Synopsizing the diverse talents of Adweek's Media All-Stars—an annual celebration of the best minds in the media agency world—gets a little harder every year. And not because it's hard to write an original introduction every time. It's because the skill sets and priorities of the honorees are that much more original.
Take our Executive of the Year, UM's global CEO Daryl Lee. While he's busy helping the shop land major clients like Johnson & Johnson and Sony, Lee is also quietly championing the representation of women, minorities and the LGBT community among his decision makers.
Then, there's this year's Rising Star, Assembly's newly promoted associate media director Ali Offer, who has succeeded as a media pro in part because she wasn't a student of media before entering agency land.
The talents of this class of Media All-Stars range from virtual reality to the latest in Periscope usage to scraping influencers' social profiles in order to hyper-target them. Click on the gallery below to find out how these 12 professionals rained results on their clients and colleagues. —Michael Bürgi
Daryl Lee, global CEO, UM (Executive of the Year)
A casual conversation with Adweek's Media All-Stars Executive of the Year, UM global CEO Daryl Lee, reveals the quick intellect and worldliness one expects from an agency chief as he contemplates a client's business problem. Less obvious may be his grassroots people skills—the personality insights that someone might not even recognize in themselves.
Take UM's U.S. president Kasha Cacy, for example. Two years ago, after that top U.S. job opened, he and Cacy—then the agency's global chief product officer—were rushing to a client pitch meeting when Lee gave her a sidewalk ultimatum: He offered her the role, telling her she had until the next morning to decide. Never mind that she had been advocating for another exec to land the job.
"He's very good at looking out for people and knowing what drives and motivates them," recalls Cacy, who has worked with Lee three times over the past 15 years. "He's competitive, but it's not about personal ambition. He wants us all to be the best we can be. All of his energy is focused on delivering the best possible client solution.
"This industry is ripe for change, and he wants to be part of that change, whether it's putting more women [or] LGBT execs in management roles," she continues. "It's driving diversity not because it looks good but because he wants to create a different kind of culture with different points of views."
Growing up in South Africa during apartheid made Lee a student of human nature at a younger age than most. From his first post-university endeavor in helping to organize the country's first general elections in 1994 to his current efforts to create a more diversified culture at UM, the 45-year-old exec has always believed in a multiplicity of voices.
"My first job out of college was setting up democratic elections with a bunch of naive young liberals, and there was an incredible dynamic of change. I love the idea of inclusion," he explains. "Diversity is half the job, but the real job is to open the culture up to the individual elements you don't understand. It's about merit, not entitlement. I grew up in South Africa at a time when cultural separation was so forced. I lived through that and saw the value in creating a more inclusive culture. That's how companies can remain innovative. You can create a great product, but you also need a great product story."
In selecting UM as Adweek's Media Agency for 2015 this past February, Adweek recognized the revenue gains of the Interpublic underdog agency during Mediapalooza—the most competitive new-business year among media shops in recent memory. But that larger result was possible because of Lee's team building and bolstering of morale during a stressful time of wooing new clients even as the agency defended restless ones.
"The high points of the past year are not the high points [themselves]. From where I sit, it was the low points where they learned to fall and pick themselves up that were more important. Those were the galvanizing moments," says Henry Tajer, Mediabrands' global CEO over the unit that oversees IPG's UM and Initiative networks. "Last year, when a number of pitches were called, before we had won anything, we said, 'This is going to make us or break us and the latter is not an option.' Daryl and his team engaged with [Mediabrands] and the rest of IPG in the new-business process. He injected a lot of positivity into the organization."
Lee's optimism goes back to when he was recruited as a management consultant by McKinsey & Co. in New York. The English literature student from Oxford and Rhodes Scholar thought he'd end up in academia, but in management consulting he found he could combine his creative interests with a business career. "What I still rely on from management consulting is to shape a problem rather than respond to a brief. We have the ability to bring a lot of analytics and logic to solving a problem," Lee reflects. "It also allows me to bring storytelling to problem solving. It ties two halves of my mind and world together."
Lee moved into the agency world, working on marketing strategy for IBM at Ogilvy & Mather before joining UM in a top strategy role in 2006. Later, he moved to McCann Worldgroup, where he served as global chief integration architect and global chief strategy officer at McCann Erickson in 2012. He returned to UM the following year as global CEO.
