How to Get Radio and Outdoor on Media Plans Earlier

Q&A: Clear Channel's John Partilla

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NEW YORK ( -- For the past five years, John Partilla has changed the way advertisers think about media companies. As president of Time Warner's global marketing group, Mr. Partilla helped shape strategic marketing relationships with advertisers such as Home Depot, Unilever, American Express, Ford and General Motors by performing agency-like creative services for campaigns that ran in Time Warner properties such as AOL, Turner Entertainment and Time Inc. magazines. Playing the role of media company-as-agency was nothing new to Mr. Partilla, who spent nearly two decades at Young & Rubicam, most recently as CEO of the agency's Brand Buzz unit.

John Partilla
John Partilla
Now Mr. Partilla wants to do for radio and outdoor what he's already done for TV, publishing and the web. As Clear Channel's new president of global media sales, Mr. Partilla will be charged with helping advertisers create unique marketing programs for radio and outdoor, which haven't been at the top of most clients' media mix in years. That's why Mr. Partilla is open to recommending other companies' assets to extend the campaign's message, where appropriate.

"We want to help advertisers achieve media objectives, and we're going to do it from a media asset-oriented approach, using idea-driven inventory, but it doesn't have to be just our own inventory," he said. Campaigns that start with Clear Channel properties could incorporate cable TV at other media companies, he added. "As long as we get our fair share, we're happy for you to broaden that idea, and bring in the appropriate agency and media partners for that dialogue."

It's that big-picture expertise that appealed most to Mark Mays, CEO of Clear Channel Communications, who wrote of Mr. Partilla in an internal memo announcing his appointment: "John Partilla has had one of the most successful and groundbreaking careers in advertising and marketing. He is widely known as a creative and 'intrepreneurial' leader with a deep understanding of client needs that drives differentiated solutions for customers," he said. "Importantly for us, he comes to Clear Channel with the advertising and agency relationships that are crucial to us at this important time."

Eleven days into his new role at Clear Channel, Mr. Partilla spoke with MediaWorks about the evolved role media companies can play in shaping advertising strategies, the myth of the diminished role agencies play in media/client relationships and his plans for making radio and outdoor more top of mind for major advertisers.

Ad Age: How is your job structured across the company? How do you see that role expanding to a broader, almost agency-like service for marketers?

John Partilla: My role is akin to what I was doing within Time Warner, which is driving enterprise-wide sales across Clear Channel, leveraging the assets of Clear Channel Radio and Outdoor and our growing digital arsenal with our top advertisers.

One of the approaches that has helped me succeed has been trying to keep the advertiser's interest paramount, and so I really try and get in there to listen and try and understand what their business challenges are, what's of paramount concern and come back with ideas that are business growth-oriented to help support those marketing objectives and goals. At the end of the day, we're very willing to have an advertiser syndicate an idea more broadly across multiple media assets, even assets that go beyond our own company, as long as we get our own fair share of media investment.

Ad Age: This is your first time working with radio and outdoor on a dedicated basis. What advantages do they bring to marketers?

Mr. Partilla: First of all, radio and outdoor have an increasingly better story to tell, and need to tell it more effectively. We also need to have the right conversations in the right rooms, and you earn your way in those right rooms by trying to be an open and objective and a growth-oriented business partner, and your asset mix should just be a part of that. It should not be an exclusion solution.

Ad Age: Any examples from your Time Warner days of instances where ideas you generated with clients lived on with other media companies?

Mr. Partilla: There was an idea we developed for Johnson & Johnson for their diabetes' One Touch product, which measures your insulin levels. It ran on a host of Time Warner properties, and that idea was also extended to run on the New York taxi-cast network and NY 1. To be fair, you have to recognize advertisers want broad thinking and broad solutions.

Another example was a campaign we did with Home Depot two years ago. We complemented a virtual home that was digitally anchored at AOL by using some of the publishing titles at Time Inc. We also extended the idea to Meredith because Meredith has a lot of similar titles. We're happy to syndicate that idea into other assets as well. The goal is not to go out and make money for other media. We have to be open to what that partnership truly means, and help co-develop with them ideas that work.

Ad Age: So because of this blurring of lines between media companies and agencies, do you think the agency's role has been diminished throughout this process?

Mr. Partilla: Everyone brings their own expertise to the table. Certainly the advertisers and their agency partners know their brands and brand objectives far better than anyone coming in from the media owner side. We know our media assets far better and the potential of media assets far better than the agencies and advertisers will know.

We both have to meet at the middle. We should bring the expertise and the artful possibilities that our media assets can bring to bear against a client's challenge, and the agency partner should bring their brand goals and brand knowledge to the table.

Ad Age: From your experience, how often are radio and outdoor mentioned in the media mix of most advertisers' campaigns? How do you intend to change that?

Mr. Partilla: The unfortunate answer is not often enough, certainly not early enough. We're helping radio and outdoor get further upstream early in the process, in more senior conversations. We're not as much at a tactical level executing against budgets and parameters. We're much further into strategic objectives. That tends to be at the marketer level, and it also does include very senior agency relationships. I think that good agencies view what we bring to the table in terms of idea development on top of assets as an opportunity, as a strength. The weaker agencies tend to view it as a threat.

Ad Age: Outdoor and radio are also notoriously frustrating for advertisers to measure in terms of audience reach and engagement. How will you help alleviate that process?

Mr. Partilla: We have some work to do there, clearly, but we're making tremendous strides. I still don't think people have a good sense of the progress we've made in those areas. We'll be asking how hard does a dollar spent in radio and outdoor work against other assets? We'll be having more conversations along those lines over time.

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