MEDIA MAVENS;MEDIA 'NATURAL' CONTROLS $1 BILLION IN BILLINGS, EYES BOOMING INTERNET

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Although Mike Lotito developed job skills during his undergraduate courses at Rutgers University, it was outside the classroom where his business savvy was utilized and eventually discovered.

While working as the advertising sales director at the college's newspaper, Mr. Lotito was spotted as a media natural by Walter Joyce, marketing director for Playboy and Fortune.

Mr. Joyce was so impressed by the then 20-year-old senior, he helped him to get his first job as a media planner at McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, in 1982.

And like most young advertising neophytes, there was some belt-tightening at the beginning of his career: "I made more money my senior year of college than I did my first year of advertising," he says.

But he stayed on the media track and moved up quickly. At 25, Mr. Lotito became the buying supervisor on Benton & Bowles' $150 million General Foods account. In 1985, he joined Ammirati & Puris, and by 28, was promoted to media director of the agency. During his time as media director, he used his bargaining skills to become one of the first media executives to negotiate magazine rates.

SIMPLE DECISIONS

"The only decision we were making as media planners was what magazine we wanted, not how much we wanted to pay for the spot," he says of the years when agencies paid a flat rate for magazine space. "If it wasn't on the rate card, they didn't know how to price it."

He adds the now common practice of rate negotiation "redefined the media business."

As media director, he also helped to bring Ammirati & Puris from billings of $120 million to $550 million prior to the merger with Lintas in 1994.

In Mr. Lotito's current position as exec VP-chief media officer at Ammirati Puris Lintas, he is responsible for $1 billion in media buying annually. He also helped the agency nab clients Burger King Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., RCA and Epson America.

Mr. Lotito says starting his media career early and his quick ascent up the advertising ladder will place him right in the middle of the action when the digital era takes off-which he predicts is still years away.

"I'm only 35," says Mr. Lotito. "I'll be around for another 20 years. When the Internet is booming, I'll still be in the media business."

As for now, Mr. Lotito is just beginning to advocate use of the Internet to Ammirati clients.

"It's the direction we are going," he says of the digital revolution, "but keep in mind, it is still going to be a long time away."

Over the last few years, while many advertisers were jumping into the Internet craze, Mr. Lotito cautioned Ammirati clients to wade in slowly.

He was so concerned about clients falling to non-researched Internet hype that in 1992, he and fellow Ammirati colleagues wrote a book on the future of the digital medium. "The Future of Television: Getting from Here to There" presents a view of the interactive horizon and warns advertisers looking at new media that interactive TV wouldn't reach 60% of the country until 2010.

HEADS INTERACTIVE GROUP

To educate his clients about Internet advertising and marketing, Mr. Lotito now heads Ammirati's Interactive Marketing Group.

As for the placement of the interactive department within an agency structure, Mr. Lotito says the unit should report to direct marketing.

"The future of interactive will be from a direct perspective," he says, adding that using the Internet is "like one-on-one advertising."

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