Agency A-List 2015

MediaCom Is Ad Age's 2015 Media Agency of the Year

Shop Cracks the Code on Digital and Content by Making Data Drive the Work

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First row (from l.) Stephanie Fierman; Khartoon Ohan;Phil Cowdell. Second row (from l.) Steve Carbone; Sasha Savic; Adam Komack; Mark Fortner; Archana Kumar
First row (from l.) Stephanie Fierman; Khartoon Ohan;Phil Cowdell. Second row (from l.) Steve Carbone; Sasha Savic; Adam Komack; Mark Fortner; Archana Kumar
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If there were ever a case study in reinvention, it's MediaCom. Only a few years ago, the WPP agency was losing massive accounts and cycling through senior leadership. But a reshuffling of talent, a refocus on creative and digital and a ramp-up in data assets made all the difference.

Its dream team of new management, including U.S. CEO Sasha Savic and North American CEO Phil Cowdell, led a 25% jump in the shop's net revenue (which doesn't include pass-through costs like owned inventory or barter). Existing clients, including Audi, VW, Revlon, AARP, Strayer University and Toms, also entrusted MediaCom with additional work that contributed to a 15% rise in revenue.

In a slow new-business year, the agency snatched up Anheuser-Busch InBev, one of the biggest prizes of the past 12 months, as well as eBay, DSW and Indeed.com. The shop also added Merck business to its portfolio after the pharma giant sold its consumer-care business to MediaCom client Bayer.

Its secret? Collaboration. "The global new-business team moved to the U.S. and helped with their knowledge and best-practice sharing from around the world," said Mr. Savic. The agency also smartly added new talent from areas outside the standard agency space, such as media companies and ad-tech players.

Expanding existing client business was a whole other challenge, but the shop finally cracked the code on digital and content by making data drive the work. "We put plans in place where we'd have analytics and data on every single piece of business," said Mr. Savic. "The whole agency started taking it seriously that the only way to grow and survive in the marketplace is to have uncompromising creativity and science when it comes to data and research."

The result was more creative thinking and executions that went far beyond traditional media. To raise awareness of Shell's new synthetic motor oil made from natural gas, the agency worked with Nintendo to embed the product in a Mario Kart racing experience at SXSW, and strapped GoPro cameras on racers to broadcast the contests live on YouTube. To target auto enthusiasts, the shop asked spokesman Tim McGraw to narrate an original hour-long documentary about hot-rodders throughout history. The film aired on the National Geographic Channel this past spring and resulted in 25 million YouTube views with 66% completing the views, sparking a 25% increase in volume sales.

The approach drew clients like eBay. MediaCom combines "customer data, research, and insights to create customized campaigns designed to ensure that the right message appears in front of the right customer at the right moment," said Amy Gershkoff, director-customer analytics and insights at the e-commerce site, which tapped the agency this summer. "They look beyond traditional channels and approaches to paid media to look for opportunities to engage consumers in new and novel places and to create advertainment."

Likewise, MediaCom reached well beyond conventional channels for Revlon, a buying and planning client. For the beauty company's Almay brand, it developed and designed a new responsive website. For the larger Revlon brand, the shop came up with the idea for an interactive billboard in New York's Times Square that encouraged people to kiss on camera to see themselves on a big screen, then find and share the photo at Revlon.com/LoveIsOn.

The breadth of its work went from an hour-long TV show that ran on NatGeo, said Mark Fortner, head of innovation and branded content at Mediacom, to "coding and developing websites and creating banner ads."

Mr. Fortner, who joined MediaCom in 2013 from Viacom, is among a handful of executives to come from outside the media agency space. This past year, Mediacom added BBDO's Archana Kumar as head of strategy, and in 2013, it brought on business development exec Khartoon Ohan from Clear Channel. The agency also hired its first global head of mobile, Ben Phillips, from ad-tech firm Adloqi.