While he always liked working at creative shops, Lee prefers media agencies today, because they play more into his collaborative instincts. "Media agencies give you more of an opportunity to act as an integrator," he says. "And now, because of data, we have been able to service client business problems in a way creative agencies can't."
Those integration efforts extend to clients. In spring 2014, the agency tied a U.S. Postal Service promotional effort to the release of Sony Pictures' The Amazing Spider-Man 2. In the multichannel initiative, produced by UM Studios, Spider-Man overcomes all sorts of obstacles to deliver a special package to movie fans.
"Daryl believes in talent and people and nurturing them, creating a work environment where they can grow and thrive. He's kept the team on Sony stable and collaborative," says Stefanie Napoli, Sony evp, media and worldwide creative content. "That collaborative spirit extends to clients. He's also a big believer in bringing us together, which leads to new business opportunities."
Which helps UM stand out against its larger global network competitors. "Buying is buying—all media agencies are doing the same thing when they're buying. But Daryl brings a culture of newness, driving passion through his people and analyzing results," says Jeff Smith, company group chairman, North America, J&J Consumer. "He's all about the people working on our business. And UM works hard to make sure both sides are equal in building a team that is as passionate as ours and committed to business results."
But make no mistake. Even with that drive to entrust more responsibility throughout UM's ranks, Lee is never far removed from the task at hand. His clients certainly have noticed. Says Smith: "They worked hard to win back our U.S. media buying business. Daryl was always front and center." —Noreen O'Leary
Ali Offer, associate media director, Assembly (Rising Star)
Ali Offer didn't study media. Ironically, that's part of the reason she's thriving at Assembly.
"I studied people, image and culture, how they interact with each other and how they influence each other. I was obsessed with it," she says of her time at alma mater Colby College, where she studied art history and anthropology. "So much of what media is, is that interplay of what the ad—the visceral experience—does to culture, and what the culture does to it."
Clearly, that 10,000-foot approach to media planning has served the 25-year-old well. Just three weeks ago, Offer was promoted to associate media director, up from integrated communications supervisor for the New York-based media shop owned by MDC Partners. (Offer works at Assembly's office in Playa Vista, Calif.)
The Rising Star of Adweek's 2016 Media All-Stars has developed a reputation among her colleagues and bosses for her creativity and overwhelmingly positive attitude—as well for being able to execute.
"She's one of those people where if she's given a task or project, you don't have to worry about it again," says Bruce Dennler, Assembly's managing partner, who runs the California outpost. "It gets done and done really well."
That's been Dan Pittman's experience as well. Pittman, head of media for A24, the studio behind films like the Oscar-winning Room and The End of the Tour, was impressed by Offer's ability to deliver big asks when tackling the release of last year's sleeper hit Ex Machina.
Initially, the studio had modest expectations for the sci-fi thriller, which went on to win an Oscar for visual effects. "It was a movie whose target audience and box office potential changed very quickly," explains Pittman. The film became a critical darling, which in turn changed the studio's approach to its promotion.
"We didn't have any broadcast planned and Ali was very quickly able—with the whole Assembly team—to pivot from a small genre sell to really selling it like a bigger, Hollywood film to multiple target audiences on a much broader scope," notes Pittman. "She was there every day, every hour, with changes and requests and suggestions. She helped manage one of those most difficult campaigns I've ever worked on."
Key to Offer's success for someone so young and junior is her hunger for new ideas. "Strategically, she's always looking for the next thing," says Dennler. "The standard offering is never quite good enough. She's always thinking, how can we make this better? How do we align this mission with the offering, this submission with strategy?'"
That's why, when helping Vans celebrate its 50th anniversary, Offer decided to use Snapchat's geofilter (a filter that's tagged to a user's specific location)—something that's not nearly as lauded as the ephemeral platform's sponsored lenses.
"Lenses get a lot of press for advertisers; filters haven't had that moment," explains Offer. "There was a lot of hesitation for us to do it, going into an ad unit that didn't have as much pizzazz as a lens, but [it worked]." The result? Anticipated engagement rates tripled, and Vans' organic Snapchat following grew 2.5 times in a single day.
Offer was also central to Vans' partnership with fashion site Who, What, Wear. Influencers created city-specific style guides for New York and Los Angeles featuring curated, interactive maps as well as suggested apparel—including Vans, of course. Those influencers then promoted the guides on social media and attended the House of Vans 50th Anniversary Party—where they posted even more social content in support of the brand.
