Meet Today’s 15 Most Innovative Agency Executives in Media Buying and Planning

Adweek salutes the 2017 class of Media All-Stars

Hearts & Science CEO Scott Hagedorn is our Media All-Stars Executive of the Year. Christopher Gabello for Adweek

The media side of the agency world has both received more attention and grabbed the spotlight on its own by virtue of its growing importance in any campaign—digital, social, mobile, traditional or otherwise. The 15 All-Stars in this section represent the best and most original thinking across all the facets of media. Our Executive of the Year, Hearts & Science’s CEO Scott Hagedorn, apparently was born to be a media czar, and he honed the data discipline that has become de rigueur across the media landscape while attracting both AT&T and P&G—two of the largest advertisers in the U.S. On the other end of the spectrum, Giant Spoon’s Nathalie Con, our Rising Star, put her skills to work helping NBCUniversal score its biggest newbie hit of the season in This Is Us. All our other All-Stars represent the varied skills and disciplines of both independents and holding-company outfits alike. Read their stories of success. —Michael Bürgi

Scott Hagedorn, CEO, Hearts & Science 

Scott Hagedorn took an interest in advertising earlier than most.

By age 15, he had his first summer internship at an agency—a Tampa, Fla., shop called Stokes, Epstein, Moore. But it’s a school paper that he wrote when he was even younger—at only 11—that most strongly suggests he was fated to become a marketer.

“Is there a future for advertising?” reads that sixth-grade essay. “Will there be any job openings in the coming years? Is advertising still a big deal? The answer to all of these questions is yes. Ads are also popping up in new places every day … With these thoughts in mind, a career in advertising sounds very promising.”

Fast-forward some 35 years. As CEO of Hearts & Science, the sparkling new data-driven Omnicom media agency that’s taken the market by storm in just 18 months, winning AT&T and P&G—two of the largest advertisers in the U.S.—and growing to some 900 staffers with $119 million in 2016 revenue—Hagedorn is still grappling with similarly existential questions, albeit in a slightly more refined way.

“We’re in a tough position right now,” he says of the industry at large. “The tools that have been used to plan advertising don’t work anymore. It’s hard to get a straight answer out of Nielsen on what data they really have and what data they don’t have. But by our estimation, they might be missing 40 percent of total video, because they’re missing a lot of the OTT data. They’re missing Hulu, they’re missing a lot of the streaming data … And that’s how people watch content now.”

Add in other factors like the relatively Wild West of social media platforms (Exhibit A: The mass brand flight, including key client AT&T, from YouTube in recent months) and the fact that millennials are racing to consume content in mobile apps like Netflix and Hulu, where the right ad formats have perhaps yet to be invented (interruptive interstitials placed in such environments infuriate those viewers, Hagedorn points out), and the 46-year-old executive is constantly working to figure out how to stay ahead of the curve. That means developing the right tools and services to help brands like AT&T and the agency’s other marquee client P&G reach their audiences effectively and efficiently—by leveraging the abundance of data that a highly digitized and interconnected but deeply fragmented mediascape offers.

“With the pace of change that’s happening now, you’ve got to be able to create and spin up your own ways of doing planning quickly,” he explains. “And you’ve got to learn to be very light on your feet with these data sets to be able to do that.”

Hagedorn’s gangbusters vision for Hearts & Science (Adweek’s 2017 Breakthrough Media Agency of the Year) is rooted in a longtime, long-view prophecy on the collision of customer relationship management tactics—honed through his experience at Omnicom direct marketing shop Rapp in the mid 2000s—with the rise of mobile devices, which allow brands to address customers in more individualized ways using powerful ad technology and analytics. They’re disciplines Hagedorn scaled across the holding company when he built its data platform Annalect in the first half of this decade. To meet this brave new world, Hagedorn—also formerly a top exec at traditional shops OMD and PHD—has created an agency model that puts marketing science experts—quants, really—further upstream, at the center of client planning teams, so that they can help write business rules that better automate targeting. The endgame, of course, is to reach consumers at the times and on the terms that best speak to their mindsets and moods, while also reducing the waste caused by less pinpointed messaging strategies (which might, for example, hit a customer that’s already loyal to a brand and unlikely to change preference).

