Player Profile: Avi Dan suits up for battle as Berlin Cameron partner

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Ad executives generously pepper their speech with war analogies, but few people in the industry today are as qualified to use the expressions as Avi Dan.

Mr. Dan, 50, who joined independent agency Berlin Cameron & Partners, New York, this month as managing partner, had served three years as a tank commander in the Israeli army by the time he was 21. Just two years later, when the Yom Kippur war broke out, Mr. Dan volunteered to rejoin the Israeli forces under the command of Ariel Sharon. During two weeks of tank battles, Mr. Dan survived a land-mine explosion, a strike by an anti-tank missile and direct artillery fire. The experience, he said, gave him a head for leadership plus other skills that are useful today on advertising's front lines.

"Some people get very tense and lose their mind in a pitch, but I'm usually pretty calm. It has to do with the fact that I had some life experiences that allow me to keep what I do now in perspective," he said. "We talk, in advertising, in war terminology, but it's not really war. The worst thing that can happen is a client decides not to buy a campaign."

Mr. Dan moved to New York following his military duty, and earned a bachelor's degree in economics and an M.B.A. from Columbia University. His first job out of school was with the agency Kenyon & Eckhardt (now part of True North Communications' Bozell Group), followed by account positions at Wells Rich Greene; D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles and Young & Rubicam, where he ran the Colgate-Palmolive Co. business. In 1997, Mr. Dan moved to Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, now a division of Publicis Groupe, to spearhead new-business development at the shop that took in $2.7 billion in U.S. billings last year.

Berlin Cameron CEO Ewen Cameron views Mr. Dan's experience working with big clients as a strong selling point for an agency that is young but striving to grow. "Our ambition is to work for top blue-chip clients," Mr. Cameron said. The agency already works for Coca-Cola Co., General Motors Corp. and Reebok International. "If we get one or two more blue-chip clients over the next year or two, I'd say that would be a big success." Mr. Dan will also develop the shop's marketing-services capabilities.

To corral new assignments, Mr. Dan said he tries to identify business opportunities that haven't been unearthed yet for would-be clients-and he doesn't limit his thoughts to just advertising. "His job is to figure out what the client is looking for and needs," said Hasan Ramusevic, a Raleigh, N.C.-based agency search consultant. "Avi is very strategic and asks all the right questions. Sometimes I feel like I'm on the stand with him asking all these questions, then all of a sudden a light bulb goes off in my head and I realize that's why he's asking," Mr. Ramusevic said.

Movement on the new-business front has been slow for the past six months, Mr. Dan acknowledged. But he sees signs to indicate marketers are now ready to look for an agency that can provide dramatic results-which, he said, an independent agency the size of Berlin Cameron (billings of $750 million and gross income in 2000 of $20 million) is in a position to deliver. "Traditional methods result in incremental results. To get radical results, you need to be unorthodox. I think smaller agencies are a little bit more unorthodox, which is what's required these days," he said.

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