"I'm always trying to think of new tactics so that we can artfully reach these people without being abrasive in the media space," Offer says. She's certainly a student of media now. —Kristina Monllos
Carrie Seifer, president of investment, Mediavest | Spark
After 25 years on the vendor side, working for companies like Millennial Media, Condé Nast and Vindigo, Carrie Seifer jumped to Mediavest in March 2015 as president of digital, data and technology. While she occasionally "felt like a poseur" early on as she got used to sitting on the other side of the desk in meetings, Seifer says her "B.S. meter" helped her adapt quickly.
"When a partner was trying to bring something to us, like, 'Hey, you're going to get first look of products,' having 25 years inside of where they sat, I was able to say, 'Listen, can you cut the shit? I know that doesn't scale, so let's do this: I will do a great job of sharing some strategy for you so we will be better partners as a place to start,'" Seifer says.
The approach was blunt yet effective. "We were able to get a lot more interesting product and data, and better rates," says Seifer, whose work helped lead to Mediavest's 53 percent organic growth last year.
Seifer hit the ground running at Mediavest, which charged her with ensuring that programmatic advertising was seamlessly integrated in-house. "Not only did Carrie need to create a playbook for effectively integrating it inside of our client teams in a different way, but she also needed to sustain talent, build new talent structures and then grow with how our business was growing in that way. Her ability to attract talent and sustain the right kind of talent was critical to where we ended up getting," says Sarah Kramer, COO at Mediavest | Spark. Under Seifer, 25 percent of Mediavest's digital team is now comprised of ad tech professionals.
At the same time, Seifer used her tech background to pursue research and data initiatives with major companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google, including teaming with Facebook to research the influence of a 30-second ad versus one that is three seconds. "We are trying to measure better and get real data points versus just storytelling around what cross-screen should look like," says Seifer, who also partnered with Vevo to create a product called Sleeper Hits, which gave Mediavest access to the company's data so it could work with brands to predict which videos were on the verge of breaking out. "We actually can get in on some audience targeting before it blows up, and get a better ROI based on the data they were able to provide," she adds.
Even more essential to Kramer is the work Seifer has done internally, launching a Mediavest digital blog to encourage her teams to share ideas with one another, and not just clients. "I was seeing unbelievable work—great POVs, incredible campaigns, beautiful case studies—that wasn't being shared [internally]," Seifer notes. But now, once it appears on the company blog, "the entire digital community retweets it," she says. "If you're smart, you'll have a voice at this company."
Her clients feel equally appreciated. "She understands our value proposition and knows that brands really need to get creative and outside of their comfort level to engage with their fans," says Matt Pfeffer, sales director at Live Nation, who previously worked for Seifer at Millennial Media. "She understands and appreciates that it's a partnership as opposed to looking at it as a vendor/brand relationship."
Seifer so impressed her new bosses in her first year that during Publicis Groupe's big overhaul in March, she was promoted to president of investment at Mediavest | Spark, overseeing all media. "Marketplaces are changing, and the way clients look at value is changing," says Kramer. "Carrie has that ability to be agile and nimble to that change, while keeping a digital-first point of view central to all of those discussions." —Jason Lynch
Jon Gittings, global business development strategy officer, MediaCom
During Sony's mega media review last year, MediaCom's new business team was pitching for the Sony PlayStation business, but something wasn't quite clicking.
"We were trying to land a strategic framework—some thinking around different audiences, who we targeted to deliver different aspects of the brief," recalls MediaCom's global COO Toby Jenner. "And actually, the client called us out. He said, 'I don't buy it.' And we all kind of looked at each other with abject horror, as you do."
Luckily, the agency's global business development strategy officer, Jon Gittings, was there to help.
"Very calmly during the break, Jon took the client aside and talked him through it and rearticulated why it was the right thing," says Jenner. "And, well, we won the business, so it didn't do us any harm."
In addition to PlayStation, the GroupM agency came out of the Sony review with global planning and buying responsibilities for the brand's mobile and electronics units.
Gittings has a history of winning. In 2014, some seven months after he joined the WPP-owned shop as a new-business strategy whiz, MediaCom was victorious in the A-B InBev review, earning the brewer's U.S. media planning and buying chores, representing some $575 million in annual spending. He also lent a hand in successful bids for the Coca-Cola and Mars assignments.
The kind of confident but respectful comportment Gittings showed in the PlayStation pitch is rare, and valuable, Jenner observes. But Gittings' rigorous approach to data and the insights it can provide have also been key in his contributions to more than $3 billion in new billings overall.
