luxury brand owner Groupe Arnault/LVMH, Legg Mason Capital Management and existing investors also participated.

Spot Runner had tapped agency holding companies WPP Group and Interpublic Group as part of a $40 million financing two years ago.

All told, the company has raised over $110 million so far.

Spot Runner is one of several digital advertising firms locking up big financing rounds heading into a rough economic climate. Blog ad network FM Publishing and widget network Slide each recently raised $50 million, and social networking platform Ning took in $60 million from investors.

Spot Runner's "war chest" will allow it to weather difficult economic conditions and have the resources to acquire other companies, CEO Nick Grouf said.

Grouf said the investors also give Spot Runner insight into the needs of agencies and media owners. In the case of its newest backers, Spot Runner hopes to gain a foothold to expand its automated advertising system into those markets.

"Europe is very attractive to us," Grouf said. "We think there's great applicability in Latin America and Asia."

The new partners also provide Spot Runner with an opportunity to tap into their stable of advertisers. While the company began as a platform for small businesses to cheaply run TV commercials, it shifted focus to partner with firms that already have relationships with small businesses. The Daily Mail, for instance, has "hundreds of thousands" of advertiser relationships, Grouf said.

"It's always difficult to successfully reach a local advertiser," he said. "We found our partnerships, whether with large brands or agencies or media owners, create powerful channels for us."

The addition of Groupe Arnault/LVMH, owner of Louis Vuitton and Donna Karen, will give the company insight into the needs of international brands, Grouf said.

Spot Runner has courted national firms seeking to operate locally, such as those in the real estate and entertainment industries. The company has also expanded from TV into radio, some print and outdoor, as well as online display, video and search ads. It shored up its Web capabilities through the acquisition of search marketing specialist Weblistic in March.

The goal is to create a system for large and small advertisers to target their placements across a swathe of media, said Grouf.

"We're trying to leverage technology to drive deep automation into the advertising process," he said. "That means putting better data in front of people to make better decisions."

This sounds similar to Google's ambition to create a system to display messages from advertisers of all sizes across many types of media, Grouf admits.

"I don't see that as a bad thing," he said. "I see that as a good thing."

While that initially meant courting smaller advertisers, Spot Runner is increasingly looking to large companies, much like Google. In the past two months, it has hired former MSN chief Joanne Bradford to lead its national ad sales and IPG Media CEO and former MTV executive Mark Rosenthal to lead a group dedicated to courting agencies and media owners.