Meet the 13 Most Admired Media Agency Execs of 2015

It’s the 30th anniversary of the Media All-Stars, Adweek’s celebration of the smartest and sharpest executives working in the media agency business today.

(The All-Stars originated in then-Adweek competitor Marketing & Media Decisions.) This year’s crew is headlined by Executive of the Year Sasha Savic, the U.S. CEO of MediaCom, which also won U.S. Media Agency of the Year honors earlier in the year. Jennifer Sever, an associate media director with Maxus, was named this year’s Rising Star—a non-vp-level up-and-comer who shows great potential as a future leader of the industry. They are joined by 11 other innovative agency execs from a diversity of shops. Read on for their individual profiles, and congratulations to them all.


Executive of the Year: Sasha Savic, U.S. CEO, MediaCom

Sasha Savic began fly-fishing at age 3, in the frigid streams and rivers of his native Bosnia, where his grandfather taught him the art of casting lines. Forty-five years later, Savic is still an avid angler. "I create my own lures," he says. "I close my eyes and try to imagine what kinds of flies will make fish come up and take it."

Savic applies a similar method in his role as MediaCom's U.S. CEO, encouraging staff at the WPP Group agency to think creatively and seek out innovative solutions. "We've been determined not to cut and paste anything," he says. "It's a very personal, very customized approach to clients. I think that's one of the reasons for our recent successes."

That approach was tested in the first quarter of 2014, when two large accounts—ConAgra and Discover, worth $10 million-$12 million in combined revenue—walked out the door. "We lost both after a long attempt to change the climate and move to a new model" by positioning MediaCom as a valued strategic partner, rather than a buying service obsessed with achieving short-term savings, he says. "Sometimes, plans that I may have do not match plans clients have."

Faced with an abrupt reversal of the momentum MediaCom had enjoyed for two years, Savic stood firm, stressing creativity and long-term solutions over quick fixes. He got particularly bold in the final round of Anheuser-Busch InBev's $575 million U.S. planning and buying review, informing client reps gathered in a New York boardroom that he had rented space in a bar across the street, and would be presenting there, because that environment was better suited to a brief focused on Bud Light.

Savic had wisely used the perfect fly, and MediaCom reeled in A-B InBev en route to its most impressive performance under his leadership. Other key wins included Bayer's Merck, DSW, eBay and one of the year's biggest catches: Mars' $1.7 billion global planning assignment. The agency also added new work from existing clients such as AARP, Canon, Revlon, Shell and Volkswagen.

All that accomplishment and tenacity, in the face of some serious adversity, has earned Savic recognition as Adweek's Media All-Star Executive of the Year on this, the 30th anniversary of Media All-Stars honors (going back to the award's origins in Marketing & Media Decisions).

"I'm grateful to my management," Savic says. "They stayed with us through the hard moments last year. They trusted us. And here we are."

All told, U.S. revenue grew 25 percent to an estimated $162 million, and has nearly doubled in three years with Savic in charge. The total domestic headcount hit 700—a 20 percent gain year over year. Adweek named MediaCom its U.S. Media Agency of the Year for 2014—and Savic's superiors give him credit for providing the impetus.

Stephen Allan, MediaCom's worldwide CEO, says Savic has restored "confidence and self-belief" to the agency's domestic operations since his arrival in 2012, following tenures at Universal McCann, Starcom MediaVest Group and Havas Media. "I was looking to hire a [U.S.] CEO who shared my vision of building a media agency with a clear point of difference," Allan says. He believes Savic has accomplished that mission through innovative thinking and savvy executive picks (adding more than a half-dozen key players across all departments).

Phil Cowdell, CEO of MediaCom North America, uses words like "maverick" and "fearless" to describe Savic's attitude and intensity. "Sasha is one of a kind," Cowdell says. "He is truly an original."

Along with its financial gains, MediaCom had a hand in several inventive campaigns last year. These included two lauded efforts for Shell's Pennzoil: a film about hot-rod drivers that aired on the National Geographic Channel, and an SXSW activation that saw attendees strapped into Mario Kart-inspired vehicles. The agency also worked on "Beauty Is Bones Deep" for Bayer's Citracal, which reimagined the supplement as a beauty product.

"He thinks of media beyond the numbers and transactions," Christina Meringolo, Bayer's executive director of global consumer engagement and activation, says of Savic's approach, facilitating "the emotional connections brands need to make with their consumers."

