MEDIA MAVENS: NEW CLIENT WINS KEEP WESTERN ON A SOLID GROWING TRACK: MIKE KASSAN

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When interpublic Group of Cos. bought Western International Media at the end of 1994, a top executive at a well-known competitor said, "Well, now maybe we'll be able to grab a break. Dennis [Holt, Western's chairman-CEO] has finally sold, and I can't imagine Western will be going all-out crazy for business as it's been."

Wrong. Mr. Holt's heir-apparent, Michael Kassan, Western's president-chief operating officer, appears as driven as Mr. Holt. While a number of executives close to Western say the press-shy Mr. Holt has indeed slowed down a bit, Mr. Kassan has certainly taken up the slack. In the last year, Western has won major accounts representing BellSouth, American Honda Motor Co.'s Acura division and Long John Silver's.

LEARNED AS A LAWYER

Mr. Kassan, 46, is an attorney by training, and much of Mr. Holt's confidence in him stems from the selling of the company to IPG.

"Dennis brought Michael in during the spring of '94 with, really, the mission of negotiating the sale of the company," says one executive familiar with the situation. "Mike did a hell of a job, and by November the deal with IPG was sealed."

Mr. Kassan refers to Western as "a global media management company," and indeed, it is in the international arena where Western is determined to duplicate its U.S. success.

"A lot has been made about [the European] Carat coming here," Mr. Kassan says, adding with characteristic confidence, "but savvy observers will keep their eye on our expansion overseas."

Thus far, Western, which is in partnership internationally with IPG sister shops Lowe SFM and Initiative Media, has opened offices in London and the Netherlands; a Paris site is expected soon.

EVER A BROOKLYNITE

Though he now calls Beverly Hills home, Mr. Kassan-ever the Brooklynite-takes on media optimization, which has been the rage in Europe the last few years and is encroaching on U.S. shores.

Using various measuring devices-the optimizers-media buyers try and correlate their buys with the actual selling performance of a client's product or service.

"Optimization is interesting, but it's 'cocktail party' interesting," Mr. Kassan says.

"Optimization is about where the industry was, not where the industry is going. While it may have great applicability in Europe, my opinion is that it doesn't have anywhere near that applicability here."

Western, which moved from being a media independent when it was acquired by IPG, is much more than just a media buying operation. The company is involved with programming and outdoor media, he says.

"One of our great strengths is that we grow organically," Mr. Kassan says. "If need be, we'll create a new division to satisfy a client need."

INTRANET LINK

For example, for BellSouth, Western created an Intranet application. The creation of Intranets-internal company systems using the Internet but separated from general use-is not something one usually associates with Western.

"Intranets have become a buzzword in the industry," Mr. Kassan says. "But we were working on this three years ago, long before it was fashionable. That was something that was important to BellSouth; we created the system and delivered it to them."

Suissa Miller, Santa Monica, Calif., handles creative for Acura, and agency Chairman-Executive Creative Director David Suissa is a big fan of Mr. Kassan's.

"I consider him the Lee Clow of media," he says, referring to the creative legend at TBWA Chiat/Day. "Because Mike hasn't spent most of his years in media, when you sit down with him he talks media from a unique business perspective. It's very refreshing."

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