Brian Terkelsen, named MediaVest's new CEO two weeks
ago, did not follow the traditional route that usually leads someone to the
position he now holds. He spent no time on the media buying or planning side of
the agency business. Instead, he began his professional career as an investment
banker more than two decades ago.
Since that time, he co-founded a television production
company with Mark Burnett, serving as chief operating officer and executive
producer for several adventure racing TV events. He also conceived content
and negotiated programming deals at Quokka Sports, and served as general
manager of Be Here Technologies, where he directly managed sales, marketing and
production groups, as well as the sale of broadcast services to assorted
A chance meeting in 1993 with now Starcom MediaVest Group
CEO Laura Desmond changed everything. Desmond was, at the time, a Leo Burnett
account executive who turned down Terkelsen's pitch to get some Burnett agency
clients involved in his first TV venture. The meeting proved to be a boon a
decade later when Desmond hired Terkelsen to his first agency job as senior VP
and director of marketing for MediaVest.
Upon joining MediaVest, Terkelsen created the agency's
branded content unit, connectivetissue, which he headed until 2010 when he
evolved it into LiquidThread, incorporating both MediaVest's and Starcom's
content practices under one umbrella, and became president of that unit. In his
role at connectivetissue and LiquidThread, he has spent nine years developing
entertainment marketing solutions for MediaVest clients.
LiquidThread creates branded content for TV, digital
content, communities and conversations for the agencies' client brands. Connectivetissue,
under Terkelsen, developed over 200 programs for MediaVest clients that
included over 8,000 minutes of content. The unit won awards for creating
programs such as CoverGirl's involvement in America's
Next Top Model on the CW. Most recently, MediaVest won the Cannes Lions
Gold Award for Branded Content and Entertainment for a seven-minute
integration of Wheat Thins into The
Colbert Report that was created by LiquidThread working with Kraft. The
spot has more than 760,000 viewers online so far, the most streamed segment in
the history of the show.
Two weeks ago, Desmond named Terkelsen MediaVest CEO,
succeeding Bill Tucker, who was appointed president, global client operations,
In his first interview since taking over in his new
position, Terkelsen talks about his road from investment banker to media agency
CEO and about his thoughts on where the media agency business is headed.
Mark Burnett is
known for his hit TV reality series, but back when you first met him, he was
also searching to find something more creative to do. How did your paths cross?
I met Mark Burnett [because] we had the same chiropractor and he got us
together. We were both in transition phases. We met for a four-hour lunch
and the concept for the company [Eco-Challenge Lifestyles, Inc.] was
created right there. Mark, at the time, was pursuing a French-based adventure-type
race and wanted to bring it to the United States. We got the rights to bring it
here, get sponsors and make it a TV event. It aired on a small cable
network back in 1993. We eventually created our own version of a race and
called it Eco-Challenge. Neither of
us knew anything about the television business or how media worked. We were
young, but we figured it out.
Where was the race
you created first televised?
It was on MTV. I met with Judy McGrath and Doug Herzog who were then both
working at MTV at the time, and we worked out a deal to televise Eco-Challenge. Through the 1990s, it
also aired on ESPN as the Extreme Games,
and on Discovery. Mark and I were executive producers. We did everything and
learned about production along the way.
After leaving Eco-Challenge
you spent some time at Quokka Sports and Be Here Technologies, and then made
the move to MediaVest in 2003. How did your hiring there come about?
Part of our deal with MTV was to let us sell advertising sponsorships for
the telecast, so I met with a Leo Burnett account executive and tried to sell
what was then a novel idea. I proposed that we would integrate client products
into the race and we would film a one-hour special with their products focused
on. They also could use the footage to make their own 30-second commercials
showing their products in action. The account executive turned the idea
down, but she never forgot my pitch. That account executive was Laura Desmond
who, in 2003, brought me into MediaVest and who recently promoted me to CEO.
When she hired me back in 2003, she told me that my ideas stayed with her and
that the marketing industry was now ready to implement those types of
ideas. She brought me in to help with branded content and innovation in
In addition to
doing branded content around surrounding shows, you have also gotten MediaVest
clients to be the focal point of a scripted storyline. How did that come about?