A 16-year veteran of Omnicom media shops, mainly in Europe, Gittings credits several mentors. He says longtime Omnicom execs Nick Manning and Colin Gottlieb taught him the importance of craft and creativity, respectively. Two others, Robert Ffitch and Peter Magnani, helped Gittings understand that, as he puts it, "sometimes, it's probably better to be the tortoise rather than the hare … to have a healthy suspicion of shiny objects and a healthy regard for evidence and proof."
When Gittings landed at MediaCom in New York two years ago, he didn't have a choice but to hit the ground running, notes Jenner. Still, in the A-B InBev pitch, which focused on Bud Light, Gittings' careful approach helped identify a midweek lag in beer consumption. That led to the creation of the concept "Whatever Wednesdays" around which the brand would plan midweek messaging.
The Sony pitch, meanwhile, was wildly complex, even labyrinthine, with five company divisions in play. With its "One Sony" brief, however, Gittings came up with an idea to ensure that the company was taking into account in its media strategy its various constituencies—users of cameras as well as television sets, for example.
The two pitches were worlds apart, yet both are prime examples of how Gittings' approach has helped drive substantial results for MediaCom. —Gabriel Beltrone
Sean Corcoran, executive director, innovation, MullenLowe Mediahub
When Sean Corcoran joined MullenLowe Mediahub in 2011, he brought with him a wealth of experience working with both agencies and clients, including eight years leading integrated and digital media for brands such as Motorola and Philips at Carat, as well as a stint as an analyst at Forrester Research.
"The beauty of being an analyst at Forrester is you get a really broad view of the world. You have something like 2,000 clients, and I talked to the client side and agencies as well," Corcoran says. "Being able to see what everyone was doing in the digital marketing space and the agency space gave me a pretty unique view of where strengths are in the space, and where you can see white space."
That perspective, along with Corcoran's transparent philosophy toward programmatic media, helped Mediahub gain a raft of new clients in 2015 and early 2016, such as Royal Caribbean, Scotts Miracle-Gro and JetBlue Barclaycard, and to join Netflix's roster of media agencies.
For Royal Caribbean, Corcoran and his team integrated traditional out-of-home advertising with cutting-edge social media to help the brand win over millennials through Come Seek Live, a series of live Periscope broadcasts that ran on 90 digital out-of-home screens in New York. In the broadcasts, YouTube stars embarked on zip-lining and beach-hopping adventures on Royal Caribbean cruises, eventually driving 22.2 million social impressions for the brand.
That campaign effectively illustrates the innovative ideas that Corcoran consistently brings to the table, notes Jill Weiss, director of North American media and marketing at Royal Caribbean. "His ideas are well integrated with our overall strategy and are not cookie-cutter," she says. "He's also able to quickly adapt and pivot when needed based on our business needs and the ever-changing landscape of digital, social and mobile advertising."
That adaptable thinking is a big part of Corcoran's success, explains John Moore, global president at MullenLowe Mediahub. "Sean will always look for a way to put a square peg in a round hole. A lot of times our clients are under tremendous pressure to make their numbers, so sometimes the tried-and-true is the easiest way to do it."
Corcoran and his team created a promotional campaign for the premiere of Season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for Netflix that included a custom video for Wi-Fi users at the Austin, Texas, airport during SXSW, activations at Coachella with PopSugar and a custom YouTube program. Corcoran also developed content partnerships and beauty influencer programs for Ulta Beauty and an integration with Bose and Spotify at SXSW.
Corcoran's leadership in native content and social and mobile media helps instill confidence in Mediahub's clients, Moore says. "When Sean talks, clients listen. They have confidence that he sees where the world is going. Original thinking is so much easier to talk about than it is to do—and Sean does it." —Christine Birkner
Eileen Kiernan, global president, J3
To say that Eileen Kiernan took over J3 at a turbulent time would easily be considered an understatement.
Taking the reins of UM's dedicated media unit for Johnson & Johnson in January of last year, Kiernan immediately faced an uphill battle. Seven months earlier, J&J took its $1 billion North American buying account to another agency—Omnicom's OMD—leaving J3 in the awkward position of facing an account review in just about every other major global market. "It kind of took us by surprise when it happened," says Kiernan on losing the North American buying account.
But before 2015 came to an end, Kiernan led that same account right back to J3, even though it wasn't even up for review.
