Merkley Newman Harty has tapped Mathilde "Max" Benington, the No. 2 media executive at Deutsch, to serve as executive media director at the shop.
Benington, 36, was executive vice president, director of media strategy at the New York agency. Next week, she takes the reins of Merkley's media department, which handles media planning only.
About 25 people work in the department, which is co-managed by media directors Mark Belton and Deborah Rath. Benington will oversee the operation, contribute to new-business pitches and, when needed, work with Merkley affiliates such as MNH Healthworks. She will report to agency president Steve Harty.
The top media job had been vacant since 1998, when Kayne Lanahan, a former Coca-Cola executive, left. Be-fore that, Erica Gruen held the post.
Harty, who led the search for an executive media director, spoke to about 15 candidates over six months. In the end, the agency considered 2-3 finalists, including Benington, according to Harty. Agency chairman Parry Merkley finalized the deal.
Harty was impressed with Benington's car ex-perience (on Mitsubishi) and her strong grasp of integration. "Deutsch does a terrific job that way," Harty said.
On a personal level, he found Benington to be "forceful, opinionated and smart." He added, "She has a terrific sense of humor and a wonderful outgoing quality about her."
During two tours at Deutsch, Benington worked on a broad range of accounts, including Ikea, Prudential Securities and, more recently, Mitsubishi, Brink's Home Security and DirecTV. She joined the agency in 1990 and left briefly in 1993 to become a media supervisor at then-named Wunderman Cato Johnson in New York. But, realizing that she did not thrive in "large cultures," Benington returned to Deutsch later that year.
In 1996, she became senior vice president, director of media planning; two years later, she advanced to evp, director of media strategy.
The opportunity to "be the No. 1" at Merkley appealed to Benington, as well as the scale and reputation of the agency. Merkley, which now claims billings of about $325 million, works for such clients as Mercedes-Benz, BellSouth and Travelers Insurance. Various media agencies buy media for those clients.
In addition, Benington was impressed by Merkley and Harty, whom she described as "nice guys [who are] really smart and have big brains." Still, she will miss her colleagues at Deutsch, concluding, "It's a really special group of people." © JOANNA T. STEICHEN