Savic's connection to the creative process extends to filmmaking. He studied directing at the New York Film Academy in 2010, and made an acclaimed documentary about fishing, "A Passion Called Salmon," the next year. Moviemaking, he says, is "probably the most complicated management situation you can imagine. You plan for ideal circumstances, but when it comes to execution, so many things can go wrong. That's similar to running a company," where you must perform under pressure and often adapt to rapid change.

Cowdell offers this assessment: "His creative vision, storytelling and visualization reflect his filmmaking background—and his single-minded focus comes from many hours of standing waist deep in freezing water, enticing the fish to bite." —David Gianatasio


Rising Star: Jennifer Sever, Associate Media Director, Maxus

Jennifer Sever is known for looking out for and embracing innovation. It's no secret the 29-year-old associate media director for Maxus in Chicago always seems to have an innate sense of knowing the next hot thing coming down the pipeline, according to her boss Spencer Bahler, Maxus Chicago's managing director. In fact, he adds, it's a key element to her success.

"Jennifer is a very big advocate of creative solutions and approaches," explains Bahler. "She has media creativity really at the center of everything she does, and has the ability to immerse herself in our clients' business—quickly determining creative breakthrough opportunities."

Adweek's Media All-Star's Rising Star for 2015 did just that for client ACH Food, which was looking to drive fresh growth for all of its products. The pressure of a major global account's growth didn't bother Sever—even though she is tasked with all media planning and buying with display, custom content, various partnerships and paid social. It's a large remit for someone so young and junior.

But rather than shy away from the responsibility, Sever ran with it. She convinced ACH Food to take new and innovative approaches that stood to boost its business. By brokering a partnership that spanned the entire ACH Food portfolio—a first-time approach for the brands—with Scripps Networks Interactive, Sever was able to nab ACH 40 percent savings on television and 25 percent savings on digital elements, PR and shopper marketing.

Sever's shining moment was in her innovative partnership for ACH Food with Tasting Table, an influential website for foodies, to create a custom digital content hub called A World of Difference. The hub featured six custom-themed menus for various holiday parties. The partnership began in fall 2014 and yielded record growth for ACH Food brands like Spice Islands, a McCormick challenger, which saw an increase in sales of almost 15 percent in November, according to IRI Worldwide data. The content helped differentiate the commodity brand and received nearly 40,000 total pageviews, higher than Tasting Table's nonbranded editorial content.

"She always provides good insight and guidance on new media vehicles as they come up. She's very collaborative and a good team leader," says William Puentes, senior director of marketing for ACH Food.

"I've been able to grow with this account," acknowledges Sever. "It's been amazing to start with something at the beginning and determine how our team wants to work and how our clients can succeed. We start from the beginning of consumer insights. And then to see all the hard work activated in market is really exciting … it's really the best part. This account is one where I feel we've had the ability to come up with great ideas that are actually executed."

After graduating from Miami University in 2007, Sever returned to her hometown of Chicago, landing at Starcom where she cut her teeth working on the Procter & Gamble account. In 2012, she left for Maxus where she worked on S.C. Johnson.

There was determination behind the moves: Sever says she wanted to experience working on a global account and learn what media was like in different countries—so she did. Sever led communication strategies across 70 international markets, trained and managed 30 local media market teams and traveled to China, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to lead strategy and personally train the local teams.

"Jennifer has a great ability—whether she's working with a director or chief marketing officer or associate brand manager—to really be able to effectively and easily communicate why it is that we're recommending what we're doing," says her boss Bahler. "She can easily adapt to a brief that has been given to her and read between the lines to find what the clients are really talking about in the long term."

Sever's success landed her recognition within her agency. She nabbed an internal award, the Maxus PACE, which honors employees who are passionate, agile, collaborative and entrepreneurial. All this, before she's even gotten her vp stripes. —Kristina Monllos


Lawrence Teherani-Ami, North American Media Director, Wieden + Kennedy

For three days this past April, visitors to—the popular live video and chat website for gamers—got a unique opportunity: boss around a real guy on a string of ridiculous adventures through a forest. (Exhibit A: The guy, dubbed "Nature Man," wrestled a fake bear, and lost.)

Presented by Old Spice to promote its Fresher Collection—with scents like Timber, Amber, and Citron—the stunt netted a total 2.65 million views; an average simultaneous viewership of 14,500; an average watch time of 11 minutes; and more than 1.4 million chats and commands, with participants using special emoticons more than 105,000 times.

