Media All-Stars 2003: Interactive – Jeff Lanctot

A quick study, he has a clear perspective on what both sides of the table need.

Not too long after Jeff Lanctot joined online media specialist Avenue A in 1999, one of his colleagues, Maggie Boyer got a telephone call from the vp of sales at a major Web site, who recounted how impressive Lanctot was on a panel he’d seen him on. “I’ve just got to tell you,” the executive gushed, “Your new boss is great.”

There was only one problem: Boyer was Lanctot’s boss, not the other way around. For Boyer, who is currently vp/Midwest region of the Seattle-based shop’s new Chicago office, the anecdote summed up what is so special about 31-year-old Lanctot; he had just joined the company and had expressed reluctance about “being in the limelight” by doing speaking engagements that often come with the job, yet he still made a powerful impression, Boyer marvels.

This year’s Media All-Star in interactive prefers being a subtle influence. “Jeff’s the guy who comes up with all the facts and the findings and lets someone else present them,” Boyer says. Lanctot, currently the shop’s vp/media, would much rather credit his team of nearly 30 media executives than talk about his accomplishments. “It’s really a reflection of their hard work,” he says about the All-Star honor.

Maybe that’s one reason why Lanctot isn’t a household name within the fairly tight confines of Madison Avenue. Or maybe it’s because he’s so new to the industry. Back in 1999, when he joined Avenue A as associate media director, he had never worked in media, or online, before. He’d kicked off his career at Deloitte Management Consulting and followed that by serving as one of the founders of a lending company, Qualfund LLC, where he was in charge of direct marketing.

Fortunately, Lanctot is also “the ultimate student,” according to Boyer. Upon being hired, he immediately began to study the details of 5,000 publishers that were being compiled by Avenue A into an SRDS-like database, taking on the task as a robust intellectual exercise.

Joanne Bradford, vp/chief media revenue officer at Microsoft’s MSN, sees his relative newbie status as an advantage. It “just gives him a different approach to his thinking about how to solve these problems for online marketers,” says Bradford. (MSN is both an agency client and a media property that Avenue A clients buy media on.)

But Lanctot’s reputation for being a quick study with particularly good business insight was soon eclipsed by his calm attitude during the dot-com depression that began not long after he joined the company. In Avenue A’s version of the apocalypse, revenue dropped by one third between 2000 and 2001, and 20 percent of the staff was sent packing. According to agency president Clark Kokich, Lanctot was one of the only staffers who didn’t require closed-door pep talks to get through those dark days. “The tougher it got, the better Jeff performed,” he recalls.

Boyer attributes this to his unfailingly objective mind. “He thinks fairly, logically and rationally about everything,” she says.

It’s one thing for colleagues to sing your praises; it’s another to be lauded by online publishers, who have been the victims of one of the most notorious buyers’ markets the media business has ever seen. Yet they say that even when their own revenue was dropping like a stone, and cut-rate deals were easy to strike, Lanctot consistently had a clear perspective on the needs of all parties. “He tries to find a win-win for clients and publishers without compromising either side,” says Bradford.

“What I find special about him is that he understands the buy/sell process from both the purchaser and the sell side,” says Tony Nethercutt, strategic accounts director at Yahoo. He recalls a particularly touchy negotiation in which an Avenue A client was close to walking away from a deal with Yahoo because the two parties couldn’t develop a workable business model. “One morning Jeff appeared on a regularly scheduled conference call and I joked that [his participation meant] things must be pretty bad.” Nethercutt says. Lanctot didn’t take the bait, instead urging all parties to work through their problems. “Today that client is one of our larger advertisers,” he says.

Scot McLernon, executive vp/sales and marketing at CBS MarketWatch, credits Lanctot with being willing to experiment with new ideas before other online media executives are ready to take the plunge. With Lanctot’s blessing, former agency client AT&T Wireless became the first advertiser to buy an at-work–based network comprised of MarketWatch, CNet,, and the USA Today and New York Times Web sites. “He helped us structure it and make it real,” McLernon says.

Catharine P. Taylor is a contributing editor to Adweek Magazines.