DMM: Coby O'Brien

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Coby O'Brien once helped get millions of people to wonder "Where's the beef?" Now 15 years later, and still with the same advertising agency, he seems to have found his own "beef" in digital marketing and advertising.

"It's not just advertising. If you just think of the Web as banners and buttons, then yes, it is just advertising," said Mr. O'Brien. "But if you look at it as an overall medium, it's about marketing, and customer service; it's sales and electronic commerce; it's employee training."

Vital stats:
Title: President/CEO, Darwin Digital, New York.
Age/bio: 38, born in Pensacola, Fla.; B.A. in communications, Newhouse School of Communications, Syracuse University, 1983.
Career
highlights:
Variety of positions including copywriter, art director and producer at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, which later became Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, 1984-94; director of Saatchi & Saatchi Interactive, 1994-97; current post, 1997-.

For his first 10 years at the agency, Mr. O'Brien had always held creative jobs, but when he was asked to head a new Saatchi & Saatchi interactive division, Mr. O'Brien jumped at the chance. He freely admits he had a lot of learning to do, but he spent hours every day meeting the smartest, brightest and best in the business.

"I'm a fan of seeing every supplier, every idea and everything that's out there. I saw three people a day to just see what they were doing and tuning into all the business models," he said.

With the success of S&S Interactive, Mr. O'Brien was asked to lead the agency's next step--a brand new stand-alone digital marketing company, Darwin Digital, launched last July.

Clients include Procter & Gamble Co., General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Time Inc. New Media and GeoCities.

And even though Mr. O'Brien has found his place in the world, he realizes that new media is not for everyone.

"It's a different head. I have this little three-legged stool way of explaining it," he said. "This is equal parts creative, marketing and technology. If you don't think all three at the same time, this is not your medium," he said.

Betcha didn't know: Mr. O'Brien spends his free time restoring a turn-of-the-century house he and his wife (who is also his childhood sweetheart) own. With his "other" free time, he's logging hours towards a multi-engine pilot certification.

Copyright June 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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