10 Buyers and Sellers You Need to Know

The players with the biggest audiences—and those with the most dollars to spend

The Sellers: Platform Companies
Perhaps it’s a sign of how in flux digital advertising remains that the backgrounds of the men (and they’re all men) charged with overseeing ad sales at the biggest Silicon Valley platform companies are so varied, 17 years after the industry began selling banners. Only one of them—Twitter’s Adam Bain—is a true native of the digital world, and his company’s the one that’s still trying to invent a revenue model for itself. There are obvious synergies in bringing someone with a television or a consumer marketing background into one of these jobs; less obvious to divine are those that draw on experience overseeing supply chain management or a government bureaucracy.

Frank Holland
Corporate vp, advertising and online business
For most of his 13 years at Microsoft, Frank Holland’s focus has been the company’s supply chain. Yes, that’s right: the new chief of Microsoft Advertising is a logistics guy.

The former corporate vp of operations, who assumed his new role in April, says his background helps him connect Microsoft’s “phone, Web, browsing, and entertainment [silos].” And, helpfully for a company whose messy structure for managing ad sales has sometimes confounded clients, Holland, married with two kids, has a reputation for having great people skills.

John Connors, Microsoft’s former CFO—who spent three years recruiting Holland from Accenture, which he joined in 1987—says Holland once volunteered, and went, to rural Montana to help his father, a county commissioner, upgrade the county’s computer system.

A history buff, Holland says, “The way I surface areas that my company might invest in is grounded in . . . what has history taught us about where we can go?” —Ki Mae Heussner

David Fischer
Vp, advertising and global operations
David Fischer was a Silicon Valley novice when he joined Google in 2003. Prior to his tech move, Fischer, now married with two children, had been a journalist and then deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Treasury Department during the Clinton administration. His fresh perspective was an advantage. For instance, back then banners were the most successful form of online advertising, but he helped grow Google’s text-based AdWords.

At Facebook, which he joined in March, Fischer is part of a growing Beltway cabal that includes Marne Levine and Elliot Schrage. In fact, he followed COO Sheryl Sandberg there from Google; the two worked together at Treasury under Larry Summers.

Fischer’s political chops haven’t weakened; he’s notorious for staying on message. And his familiarity with international finance is ingrained; his father, Stanley, governor of the Bank of Israel, has also worked at the IMF and World Bank. —Erin Griffith

Adam Bain
President, revenue
Last year, Adam Bain—then president of Fox Audience Network—became so disgusted with abysmal online ad performance that he had a “Jerry Maguire-type experience,” he says, exiting the company to “do some soul searching.”

He joined Twitter in August 2010, lured by the dramatic engagement rates. He’s built Twitter’s sales headcount from 10 to more than 60, and launched Promoted Tweets, Trends, and Accounts campaigns with more than 600 marketers.

An information junkie, Bain, who’s married with two kids, says he realized early on digital would dramatically change newsrooms. He helped create Cleveland.com, the digital arm of The Plain Dealer—Bain’s an Ohio native—some 17 years ago. Next he was at the Los Angeles Times website, followed by 13 years at News Corp.

Ross Levinsohn (up next), Bain’s former boss at News Corp., says, “I’ve always said I’d probably end up working for him one day.” —E.G.

Ross Levinsohn
Executive vp, Americas
In 1989, when Ross Levinsohn encountered CD-ROMs at HBO—where he was head of product and marketing—he thought, “Wow, here’s a way to reach, at the time, a million people directly with no middleman,” he says.

Still, in 1996, when he was approached by a new sports website based in Florida, he thought twice. “I’d just gotten married [he now has two kids], I was a born and bred New Yorker,” he says. But he signed up at Sportsline, which later became CBS Sportsline, dramatically changing the course of his career.

From there, Levinsohn went to AltaVista, and then Fox Sports, eventually becoming president of Fox Interactive Media. In 2007, he and Jonathan Miller (then recently departed from AOL) created what became Fuse Capital, a venture firm.

Levinsohn was lured away to Yahoo late last year. He’s part of the new leadership team put together by CEO Carol Bartz, charged—in tandem with Blake Irving, chief product officer—with reviving the brand. —E.G.

Neal Mohan
Vp, product management
The public face of Google in its effort to get ad dollars is in high demand. How high? Earlier this year, Neal Mohan reportedly was paid tens of millions of dollars to turn down a job offer from Twitter.

Mohan, who joined Google in 2008 as part of the company’s acquisition of DoubleClick, says it was in high school that he wrote his first big program—educational software for organic chemistry. “I know, very, very geeky,” he says.

After studying electrical engineering in Stanford in the 1990s (he returned in 2003 for an MBA), Mohan worked as a consultant with Accenture. He then joined NetGravity, one of the first companies to build ad servers for Internet publishers.

“That was well before . . . people even knew what an ad unit could or should look like,” Mohan says. “I fell in love with this mixture of technology and [its] application to media and how digital advertising was the means to kind of bridge the gap.” —K.H.

