John Muszynski, the Chicago-based chief investment officer of Mediavest Spark, tells this wonderful story about the time, several years ago, when one of his colleagues approached him with this idea: “You know how we have bring your kids to work day? Given the fact that most of the people who work here are millennials, why don’t we instead reverse that and make it bring your parents to work day.” John wasn’t sure if his colleague was joking or not, but he wasn’t. The agency’s “Bring Your Parents to Work Day” has been a smash success ever since.
Muszynski, 58, jokes that “It used to be that I was ‘Dad’ around here. Now I feel like Grandpa.”
Muszynski is a phenom in the media buying world, the Bruce Springsteen of Madison Avenue. Springsteen, nearing 70, still performs concerts lasting 3 to 4 hours a night. Likewise, Muszynski, the most approachable, down-to-earth guy who’s ever worked in advertising, is still at the top of his game.
Talking about being surrounded by colleagues who are decades younger than he is, Muszynski says, “Their influence on me is far greater than mine on them. The way I approach things, the way I now think about attacking problems. All based on what I’ve learned here working with these terrific young people. When I was their age and working at Leo Burnett I would never have thought of getting involved like they do. Good for them. I’ve really embraced them.”
Sixteen years ago, when we first honored a Media Buyer of the Year, the savvy Muszynski was our overwhelming choice for the honor, after we had talked to a number of sellers on the other side of the table. Now, 16 years later, sellers once again, overwhelmingly, sang Muszynski’s praises as the person who should be our 2016 Media Buyer of the Year.
As he did in 2000, TVWeek’s Chuck Ross interviews Muszynski. Reading the interview, it will soon become clear why Muszynski, with his smarts and keen sense of how media buying has evolved and where it is likely going, is the first person to ever be honored as our Media Buyer of the Year a second time.
In the edited transcript that follows, Muszynski begins by explaining the dual roles he plays for Mediavest Spark and its parent, Publicis.
John Muszynski: I’ve got two roles. I head up investment for all of MediaVest Spark. I help all of the clients there with their investment strategies. This year, for the first time, Publicis brought all of the agencies together to go to market as one. Dave Penski, who heads up PMX, had asked me to be the lead negotiator as we pulled all of that together. I really wanted to maintain my connection to the clients, particularly at Spark, where I had been very active with the client roster. So I wanted to do both.
I ended up leading the negotiations for all of Publicis, in this, which was basically our inaugural year going to the market as one.
TVWeek: John, when you spoke to us 16 years ago, when we named you our very first Media Buyer of the Year at that time, you spoke of the importance of relationships in what you do. I wonder, all these years later, as media buying has evolved, especially through technology, whether you still feel the same way?
Muszynski: I continue to think that relationships continue to be one of the key factors in doing good business. You can do business without the relationships, but it’s generally going to be more short term, and it’s not going to be as much ‘good’ business as I think it can be.
In fact, over these past 16 years, in my mind, relationships have become even more important. On the sales side, a lot of these companies — through mergers, through expansion — have gotten their hands in a lot of different areas, and a lot of different buckets need to be filled. And so those on the sales side need our help to address all of their needs. But as the marketplace has become so fragmented, and the landscape has changed so dramatically, we need their help to continue to reach the consumer. So it’s better to operate in a business partnership, and have that kind of a relationship.
Our clients benefit greatly from the fact I can turn to someone on the other side of the table who I know, trust and believe that I can help — and they can help me — and thus I can have a much greater return for my client.
TVWeek: One of the changes on the other side of the table is what I’ll call ‘de-siloization.’ In other words, a company like NBCU, under the direction of Linda Yaccarino, no longer separates their broadcast and cable properties like they once did into various silos. Is that better for your clients?
Muszynski: There are very few clients who have all the needs that the seller has. Using NBCU as an example, since you brought them up, look at all the different areas that Linda needs help with. I’m going to have a tough time finding one client who can help her in all those areas. But given our companywide portfolio I can go to Linda and help her in all those areas, in exchange for her helping all of my clients. Rather than one client driving a deal, it will be the sum of all of our clients being able to help an NBCU in exchange for better pricing, for innovations, for marketing extensions, whatever it might be.
As we enter into new waters in terms of innovation and data and doing things programmatically, there are a lot of areas where both sides are learning as they go. So we can have the sales side look at this on their own to figure it out, and we’ll go out on our own with the advertiser and figure it out, and hope that both sides then match up. Or we can go at this together, as partners, side-by-side, and find solutions that way. Yes, there are different needs that the buyers and sellers have, but I think marrying the two, and finding ways to work together, is going to be mutually beneficial, and that’s generally our approach.
