Fast Chat: Mediabrands CEO Matt Seiler

Advertising political action committee chair discusses his dual role

Matt Seiler, CEO of Mediabrands, enjoys a double life as ad man and lobbyist. In his role as chairman of the Professionals in Advertising Political Action Committee, Seiler shuttles regularly between New York and Washington, D.C., to rub elbows and contribute to politicians looking out for the ad industry's interests in the nation's capital. He works with PAC treasurer Dick O'Brien, executive vp of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, hosting regular lunches with candidates and ad execs. The PAC spent close to $30,000 in contributions as of March 1, split nearly evenly between Democrats and GOP candidates—including the chairmen of the House and Senate Commerce Committees.  Seiler recently spoke to Adweek about what it's like in the political arena and the gulf between New York and Washington. 

Adweek: Why did you decide to get involved with the PAC?

Matt Seiler: To be honest, early on I had doubts about whether I should be doing this because of the heightened involvement of PACs [in elections] and the increase of big businesses involved with politicians. But you either get involved, or take it as it falls. If we remain uninvolved, we leave it to others to determine our future.

What do you do as chairman?

I help the advertising and media industry understand that they need to give personally. I ask the ad guys for money. It's fundraising. What has been harder than I thought was helping people in New York understand the importance of this, talking to them about the kinds of issues that affect them, like prescription drug advertising, advertising to kids, advertising taxes. So I ask the head of an agency or media shop to imagine, for example, what it would be like if children's advertising wasn't an avenue they had anymore. Taxes is the biggest looming issue. There is a big battle coming.

Just how different is the D.C. culture from the N.Y. ad world?

A different language is spoken in Washington. We in the ad business already think we know everything. In New York we are a more capitalistic group and D.C. is more about protecting interests of very specific funders. This has been a total education.

The PAC has only spent about $30,000 so far in 2012. Will we see activity pick up?

This has been a relatively dormant PAC. It's sort of on the rebound and that's both a good thing and a bad thing to take this on during an election year. With so much money being spent, it's hard to get lawmakers to focus on what we do.

Does Mad Men help or hurt the impression lawmakers have of the advertising business?

Mad Men is brilliant entertainment, so having a contemporary period piece centered on our industry is great. But there is a bit of insignificance I wish wasn't there. People used to believe in the quote that 50 percent of advertising doesn't work, but because of online and digital, advertising is incredibly trackable and that has now led to enormous data collection on and offline. Now you know exactly what works, so it's become a more serious business.

Is this just about brands giving money to the PAC?

I don't know if it's my age, or the desire to give back, but I'm really interested in how brands can make more of a difference. I'm fascinated by the intersection of politics and brand marketing. The stories brands can tell can make a difference to people, making the planet a healthier place to be, ensuring that the impact of the message isn't just to increase sales.