Player Profile: Bewitched by ad business, TBWA's Monturo finds niche

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Richard Monturo doesn't speak with a British accent. Or a Scottish accent, or an Australian accent for that matter. That's noteworthy because the Cleveland native has taken over as director of account planning at Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif.

TBWA/Chiat/Day was one of the first agencies to bring the discipline of account planning over from Europe and popularize it in the United States via British-accented types such as Jane Newman and Adam Morgan during the 1980s and 1990s. Mr. Monturo joins a small group of Americans with prominent account planning posts, among them Abigail Hirschhorn, chief strategic officer at Omnicom's DDB Worldwide, New York, and Karen Evans, exec VP-director of planning, Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York.

"I don't think the British own thinking," said Tom Carroll, president of the Americas, TBWA Worldwide, who aggressively recruited Mr. Monturo. Mr. Monturo, who began in Feburary, is "a brave thinker" who is "intellectually honest," Mr. Carroll said. What the job takes, Mr. Carroll said, is someone who is able to "go out and get clarity and the inspiration [from the creative department] will come."

Mr. Monturo, 36, wants to update the discipline, perhaps with a down-and-dirty, home-grown pragmatism. TBWA/Chiat/Day Chairman Lee Clow asked him if there are "new ways of doing this," Mr. Monturo recalled. Mr. Monturo believes there are, particularly during an economic downturn when account planners are under scrutiny and being asked to provide evidence of their value.

"Lee strips things back and wants to bring the voice of the audience into the conversation," Mr. Monturo said, noting Mr. Clow deliberately underscores the word audience and not consumer. The quest, he said, is for a return to "common sense."

His plan is to take a careful look at strategy long before creative is developed. "Beat up the strategy instead of the creative," he said, adding his job is "R and D," as in research and development, for the creative department. He also is looking at reviving traditional tools such as quantitative research and segmentation, which he believes are "sound but became stale."

Part of his program for the 15-person account planning department he will now run is a rigorous and eclectic training program. He and his team will work with clients such as Nissan North America, XM Satellite Radio and Energizer batteries.

Another key part of the job is "keeping in touch with real people," Mr. Monturo said. Every year, he informally studies subcultures, taking what he calls "discovery trips" such as driving across the northern border of the U.S.

Mr. Monturo, the son of a blue-collar autoworker, was inspired by the 1960s sitcom "Bewitched," the story of ad man Darren Stevens who was married to a witch. After graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in communications, he was admitted to Boston University law school but balked after a few weeks. Instead, he left for New Zealand and Australia, where he became a roller- and ice-skating instructor.

Upon returning to the U.S. in 1989, he landed a job as a secretary at Ogilvy & Mather's New York office in 1989. His first planning job was at DDB; he later joined Goldsmith Jeffrey (now part of Lowe Lintas & Partners) and became its first planning director.

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