Looking for a Media Plan Minus a 30-Second Spot

Q&A: MindShare's New CEO Scott Neslund

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Scott Neslund has some big shoes to fill. Named CEO of MindShare North America in February, he's the successor to Marc Goldstein, the media heavyweight who helped create MindShare seven years ago when it was created by unbundling the media departments of Ogilvy and JWT. But Mr. Neslund, 41, is undaunted.
Scott Neslund
Scott Neslund

A media lover through and through, Mr. Neslund started in the business fresh out of Indiana University in Bloomington, when he joined the media department of Leo Burnett Worldwide in Chicago. He rose through the ranks by taking risks -- which included moving to Milan, Tokyo, and Canada, before returning to Chicago -- and delivering results. Early on, he grabbed the leadership opportunities that came his way, and discovered a calling. "I like leading," he says. "I prefer it to following."

His gig at MindShare offers that: He oversees 1,100 employees, and five offices across North America. Here, he speaks to MediaWorks about his past, thoughts about the industry, and his quest to get his staff to craft a media plan without a 30-second spot anywhere in it.

MediaWorks: What are the greatest challenges facing MindShare?

Mr. Neslund: Broadly, media's changed so dramatically. I started in this business as a media planner and buyer. Back then, in 1988, if you bought A&E, you were making a risky cable buy. The list of magazines you had to choose from was maybe 15 deep. Fox had just started. The world we work in today is so different. Media professionals have to grow their skills so they have experience in and knowledge of the entire media marketplace. So my job is to give employees and clients a roadmap. This is the best time to be in the business. Media has a voice and a seat at the table; it wasn't the case twenty years ago. Then, the client service person would come down to the media department and say, "The client wants X, Y and Z."

MediaWorks: You've talked about the danger of agencies becoming too siloed. Is any organization structured to avoid that?

Mr. Neslund: There've been many press releases issued and many new and fancy titles announced. My intelligence is that there's more show than circumstance for the most part at this time. Dialogue is a good place to start: No one's really got it. We've got some tests in place, where we're trying different account structures, using various media planning and buying products, tailored to clients' needs. I favor customized structures for clients.

MediaWorks: So, is the 30-second spot alive or dead?

Mr. Neslund: There's certainly been a lot of reluctance to let go of it. There's a comfort zone in it for clients, ad agencies -- and media agencies too. I like to throw out a challenge to my media team: Give me a plan that doesn't include a 30-second spot. The challenge is to be creative enough to strategically plan and then execute a new kind of messaging that calls upon the power of TV as an advertising vehicle in a completely new way. The other part of the challenge is to negotiate the deal without the guarantee of using standard advertising units such as the 30-second spot.

MediaWorks: What do you want to accomplish in this new job?

Mr. Neslund: I've taken the first month to talk to many employees. So far, I've had 12 town hall meetings with MindShare employees across the country. I've been pleasantly surprised by how open people have been. I've also met with MindShare clients to learn what they expect. It's important when you take on a job like this, running a successful organization, that you listen. I have some early thoughts but am going to wait to make them public until they're fully formed.

MediaWorks: What have you done prior to this job and what experiences do you think are most relevant to the challenges here?

Mr. Neslund: I've got lots of experience coming to a new office and laying out a plan. In 1997, I moved to Tokyo to manage Starcom's office there. It was a tough market. Leo Burnett was small. My assessment was that we had to make the best of what we had. We weren't going to change clients; we had to bring in new talent and improve our product. Two years later, I moved to Toronto to lead Starcom's Canadian operations. We had great talent and great tools. Employees needed a gentle push, and some more resources, and then an OK to go ahead. When I became president of Starcom's StarLink, I realized we had to change our proposition. Our approach to clients had been "give us all of your business or nothing" but we realized that wasn't working. So instead we offered an a la carte offering: We can do your planning or your buying or whatever else you need. Generally there are three phases to this process: assessment and listening; developing an action plan, but don't surprise your staff; and lay out a plan, which includes giving employees a time table and then communicate internally and to clients. I think it's important to communicate a plan within 90 days. Any longer, and people being to wonder whether you've actually got a plan.

MediaWorks: On a very practical level, a big focus must be keeping Sears, which is one of MindShare's founding clients. Any comment on the review?

Mr. Neslund: Sorry, but I can't comment on that.
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