Matt Seiler Is Out to Remake and Automate the Media Agency World

Mediabrands CEO has a penchant for reinvention

Photo: Christopher Gabello

Facebook global sales chief Carolyn Everson knew to brace herself for some hair-raising skiing in the Utah mountains with Matt Seiler, a weekend guest of hers at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. When the two skied together previously, the Mediabrands CEO always sought out the toughest trails—whether Everson was ready for them or not.

“I don’t think I can do it, but he pushes me to try and the next thing you know I’m down the hill,” she laughs. “Matt just doesn’t like to do things the easy way or the same way. And he challenges himself and his agency teams the same way to move as fast and as differently as they possibly can for the betterment of the business.”

It’s the perfect analogy. Seiler gets colleagues to tackle the dizzying heights of a new challenge head-on as he pushes them to exceed their own expectations. Take programmatic buying: Interpublic Group’s Mediabrands is arguably the most aggressive among industry players in pushing for automation. In 2012, Seiler set a goal for executives at Mediabrands’ agencies (UM, Initiative and BPN) to automate all U.S. media buying—not just digital—to 50 percent in two years. (After they “freaked” out, he compromised and gave them three years to meet that goal.)

So far so good. In year one they exceeded their mandate, which was heavily digital; now into year two, video will be introduced along with other media. By year three, the agencies will be well into TV. (By 2017, G14 regions—those outside North America that are considered most important to marketers—need to hit that 50 percent benchmark.)

To do that, sibling unit Magna Global was restructured to become Mediabrands’ central buying hub, with technology, analytics and data capture brought together in one place. A consortium of media owners was created, including A+E Networks, AOL, Cablevision, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment, ESPN and Tribune, to sell more traditional inventory through automation.

“With Magna, we wanted to automate whatever we possibly could in the buying process not just because the industry desperately needed to have it done but also because the move toward automation allows for much more investment on higher-touch, higher- value engagement with media owners,” explains Seiler, whose intense gaze underscores his restless, inquisitive nature. “It’s what we call the custom and sponsorship side of things—more of working in concert with the media owner to create a very valuable experience—so it’s not just about buying an adjacency.”

Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman likes that ability to free up customized plans. “Matt has done some of the best thinking about technology and how we can use it to better serve Magna and its clients,” he says.

“Matt’s not a media dork or specialist,” says Jay Sears, svp, marketing development at Rubicon Project, Mediabrands’ advertising automation partner. “Because of that, he brings Mediabrands buying to the cool kids table. Automation brings efficiencies to the salt mines. As an account guy, Matt is still client-focused and can explain automation to clients in the plain English they understand.”

For better perspective on the kind of innovation Seiler has introduced in his three years atop Mediabrands it helps to know why the former strategist and account man moved into media 10 years ago and why Mediabrands’ pay-for-performance model is fundamental to everything that happens there. In previous jobs, Seiler saw clients seeking an entity to take total responsibility of their business. That was challenging for holding companies because of conflicts, and because it undermined their purpose; operating units invariably undertook tasks with the bias of their particular disciplines. Media agencies, on the other hand, could be an extension of clients’ marketing departments.

“Media seemed like the perfect altitude at which to manage a client’s business mostly because that was where the concentration of their spend was,” Seiler reasons. “I thought the best way to prove that commitment to extending [a] client’s marketing department was to get paid exactly as they do. With things like automation, pay-for-performance leads it.”

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