As a business-school student trying to get work as a media planner, Barry Lowenthal understood that relationships count. So, in sending out his résumé to agencies, he targeted vps with Jewish last names. Says Lowenthal, "I figured I'd get a leg up on the chemistry side."
Today, as president of the Media Kitchen, Lowenthal applies his relationship smarts to understanding consumers and media. For client CIT Group, he produced a plan that leveraged the brand's positioning as a source of human as well as financial capital. For making print the star of the CIT plan, Lowenthal was selected as Media All-Star in the print category.
The CIT campaign, from Media Kitchen parent Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners, sought to show CIT is more than just a financial lender, explains Teri James, senior vp, director of brand management for the client. "We challenged the Media Kitchen to develop a plan that would fit with our brand strategy, which is all about combining financial capital, relationship capital, intellectual capital," she says. "We wanted to be with partners who can position us and bring their relationships with their readers and other customers into the mix."
Lowenthal found such a partner in Condé Nast, which would become the cornerstone of the media plan. Condé Nast Media Group, the publisher's corporate sales arm, is producing four invitation-only events where CIT clients including Marquis Jet founder and CEO Kenny Dichter and media and fashion entrepreneur Marc Ecko were interviewed by Andrew Shapiro, himself an entrepreneur who has written for Condé Nast's Wired. The Media Group is making videos of the interviews, then airing them on CIT's Web site. Four-page inserts featuring the interviews are running in Wired, The New Yorker, Golf Digest and Portfolio, all titles that, before the plan, had not received CIT business.
"I think for CIT, financial-world insiders know them as a lending concern," says David Carey, Portfolio group president, publishing director. "It was a great way to take a financial institution and make its position more accessible."
Other multiplatform deals ran in more traditional news and business titles. McGraw-Hill Cos.' BusinessWeek hosted small breakfasts with CIT's middle-market customers, while The Economist co-sponsored a survey with CIT that was sent to CIT clients.
Lowenthal says the Condé Nast plan gave CIT access to the magazine company's c-suite readers through pages and events that complemented CIT's strategy. "We looked at media based on their likelihood of creating handshake opportunities," he says. "It became apparent to us their media investment also provides a lot of capital of sorts."
Lowenthal didn't set out to be a media planner. As a pharmacist's son growing up in Cedarhurst, N.Y., he was on track to become a plastic surgeon when a college chemistry course got the best of him. He switched gears and went on to earn an MBA at Baruch College in New York.
Media planning, which afforded Lowenthal an entree to the business while he attended grad school part-time, became a career. He started out at big agencies including N.W. Ayer and Backer Spielvogel Bates before going to the smaller Kirshenbaum, where he rose to media director. Along the way, he learned from mentors like Elyse Hoelzer, now at OMD, and former Kirshenbaum exec Steve Klein.
Lowenthal left Kirshenbaum, but not for long. A year ago, while serving as media director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Kirshenbaum co-chairman Jon Bond tapped him to head up the Media Kitchen, the planning and buying arm Kirshenbaum opened in 2001.
In his current role, Lowenthal oversees billings of $525 million for clients including Panasonic, PBS and Oxygen.
One of the campaigns Lowenthal is most proud of goes back to his first tour at Kirshenbaum. The client, Citibank, wanted to get its credit cards into the hands of college-bound students. Lowenthal thought of using high-school yearbooks, but buying them one by one presented a logistical nightmare. So he negotiated a deal through a publisher that handled printing for a large number of yearbooks, pulling off what he believes was the first widespread campaign involving the medium.
"Super smart," "demanding" and "intellectually curious" are adjectives used to describe Lowenthal.
"Barry's always tough but fair," says Jay Lauf, publisher of Wired. "He's not going to suffer fools, but he also is very open if you have something valid and useful to say."
Rob Gregory, group publisher of Alpha Media Group's Maxim and former publisher of Wenner Media's Rolling Stone, says he's discussed trade campaigns for both titles with Lowenthal. He recalls that Lowenthal "always asked the most insightful questions of anybody in the room about the positioning of your magazine. And he was always brutally honest about the perception of your magazine brand."
Lowenthal appreciates publishers who understand and communicate who their readers are. "The good publishers know how to talk about their readers," he says. "Because at the end of the day, we're buying audience."
Lowenthal also gathers information in unconventional ways, like talking up readers at magazine events and reading editors' letters, which he calls a "window to the soul of the magazine."
As someone who watches his favorite TV shows online, Lowenthal understands the power of the Web and its challenges to print. He believes photographic quality online will eventually catch up to print and points to signs people are embracing longer articles online. "In an age of instantaneous news," he wonders, "what's the role of a magazine today?"
But Lowenthal believes print, despite its challenges, continues to have plenty going for it. "Print was the first on-demand medium," he says. "There's still something very nice and tactile about a magazine. I don't think that'll go away. And people still use magazines as badges."