It was the first time a nongaming brand hosted a crowdsourcing event on the platform, and a prime example of how Lawrence Teherani-Ami and the media team at Wieden + Kennedy collaborate closely with the agency's famous creative department to help shape work that will resonate even more with its target audience—in Old Spice's case, men 18-24.

Early in the process, "one of the ideas on the table was 'Let's put a guy out in nature and let people interact with him and guide him around,'" says Teherani-Ami, W+K's North American media director, a 23-year veteran of the shop. "Instead of just creating a microsite to do that, my team basically said, 'Listen, there's already a platform that has tons of these guys going there in the millions. And also it's all about gameplay. Let's take this idea and see if we can make compelling content for Twitch that's going to be a little different.' So we weren't just bolting on at the end—Twitch was core to the idea itself."

In the two years since Teherani-Ami took the top U.S. media post at W+K, the shop has added planning and buying responsibilities for clients like TurboTax, Ubisoft, Facebook, Herbal Essences and

"He and his team have been very inventive about customizing ways in which we bring our clients to market, that is mindful of the big creative idea but is also very respectful of [the fact that], whether you've got a big budget or a limited budget, impact is everything," says Tom Blessington, managing director at W+K. "That resonates with prospective clients, because every CMO and every client organization is under the gun to do more with less."

Teherani-Ami clearly possesses a knack for crafting one-of-a-kind distribution plans that are wildly successful—even on a global stage. Last year, Nike's ambitious World Cup campaign—featuring some 200 pieces of real-time content and partnerships with ESPN, Google, Facebook, Weibo and Televisa—racked up more than 400 million online video views, with more than 23 million likes, retweets and comments. Nike's business, meanwhile, enjoyed a 21 percent year-over-year increase in revenue—worth some $2.3 billion (with a 25 percent bump in footwear sales across key football markets). Which goes to show that big ideas—even crazy ones—can deliver big results. —Gabriel Beltrone


Sheri Roder, Chief of WHY, Horizon Media

When Sheri Roder joined Horizon Media in June 2007, she was charged with building the agency's consumer insights practice. In fact, she was the new unit's first hire.

Eight years later, Horizon's Why Group, which Roder heads up, has expanded to 14 staffers and become a difference maker in recent new business pitches, including CarMax, Lindt and STX Entertainment. Equally, the team brings consumer understanding and insights to existing accounts like Geico, Burger King, A&E, History and Spike. And the key, according to Roder, is figuring out what makes people tick.

Horizon has a fancy phrase for it—whole-person targeting—but essentially it's about identifying the emotions behind human behavior and applying that knowledge to how and where you reach them. Roder describes the approach as a deeper, more nuanced alternative to cold facts like age, gender and salary that define demographics.

"People are emotional, complex human beings," says Roder, who before her Horizon tenure never worked at a media agency. "So, a lot of the work that we do is really understanding who that person is emotionally. What motivates them, right? There's something in there that we need to know."

Part of what separates Roder from her peers is a diverse background that began in market research (at Market Facts) and evolved into brand management on the client side (at Pepsi and Guinness) and account planning at creative agencies like Gotham, JWT and Saatchi & Saatchi Consumer Healthcare. In that context, she's not your typical media agency leader—and yet that's a big part of her appeal at Horizon.

"She understands where creative sits on the consumer journey—and now content is becoming so much more important in that journey," says agency founder and CEO Bill Koenigsberg. "By having that background, it provides a pretty broad perspective in terms of how everything fits together and how everything is integrated."

That know-how was key in Horizon's successful pitch for Spike's planning business in late 2014. The cable network, a media buying client since 2012, was preparing for the launch of Lip Sync Battle and the upcoming Tut miniseries with Ben Kingsley and needed to know how to attract women in particular, yet still keep its edge.

The Why Group not only delivered the goods but also has become "almost an extension of our own internal research team," explains Frank Tanki, the network's evp of brand marketing and creative. "It's been a little bit rare in my career. So, it has been great. We really need that partnership." —Andrew McMains


Erin Swenson Gorrall, VP, Communications Planning Director, Mullen Mediahub

Since joining Mullen's Mediahub in January 2014 as its first vp, communications planning director, Erin Swenson Gorrall has found herself thinking young in more ways than one.