"Our experience—not just having lost the buying, but working without the buying as an integral part of our integrated offering—felt clunky," explains Kiernan of those bad old days, noting that J3 made the case to J&J that having a two-agency model in such a fast-paced market wasn't the ideal setup for the brand. "It just didn't feel that we were strategically doing the right thing for J&J by not having a one-solution proposition."
It feels right to the client now, says Alison Lewis, J&J's global CMO. "Eileen brings together what I would say are perfect leadership qualities," notes Lewis. "She's courageous, trustworthy, humble, relentless and never takes no for an answer."
It's amazing that Kiernan was able to find time. After all, she spent eight months last year traveling around the world, gobbling up an additional $1.6 billion in J&J's business—adding 55 new markets while retaining 22. Daryl Lee, UM's global CEO (and Adweek's Media All-Stars Executive of the Year), is, for one, no longer surprised by the extent of Kiernan's efforts. "She is an amazing blend of strategic vision and operational commitment," he says. "It's so rare to find someone that has those things."
Not bad for someone who's only been in the agency world for five years. Kiernan's 18 years on the other side of the aisle, in marketing for media companies including Time Inc. (where she worked on Health magazine) and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia has given her a fuller and broader picture of the ad world.
"They are two halves of the same business," she explains, though she admits moving to the agency world was a bit like "going from being in a French-speaking country to an Italian-speaking country." Kiernan would know something about that; the Dublin, Ireland, native, following a post-college summer visit to New York, scrapped her original plan of spending the next few years in Belgium. "I loved the energy and had a love affair with the whole pulse of [New York City]," she remembers.
A three-and-a-half-year veteran of UM, Kiernan understands the responsibility in focusing on a single brand—albeit one of the biggest in the business. "The intensity of this is different," she says, comparing this position to her previous role as UM's global CMO. "That sense of responsibility is both enormous and sometimes overwhelming." —Tim Baysinger
Carmen Graf, svp, executive media director, GSD&M
Quite a bit has changed in the 24 years since Carmen Graf first joined GSD&M in Austin, Texas, as a planner. In her own words, these days "there's a lot more fragmentation, data and a fundamental shift from a channel-first approach to an audience-first approach."
Graf foresaw that shift early in her career, reimagining the role of media director to place greater emphasis on insights gleaned from the evolving science of analytics.
In recent years, GSD&M has followed the svp, executive media director's lead to focus more on integration and collaboration among creative, strategy, production and media services. The agency's list of media accounts has surged by more than 35 percent since last fall; Graf and her team won digital media reviews for Blue Bunny ice cream and fast-food chain Popeyes. Meanwhile, GSD&M's organic growth from top clients was 27 percent.
"What makes Carmen unique is her passion and ability to deeply understand your business, bring a customer to life through deep insight and bring it all together into creative and smart plans," says Jennifer Warren, current CMO of At Home, who earlier ran marketing for longtime GSD&M client Radio Shack. "She is often referred to as 'the other creative' because she is constantly trying to turn nonmedia … into media and working hand in hand with the creative team to make media work harder."
"Media is just as invested in the strategic platform and idea as the creative teams," adds Graf. "We have to be because we are ultimately the ones that have to translate the idea into the marketplace. It's an important role to play."
Part of that translation now involves AALI, a proprietary tool Graf and her team developed for GSD&M clients. Graf describes it as "a tool that allows us to marry a customized audience that is based on shared brand values and engagement. From a media perspective, our clients are never the largest spenders in their category, so we have to outsmart."
Audi general manager Ken Bracht, who worked with Graf when he was at BMW and when the automaker was a GSD&M client, says of the All-Star: "She learned my business, anticipated my needs as a client and pushed us into areas that we were sometimes uncomfortable with, but the work speaks for itself," he says. "BMW received numerous awards for creative and media during our years working together."
The continuing explosion of data has, of course, created an even more pressing need to distinguish what is insightful from the mountains of simple information.
"Data doesn't start to get interesting until you start connecting it back to the heart of a brand and moving the client's business forward," Graf points out. "If you have meaningful data insights, have done due diligence on identifying a values-aligned audience, then let the creative idea be your North Star. The communication plan becomes easy because the path is clear." —Patrick Coffee
Serena Duff, evp, general manager, Western region, Horizon Media
Fledgling film studio STX Entertainment could've picked a conventional media agency last year to lead its all-important brand rollout and launch its first movies, which included psychological thriller The Gift and horror drama The Boy. But executives at the entrepreneurial startup wanted a kindred spirit that would mirror their own rock-the-Hollywood-boat attitude. They found that slightly renegade perspective in Horizon Media and its hands-on leader in Los Angeles, Serena Duff, evp, general manager, Western region.
