Media Mavens 2010

Media Mavens: Brian McMahon, Orion Trading

Global CEO Travels the World Finding Ways to Turn Marketers' Trash Into Media Credit in Barter Industry

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- In terms of travel, Brian McMahon, global CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' media-bartering unit Orion Trading, is the marketing world's equivalent of George Clooney's character in "Up in the Air." Not only has Mr. McMahon logged nearly half a million miles already in 2010, he's also received the 5-million-mile luggage tag from Daniel Garton, exec VP of American Eagle Airlines.

Brian McMahon
Brian McMahon
But aside from the traveling, Mr. McMahon and Mr. Clooney's character are complete opposites. While Ryan Bingham traveled the country spreading gloom by axing people, Mr. McMahon has been traveling the globe opening up new offices and cutting some of the wackiest, but most lucrative media deals for Interpublic clients that one could imagine.

Media bartering, the art of finding a buyer willing to purchase a marketer's impaired assets, such as meat or old airplanes, and then trading those assets for media credits the marketer can use to make future media buys, no longer carries the negative connotation it once did. Aided by the recession and marketers' needs to extend their marketing budgets, barter has become more mainstream and a more common practice for advertisers.

In 2009, during the height of the recession, Mr. McMahon expanded Orion's operation by opening five international offices in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Mexico and Spain. In 2010 he set up shop in France and is in the process of opening offices in two more markets. The agency, with 13 offices in 12 countries and nearly 300 employees, also has a presence in the U.S., U.K., Denmark and Canada.

Mr. McMahon said he expects barter to become an even bigger part of the marketing mix. "We have done so many deals that we are top of mind and IPG clients are asking for us," he said. "Eighteen months from now you will see a continued expansion in the U.S. in terms of scope of deals and amount of clients using it. But where you are going to see significant expansion is internationally."

He said the agency has done more than 80 deals so far this year. Some of his recent deals include unloading store fixtures for Kohl's and excess beer fonts for Anheuser-Busch InBev. And while he could not disclose the dollar amount those transactions translate to in terms of media buys, he said one deal alone could be worth several million dollars. One industry executive said Mr. McMahon once turned an end-of-life 767 aircraft for UPS into more $30 million in media credits for the marketer. The plane itself was turned into aluminum scraps.

Rick Wilbins, managing director-global brand and advertising at American Airlines, has been working with Mr. McMahon for six years and said he and Orion have helped extend American's advertising budget by several millions of dollars over that time. "Brian is a problem solver, and I like working with him because I'm a guy with lots of problems," Mr. Wilbins said.

Mr. Wilbins said the day he realized Mr. McMahon was the consummate problem solver was when the airline dumped a ton of American Airlines-branded plastic silverware on him and asked him to get rid of it.

"We knew we weren't going to need anymore but we didn't want it sold at retail because it had our logo on it," Mr. Wilbins said. The resulting media credits were immediately turned into broadcast commercial time, and the deal still leaves Mr. Wilbin scratching his head: "The fact that they needed that much plastic silverware caused me to wonder just what sort of other miracles he performs."

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