Why MySpace's Heidi Browning Returned to the Agency World

Q&A: Universal McCann's Global Digital Officer on Her New Role and What Working in Social Media Taught Her

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- After getting a taste of all three sides -- agency, client and publisher -- Heidi Browning has returned to the agency world and landed at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann as global digital officer, another newly created role by Universal McCann global CEO Matt Seiler. Ms. Browning will be based in San Francisco but will spend the majority of her time over the next few weeks traveling the globe and meeting with clients.

In between her recent jaunts to Redmond, Wash., to visit Microsoft, one of the agency's biggest clients and her primary assignment for now, Ms. Browning spoke with Ad Age about what her role will entail aside from working with Microsoft, the challenges media shops face in the digital space, what brought her back to agency life and why she left MySpace to come back.

Heidi Browning
Heidi Browning
Ad Age: What's your role going to entail?

Ms. Browning: The role has two parts to it. The first is as the global digital officer lead, and that is taking my experience from the digital agency world as well as the social media space and infusing that into all of our media. The second part is a strategic role on the Microsoft account. I'll be working in partnership with [Universal McCann Exec VP-Global Managing Partner] Kristi Argyilan; she focuses on the operational side of the business and I'll be working on the strategic and digital side of Microsoft. And we're working across the entire portfolio of Microsoft products, which gives us a really great opportunity to see trends and insights and learnings from product to product.

Ad Age: Is Microsoft going to be your first project and primary client?

Ms. Browning: It's the first client I'm working with now so it's the primary focus of the bulk of my time for now. But I'm also focused on this global digital role and how can we build, shape and create a media agency of the future that has these digital and social sensibilities.

Ad Age: What drew you back to the agency side of things?

Ms. Browning: I've been on all three sides -- client, agency and publisher -- and I came to this point in my career and where I asked myself what was the most rewarding and exciting part of my career that I really liked, and the agency work is where I found my creative passion and satisfaction. I also thought it was a great time to get back into the agency world because there is such a transformation happening right now and agencies need to change and the changes need to reflect some of the learnings and insight we gained on the digital side of the business.

Matt Seiler's vision and philosophy of how do we create the agency of the future was really attractive to me because it's built on insights, built for digital sensibility and a rigorous practice around ROI and that to me is what's really exciting about digital and eventually all media.

Also, agencies are facing a challenge and I like to take on a challenge. And having been on the publisher side I had such great access to amazing brands, but for me, on a personal level, I couldn't go deep enough. I was able to connect with them and solve business problems with MySpace as my toolkit but when you're on the agency side you have entire suite of marketing, advertising and communications solutions at your fingertips. And I wanted to be able to go deep with the client and be able to bring that toolkit and really drive new learnings and better results for clients.

Ad Age: What are the biggest challenges facing media agencies in the digital space?

Ms. Browning: It's for all types of agencies period because this world is morphing at such an incredible rate where clients are bringing a lot of media practices in house. You're seeing publishers cerate their own versions of media agencies and the traditional models starting to erode.

The vision behind Universal McCann is: Let's create this new agency for the future that's built on agility and data-driven insights around the customers that's built on collaboration, and really have digital and social at the agency's core. Traditional media is evolving so digital and social sensibilities are going to be applied throughout. I have those experiences so it can help shape how that impacts our media planning, buying, optimizing and measuring practice.

Ad Age: What's the relationship with David Cohen, Universal McCann's U.S. director of digital, going to be?

Ms. Browning: David and I will partner throughout the digital world here and we have a number smart digital leaders in the organization, and I see us as a collective gathering together to contribute our experiences to help shape the digital influence on the future of our business.

Ad Age: What did you learn at MySpace that has equipped you for this role?

Ms. Browning: A lot, like the notion of how, when and why to think about social in campaigns and what it actually takes to deliver on that, because, as we know, a lot of people think about social media on a campaign-by-campaign basis and it's really much bigger than that. It's infused into your entire business: how you communicate with customers, how you influence your product, how you market and how you do promotions. There's so many different aspects that touch your business that are social and so taking that experience and knowledge and knowing what works and doesn't work and being able to apply that to Universal McCann's clients is going to be enormously useful.

Ad Age: Why leave MySpace?

Ms. Browning: There are two reasons I left, one being that there's a lot of opportunity in general and I was really excited to get back in to the agency world here in San Francisco in particular. San Francisco has been a really strong media-agency world, especially on the digital side, and the city itself has seemed to have lost a lot of business over the years. And I wanted to start to infuse the agency connection with Silicon Valley into Madison Avenue so that we can continue to drive San Francisco on the map as a digital innovation leader that is a natural driver for global digital practice.

And MySpace is in its second phase of life and will emerge in a really interesting and differentiated place. I'm really happy to see where they are going and I can't wait to see where they ultimately end up.

Ad Age: What will it look like when it finally emerges?

Ms. Browning: It won't look drastically different from where it is today but I do think you're seeing the signs of where it's going in terms of really focusing on entertainment. Of course you'd have to talk to them about what their official positioning is but they are at this interesting crossroads in life in their world and they are moving into a new, differentiated spot.

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