MDC Media Partners’ First Tech Chief Talks About How AI Will Soon Touch Everything We Do

The agency is developing something 'similar' to Publicis' Marcel

AI will soon be everywhere. Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

For the past several years, everyone with even a passing interest in the marketing and tech disciplines has heard quite a bit about the coming AI wave.

But how will artificial intelligence truly affect our lives—not to mention the many ways in which businesses promote their products within them?

“The Internet of Things permeates our daily lives already, and it will be interesting to see how that evolves,” said Stella Voutsina, who was recently promoted to become the first chief technology officer at MDC Media Partners, the ad planning, buying and strategy wing of the holding company that includes such agency networks as Assembly and Allegory along with the programmatic business Varick Media Management.

Stella Voutsina

“Software has already been impacted,” she added, “so the way we interact with brands, [as well as] our families and friends, will change dramatically. The user and consumer will be far more active in the process; not as passive as we have been.”

Voutsina formerly held the title of evp of technology, data and digital operations at MDC Media Partners, and for the past eight months she has also overseen Born, a creative artificial intelligence unit described as “the world’s first AI agency.”

She said that the launch of Born stemmed from a conversation with CEO Martin Cass. “What we saw was how AI, and machine learning specifically, can have an impact in terms of creativity, design and marketing thinking as well,” she said. In practical terms, this includes projects like bots, voice activated technologies and conversational interfaces that help define a user’s experience with a given brand.

Perhaps most importantly, both existing and prospective clients now expect their media agency partners to have a certain level of expertise in the AI space. “Clients are asking for it, and we’re seeing it in a lot of new business pitches,” Voutsina said. MDC Media Partners has already begun experimenting with projects tied to voice-activated products like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Voice.

Even if we reach the point where every consumer has a smart refrigerator, Voutsina thinks hands-on artistry remains a key to success in AI. “It’s all about the human talent. You can have all the right data, but without the talent to interpret and create a story, you really have nothing,” she said.

The most recent headline-grabbing AI project in the agency world is, of course, Publicis Groupe’s Marcel, which appears to be a combination HR platform and cloud-based library of agency assets. Interestingly, MDC’s new CTO told Adweek that her network has been working on a “similar” project that is currently in “a very advanced state” but declined to share more information at this time.

In her new role, Voutsina will also join the board of the recently-created tech investment group MDC Ventures while overseeing all IT resources and retaining most of the responsibilities in her previous role. She reports directly to Cass.

“Stella has proven herself to be an indispensable part of the success we’ve had building MDC Media and I am delighted to expand her role,” said the CEO in a statement. “Stella’s passion for emerging technology and clear understanding of what will be most impactful for our clients made her perfectly suited for this new role.”

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.