Player Profile: Wassong charts an unusual course to [email protected] job

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Kevin Wassong is neither a technologist nor an adman-in the traditional sense.

By gleaning lessons from employers ranging from a West Coast talent manager (Creative Artists Agency) and a TV-show developer (Witt Thomas Harris Productions) to an East Coast advertising boutique ( Cliff Freeman & Partners) and multi-office agency ( Lowe & Partners), the 33-year-old Mr. Wassong has crafted an impressive career culminating in online marketing communications.

Most recently, in September he became president, [email protected] North America. More important than his title, Mr. Wassong said, is that the entity he launched at J. Walter Thompson three years ago, [email protected], has grown sufficiently to be included as part of the agency's new [email protected] JWT division. That division includes direct and interactive entities ThompsonConnect, JWT Technology, Imagio/JWT, Imaginet, Interactive Marketing Concepts and Go Direct. "We've been in some ways a skunk works," he said. "This is our coming-out party."

Mr. Wassong joined the New York office of WPP-owned JWT three years ago, recruited by Bob Jeffrey, then the newly installed president. Mr. Jeffrey's mandate included making digital communications a prime component of the agency's offerings. He turned to Mr. Wassong, a colleague at previous employer Lowe & Partners, where the two had worked on winning the $50 million Sun Microsystems account in 1996.

"I noticed in Kevin an energy, a passion, an intellectual curiosity, and a prodigious hope and potential that are rare commodities," Mr. Jeffrey said. Mr. Wassong, then at Radical Media, New York-where he had the whimsical title of Idealist-accepted the offer to build a high-tech, digital unit from scratch. "By then I believed that the Internet is not about technology. It is about communications, experience," he said. "If you think it, it can be done. That's what it comes down to."

From its start as a one-person outfit in New York, [email protected] has contributed more than $14 million in incremental revenue to the agency in three years. Maintaining growth during the go-go dot-com days required enormous energy and vision-as well as a steady stream of new employees. By December 1999, the unit employed 25 staffers, and was hiring in droves. Then, in early 2000, "we lost 11 people over three weeks. I thought about committing hara-kari," he said, smiling. "Everyone was jumping to dot-coms." He persevered, and today has a staff of 45.

The unit has developed digital marketing solutions for such clients as Elizabeth Arden, DeBeers Consolidated Mines and Unilever's Lipton Brisk. "Kevin understands how to combine a new discipline with some of the more established ones for the broad benefit of the brand," said Patrick Corry, director, client, business development at JWT, who has teamed with Mr. Wassong and [email protected] in pitching new business. "He is a creative thinker."

Having succeeded in gaining widespread acceptance of this new service offered to clients in conjunction with traditional advertising channels like print and TV, Mr. Wassong now must ensure that each of the seven North American offices has the staff, collective know-how and access to [email protected]'s partner companies. The latter include Interactive Marketing Concepts, Toronto, Canada: GoDirect Marketing, Vancouver, Canada; Imaginet, Minneapolis; and Coolfire Interactive, New York. With that in place, he said, "Our goal is to figure out the next generation of marketing models for clients."

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