Media Buyer of the Year: Andy Donchin

For years, Andy Donchin was the go-to guy who was able to do more with less. He was the media buyer clients loved, the master of coming up with the creative solution for clients who didn’t have big budgets, such as Boston Market or Fuji Photo Film, USA.

Back in the 1990s Jeff McLean, VP lens care marketing for Bausch & Lomb, told this reporter about Andy: “He goes out of the way to look for opportunities for us. He’s a problem solver who gives you lots of alternative solutions.”

The context of that article was how Donchin’s life was about to change in a major way. The independent media buying service he was working for, MBS (which stood for, interestingly enough, Media Buying Service), had just become part of Carat, as that media giant had finally come to the U.S.

Here's the final paragraph of that article:

“Now, with Carat behind him, Mr. Donchin is looking forward to the agency landing bigger accounts and translating his skills to clients who spend more. ‘For years we've been playing a cost-per-thousand game,’ Mr. Donchin notes. ‘That's about to change, big time. Carat is known for research. I think I know how to buy well. Now I'll be learning to buy smarter. We can target better and eliminate waste. If information is the key, we'll have more of it than anyone.’"

Well, Mr. Donchin, time for your report card, 15 years later: A+. This past January Carat landed the $3 billion global consolidated media account of the world’s third-largest advertiser, General Motors. Of course the U.S. portion of that -- which Carat has never had before -- is a major component of that account.

As they say down under, “Good on you, Carat.” Here at TVWeek, we say congratulations, Andy, to you and your colleagues, and double congratulations for also being named the recipient of TVWeek’s Media Buyer of the Year. It’s the eleventh time we’ve given out this prestigious award.

I’m TVWeek’s Chuck Ross, and below you'll find  our interview with Andy, who is Executive Vice President, Director of Media Investments at Carat North America. He also is Carat North America’s Director, National Broadcast.


TVWEEK: Can you tell us how being a buyer has evolved over the years since you got into the business?

ANDY DONCHIN: It used to be much easier to be a buyer. It was pretty one-dimensional. Now, buying has become the most involved and comprehensive media function out there. We are evolving into video buyers, and that requires a not only a broad knowledge, but a deep understanding of many diverse elements.

The first element is that we’re now deeply involved in the planning process. It used to be that we were just activators. We’d be sitting at our desk and all of a sudden the media plan would come through and we’d have to activate it. Now we’re actually part of the process that develops the media plan. We need to be involved way up front to ensure that the clients’ marketing goals are achieved. We give marketplace intelligence so we can help build a plan that is executable.


We’re driving more convergence across traditional and digital platforms, trying to bring those two together, one helping the other where the whole ends up greater than the sum of its parts.


We’re trying to evaluate and take greater advantage of advanced advertising platforms. Even with the news that Canoe has changed what it was doing, we are really trying to get ahead and bring scale to addressable advertising platforms so we can eliminate waste and, as they say, put dog food commercials in homes that have dogs.


TVWEEK: Canoe is interesting. You had a number of people on Madison Avenue who weren’t sure where it was going. And then you had executives such as Barry Frey over at Cablevision who seemed to be ahead of where Canoe was. Have you participated with any of your clients with Cablevision’s advanced advertising platforms?


DONCHIN: We have at the least alerted them to opportunities that are out there within advanced advertising platforms. And we have done some campaigns for clients both on the request for information side of things and the addressable side of things.


TVWEEK: So with Canoe moving to concentrate on video-on-demand, you still have these other advanced platforms to work with.


DONCHIN: Yes, that’s right. I still think addressable advertising is the Holy Grail. Better targeting and less waste. And what advertiser today isn’t concerned with saving money.


TVWEEK: So would you like to see a combination of the data you get from Nielsen combined somehow with set-top box data?


DONCHIN: We need to employ advanced research data and insights to better target our clients' consumers and increase ROI. Nielsen is great, and I still think that television, as it stands now, is probably the most accountable medium, but we have to move past where we are right now and need to get more precise.

So you’re probably looking beyond Nielsen and going away from just age and sex to targeting and buying based upon purchasing behavior and/or social behavior. We are trying to combine Rentrak with Polk data or Simmons data, or the like, to better fine-tune our buys. It allows us to do better targeting, to be more precise in our targeting.


TVWEEK: What do you think of the Apple and Google attempts to get into the TV market?


DONCHIN: I really do think for the Apples and Googles to really work in the TV world they need to come to market with a unique platform. That could be a research component or it could be a unique service, meaning maybe at one point we don’t need to get that bundled cable service but instead get only those networks we really watch and want to pay for.

TV as it stands now works fine, and for a Google or an Apple to gain a foothold in TV they really have to bring some unique idea of platform to it.


