Taking his five years' experience working across various marketing disciplines in the company's consumer-products division, Mr. Contess made the move to the agency side, and he's never looked back.
"It wasn't a big strategic move," he said sheepishly. "It was more a family and relationship decision."
Since then, though, his career trajectory has been nothing if not strategic. He was in on the ground floor when Grey created its first trade-marketing agency, J. Brown & Associates, then co-founded Dugan Valva Contess, a promotional agency that rose through the `90s from 18 to 300 employees. The agency, now known as DVC Worldwide, introduced clients such as his former employer AT&T and Pillsbury Co. to the idea of promotions as "strategic platforms," Mr. Contess said. "Promotion was thought of as a short-term mass-targeted kind of discipline for package-goods companies, tactical rather than strategic," he said.
Just before the agency was sold to an investment group in 2000, Mr. Contess went to Young & Rubicam to build up the promotions side of its marketing services shop WCJ (now WPP Group's Wunderman), and was there for a little more than a year. Opportunity knocked again; this time to build Cordiant Communication Group's global marketing-services company in North America.
The 141 network (recently rebranded 141 Worldwide from 141 Communicator to reflect the name used outside North America) was developed five years ago under Cordiant's Bates Worldwide. Since then, it has grown to $200 million in revenue worldwide with a client roster of more than 300 companies across 54 countries, making it the second-largest marketing-services shop outside the U.S. The challenge, however, is that it ranks 55th in the U.S., with only a fraction of company revenues ($41 million in 2001, according to Mr. Contess) coming from here. And that's where the veteran company-growing Mr. Contess comes into play.
building best practices
"The marketing-services business is a lot more entrepreneurial than a lot of other marketing disciplines, and Neil understands how to bring a global network together and try to build best practices," said Jay Farrell, chairman of 141 in North America.
Mr. Contess will concentrate on finding clients who are interested in consolidating marketing services, including interactive, direct, promotions, event marketing and sponsorship with a global network. Already, 141 has signed on British American Tobacco and Allied Domecq to do just that. The approach, waged by ad agencies for a while now, helps build a strategic brand message across markets, Mr. Contess said.
Name: Neil Contess
Now: President, North America, 141 Worldwide
Challenge: Consolidating marketing services work at a global resource.