IPG Takes Unexpected Turn With Media CEO Selection

Over the past few months, Interpublic Group has searched high and low for an executive to fill a newly created position to oversee the company’s media-agency operations and get them back on track. By last week, the candidates had been narrowed to two, an agency executive and a cable network veteran. In the end, the cable guy won.

The decision to hire a media seller rather than a media-agency type surprised some industry insiders. But overall reaction from analysts was positive. “The hiring addresses one of the biggest issues for IPG, the perception of weak media-buying capabilities,” said Deutsche Bank’s Paul Ginocchio in a note to investors.

Last Thursday, Mark Rosenthal, 53, signed on to become chairman and CEO of the as-yet-untitled IPG corporate entity that will oversee media buying and planning agencies Initiative and Universal McCann, negotiating arm Magna Global and a cluster of boutique shops that specialize in areas including branded entertainment, interactive and barter. He starts the first week of June.

In part, IPG’s creation of an über media executive post was designed to forestall client defections such as that of General Motors, which last week moved an estimated $3.2 billion of its buying to Publicis Groupe after a review (see page 10).

Rosenthal has spent his entire career in cable, mostly at Viacom’s MTV Networks and its predecessor company, Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Co., which he joined in 1982.

Commenting on the appointment, IPG CEO Michael Roth said he did not pick a sell-side executive by design, but rather, “We picked a businessman who knows how to run a business and who knows the space and knows what customers need and what’s necessary to bring us to the next level in our total media offering.”

For Rosenthal’s last eight years at MTV, he was president and COO of MTV Networks, an entity generating roughly $5 billion in annual revenue. He resigned last summer after a management shuffle in which he lost out to Judy McGrath for the chairman/CEO post after Tom Freston moved up to a corporate slot at Viacom.

Rosenthal has been described as a smart, no-nonesense individual—characteristics often used to describe Roth. Roth said Rosenthal’s mandate is “to take the media assets that we have and really create the vision and offering for our client base that is necessary to be competitive in the marketplace and not to do the same old stuff.”

Rosenthal said that the attraction for him is that IPG is one of “very few companies where you have all the makings of all of the forces that are reshaping the media landscape as we speak, including new areas like content and interactive marketing.” He also said he was excited about working with “some of the greatest media brands in the world.”

He said he doesn’t underestimate the challenge ahead—”a great and really worthwhile challenge.”