TVWeek: You mentioned data, and I was wondering how you and your clients feel about where we are with data and measurement?
Muszynski: Let’s separate the two. From a measurement standpoint, I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that the landscape has changed, and that the way people consume video, media — however you break it out — is different than it was, say, 16 years ago. The measurement has not kept up. We need to do more work on it.
Yes, a lot of effort has gone into it right now. The answer is not just a few companies doing something in the measurement space. As an industry, we have to work together to get better measurement. So it’s not, “This is the measurement service available to you, like it or not.” Let’s look at this jointly. What’s the best way of measuring audience in this new landscape? We need to do that collectively. Do I think we are making progress? Yes. Do I think we are there yet? Absolutely not. But we need to work together.
ESPN is out there trying to get people to pay them for their out-of-home viewership that they have not been getting measurement on. Now, we all know that sports does get some out-of-home viewing. We can either fight that because it’s going to add audience to their side, and cost to our side, or we can work together to figure out a way that is fair to them and fair to the advertiser, but is more representative of what is truly happening.
On the data side, we have virtually all of our clients looking to see what data they have available to them internally, and what they have available to them externally. How can we utilize that data and that information to better inform our investment decisions, our targeting decisions, whatever the case might be. Unfortunately, we are all overwhelmed with the amount of data we have. One of the things we as an agency are stressing is helping clients manage that data. So it won’t be just a lot of data but its warehouse of insights. And how do we tap into those insights? This is an area where you’re going to see a lot more development and a lot more breakthroughs — how to manage and transform that data into actionable information and deliver actionable insights.
TVWeek: You mentioned at the start of this conversation how Publicis now goes to the market as one. Can you explain that to us a little more?
Muszynski: Sure. Our philosophy of going to market as one is a little bit different. We take the sum of all of our client needs, and allow those client needs to drive our negotiations. And to drive who we partner with first, or second, or third. It all comes down to what the plans are by client, and then we execute against those needs. I like to say that we buy the plan, rather than plan the buy.
I’m not going to strike a great deal with a sales organization when, quite frankly, I don’t have client needs to fulfill that. If it’s not what my clients need, then it’s not that great a deal. That distinction, that philosophy of how we go to the marketplace, is critical to our success. If you look at how things went this year, I was negotiating an overall rate of change on behalf of the group, but each individual investment director, whether at Zenith or Starcom or Optimedia, or myself for Mediavest Spark, we were responsible for our respective clients. We were addressing our own specific client’s needs. The only time I got involved was in trying to leverage the dollars for the betterment of the whole. The collaboration we had across the four agencies was like nothing I had ever anticipated. I had heard about the difficulties other shops have had trying to do something like this. It worked for us because all of us knew that at the end if we worked together we would be able to deliver greater value across all of our clients. And frankly, I believe we were able to outmaneuver the marketplace this year by virtue of the fact we collaborated together so effectively.
TVWeek: And Publicis represents what percentage of the market?
Muszynski: It sort of depends upon who you talk to. But I think we represent roughly a third of the marketplace.
TVWeek: That’s significant.
Muszynski: It appears to be enough that those on the sales side will return my phone calls.
TVWeek: Let’s talk a little more about the logistics of how this worked. How long did this take?
Muszynski: Probably two months to prepare and two months to execute. Publicis management asked me, early on, how I wanted to do this. I told them that I wouldn’t know until I found out what our needs were. I couldn’t identify one particular sales organization as the best one to go after without seeing our overall agency needs by sales organization. I didn’t want to see their specific plans. I just needed to see how much, collectively, each agency needed from an NBCUniversal or from a Discovery Networks or from a Viacom. Once I had all of that information, I then determined where our best opportunities lie. Where is our story really good, and where do I believe, in fact, that I can help the seller.
The other side of the equation is that each seller is operating in its own little marketplace in terms of its ratings situation, its past sellout situation, its price bases. So we identified a handful of players we wanted to start with early on, and dealt with them, simultaneously. But before we even finished with them we were looking ahead to the next grouping and then where we would go from there. At that point we all decided which deals should be done at the group level, versus which ones should be done individually, through our own agencies. At this point we might have been working on one or two deals at a time, while at other points it was four or five deals at a time.
TVWeek: Programmatic buying wasn’t around 16 years ago. How does that fit into your equation these days?