She helped TV Land successfully launch Younger, a show aimed at a more youthful demo than the fiftysomething audience usually associated with the cable network. She also devised plans for Bose and Shinola, which were similarly seeking to target younger consumers with their products.

Gorrall honed her media chops and learned the value of great creative at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, her first agency job, on assignments such as Mini Cooper. A stint at Creative Artists Agency taught her to leverage entertainment and pop culture to build client business. She then refined her brand planning skills during a two-year tenure at Ogilvy & Mather Chicago, working on S.C. Johnson. As a result of that diverse marketing background, "she knows how to get consumer insight and make it media actionable," says chief media officer John Moore, who hired Gorrall at Mediahub.

"Media is more creative than it ever has been," says Gorrall. "We are finally making stuff from a media standpoint that rivals stuff from creative shops."

Tasked with pitching TV Land's new show Younger, a 30-minute dramedy from producer Darren Star, to "quirky, modern women of a middle-Gen-X age," Gorrall de-emphasized prime-time ad placements in favor of buzzy digital alternatives like Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Pandora and Spotify. The 6 a.m.-9 a.m. corridor was heavily targeted because "that was the time [the female Gen Xer] was able to think about what she's really interested in," before her busy day truly begins, Gorrall says. Younger premiered in March, and Mediahub's work helped drive down the median viewer age 15 percent in its first three weeks. The series has been renewed for a second season.

Meanwhile, Gorrall helped Bose tighten its marketing focus. "They were … buying everything 25-54, and a lot of their direct-response work was targeting boomer-plus," Gorrall says. She narrowed the target to "renaissance geeks"—mostly male millennials "who want solid, quality products that work, and that they can chat about with friends." To reach this group, Bose put its headsets on National Football League coaches during the 2014-15 season, and NBC shared brand-sponsored content during games. Ultimately, the brand's social engagement rose 25 percent year over year, with search up 15 percent during the holiday shopping season.

For Shinola wristwatches and leather goods, outreach developed by Mediahub with Partners & Spade ran in the Daily Beast, Uncrate and elsewhere, targeting millennial "mavericks" (affluent males who were eager to buy) and "makers" (female content sharers who would spread the brand message). "This work played a significant role not only in how we think about our media selection," says Shinola marketing director Bridget Russo, "but in how we think about the content we co-create with our key media partners."

Now, Gorrall looks forward to building out her five-person department, and believes that clients in the $10 million-$30 million range provide great opportunities for communications planning.

"They tend to be more a little more aggressive and a little more opportunistic with their media and creative assets and the partnerships they undertake," she says. "It's not just a game of procurement efficiencies." —D.G.


Jordan Bitterman, North American Chief Strategy Officer, Mindshare

In less than two years at Mindshare, Jordan Bitterman has quickly made his mark, driving new-business wins while launching The Loop, a system that's changing the agency's culture as it brings real-time insights to client content and media buys.

Bitterman left DigitasLBi in 2013 for the WPP shop, which already embraced adaptive marketing but didn't have the operating structure to quickly execute against it. While competitors use real-time "war rooms," The Loop is designed to be different in that it focuses on paid media rather than just reactions through social buzz. The Loop isn't only about high-profile events like the Super Bowl—it was built to be used every day.

"This enables us to better know about consumers, client competitors, brand conversations that are always taking place," Bitterman says. "We bring all these things together and consolidate them into our constant thinking about client problems."

For example, Mindshare's Unilever teams used The Loop to track weather data last winter to find the right times and places for Vaseline's paid spending on The Weather Company. Likewise, when CVS took tobacco off its shelves in 2014, the advertiser used The Loop to respond to consumers about a category that generates little buzz but, in this instance, stirred a lot of emotions.

Since its January 2014 launch, The Loop has been implemented in 26 Mindshare offices worldwide. To that end, it's evolving Mindshare's larger culture, with Bitterman driving organizational change. In addition to daily Loop meetings, there are also client sessions about bigger trends. Mindshare's Huggies team decided to surround celebrity pregnancy announcements with content. When Kate Middleton announced her latest pregnancy, the brand quickly responded, resulting in Huggies owning the paid media story. Huggies has since prepared for that birth, giving a London, Ohio, hospital a splashy makeover in advance of Middleton's May 2 delivery, complete with free diapers for babies born there, and across the U.S., on that date. (Right after the new royal baby's arrival, word of that Huggies offer spread through free media and tweets while the brand readied its royal baby sponsorship on

Mindshare North America CEO Colin Kinsella credits Bitterman with successfully instilling a new level of cross-discipline collaboration among staffers. Kinsella adds that he's also created a shift to a real-time evaluation of work, unlike the past where consideration might occur months after a campaign's launch. "Jordan has the creativity to think big and the discipline to execute against it," says Kinsella.