"We needed to go from zero to 1,000 very quickly, and they showed us they were agile and thoughtful at the same time," says Amy Elkins, who heads STX's media and marketing innovation. "Serena's a visionary, and she's running what we think is the next version of a media agency."
The partnership took off with a campaign around The Gift that doled out customized presents to about 50 journalists, radio DJs and other influencers based on information from their social media feeds. Skirting the edge of creepy, the promo became a viral hit and drove more than 8 million views of the trailer in its first days on Facebook and YouTube. A link with iHeartRadio pulled in Mario Lopez and Ryan Seacrest to hype the film, and a first-of-its-kind deal with Twitter's Periscope snagged another 2.3 million live views of the trailer.
That first outing, in partnership with Giant Spoon, convinced Elkins she'd chosen wisely, finding "an extension of our marketing department" in Horizon, instead of a traditional agency-client relationship, she points out, while Duff was "intensely committed" to the day-to-day work.
It's that level of attention and drive that helped Duff bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in new accounts in 2015—representing a 34 percent revenue increase YOY—winning Guitar Center, GSN, STX and ABC Entertainment's digital business. She and her team added existing client Dignity Health's digital work and retained Telemundo and NBC Universo after a formal review, a rare feat in the industry. This year, LegalZoom joined the roster.
"Rather than telling the story we wanted to tell, we started looking at things from the client point of view," says Duff, attributing the strides in 2015 to her relentless pursuit of feedback from any failed pitch over the previous several years. "And we took more risks."
In Duff's four years running the Los Angeles office, it's expanded from 80 to more than 250 staffers. She's launched specialty divisions like sports marketing, graphic design, search and consumer insights, which she says are vital to "pulling all the pieces together" to spur brand-centric conversations. Horizon founder and CEO Bill Koenigsberg calls Duff "a craftsman, but not a micromanager" who "puts her fingerprints" on campaigns but also nurtures her team's ideas.
Duff credits her love of creative to her pre-Horizon stints at shops like Deutsch, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, and TBWAChiatDay.
"You need a smart strategy that's based in data and ROI," she says, "but we're selling in a highly compelling way. I'm a firm believer that the media can be as exciting as the creative." —T.L. Stanley
Justine Bloome, evp, head of strategy and innovation, Carat
It's a Thursday afternoon in April and Justine Bloome is working from SFO. She's spent the week meeting with Bay Area executives at hush-hush startups, as well as tech giants like Google and Facebook. Now, she's catching a flight to LAX in SoCal to huddle with Carat's team on Adidas, about how to soup up the agency's approach to working with the sportswear brand.
Perpetual movement, it seems, is part of her remit. Based in New York, the evp, head of strategy and innovation spends a lot of time bouncing around the United States.
As the leader of the cutting-edge, creative-and-tech-infused Catalystgroup, her responsibilities are national, covering all of the Dentsu Aegis shop's domestic client roster—MasterCard, Beiersdorf and more.
Her first gig at a media agency, it's also a new kind of role for Bloome. She joined in late 2014 from her native Australia where she'd worked at IPG experiential shop Jack Morton, and then, as an entrepreneur in her own right, founded and sold The Village Agency, a company that used proprietary methodology and tech to build freelance teams for marketing projects.
But the big new Carat job is one she has, by all accounts, knocked out of the park. Catalyst, launched by agency president Michael Epstein, has grown under Bloome's guidance from four to 16 staffers, and developed into the razor-sharp point of the agency's strategic offering. That's been key to luring in huge new assignments from conglomerates like Mondelez and P&G—the kinds of wins that earned Carat its place as Adweek's U.S. Media Agency of the Year in February.
"She's been an active participant in pretty much every major pitch we've had since she's gotten here," says Epstein. "She's also made sure that we are continuing to push [our current] clients in appropriate ways to infuse creativity and innovation in their plans. And this is a really important thing, and not one that should be diminished. She's completely changed the culture when it comes to creativity and innovation in the agency itself."
While details of the Mondelez pitch are strictly under wraps, in P&G's case it's safe to say Bloome's tech-savvy, forward-looking world view means providing the CPG conglomerate advice beyond traditional media chores, delving into the deeper aspects of how to stay ahead of the curve in a fast-changing world—one, say, where new direct-to-consumer models like Dollar Shave Club can pop up as a David to the Goliath of a traditional giant like Gillette.
