Media Shops Get Ready for Next Wave

McCann, Verklin, Gerster Bow Out as Landscape Shifts

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NEW YORK ( -- Renetta McCann belongs to a handful of executives who molded the media agency business into what it is today -- moving it from the last 15 minutes of a creative pitch to the giant global networks that currently make up sizable chunks of a holding company's revenue.
Renetta McCann
Renetta McCann

When she announced last week she was relinquishing her role as global CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group, Ms. McCann, 51, became the latest architect of the modern media business to pass the baton to a younger executive -- in this case, CEO of SMG the Americas Laura Desmond, 43.

Heyday ending for 'elephants'
Ms. McCann joins Carat's David Verklin, OMD's Joe Uva and Initiative's Alec Gerster, all media agency CEOs who had a hand in the unbundling of media and creative, as they make room for new crop of talent, like Sarah Fay, Ms. Desmond, Alan Cohen (in the role of president of OMD U.S.) and Richard Beaven. (Though many architects of the business have stayed put, like Irwin Gotlieb, Marc Goldstein, Charlie Rutman and Jack Klues, their strength in numbers is waning.) Mr. Verklin has dubbed it a "reforestation." "You get these old elephants like me out the way," he quipped.

From digital chops to entertainment background, this new class of leaders has a diverse skill set -- which is attractive to potential clients as media becomes bigger and broader, one industry consultant said.

"It's a good thing," the consultant said of the changing of the guard. "With media being so broad and big, it's the guys who have been brought up in an integrated fashion who see the light, and clients want that."

This changing of the guard comes at a time when the media buying landscape is shifting dramatically. In the past, the biggest players had more leverage in pricing, but the fragmentation of media has made it so that every player needs to be more innovative and nimble, with multi-platform, cross-channel deals and the ability to craft branded-entertainment pacts.

Impressive credentials
A quick look at the resumes of the new guard shows some impressive credentials. Ms. Desmond, a 20-year veteran of the Starcom media empire, orchestrated the launch of SMG Multicultural and is credited with pushing for stronger digital capabilities across the entire network, especially search. Ms. Fay helped build out Carat's digital offering, Mr. Cohen has worked at entertainment companies like ABC, NBC and 20th Century Fox, and Mr. Beaven has a strong background in planning.
Alec Gerster
Alec Gerster

And they are taking over the business at one of its most difficult moments, facing challenges like identifying existing and new talent who can make the transition to the digital future and truly differentiating an agency organization in an increasingly blurred landscape, Mr. Gerster said.

Two other challenges the new guard will face: integrating online and offline in a way that is consistent with holding-company priorities and figuring out how the traditional creative agency becomes integrated into a combined online and offline media offering, Mr. Verklin said.

"In some ways, Joe Uva, Renetta McCann, Alec Gerster and David Verklin helped crack the egg," Mr. Verklin said, referring to the unbundling of media and creative services. "And Alan Cohen, Laura Desmond, Richard Beaven and Sarah Fay are going to have find a way to put Humpty Dumpty together again."

New horizons
As they step away from the agency business, members of the old guard, like Mr. Verklin, Ms. McCann and Mr. Gerster have identified the issues they themselves now want to address in the business, with Mr. Verklin moving on to Project Canoe, a consortium of cable operators seeking to make TV addressable, Ms. McCann dedicating herself to talent issues and Mr. Gerster joining Navic Networks to work on interactive TV.

Retiring from the agency business, Mr. Gerster said, "sort of gives you an opportunity to go do something different that you think is important as opposed to continuing on with the same responsibilities that you've had for 15 years."
David Verklin
David Verklin

That seems to be what Ms. McCann has in mind. In a statement announcing her new plans, she said, "I have been given the opportunity to build an incredible organization during a decade of management responsibility, but I now recognize that some family matters and personal goals have unfortunately taken a back seat during this time, I would like to give them my full attention now."

Ms. McCann -- who is not as industry chatter implied, joining the Barack Obama presidential campaign -- plans to return after a year's sabbatical to help SMG with recruitment. "One of my personal goals is to uncover some new ways of thinking about talent/opportunity alignment, specifically which triggers, emotions and assignments can more quickly propel the right people into the best roles."
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