Special Report: Media Mavens 2012

Media Mavens: Kurt Unkel, Vivaki Nerve Center

As President, He's Ensuring Agencies Are on the Cutting Edge of Innovation

By Published on .

Kurt Unkel
Kurt Unkel

Resume: Kurt Unkel previously oversaw Vivaki's ad-trading desk and headed up digital strategy across Publicis Groupe , focusing specifically on General Motors.

Challenge: Making agencies run more efficiently.

Quick fact: His music taste involves a special appreciation for 1990s hip-hop.

As a young digital strategist working for J. Walter Thompson more than a decade ago, Mr. Unkel got his first taste of the risk associated with online-advertising innovations after a client -- Ford -- had ads turn up on a website called FuckedCompany.com, thanks to a misplaced ad-network buy. "There's our ad at the top of the page and we couldn't figure out how to get it off," he says.

A lot of innovation has happened since then, and Mr. Unkel has made sure his agencies are at the forefront of it. Up until this spring, he oversaw Audience on Demand, the centralized ad-buying hub that Publicis' Vivaki group of media and digital agencies use to make data-driven ad buys for clients.

In the spring, Mr. Unkel was promoted to president of Vivaki Nerve Center when longtime Publicis exec Curt Hecht left for The Weather Channel. He oversees a 300-plus person staff, which runs, in addition to Audience on Demand, a research department that tests out new ideas and a new-ventures operation that works with promising startups to develop sustainable business models -- all with the goal of making all the Vivaki agencies run more efficiently from the background. "We're here to make the agencies smarter and faster," he said, "but we don't want to be the folks sitting front and center with clients taking all the credit."