"The framework we pitched to [P&G] really was about how do we make sure that 'yes, media innovation is our bread and butter, and it's something that everyone should be delivering to them day in and day out'—but [it was also about] how Catalyst can play a role in helping them to peer around corners and make sure they're avoiding disruption, and future-proofing their business for the digital economy," explains Bloome.
The value of her plugged-in approach—and her close attention to audience behavior—isn't lost on the media companies with which she collaborates. "At Facebook, we love partnering with Justine," says Shona Button, agency sales manager at the social network. "She is instrumental in keeping our work together grounded in a blend of the consumer's experience and advancements in technology … Her innovative ideas and strategic mind pushes us to do better together for our clients." —Gabriel Beltrone
Trevor Guthrie, co-founder, Giant Spoon
Like many pop-culture junkies, Trevor Guthrie was hooked on the true-crime podcast Serial in late 2014, as much for its consumer insights as for its wrongful conviction.
If droves of people were willing to listen to audio stories again—considered a bit of a media throwback—could that trend work for an adventurous client like GE? Could there be some way to weave a compelling story with GE at its heart, he wondered, that would serve as a stand-alone piece of entertainment and humanize the brand at the same time? The wheels began to turn.
Guthrie, co-founder of marketing and media startup Giant Spoon, noticed what he dubbed a "white space" in the area—there was plenty of gritty reality, but little serialized fiction. And high-quality, brand-backed narrative content? There was none.
So he came up with the concept for The Message, an eight-episode science fiction-tinged weekly drama that followed a cryptographer trying to decode secrets from outer space. The heroine relied on GE technology to decipher the alien communications, which unleashed a deadly virus. The Message, which has drawn comparisons to The War of the Worlds, snagged 3 million downloads in late fall 2015, shooting to iTunes' top spot and connecting GE with affluent, digital-native millennials in an entirely unexpected way.
"It started with a custom idea to connect GE to a cultural moment," says Guthrie, a Georgia native and Boston University grad who recruited partners like Slate's Panoply network for the project. "And we wanted to play differently in the space."
That's the guiding principle at Giant Spoon, a company that's grown from its four original executives to about 40 people in two-and-a-half years, an expansion co-founder Alan Cohen partly attributes to Guthrie because "he's a great leader and a great strategist, and everybody wants to work with him." Guthrie is key to the internal culture as well, Cohen notes, where employees have unlimited time off and "adventure funds" to take field trips and attend seminars.
The firm counts HP, Cole-Haan, Lego and Amazon among its clients, with Guthrie spending significant time on GE programs he spearheads like Fallonventions, a Clio-winning partnership that puts young brainiacs on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. (After the kids present their inventions—in video segments that have become consistent viral hits online—Fallon gives them $5,000 from GE.)
Toggling from late-night TV to the Gray Lady, Guthrie shepherded GE's groundbreaking tie-in with The New York Times and Google Cardboard for the launch of the paper's app and its first VR Sunday edition. Instead of an old-school "brought to you by sponsorship," Cohen explains, Guthrie helped craft a short film about how nature inspires GE's design and product innovation. The program sent out 1.7 million GE-branded Google Cardboard headsets and spurred 40,000 social mentions.
His ideas "drive impact rather than simply impressions," adds GE CMO Linda Boff, who calls Guthrie "an amazing marketing partner, one that understands today's media as well as points to future paradigms and helps us get there."
For his part, Guthrie knows that his client GE is an industrial behemoth that makes what he calls "big iron" products like wind turbines and aircraft engines. But it doesn't have to be a cold corporate brand with no connection to everyday consumers' lives.
Filling white spaces with great creative has become Guthrie's Serial. —T.L. Stanley
Dario Raciti, director, OMD’s Zero Code
Everyone right now wants be one of the first to make a name for himself or herself in the world of virtual reality. But any first-timers will have to catch up to Media All-Star Dario Raciti, who has already secured quite a head start.
As director of Zero Code, OMD's interactive entertainment division, Raciti brings to play a robust background in the gaming industry, partnering with brands like Nissan and Gatorade to create immersive experiences focused on entertaining more than advertising.
Whether it's riding along during a virtual Nascar race, batting from behind home plate in a major league stadium, or even experiencing the terror of a tornado, Raciti says brands interested in VR should begin understanding the format long before it becomes ubiquitous.
