Today, Ms. Desmond is no longer up at night worried about that vision -- mostly because the agency has used that view of the future as inspiration to beef up its digital expertise, building a 60-person team, MediaVest Digital Connections, that can help the agency apply an integrated approach to media planning and buying.
It's helped the agency win digital business from such marketers as Coca-Cola Co., EarthLink and, most recently, Mattel.
Above and below the line
"If you start with the consumer at center, you need an integrated product and strategy -- and that's above the line, below the line and digital," says Ms. Desmond, who was recently promoted to CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group/The Americas. "You can't just be in an interactive silo and expect to put powerful communication plans at the center."
Of course, integrating digital and traditional media planning and buying is easier said than done. First, there's a talent dearth. Then there's the legacy agency-compensation model, where the most expensive buy, TV, earns the agency the most commission.
MediaVest envisions a new compensation model -- one in which digital buying commands a premium commission because of the back-end work necessary to execute and optimize an interactive buy.
The structure of MediaVest Digital is such that a digital expert sits with each account team.
Eric Bader leads the practice as exec VP-managing director of MediaVest Digital. The two biggest accounts at MediaVest, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble Co., each have a managing director who oversees the business.
The digital experts for those accounts sit within that team and have two reporting lines: one to the managing director of the account and one to Mr. Bader.
One of the things that still keeps Ms. Desmond awake at night is worrying about finding the right talent.
In addition to hiring Mr. Bader to lead MediaVest Digital, she's assembled a core leadership team that includes Damon Bethel, who heads the Coke business, and Amanda Richman, the point person on P&G. Yaakov Kimelfeld was recruited from Beyond Interactive to be digital research and analytics director. Jen Soch leads the next-gen video charge. Other hires in the past three years include Mohan Renganathan and James Kiernan (both VP-associate directors) and Julian Zilberbrand, associate director of digital operations at MediaVest Digital Connections.
"We need digital specialists in their own right ... but [who] want to be at the table with other media," Ms. Desmond says. Since digital talent can be short, she's also trying to cultivate it from the traditional buying side. It's an effort to "open up supply."
The digital executions
The agency has a number of smart, creative media executions. Last summer, it worked with MSN to create the Sprite Refreshing Wall -- a microsite where visitors could tag a virtual graffiti wall, which could then be used as a screensaver or e-mailed to friends.
For EarthLink, MediaVest Digital launched a podcasting campaign through the PodShow network that asked listeners to "Make Advertising Better," the title of the campaign. The effort was spurred by the fact that podcast listeners didn't like repurposed radio spots being used as podcast ads.
The agency also created the Last Guy Film Festival. Used as a vehicle for P&G's Old Spice, the effort asked amateur filmmakers to submit shorts that had a "last guy on earth" theme. The agency enlisted the Neistat Brothers, a pair of highly regarded short-film producers, to give it indie cred.
Mattel moved its "digital media business to MediaVest Digital to integrate our online- and offline-media planning initiatives," Bonnie Chan, VP-worldwide media and integrated communications at the toy giant, says in an e-mail interview.
"MediaVest's New York office has a proven track record of success in the online and emerging media arena, and we were impressed with the digital media group's skill set."