Muszynski: There is a need for greater precision. We have all of this data available to us. If we can somehow harness all of this information, and be able to move away from a manual process, and do it programmatically, clients benefit.
But you can’t lose sight of the fact that the content, the inventory that we are buying programmatically, is still coming from folks we have relationships with and are doing business with. So in many cases it is just one piece of the puzzle for them, and one piece of the puzzle for us. So we will work with a particular sales organization to get their inventory into one of our platforms so that we can be doing business programmatically. They benefit from it because it’s additional inventory, and so they are actually driving greater return for clients, which means more money comes back to them, if they are working. The relationship aspect is reduced in the actual negotiation process, but is there as you insert supply, and how you negotiate them participating in your particular platform.
TVWeek: Programmatic is primarily a tool in the digital arena. Do you see it becoming used more and more in the TV space?
Muszynski: I think it will get more and more into the television space, but we have to be careful with how we are doing it and making sure what we are delivering is a true programmatic solution. There are a lot of folks out there who say they have a programmatic solution when what they are doing is taking a little bit of data, overlaying it on a bunch of remnant inventory and saying they will sell this as programmatic. In fact, we’ve been using data to inform our decisions for many, many years. This isn’t a new thing.
TVWeek: John, the issue of transparency between media agencies and their clients has been in the news lately. What’s your view?
Muszynski: Obviously there has been a lot written and discussed around this. I have for a long time believed — as has this agency and holding company — that we want to be transparent. That’s the way we want to operate with our clients. I believe we’ve done that, and moving forward we will continue to operate that way.
The best relationship you can have with your client is a transparent one. That’s so they understand what’s driving the decisions. I want transparency, because I think I bring something to the table. I think our agency brings something to the table. And if we’re transparent with our clients we will benefit by virtue of the work we are doing for them. Everything I have seen in this organization in the past and moving forward is all about transparency.
TVWeek: I wonder if that follows from your Midwestern roots?
Muszynski: I think there is something to be said for that. My training and upbringing at Leo Burnett was very much Midwestern. Very much client-focused and client-centric. We would have never thought of doing something the client wasn’t aware of.
TVWeek: You have always been a strong advocate for television. Clearly one of the hallmarks of media today is how television, which used to primarily mean a box in one’s living room, has come to mean so much more today.
Muszynski: I have for a long time believed in the power of television, or the power of video. I refer to all of our buyers as investors, and I refer to all of them as video investors. It’s all streams across all screens. So we have to look at the marketplace differently than we did before. The landscape has changed. The way people consume media is very, very different. We in turn have to adjust.
One of the critical pieces in this is we have to think and operate the way a consumer does as we make our plans. It’s not just that we have a television bucket, we have a digital bucket and we have a print budget. That’s not how people consume media today. They don’t wake up in the morning and say to themselves that they are going to watch some program digitally this afternoon. Or that I’m going to read a particular thing digitally. No. They are looking at getting their entertainment, their news, their sports in whatever fashion that works best for them. In many cases television is an anchor part of it, but there are a lot of complements to that plan. If you look at media consumption in silos, I think that’s when you really get yourself in trouble.
Let me give you an example. My son is 28. I invited him over to watch a football game last year. We hadn’t been together for a while and I wanted him to come over and we’d watch the game together. And as I was watching the game he was playing on his damn phone. To a point that it was starting to frustrate me. Finally I said, “I thought you came over here to watch the game.” He said, “I am.” I said, “No, you’re watching your phone.” He said, “No, I’m watching the game and getting information about the game that you don’t get. I’m getting information off of Twitter that you don’t get. I’m getting information off of Twitter about this specific game.” He then relayed to me several different situations about the game that the TV commentators hadn’t mentioned, but that he had picked up on Twitter. At that point I said, “You know what? What I’ve been saying at work has now been proved to me right before my eyes.”
So we have to look at things through a different lens than we’ve used in the past. Your search plan should be informing your television plan, your television plan needs to inform your search plan. And programmatic at the same time complementing your television schedule — whatever it might be. We have to look at this as the sum of all the parts, and how each part complements each other, and drives greater results.
That’s why I think the business is so fascinating right now. In the early days I was buying three broadcast networks. Today there are more broadcast networks and then there is cable. And it’s not just go buy broadcast and then go buy cable — they are owned by the same people. So now let’s go negotiate those differently. People are interacting with their media across various platforms. It’s giant puzzle that we have to put together. It’s so much more than what it used to be, which was, “I need 110 GRPs [gross ratings points] this week.”