The Loop also proved to be a potent new-business weapon as Volvo, Nordstrom, BlackRock and Celgene moved work to Mindshare in 2014. But while Bitterman initiatives like The Loop help attract clients, his broader business perspective helps keep them there.

"Jordan is a customer-first strategic marketer and trusted advisor who understands how to drive real business impact through the intersection of marketing, communications and technology," says Rich Lehrfeld, vp, global media, sponsorship and experiential marketing at American Express. —Noreen O'Leary


Anush Prabhu, Chief Channel Planning, Investment Officer, Deutsch N.Y.

If you're looking to cut through the ever-growing glut of digital data to find valuable insights to inform a marketing plan, then Anush Prabhu's your man.

Last fall, when Deutsch New York was pitching Sherwin-Williams, the agency's newly minted chief channel planning and investment officer put together a presentation that sifted through some 114 million social conversations to parse what Prabhu describes as the "emotional ups and downs" of consumers' painting projects—it takes 103 days, on average, just to pick the right color and buy it.

"We saw that there's this roller coaster of emotions that people go through, and each of those emotional stages leads them to different media behavior," explains Prabhu. "When they're really low and looking for help, they really crave how-to videos and things like that online. Whereas when they're in a more inspirational mood, they tend to go for magazines and inspirational content online or on television. And that really differs how we can approach them at different points with different messages and different media."

In the end, Deutsch walked away with the creative and media assignments on all brands besides the namesake Sherwin-Williams (which wasn't in review and remained at McKInney)—including Dutch Boy, Krylon and Thompson's WaterSeal. For the launch of its HGTV Home line of paints at Lowe's, the company is rolling out an effort based on the road map Prabhu helped draw.

"His laugh is something that fills the room and gets other people loosened up and having a good time," says Ian Gresham, svp of marketing for diversified brands at Sherwin-Williams. "But he's also a real strong intellectual guy in terms of his analytical horsepower, and his ability to think about different sources of data and bring them together in creative ways."

An alum of Deutsch's CRM and analytics teams who detoured to set up practices at JWT and mcgarrybowen, Prabhu returned to a communications planning role at the agency in 2012 and took over its media department in 2013 (despite limited traditional buying experience).

It's all part of CEO Val DiFebo's plan to better integrate data thinking into the agency's overall approach. "Being able to have someone who could look at data but have the broader purview that Anush has—he's got a great marketing sensibility and is really interested in business results—would be a genius combination," DiFebo says.

Indeed, Prabhu's also been able to apply his analytics chops for clients like PNC, overseeing the creation of a predictive model with 56 variables to determine the most efficient ways to message in markets where the bank operates—an effort that's helped drive a 23 percent year-over-year bump in deposits in 2014. That kind of work helps the agency's own bottom line, too—since March 2013, Deutsch's media revenue has grown by double digits. —G.B.


Scott Hess, SVP of Human Intelligence, Spark

Scott Hess is afraid you'll roll your eyes when he tells you what he does.

"It's really astrology, with a slightly more scientific basis," he says.

He invented his title—Spark's svp of human intelligence—and makes a living convincing aging Gen Xers and boomers that he is the millennial whisperer—that is, he can communicate with this hot generation of consumers and show brands how they can, too.

Hess is the resident expert on 14- to 34-year-olds at Spark, part of Publicis' Starcom MediaVest Group. "I tell brands to create marketing that feels resonant with them and that they identify with," he says.

His role only sounds nebulous, and Hess is only a little self-deprecating. Brands really need his services, so they can avoid coming off like they're trying to trick the cool kids, talking like they're "on fleek" but sounding "rekt."

Hess also has more hard data than astrologers on which he bases his findings. "Because of the Internet, because of economies around collecting data, there's more information around millennials than anyone else," he says. And he doesn't just sort through piles of statistics to form his advice—which he even gives to nonprofits focused on youth—he conducts furled studies. Hess will follow teens around the mall and asks kids for their honest takes.