Also, I have to chuckle how so many in so-called new media kept saying, Why are you doing the upfront? And now all these new technology companies and platforms are trying to set up their own upfront. I understand why they are doing it, and it makes sense why they are doing it. But it still makes me chuckle.


TVWEEK: After working in some traditional agencies in media, back in 1991 you went with a media only specialist shop, Media Buying Service. In 1996 they were bought by Carat. Over the years that you’ve been at Carat, like most shops, there have been the ups and the downs, client-wise. Right now, Carat is hot again. Why do you think that is?


DONCHIN: I’d really have to give a shout-out to Nigel Morris, our CEO, who came over here [in 2009] when we were experiencing a little bit of a downturn. I think he really upgraded the talent in the agency and he upgraded our tools. The key to winning new business is that you’ve really got to create a difference. Nigel’s been instrumental to creating that difference here. When we are before a client, they can really discern that difference. We think it’s a more robust offering than what some others can offer clients right now. We’re very research oriented, very analytic oriented.


TVWEEK: I know you are a big believer in TV. Talk to us for a minute about how social media fits in.


DONCHIN: Yes, TV still works. But it’s challenged now. Please don’t get me wrong: Bottom line, TV works. But with the commercial clutter, with fragmentation, with less big event programming, we can’t just talk at viewers, we should be conversing with them. That’s where social media can help. It’s known that social media can boost television. It’s that idea of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.


I go back to my point that the person who was the ‘TV’ buyer in the past is today’s ‘video buyer. To do our best we need to be involved in all aspects of what the client wants from his communication to his target consumer. We need to work with both internal and external entertainment units to drive better sponsorships and integrations.

And all of this is expected to be reflected in buys we make in which we’re expected to achieve savings.

So when people ask me how I can stay here at Carat so many years, my answer is that things have always been changing, been evolving. The job is vastly different than when I started here in 1991, when this shop was called MBS. And it’s exciting and challenging, so I remain inspired and constantly am getting recharged.


TVWEEK: Are you pretty satisfied that most of the broadcast and cable networks understand what you need to do to satisfy your clients today?


DONCHIN: Yes and no. I think they want to be better partners. They want to go with us into the future and try different things. But to a large degree they are still stuck in the old model. It continues to work for them. But they have made strides to move forward with us. To integrate online and traditional media. To do integrations and sponsorships and such. We just wish, sometimes, that they'd move forward faster.


TVWEEK: Most clients, historically, have been risk averse. Are clients more willing to take risks today?


DONCHIN: I think clients are willing to take more risks if there is a rationale to do so. If there’s backup and research to support it. It’s all about accountability. We’ve made great strides there. I think most clients are willing to do things they know are going to work for them and that will have some legs in terms of being extended across different platforms.

It’s a multidimensional business these days. There’s greater scrutiny by clients about what’s going to move the needle for them, what is really going to drive ROI [return on investment]. And it’s up to us at the agencies to prove that to them, to lead them down the right path, to help them navigate all the options out there, all the research out there, all the data out there.


TVWEEK: The talk of ROI has become almost deafening in recent years. But I’m wondering how much weight you’d give to a factor that everyone used to say was almost of overriding importance: relationships. At the end of the day, how important are relationships -- both with clients and with those on the other side of the table from you, the sellers?


DONCHIN: I really want to believe that relationships still matter, and matter in a big, big way. But they are relationships in the context of a much more demanding media world -- in a more difficult, complicated media world, where there are so many more choices. So performance is very important. As long as you bring your A-game out there, you’re going to be fine.


TVWEEK: I think one of the reasons you’ve been successful -- and I don’t want to embarrass you -- is that you are very likable. I only bring that up because it’s one of your traits that almost everyone mentions, and as one of the top media executives in the business, on a professional level it’s clearly been a huge plus for you.


DONCHIN: That’s very nice of you to say, but if you don’t produce that’s really not important. Our business is not any more free lunches. If you can show why and how you’re better than your competition, then your relationships will endure and survive.


TVWEEK: Since TV buying is primarily what you’ve done for the past two decades, any last thoughts about it?


DONCHIN: Again, TV still works. It worked years ago when people were buying primarily spots and dots, and it works today as it’s driving people to social, it’s driving people to search, it’s driving people online. It’s doing what it’s always done and it’s doing more.#

Here’s a partial list of Carat’s top U.S. clients as of April, 2012:

Adidas Group (Adidas, Reebok, Rockport & TaylorMade)
California Tourism
General Motors
J.M. Smuckers
O’Reilly Auto Parts
OSI (Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill & Bonefish Grill)
Red Bull
Relativity Media
The Home Depot
The Procter & Gamble Company
The Walt Disney Company (Disney Parks & Resorts)
Tourism Ireland
University of Phoenix
Viacom (VH1 & Centric)