Tribal DDB's Freeman wants parity for online marketing

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There's still a bit of an academic aura around Matt Freeman. This is surely left over from his first job as a New Jersey prep school English teacher. But his casual attire, stylishly unaffected haircut and earnest manner now define him as an Internet marketing maven.

There are surprising similarities in the two fields. "If you've ever tried to convince 16-year-old boys that Hawthorne is important to their lives, you've been in advertising," Mr. Freeman said.

Promoted to CEO of Tribal DDB Worldwide in June, Mr. Freeman is in charge of Tribal DDB's 21 offices in 15 countries in North and South America, Europe and Asia, and a staff of 750. Mr. Freeman insists the job title merely formalized responsibilities he already possessed as CEO of Tribal DDB North America. But his promotion signals, if not a restructuring, then surely a reinforcing of an interactive division tooled to serve multinationals and geared to the next era in Internet marketing in which the online channel is as important as any other.

global growth

An office in India is about to open, and a new one in the U.S., although Mr. Freeman won't specify where. He's hired 10 new employees in Los Angeles including Lisa Schiavello as associate creative director. She had been VP-creative director at Digitas. And Tribal took on Zentropy's Scott Wensman as associate media director. The agency will also include a search-engine marketing practice in Los Angeles as of Aug. 3.

Clients include major brands such as Anheuser-Busch, Johnson & Johnson, ExxonMobil, Microsoft and Volkswagen. Half of Tribal's interactive clients are not among the offline agency's brands, including PepsiCo., U.S. Air Force and Frito-Lay. Recent wins are also predominantly offline marketers like Arizona Jeans and Dannon Co., although dot-coms like social networking site eHarmony have also recently sought out Tribal.

"Because of demand from multi-national clients, we thought it was an ideal time to tighten up our worldwide network integration," Mr. Freeman said at the time of his promotion.

Mr. Freeman took his first advertising job in 1994 as a copywriter for TV at what was then integrated advertising agency Poppe Tyson. Poppe Tyson had delved into the interactive area, working on the White House Web site and had Netscape as a client. The agency won IBM soon after he arrived and launched the Kasparov versus Deep Blue campaign. Mr. Freeman was smitten.

"It was the synthesis of so many types of media and brought us back to the days of advertising before television when it was a much more intimate practice," he said.

In 1998, True North Communications merged Poppe Tyson with another of its units, Modem Media, to create a pure-play interactive shop. Mr. Freeman, then a 28-year-old creative director, took an offer from what was then DDB Digital. "I took a lot of mockery from my friends, but I felt [being at a place that practiced integration] would be most wise."

He built out the interactive network in North America, launching a Pepsi-Cola campaign starring Britney Spears online before it appeared on TV, and showcasing the "Whazzup" campaign for Bud Light.

"He's a creative in a suit," said John Vail, director-digital media and marketing for Pepsi-Cola North America. "He thinks strategically, like a marketer."

Right before the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, DDB Digital merged with six other companies and formed Tribal DDB Worldwide. The agency held on through layoffs and, though its margins suffered, it emerged profitable. The lesson learned? "It's Darwinian," Mr. Freeman said. "Those designed to grow and survive did grow again very quickly."

In his new role, Mr. Freeman prepares his clients for the digital age. Not only do big brands see interactive as crucial, but interactive has made offline mediums more accountable. It used to be "the TV spot was an idea and everything had to integrate with that," he said. "Now the idea has to live above the TV spot."


Name: Matt Freeman

Age: 34

Now: Worldwide CEO, Tribal DDB Worldwide

Who: A former English teacher, he was a founding partner and chief creative officer of DDB Digital in the U.S., which became part of Tribal DDB Worldwide. He also served as CEO of Tribal DDB North America, in New York.

Challenge: Work with multinational marketers to encourage integration so that interactive marketing is just as important as any other component.

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