It’s that kind of persistently forward-looking thinking that’s allowed Hagedorn to thrive throughout his 13-year career at Omnicom. “This is a guy who lives in the future, and it is amazing to be around him,” says Page Thompson, North American CEO at Omnicom Media Group, and a mentor of Hagedorn’s—noting that the younger exec has proven himself a leader repeatedly, “from PHD to Annalect and now clearly the penultimate Hearts & Science.” Adds Thompson, a veteran of the traditional media business, “Sometimes he may be a little far out—but that’s a good thing.” —Gabriel Beltrone

Nathalie Con, associate director, strategy, Giant Spoon

Nathalie Con’s presence at Giant Spoon is much larger than her associate director of strategy title suggests. “She treats our company like it’s her company, like she’s a partner,” says Marc Simons, one of Giant Spoon’s co-founders, who hired Con in 2014, about six months after the company’s start. “She applies that approach to how she works with the clients.”

Case in point: NBCUniversal. “We really are an extension of their team,” says Con. “That’s how we think about all our clients. We want to help them to think smart and stay ahead of the game.”

She helped NBC strategize the marketing push behind This Is Us, the most successful of all freshman series this season. One of her tasks involved figuring out why the series’ trailer resonated so strongly with viewers. “The show launched at a time when people wanted to root for someone, and you had a whole ensemble of characters that people just wanted to succeed,” she explains. The shorter trailers that followed focused on marketing “deeply rooted moments” and the “realness of the story.”

For another direct client, Old Navy, Con worked on the “50 Styles, 50 States” campaign, showcasing clothing that epitomized a more localized sense of fashion. And she led some intelligence efforts at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. On behalf of Giant Spoon and OZY Media, Con and a colleague produced a series of think pieces about various product launches and trends.

Con knew that she wanted to work in advertising by the time she was 18. She was on a team at Chapman University that won the National Student Advertising Competition, which she describes as “the NCAAs of advertising.”

Building communities is something that Con excels at. One of her side projects at Giant Spoon has been the creation of a social recommendation platform called Oh Laud, which is focused on entertainment and pop culture. She also formed a Facebook group called Ask Sheeves, a support forum for 250 women.

On a more personal front, she formed a mahjong club as a way of helping a friend from China feel at home in America—and for Con to feel connected to her Chinese heritage. One of her grandmothers barely spoke English. While they interacted with nods and smiles, “to this day, I wish I knew some Chinese so I could have communicated with her,” Con says. —Janet Stilson

Andrea Millett, president, Havas Media New York; COO, U.S.

“I’ve never worked in what you would call ‘traditional media,’” says Andrea Millett, a self-described digital native who became a media planner at Arnold Boston in 2000 after beginning her career at JWT Detroit. Since then, she has moved steadily upward within the Havas Media organization, becoming U.S. COO and president of its largest “village” in New York nine months ago, just as the network moved through a comprehensive global restructuring amid persistent rumors of a potential merger with Vivendi.

Since assuming that position, Millett has specialized in both internal operations and new business initiatives, playing a key role in a streak of late-2016 wins that ushered in an estimated $700 million in new media spending and spearheading an account team reorganization that helped the agency retain one of its oldest clients, Choice Hotels.

“I get my hands in a little bit of everything, but that’s part of my 17 years here,” she says. “I know how everything works, and I know what doesn’t work.”

“Andrea is truly the reason our whole operation at Havas in New York runs smoothly,” adds Havas Media North American CEO Colin Kinsella. “She’s been at Havas in its various forms for 17 years, and that gives her incredible knowledge, experience and trust from her colleagues and our clients.”

The media sector has changed dramatically during Millett’s time with the agency. She says, “Our job as media partners has really become that of marketing strategists, rising up above the media buying notion. And that’s quite a journey to train and hire talent who can use a much wider lens than they used to.”

Millett describes Havas’ new #Together strategy as an effort to “get out of our own way” in the interest of serving its clients, many of which are attracted to the network’s “scrappy” nature. While Havas Media may not handle the industry’s biggest accounts, it has been participating in larger pitches due, in part, to a business model that tackles owned and earned before paid and “really resonates with clients who may not have $400 million in reach.”

“I’m obsessed with change. I believe strongly in continuing to try new ways of doing things, new models and new iterations in every aspect [of the business],” Millet says. “This is the kind of place where, if you
raise your hand and say, ‘I have a thought,’ lots of people will listen.” —Patrick Coffee

This story first appeared in the May 8, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.