Chief strategic officer exits Initiative Media for start-up

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Initiative Media Worldwide is losing its chief strategic officer, Cheryl Idell, to cyberspace.

Ms. Idell is leaving the Interpublic Group of Cos.' media shop to become chief strategy and research officer for start-up InterMedia Advertising Group, New York.

The move comes at a bad time for Initiative, which is in the middle of a pitch for Unilever's consolidated media buying and planning business, estimated at $550 million. Ms. Idell was part of a team leading that pitch.

"No one is indispensable," Ms. Idell said of the timing of her departure. "We've got lots of great talent that's hidden. That has been one of our best weapons at Initiative."

Mike Lotito, Initiative's president-chief operating officer, agreed: "We have lots of depth of management on Unilever. I have strong relationships there; we certainly have planning people who have been involved, account people and we have strong talent in New York, people who are simply going to step in. [Ms. Idell] is a great person. We're sorry to lose her."

GREEN, SUSSMAN PROMOTED

Initiative just promoted two key New York executives: Mark Green was named exec VP-chief information officer, and Ira Sussman was appointed exec VP-director of IM Futures.

Ms. Idell said she's moving because she wants "to try my hand at something a little different, taking advantage of the skills I've built up over the last 12 years" at Initiative.

This marks the second recent media defection from advertising to cyberspace. Mike Drexler, media director at FCB Worldwide, in August moved to an exec VP post at Mediasmith, a small technology-focused media company in San Francisco.

Ms. Idell's new workplace, InterMedia, is a marketing and technology start-up that will offer advertisers information about viewers' awareness of TV commercials. The company has created a Web-enabled service that rewards viewers for watching TV.

Viewers sign up to participate and report back to the service, detailing the TV programming they've watched. Participants receive points that add up to gifts. The information is then used as a database of information for advertisers.

FOCUS ON AD EFFECTIVENESS

InterMedia "is focused on a very specific problem," said Ms. Idell. "As media fragments and as new technologies come into play and as people have access to information where and when they want it, it's harder to get people to pay attention to ads."

Starting in mid-October, Ms. Idell will be assisting advertisers in increasing the effectiveness of their campaigns. "That's really my sweet spot," said Ms. Idell, who's consulted with the company for several weeks, developing technology and content for a variety of platforms, from Web to wireless to digital.

The company, led by Co-CEOs Ken Orkin and Alan Gould, will announce partnerships with five leading global advertisers in the coming weeks, Ms. Idell said.

In the meantime, she'll continue to consult with Initiative since it is not a competitor with InterMedia. In particular, she plans to remain available to Initiative through yearend to help with the Unilever pitch.

`I CAN SEE WHY THEY WANT HER'

"It's just unfortunate timing," she said. "Things happen in life at a certain time and all the pieces just came together."

"Cheryl's a great presenter, understands research, understands how to make this thing happen and can go before investors and sound like a human being," said Mr. Lotito. "Most of these research people are not quite that good. I can see why they want her. And hell, if it doesn't work in two years I'll hire her back."

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