Profile: Rich Hamilton

Jan 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Rich Hamilton, who runs the Zenith Optimedia Group, has some advice for planners: Get to know the buyers’ pain.
Mr. Hamilton knows of what he speaks. Almost 30 years ago he started in the business as a media planner at Benton & Bowles (which later became D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles before closing down last year). “It was 1974,” said Mr. Hamilton, who is CEO of the Zenith Optimedia Group, the Americas. “The planning department at that time bought print, but broadcast was bought by a specialized unit.” He ended up with responsibility for all planning and buying except for national TV.
But coming up from the planning side, Mr. Hamilton’s experience with buying up to that point was only theoretical. “So I put myself in charge of buying the Tucson market so I would know what the buyers were up against firsthand.”
Sixteen years later, when Mr. Hamilton left DMB&B to run Zenith, it was a lesson he took with him: “Planners need to get exposure to real-life buying.” Initially, Zenith was only a buying shop, but once the decision was made to add planning, Mr. Hamilton made sure his planners, when they go through Zenith University-the company’s training program-get their feet wet buying, if only briefly. “It’s important to make a real effort to cross-pollinate buyers and planners,” he said.
Mr. Hamilton also believes that a constructive tension should exist between buyers and planners. “Let’s say a planner says you should buy X amount of late-night network TV,” Mr. Hamilton explained. “But then the buyer suggests that due to market conditions that be modified.”
Constructive debate
What happens next is a debate ensues. “If done right, this debate-which is a private one inside the agency-is very constructive, and the solution that’s worked out between the planner and buyer is one that’s a win-win for the client,” Mr. Hamilton said.
While Saatchi & Saatchi continues to do the planning on Toyota, one of Zenith’s flagship buying accounts, Zenith does both planning and buying for such blue-chip marketers as Verizon, Schering-Plough and Boston Beer.
“Strategic planning is having an ever-increasing prominence in the industry,” Mr. Hamilton said. What one wants to do is “take the planning discipline beyond traditional ad methods to the way the consumer connects with media and the advertising within it.”
That, he said, is what clients are increasingly paying attention to.