The Buyers: Holding Companies
That clients spend miniscule amounts on digital is a challenge for holding companies that understand those numbers must grow—and fast—to keep up with consumers. But they’re up against more than marketers a beat behind the zeitgeist. First, there is the growing number of brand managers who head straight to the “tech” companies, bypassing the agencies. And there’s the problem in-house, where senior management is often more concerned with finding efficiencies in digital media buying than serving the client’s creative needs.

As for whether it matters that they’re dealing with tech companies or media companies, Mediabrand’s Quentin George says, “All we want to do is have a technological platform that allows us to understand the audiences, the composition of audiences, and how to reach them more effectively and efficiently.”

Nikesh Arora
Svp, chief business officer
One of Nikesh Arora’s earliest job interviews with Google co-founder Sergey Brin—one of many for the job—wasn’t in a Silicon Valley office, or in any office at all. It was in London’s British Museum. 

Google’s London office, he recalls, was surprisingly small, which might explain, he notes, the distraction of the museum. It worked. In 2004, he joined the company.

This past January, Arora was given his new title, and now is responsible for all revenue and customer operations—as well as roughly 8,000 staffers. 

Like most Googlers, the Delhi-born executive is data hungry. He received an electrical engineering degree from the Institute of Technology in Varanasi, India in 1989, but later realized his interest was more in building a business than in developing products.

After completing his MBA at Northeastern University, he held executive positions at Deutsche Telekom and T-Mobile Europe. Google, he says, feels more like a “cause” than “just another company.” —K.H.

Mark Read
WPP Digital
“From 1999 until 2001, everyone did very well, but came out burnt and cynical,” says Mark Read of the bubble. Luckily, he sold his online loyalty program, Web Rewards, to ipoints in 2001, avoiding the crash.

He grew up outside of London, where he’s based, and has been at WPP Group on and off since graduating college in 1989. In 2002, he took over WPP.com, formed to encourage collaboration around digital and as a home for some of the holding company’s investments. In 2006, Read—who’s married and has a toddler—began rebranding WPP.com into WPP Digital. WPP.com “seemed very Web 1.0; it was out of fashion,” he says.

Read works closely with Google and Facebook. “They [have very] quickly become media companies,” he says. “They have to be responsible for their content.” As for clients’ relationship with Facebook, Read adds, “We need to help clients go beyond how many fans they have to thinking of what to do with those fans.” —Katie Feola

Quentin George
Chief digital officer
IPG’s Mediabrands
Born on a farm near Johannesburg, South Africa, Quentin George bucked the agrarian life, joining an agency later acquired by J. Walter Thompson. Post-merger, George quit to travel Europe for some two years. It was in London in 1994 that he discovered Cyberia—the U.K.’s first Internet cafe.

“Within five minutes I married my love for technology and consumer culture,” says George, who’s married and has two kids.

Soon after, he co-founded Electric Ocean in Cape Town, South Africa, the region’s first digital shop (sold in 1999). Next, he joined Razorfish in San Francisco and then Organic Inc. In 2007, he became global head of digital for Universal McCann in New York. When Mediabrands was formed in 2008, George was charged to run digital.

Unlike the other holding companies, says George, IPG takes a decentralized and hands-off position with its digital leadership: “IPG is really focused on allowing each of its agencies to develop a digital competency.” —K.F.

Jack Klues
Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi
An unpretentious Midwesterner from Quincy, Ill., Jack Klues started out in 1977 in Leo Burnett’s media department—and was still at the agency in 1998, when he launched Publicis’ Starcom Worldwide. In 2000, Starcom and MediaVest merged, Klues took the helm, and, in 2008, when Publicis launched VivaKi, he became CEO and a managing partner.

Klues, a married empty-nester based in Chicago, says all four VivaKi agencies—Digitas, Razorfish, Starcom MediaVest Group, and ZenithOptimedia—follow the same mantra: build, borrow, and share. What’s most frequently borrowed? “Mobile expertise from Digitas and Razorfish,” he says.

Klues regularly flies worldwide to check out new digital innovations, amassing 500,000 miles in 2010 alone. He says social “will drive how we serve our clients going forward. We’ve got to make sure that each agency of VivaKi has a state-of-the-art social orientation to how they conduct day-to-day business.” —K.F.

Laura Lang
Publicis Groupe’s Digitas
In 1994, when Laura Lang was at the Marketing Corporation of America—where she eventually became president—she had a chance to use Mosaic. “It was mind expanding,” she says.

It took Lang five years, however, to join the digital world, albeit in a big way: she signed on with what was then Bronner.com (it soon became Digitas), heading its New York office. By 2004, Lang was in charge of the company’s U.S. operations and, in 2008, she was named CEO.

Lang, who is married with one daughter, says the ad industry has only truly embraced digital in the last year or two. She says that people caught on because they have “children who are growing up digital natives.

“Scale and audience design is just as important as how to power it through back-end technology,” she continues. “Google and Facebook understand this intimately and get the value of both currencies.” —K.F.