Drexler leaves retirement; signs on with Mediasmith

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Are there second acts on Madison Ave.? Mike Drexler, a 40-year veteran of the advertising industry, apparently thinks so.

The former media director at FCB Worldwide, New York, retired July 3 and already resurfaced last week as exec VP of Mediasmith, a small interactive media agency of which he now also is a partner. Mr. Drexler has signed on to run the San Francisco agency's soon-to-be-opened New York office.

David L. Smith, president and media director of Mediasmith, was in New York last week holding court with Mr. Drexler at the Sherry Netherland Hotel.

"We're revolutionaries," Mr. Smith claimed exuberantly. "If Mike is Che Guevara then I'm Fidel Castro," he added, jovially stroking his beard.

A more apt comparison might be Felix and Oscar of "The Odd Couple" fame. Mr. Drexler is the fastidious former executive of a huge advertising company; Mr. Smith, a laid back, self-avowed "Deadhead," who can rattle off clients' costs-per-page-view like Yankee batting averages.

How did they find each other? Mr. Smith launched Mediasmith in 1989 as a traditional media advertising agency. The shop began focusing on online advertising in 1995 and is now dedicated to taking those clients further into online and offline media.

GRATEFUL DEAD

While acknowledging there are many specialist online-offline advertising agencies, Mr. Smith said Mediasmith is the only media agency in this market. "As Bill Graham once said about the Grateful Dead," Mr. Smith said, "it's not that they are the best at what they do. They are the only ones who do what they do."

Mediasmith today claims billings of $100 million, a staff of 45 and its a client list that includes CBS MarketWatch, BabyCenter and Webmiles.com, among others.

"The media planner's job of media integration and media mix isn't really being done today by a lot of shops because clients are tending to hire one group for interactive and one group for traditional," Mr. Smith said. "We can bring out expertise to bear to bring it under one roof."

The shop also concentrates on measurement and tracking of online advertising. According to a company statement, Mediasmith "can even market to people who don't click on your banner ad but are exposed to it."

Mediasmith's principal staff includes two other former FCB employees, exec VP Karen McFee and Ted Block -- the latter formerly a media director at FCB, San Francisco, who joined the shop in October as chief operating officer. Mr. Drexler said he knew Mr. Block, but denied their connection had anything to do with him joining Mediasmith. Mr. Drexler added that he did not even know about Mediasmith until after he left FCB, although he admitted that he did leave the agency in order to get involved in new media.

After Mr. Drexler left, Mr. Smith said, "I heard that Mike might be available, so I contacted him."

Why did Mr. Drexler retire from a famous agency with blue-chip clients where he was a senior executive to join a small, relatively obscure company with a client list that does not include household brand names? "I retired from the full-service agency business," Mr. Drexler said.

"I did not retire from the media business. My interest was to have much more involvement with the new media. I think that is where the greatest growth is coming from. I also thought that the entrepreneurial environment is the best place to be at this point, because you have much more freedom to innovate. It also allows me to go without a tie."

MEDIA REVOLUTION

Although he comes back to town as a big man riding a small horse, Mr. Drexler intends to take on all comers.

"A lot of people say, `You're coming to New York? How are you going to compete against the big guys?"' Mr. Drexler said. "We are in a media revolution, and the truth is the big guys don't always win the revolutions."

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