'Never Cut and Paste Anything': Creativity and Storytelling in the Media Business

Basics Q&A: Sasha Savic, CEO of MediaCom USA

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Before Sasha Savic was named CEO of MediaCom USA in January, he was chief operating officer for Havas Media Group North American and previously managed Procter & Gamble duties in over 70 countries for Starcom MediaVest Group. He's also had a fishing license since he was two hours old. For our latest Q&A with a media leader, Mr. Savic explained how to get ahead, how making a movie about salmon has helped him in his day job, and how MediaCom plans to help its employees tell better stories.

Sasha Savic
Sasha Savic

Advertising Age: What advice would you give to young media planners and buyers?

Sasha Savic: I have tried to spend as much time as I could with creators of media, not necessarily people who are bringing me stuff from the shelf and selling the same idea to five different clients. If you're in the business, you probably have creativity and originality. Use it. I never wanted to cut and paste anything. Every single business, I am desperately trying to make it original.

When you get close to clients you can learn from them and then create something that is just for them. That will move you from the back of the room to the chair next to the clients.

Ad Age : You recently made a film about salmon fishing, "A Passion Called Salmon." How did that come about?

Mr. Savic: I suppose I officially started fishing when I was two hours old. I was the first grandson, and after I was born my grandfather went to the fishing club and bought me a license. Then when I was maybe 20 years or 22 , I started to fish for salmon in Scotland and wound up working with a global organization trying to protect salmon rivers around the world and made a documentary about that . I have been fishing for the last 12 years in Arctic Russia, Norway, Mongolia. We have a group of maybe 15 people and get together and then fly helicopters to the end of the world and they leave us.

When I was making the movie my goal was to try to explain where our passion is coming from for this catch-and-release type of fishing. The film is now being used for fundraising activities for the North Atlantic Salmon Fund.

Ad Age : Has that passion and making that film helped you in your work in the media business?

Mr. Savic: If you want to catch a fish you need to fish where the fish is . You need to be there at the right time and right place with the right lure and understand the ins and outs. If you want to be successful you need to think like fish. In our business we need to think like consumers and clients to understand what are the challenges and what keeps them awake and night, and if we translate that into our work we will be more successful and we will be able to help them.

Ad Age : Tell us about the acting lessons you've taken and how they help you in your job?

Mr. Savic: I took acting classes to be able to deliver the voiceover for the film. I also went back to school to the New York Film Academy in 2009 to learn basics of filmmaking and digital media storytelling [before I started the film in 2010]. What's interesting is I had found myself maybe four years ago talking about content in every single presentation to the company or clients and I thought 'it's not fair that I haven't done that .'

If I talk about something, I want to know the ins and outs. [The education] gave me personal credibility, and it has also helped me tremendously to increase the quality of the storytelling in presentations. Sometimes our presentations are very detailed and they don't always need to be that way. You need to tell the story, and the idea that will change how people see brands, and you need to deliver it with clarity, with simplicity and with entertainment value.

Right now we are organizing training at MediaCom in visual arts and storytelling, and we are bringing in acting coaches too to help people learn to express themselves better. We start it in November and with a team of teachers and filmmakers and artists working in New York and we'll start with 30 to 40 employees and then go deeper in the company with it.

Ad Age : You've traveled to more than 60 countries. Any unusual experiences along the way?

Mr. Savic: Once when I was with McCann Erickson, I traveled to Asia on one of those five countries in seven days tours because we had been launching a global campaign. I arrived in Taiwan for a meeting with a regional client, and it was my first time meeting him, but the airline lost my luggage. Now, I am 6-foot-5, so I went to a store and asked for a shirt, and the [people who worked there] were just laughing because they didn't have any for me. So I bought a short-sleeve shirt and I looked like I was probably in a Halloween costume for my meeting.

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