"The great thing about talking to young people is that most of the time they're thrilled to be asked their opinion," he explains.

At Spark, Hess is helping brands come up with experiences they can harness, package and distribute digitally. Take mud runs, for example. Hess came up with the idea to attach the Delta faucets brand to these popular events at which people get caked in mud enduring grueling obstacle courses. He's also been a big part of several new business wins (including REI, Red Lobster and Nickelodeon) that have grown Spark by 30 percent in 2014. Plus, he has worked with the Truth anti-smoking group, on anti-drug organizations, and campaigns to prevent teen pregnancy.

Most importantly, he's an advocate for this younger generation. They're not lazy, entitled and unwilling to pay their dues, as so many say—a stigma that he identifies with. As a Gen Xer, when he first started his career 26 years ago, he was labeled the same way. He's been prescient much of his career, recognizing early on that people wouldn't want a work-life balance; they want work with a party balance at the office.

One of his signature stories is how he was called out and demerited by a boss for having moppy hair at his first job at Andersen Consulting. A devout nonconformist, he even played Nerf basketball in the office—but got few others to play along. "I tried to bring about the workplace I wanted," he remembers, "so I'm excited millennials have actually done it." —Garett Sloane


Melissa Shapiro, President of Investment, MediaVest USA

Those myriad headlines that for years have sounded the death knell for TV as we know it are at best premature, and most likely, dead wrong. TV's not dead—it's just different. No one knows that better than MediaVest USA's president of investment Melissa Shapiro.

Over the veteran TV buyer's career and, most recently, her five-year tenure at MediaVest, she has seen the industry transform with viewership taking a turn toward digital.

"You see a lot over five years—the transformation of the landscape of the agency," says Shapiro. "Transformation is something we talk about at MediaVest quite often, and I think it's how you adapt and pivot and you evolve into something that's future-forward and ultimately puts you—your agency, your co-workers—and your client in a position of strength."

With Shapiro's forward-leaning investment strategy, the agency saw 43 percent growth in its digital business, which helped the shop's overall 2014 growth climb 2 percent—not a small amount for an agency responsible for a large chunk of the market share.

Shapiro understands that in order to deliver the best results for MediaVest clients, she needs to think beyond TV, which means meeting audiences where they live and play. Take her successful lead on MediaVest client Oreo's partnership with the NCAA. Two brands famous for dunking joined forces to bring fans the Dunk of the Day presented by Oreo.

The daily dunk was a video clip of the day's best dunk that aired on the NCAA March Madness YouTube channel, which broadcast the tournament live. Not stopping there, MediaVest, using the NCAA logo and further aligning the cookie brand more closely with March Madness, published Oreo-centric recipes on Pinterest, and took to other social channels to spread the dunking message.

"Melissa is a wonder woman," says B. Bonin Bough, Mondelez International vp of global media and consumer engagement. "She is a brilliant partner, fearlessly creating first-of-a-kind, future-forward partnerships that elevate our brand and engage consumers with laser focus."

While this is Shapiro's most recent success in live programming partnerships, it certainly isn't unusual for the exec. She's had her hand in many lucrative pairings, including Walmart's sponsorship of Peter Pan Live on NBC (which helped rekindle an interest in live nonsports content), Sprint's custom marketing across top-tier programming on AMC and NBC, and P&G's Grammy sponsorship that included a hypersocial campaign during the broadcast.

But, like any great leader, Shapiro knows she's only as strong as her team.

"What I'm ridiculously proud of is the people I work with on a daily basis," she says. "I work with the smartest and the brightest."

All of which keeps her on top of and ahead of the changing nature of video content. —Carrie Cummings


Will Wiseman, President of Strategy and Planning, PHD U.S.

The irony of singling out the individual accomplishments of Will Wiseman at PHD is that he's fixated on creating a group approach to solving brand problems. In short, he believes in the power of a sharing economy that's less top-down and more bottom-up.

Wiseman cultivated this approach in his last job as U.S. head of strategy at UM and has applied it daily since becoming president of strategy and planning at PHD U.S. last October. The early returns have been encouraging. The agency has won four of five pitches since Wiseman and new U.S. CEO Nathan Brown joined the Omnicom shop, including Kohler, Converse and global media planning on S.C. Johnson. Collectively, those companies spend more than $1 billion in media annually.