"We tell our clients, 'Don't wait for VR to become a thing that has millions and millions of people,'" Raciti explains. "Because the learning curve is so steep, it's very important for us to start working in it now."
Last fall, Gatorade hired Zero Code to create computer-generated imagery and a 360-degree video for a sponsored experience that enabled baseball fans to feel what it's like to step into the shoes of Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper. "What's been great working with Dario in particular is he has expertise, obviously, when it comes to the technology and the capacities of technology," says Kenny Mitchell, Gatorade's senior director of consumer engagement. "So he knows what's possible and what's not possible."
Those who already have worked with Raciti say he is careful to only pursue VR projects that make sense for a brand's goals—rather than pushing VR for technology's sake.
"Fans are hungry for this, but [they also] want to have something that is authentic and real and bright," says Jeremy Meadows, manager of marketing communications at Nissan.
Zero Code has earned plenty of accolades for what it's done in gaming and virtual reality for brands such as Visa, Reese's, Nivea and Lowe's. The company recently received its 50th award.
The number of inquiries Zero Code is fielding is certainly testament to growing interest in VR across the marketing landscape. In the past three months alone, the shop received at least a dozen VR requests from clients and prospective clients.
Research bears it out. According to a recent report from BCC Research, the global market for VR and AR grew from $4.5 billion in 2014 to $8.1 billion in 2015, and is expected to balloon to $105.2 billion by 2020.
Raciti believes we are just at the beginning of this revolution. From his perspective, it's like 1896 all over again, when The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station—a 50-second film by the Lumière brothers that showed a train heading toward the camera, and which was one of the first moving pictures—shocked and delighted the public.
"That's what makes VR exciting," he says. "I feel like every day we're like the Lumière brothers where right now we're just doing trains arriving at stations. But we're not always going to be doing trains arriving at stations—we're going to be doing sophisticated stuff." —Marty Swant
Helen Lin, evp, digital and magazine activation, Zenith
As a leader in the digital media space, Helen Lin moves at 100 miles a minute—and texts even faster—so be prepared to move quickly if you want to keep up with her.
"There are very few people that can match me in terms of speed and pace and volume of work—and she's definitely able to do that, in all capacities," says John Nitti, chief media officer at Verizon.
The two first worked together when Nitti was Lin's superior at Publicis' ZenithOptimedia, before moving to the client side six months ago when he joined Verizon. Lin, he says, demonstrates an unmatched passion and energy for a job that has her managing some 180 employees as evp of digital and magazine activation at what's now known as Zenith (in the wake of parent Publicis' major reorganization in March).
Lin's co-workers and superiors alike agree that she possesses not only a zeal for and understanding of the digital business but also a work ethic that is rare even in a business known for its energetic leaders.
Lin earned her MBA from New York University while managing a full workload at Zenith, Nitti recalls. And yet somehow she also found the time to be instrumental in landing the agency global media responsibilities for the beauty giant Coty, an account worth an estimated $600 million. Under Lin's leadership, Zenith has already churned out more than 20 brand campaigns since winning Coty last June.
"It's amazing how she can keep taking on more responsibility," says Dave Penski, U.S. chief investment officer for Publicis Media. "She's just got that youthful exuberance of someone who wants to keep learning."
Lin's ability to bring people together goes far beyond taking younger employees under her wing or building a solid workplace culture. Since joining the agency in 2009, she has also helped integrate its programmatic insights engine, Programmatic Competency, into the broader business. Now, the programmatic teams work closely with the strategy side.
"If we're all talking about business results, it's absolutely critical that the people that are closest to data are the teams that are responsible for those results," she explains.
Over the past year, Lin has also integrated magazine and digital operations, ensuring that the Zenith employee who is "negotiating with Condé Nast is also negotiating with CondéNast.com," she adds. That thinking has spread through other disciplines within the media agency—most notably, television—creating a more seamless experience for the client and the shop.
Lin was selected this year for a Cynopsis Top Women in Digital Award in the mentors category, recognizing "those who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership in providing support, encouragement and essential strategies for success in the digital media industry."
Recalling her earlier work experience on the West Coast, Lin says, "I was more successful in New York than in L.A. because I had exposure to so many more mentors. To be recognized for being somebody that does the same … I feel like I've arrived. I feel very complete." —Katie Richards
This story first appeared in the May 9, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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