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TV Visionary Brain Drain

Two of the advertising community’s leading TV futurists have bolted the agency world for jobs at media companies developing the next generation of TV. MediaVest’s Adam Gerber and Optimedia’s Bob Flood are the most recent to flee in an exodus of “media futures” executives from big ad agencies who have grown frustrated by having little control over ad budgets. The two also represent part of a bigger brain drain of media thinkers in the ad business.

Gerber, formerly senior VP/director of strategy & innovation at MediaVest, was responsible for developing new-media strategies for such clients as Coca-Cola Co. and Procter & Gamble. He joined Internet-TV service Brightcove as VP of advertising products and strategy.

Flood, who was executive VP/director of national electronic media and emerging technologies at Optimedia, joined MTV Networks as senior VP, integrated media platforms, for the Music and Comedy Ad Sales Group. He reports to Hank Close, executive VP, ad sales. Flood’s appointment signals an aggressive push by MTV Networks into new-media platforms as the company prepares to be split off from CBS. MTV appears to be playing catch-up in hiring Flood, as much of its core youth audience spends an increasing amount of time with newer platforms like iTunes and Yahoo!’s music service.

Flood and Gerber are substantial losses for Madison Avenue, where both were key players in the development of new TV platforms. As one of the few ad executives with both control over his clients’ national TV advertising budgets and responsibility for developing their new-platform initiatives, Flood had serious clout. Some of the deals he helped make happen were BMW’s highly regarded BMW Films cross-platform campaign, as well as new uses of broadband video, video-on-demand (VOD), digital video recorders (DVRs) and satellite TV.

The moves not only leave voids but also give the impression that Madison Avenue may be a dead end for media futurists.

Several big agencies, in fact, are waving goodbye to their media futurists. Tim Hanlon, former senior VP/director of emerging contacts at Starcom MediaVest Group, is expected to be named to a new corporate-level post at Publicis Groupe, the parent of both SMG and Optimedia. Universal McCann, once considered the pioneer of new media and one of the original underwriters of MIT’s famed Media Lab, has burned through three media-futures executives in two years: Mitch Oscar (to Carat), Jon Swallen (TNS) and Jim Kite (MediaVest).

Another former Universal McCann executive, Alan Schulman, had the job of creative director but was also a key player in the agency’s strategy for developing TV advertising platforms. He’s currently developing such platforms at digital-marketing firm Brand New World.

MediaCom’s Russ Booth has begun moving into other areas within his parent agency, Grey Worldwide, a division of WPP Group. That includes a new unit focused on modeling marketing mixes.

The exodus is occurring at a time when the infrastructure of the TV business—especially its advertising—is undergoing radical change, including the accelerated shift toward broadband video distribution, or IPTV.

Marketers also are struggling to come to grips with these changes, especially the nation’s largest advertisers, which rely on traditional forms of television as the core of their media plans. About two years ago, the Association of National Advertisers launched an “enhanced”-television committee to figure out how to jump-start new platforms, including interactive and addressable advertising, VOD, and broadband video.

The committee was supposed to bring various advertisers together to sponsor new initiatives with major advertising budgets, but the effort has floundered. The committee has gone through two outside consultants, and its chairman—Brad Simmons, VP of media services for Unilever—left after being dismissed from Unilever as part of the reorganization of its advertising department.

Not everyone on Madison Avenue, however, sees the departures as a bad thing. Kurt O’Hare, president of O’Hare Associates, an executive recruiter specializing in agency media services, notes that these vets are being replaced by younger, perhaps hungrier talent who should bring a new perspective to the process. Starcom has named Tracey Scheppach to succeed Hanlon, although with a different title: VP and video innovation director. Optimedia CEO Mike Drexler says his agency has two candidates lined up to replace Flood; he adds that the post will continue to oversee both national broadcast ad spending and new-platform development.

O’Hare says the migration of experienced new-media thinkers into new TV platforms may ultimately be a good thing for the advertising community. It means that key people on the TV side have an acute understanding of how the ad world works, as well as the potential roadblocks new-media outlets face when they try to develop new advertising concepts. “New-media companies are tapping people from Madison Avenue,” he says, “because they understand it is important to have somebody on their team who has the same vision as advertisers.”

Banking on Digital

One agency that has been trying to stay ahead of the curve is Carat, which is banking big time on its digital-media initiatives in general and on interactive- and enhanced-TV development in particular. When CEO David Verklin recruited Mitch Oscar to run the agency’s futures unit, he gave him a mandate to develop actionable, applied advertising deals, not simply R&D and futuristic white papers. The push has produced the Carat Digital Exchange, an open-source think tank that invites suppliers, technology companies and even rival agencies to brainstorm new forms of TV advertising.

Verklin hopes the initiative not only hatches new ad strategies but also keeps his brightest talent in-house.