Beyond the wins, however, is a drive to create a new, millennial-friendly culture that works both in pairs and groups as large as 80, and forges insights quicker, often within three days. This "collaboration of hungry minds," as Wiseman describes it, stands apart from the old competition of individual ideas that many agencies foster to crack client briefs. And by using this process, the U.S. leader believes that he'll gain a deeper understanding of the 200 staffers in the four offices he oversees. The agency's top accounts include GSK, Google and Gap.

"The best way to inspire people is to give them an opportunity that tells them you believe in them," says Wiseman, who earlier in his career was a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and a strategic planner at Ogilvy & Mather. "Put a challenge and responsibility that they might think is a little bit bigger than them in their hands and show them that you're 100 percent comfortable with that and that they have 100 percent of your support to attempt—win or lose."

So, why has success come so quickly for Wiseman at PHD? It helps that Brown also came from UM, and they partnered there as well under former U.S. president Sarah Personette. The pair had already embraced the collective approach to tackling briefs and didn't miss a beat once they reunited. In fact, they're so close that at one point they thought about launching a business together. (Only half-jokingly, Brown describes Wiseman as his "work wife.")

More specifically, Brown says Wiseman is a great listener who's accessible, empathetic and humble. "He's probably one of the smartest guys that you'll ever meet, but he'll never make you feel that way," Brown explains.

Personette, who's now head of global business marketing at Facebook, echoes that sentiment. "He's a knowledge sharer," she says, "not a knowledge hoarder."

And that fits perfectly with his mandate at PHD. —A.M.


Michael Epstein, Chief Client Officer, Carat

Michael Epstein is quietly commanding in a way that lets you know he's got everything covered. Which, if you ask him, is one of the reasons Carat president Doug Ray brought Epstein aboard in 2013 as the agency's first chief strategy officer. But Epstein's description of his two-year Carat USA tenure certainly underplays the agency's huge uptick over the same period—a 13 percent jump in revenue and a hand in bringing in more than $700 million in billings.

"Michael has always been committed to driving a culture of innovation," says MediaLink vp of innovation strategy Neil Carty. "His ability to inspire talent and develop collaborative teams, test new business models and experiment on the bleeding edge has been critical in keeping Carat ahead."

This past September, Epstein assumed the role of chief client officer while retaining chief strategy officer duties. By that time, he had brought in new clients like MasterCard and Danone while nurturing organic growth from clients already on the agency's roster, like Relativity EuropaCorp Distribution.

Epstein stands out among both his clients and peers for his personable approach to his work.

"I have had the great fortune to work with Michael as a colleague and a client," notes Relativity CMO Angela Courtin. "Through both experiences, I've witnessed firsthand his brilliance as a strategist, implementer and collaborator. He has a keen sense of marketplace dynamics and peering around corners to advance change and achieve success."

One of Carat's strongest suits, notes Epstein, is its insistence on turning behavioral data into valuable insights that can be applied into plans. "Every agency has its sweet spot, and all agencies are great in their own ways," he says. "Everybody likes to talk about big data. It's actually what you do with that data and turn it into insights" that matters.

It just so happens that's also one of Epstein's strongest traits. Under his leadership, Carat is starting the Innovation Catalyst Group, which pairs together strategists and the technologists that use consumer insight in order to cultivate better-informed strategies for its clients.

"Michael has been a key collaborator in the development and implementation of our audience buying strategy," says Emmanuel Marques, Disney Destination's vp of global media. Epstein "was able to ensure that the strategic services the agency provides are shifting quickly to align with our business need, the evolution of the media consumption of our targets and the increasing development of data-driven and audience-based media opportunities."

But the Innovation Catalyst Group is just one product of Epstein's insistence on nurturing a we're-all-in-this-together culture at Carat. "Collaboration is really important to me," adds Epstein. "We want it to be a place that people want to work with, and we want our clients to be happy. Those things often go hand in hand." —C.C.


Sarah Power, Chief Strategy Officer, Initiative U.S.

Sarah Power wasn't sure what kind of career in advertising she wanted. But she knew about research. Her father had worked in the research department at King World Productions, former home of Jeopardy! and The Oprah Winfrey Show, and often talked about his job at home. It's been in that very department, now more commonly known as strategy, that Power has soared.