When I joined MediaVest in 2003, my goal was to be innovative around
commercial messaging. With the WB network we began doing innovative plays
with some of our brands. When the WB and UPN merged to form The CW
network in 2006, we were the first agency to walk into their offices and
suggest that they run advertising beyond 30-second spots. One example was what
we did with an episode of the CW series What I Like About You starring Amanda Bynes. We helped create
a special episode that made Herbal Essences the entire focus of the
storyline. The Amanda Bynes character was trying to get a role as spokesperson
for the product and to appear in a commercial. In the episode, she was competing
against the actual Herbal Essences spokesperson and lost out. And at the end of
the episode she watches the actual Herbal Essences commercial on a TV set in
And getting brand
exposure extends beyond television.
Yes -- we created The Thread in 2008 to serve different P&G self-care
brands. The Thread is an online site featuring branded, up-to-the minute style
video content segments co-produced by the LiquidThread team. P&G's sole
sponsorship of The Thread allows for an immersive brand presence. In addition
to streaming content, the site includes banner ads. In the past year, The
Thread has gotten 53 million page viewers with an average of 11 minutes per day
spent engaging with video content. And Yahoo has made The Thread a permanent
feature within its OMG Style property. We also have a Spanish version of The
Thread called De Moda.
You were also
instrumental in working a content deal between LiquidThread and BermanBraun
that provides MediaVest with first looks for new sites, formats and ideas. What
has come out of that?
We recently launched in partnership with BermanBraum a website targeting
mothers called Mom.me. It is unique to other mom sites in that it recognizes
and creates content based on different phases of motherhood -- pregnancy, baby,
toddler, little kid, tweens, teen and empty nester. It has much targeted
content for every phase.
Who came up with
the names connectivetissue and LiquidThread?
At a meeting after hiring me back in 2003, Laura Desmond said this unit
should have an identity and I said, â€˜Let's call it connectivetissue,' and she
said OK. It represents the space between the traditional 30-second spot and
program content. LiquidThread then evolved from connectivetissue. They may be
weird-sounding names, but people remember them.
Clearly you do not
have the typical career path of a media agency CEO, in that you never
worked at a media agency on the buying or planning side. How do you view your
ascension to the CEO position?
It was a fearless step that Laura took in promoting me into the CEO
position. I wasn't an unknown entity within the agency business, but I
certainly wasn't in the mainstream of traditional media agency type executives.
But everything I've been doing here for the past nine years has been building
to create a media agency business that is more than just media buying. Our
premise is that all experiences come to life through content. I am excited
to see what we can do to continue to evolve branded content beyond the
traditional 30 throughout all the media space. This is an evolutionary
business. It continues to evolve. I don't think we need to do change for change's
sake. But I don't think we need to worry as much about technology. Instead,
we should concentrate on what we do best, innovate around new business models
and be willing to explore platforms and ways to connect brands with consumers.
Of course the planning and buying continues to be the major part of
what we do. But our hope is we put everything together and do it better than
everyone else. Laura has not sat down with me and given me a specific mandate
so far. But I now have to run a company of more than 1,000 people and I have to
grow our clients' business.
You were the
creator of connectivetissue and then LiquidThread and now you have move to a
bigger position in the agency. What will life be like at LiquidThread without
If you look at the moves within the company that have been made recently,
you'll see we have lots of bench strength and top people stepping up. Brent
Poer is the head of LiquidThread North America and he has done a great job, so
nothing there will change. He has been running LiquidThread North America for
the better part of a year now. In the next several months, I will create an
evolution plan for LiquidThread globally. But we already have a dedicated and
competent staff there too.
What is the future
of the 30-second pre-roll commercial and branded content?
Today the consumer has the ability to tune out traditional 30-second
commercials and that's what's become a challenge to marketers. Branded content
will play a more important role in marketers' advertising going forward. We're
firm believers of brand exposure and consumer experience in a myriad of ways.
We're building branded content to meet consumer needs in ways that are
different and beyond the 30-second spot. But it is not just content for content's
sake. It's creating strategic content that's appealing to the consumer.
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