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Richard Beaven

Richard Beaven sits atop global media agency Initiative, part of the Interpublic Group's Mediabrands unit. He now adds B&C Hall of Famer to his already long list of industry honors, including Mediaweek's Media Executive of the Year and Advertising Age Media Maven.

The agency has had so much success between new client wins (worth $1.5 billion in 2008), retaining accounts that went into review and growing its digital business that Advertising Age also named Initiative media agency of the year in 2009. Not bad considering Beaven only joined the agency in 2006 and moved up to the global CEO role in the spring of 2008.

The accolades and awards might have sent Beaven's ego into outer space, but instead he is ever the understated, unassuming Englishman. And those qualities have clearly endeared him to his long list of high-profile clients such as Bayer, Hyundai/Kia, MillerCoors and Home Depot.

“Richard's strength is getting close and truly understanding the clients' business,” says Jay Kolpon, VP of marketing and new business at Bayer. “Then he leverages his agency's strengths with what the clients need. Initiative's buying strength has been a tremendous asset for us, and further upping the agency's game in planning has served our business very well.”

And his business acumen speaks for itself, vital in such a transitional time in the business. “The big picture is that everything is being redefined,” Beaven says. “It is not just the broadcasting and cable landscape; it's the agency world, the client business. That redefining is continual, and that impacts how we work with clients. We are continually examining how we work for clients.”

Beaven has spent more than 20 years in the ad world after studying business, advertising and marketing at Bristol Polytechnic in the U.K. From there he landed at Leo Burnett, working on key accounts such as Kellogg, learning the ropes from the bottom up.

In Europe, he played a key role in the transition of Leo Burnett Media into Starcom UK, and the merger of Starcom with BBH's Motive operation. At Leo Burnett in the early 1990s, Beaven worked closely with his current Mediabrands boss Nick Brien, picking up all the skills that would prove critical in his current role running Initiative, which sits atop $14 billion in billings. Once he crossed over to the U.S., Beaven got to work on some of the biggest and most respected packaged-goods brands in the Western world such as Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble.

“Richard combines the visionary innovator and inspiring leader,” says Cynthia Tripp of Procter & Gamble. “He was a co-creator of how P&G now does communications planning, and he led this while at Starcom MediaVest, while maintaining a highly motivated and engaged daily operation. He is a great partner, approachable, open and provocative.”

Joining Initiative as CEO, North America in 2006, Beaven soon showed a skill for developing new approaches and partnerships that led to his eventual installation as the company's global CEO. The 43-year-old Beaven's ascent through the ranks of the advertising business was complete in 2008 when he was named global CEO, taking the reins from retiring boss Alec Gerster. Beaven is in charge of some 2,500 employees.

Beaven believes that Initiative—part of Mediabrands, which also houses sister shop Universal McCann as well as research and negotiating cousin Magna—is not simply an agency for solving media problems. He thinks larger than that: “[Clients]work with us because they have business and marketing challenges they need help with.”

And while the economic downturn has affected everyone's business, Beaven sees opportunity. “Necessity is the mother of innovation,” he says. “You can be fearful and take shelter, or really go and build something and harness change and accelerate business.”

Client Hyundai is a great example. The company came up with a winning strategy in January to allow customers to bring back their cars if they lost their job. A Super Bowl buy, coupled with a multi-pronged campaign that encompassed social marketing and search, helped the company boost Web traffic by 200% and resulted in a 43% improvement in brand favorability.

“The headline is, we spend more time with media than anything else we do,” Beaven observes. The speed at which his two daughters, age 12 and 10, have learned how to use media and avoid advertiser interruption is a lesson for the media profession, he says. “You spend five minutes with kids that age, and you don't need to be convinced that what is coming is very serious and is gaining critical mass and is going to fast-track the change in all of our business.”

The great business challenge for Beaven, his agency and Madison Avenue at large is which of the new technologies will change the game for everyone. Social media activities that expand word-of-mouth recommendations of products, services and ideas are the latest in a long line of such disruptive forces.

“The real deal for me is not the individual things but where the innovation exists in existing platforms,” he says. “How are we going to harness the power of mobile, search and social marketing to build the most pervasive and influential platform?”

And Beaven knows that as successful as he has been, the battle is ongoing: “The work continues; nobody's ever going to put up a sign that says 'Mission Accomplished.'” —Claire Atkinson