In her role as chief strategy officer at Initiative U.S., Power synthesizes mountains of data, parsing out critical insights that help to win new business—with Power's help, the agency recently won GoDaddy and Papa John's—as well as the agency's process and product efforts.

"Because I came up through research, I work very closely with our analytics team," explains Power. "I understand how the data was collected, what data we can count on more than other data … I've built a career on being able to tell a story with that data."

It's that understanding of data that helped inform a new winning strategy for 7UP last year. Power found that the lemon-lime soda brand—part of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group family, the first client Power helped land (and maintain) when she joined Initiative in 2007—could differentiate itself by reaching out to Hispanic millennials through the electronic dance music scene. The approach was a game changer, helping buoy the brand and boosting sales.

Peter Mears, president and CEO of Initiative in North America, reorganized the agency and placed digital and social strategy as well as content and innovations within the integrated strategy pillar, which Power heads. This has helped with integration and execution, he says, adding that Power has been "instrumental in the recent success of Initiative—not only helping with existing and new clients but also in driving our strong agency culture."

Though Power was promoted to chief strategy officer in 2013, she believes that good ideas can come from anywhere within the agency. To that end, she works to foster millennial talent as the executive sponsor of what the shop calls its "FutureBoard." With this program, Power nurtures the potential of younger colleagues, overseeing their work on agency projects and overhauls. Likewise, she spearheads Initiative's work with connecting the young media professionals with the Ad Council for PSA work each year.

In the mid '90s, Power began her agency career at True North Media, landing a job as a research supervisor fresh out of Rutgers University. From there she worked her way up and eventually nabbed a strategy position at Carat. In 2007 she made her way to Initiative as evp and director of insights and strategy. During Power's Carat tenure, True North was acquired by Initiative.

"It's almost like I'm back where I started," says Power. Except she's quite a bit farther up the ladder than the first go-round. —K.M.


Brendan Gaul, EVP, Global Creative Director, UM Studios

Clean & Clear was a fading brand in the Johnson & Johnson portfolio, no longer relevant to its teen target and desperately in need of a marketing makeover. Enter Brendan Gaul, evp, global creative director and head of UM Studios, who spearheaded a turnaround plan in early 2014.

Original content under the banner #SeeTheRealMe allowed young girls to tell their personal coming-of-age stories through social media. Live events, concert tour sponsorships and TV tie-ins supported the campaign. But the centerpiece was a mini-documentary series shot by renowned music video directors with subjects like pop star Demi Lovato, WNBA player Skylar Diggins and this spring 14-year-old transgender activist Jazz Jennings. The response from consumers was immediate, says Amy Pascal, director of North American digital for J&J, with a new wave of momentum, goodwill and sales bubbling up in March with the breakthrough addition of Jennings.

It's an example, she says, of Gaul's keen ability to find the right influencers and match them with an insightful, zeitgeist-capturing concept. "He's great at developing creative, forward-thinking ideas that break through," Pascal says. "He brings us closer to our consumer by understanding their world."

Gaul, a former McCann-Erickson creative director on the J&J business, believes it's not enough for marketers to simply churn out content. They need to "have the courage to actually say something, create work that's provocative that people will talk about—that's the new challenge."

More than a dozen of #SeeTheRealMe's 124 videos have passed 1 million views—the Jennings video was on YouTube's leaderboard of most-watched ads in March. The series has racked up more than 38 million views total, with coverage in Time, The New York Times and other national outlets.

Not that the campaign was risk free, especially its embrace of Jennings, the first transgender girl to star in global advertising. But Gaul wasn't daunted. "Sometimes it feels like you're back in high school and everyone will comment on what you do," Gaul says. "But you can't let that change who you are."

During Gaul's tenure at UM—he recently added global duties—he's brought the same sensibility to Sony, the U.S. Postal Service and BMW, marrying "the ancient art of storytelling with the new content models of media today," adds Daryl Lee, UM's global CEO. "He's a rare creative media talent" who has "pioneered branded content."

Gaul's work on Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 exposed the superhero on nearly every piece of USPS real estate from trucks to stamps and pulled in Marvel legend Stan Lee for a commercial cameo. Gaul forged a partnership with Men's Health magazine for J&J brand Rogaine for "Grow Your Game," an Effie-winning program that helped five men tackle hair loss and redefine their lives. 

He's excited about emerging technologies like Oculus Rift because, as he says, "there's always a new story to tell, and these will provide new ways in." —T.L. Stanley

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