12 to Watch: Mark Rosenthal

Jan 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Advertising giant Interpublic Group of Cos. is expected to make changes in its $20 billion-plus media buying operations, and former MTV Networks executive Mark Rosenthal is the guy calling the shots.

Interpublic has been struggling financially and lost a number of media clients, including General Motors and the automotive giant’s $1.6 billion in TV ad spending last year. Its media buying structure-with Magna Global handling the negotiating for its big agencies, Universal McCann and Initiative-has also been questioned.

Some media executives expect something big to happen at Interpublic soon, and Mr. Rosenthal, chairman and CEO of Interpublic Media, has said he has lots of plans down the road.

Earlier this month Mr. Rosenthal hired Terri Santisi as chief financial officer of Interpublic Media. Ms. Santisi previously was with KPMG’s Media and Entertainment practice.

“We’re not going to build a huge infrastructure at Interpublic Media, but we’ll build the right infrastructure to maximize the benefits of the great brands that we have,” Mr. Rosenthal said.

While hinting that announcements in areas such as consumer insights and media measurement are coming, he said the basic structure of Interpublic Media is unlikely to change. “Initiative and Universal will remain totally independent of one another and we remain strongly committed to supporting Magna’s strength as our aggregated negotiating unit domestically and around the world,” he said.

Each agency will shift from being a media service organization to a marketing solutions organization, he said. Universal McCann has new leadership in President Nick Brien, recruited from Starcom MediaVest Group, where he was president of ARC Worldwide. Universal has been separated financially from ad agency McCann World Group, which means Universal McCann now has its own profit-and-loss statement. “It will be provided with the resources, capabilities and personnel that it needs to compete most effectively and super-serve our clients,” Mr. Rosenthal said.

Mr. Rosenthal said Universal McCann and Initiative each need to be extremely well established brands. “What they stand for has to be strategic thought leadership and marketing solutions as opposed to simply media buying and planning services,” he said.

He disagrees with critics who see Magna as potentially creating another bureaucratic layer in the buying process. “If anything, Magna was an underutilized asset of Interpublic, and that will change,” he said.

And while Magna was created to gain clout in Interpublic’s negotiations for volume discounts with growing media outlets, “You want to buy well, but it’s not about buying cheaply only anymore,” he said. “It’s about buying smartly and it’s about buying a number of different options smartly and creating the right ad mixture for the client.”

To do that, Interpublic will have to get in front of the changes in media, with emphasis on the shift to digital.

“It’s not that television is unimportant. Television is incredibly important. But traditional television-broadcast and cable-has hundreds of new brothers, sisters and cousins,” Mr. Rosenthal said.

As a media agency, he said, “We have to be the principal navigator for them through a sea of infinite media options. So we have to be as understanding about what’s going on with Google, Yahoo and MySpace as we are in understanding what’s going on with NBC and ABC and CBS.”

At A Glance

Title: Chairman and CEO, Interpublic Media

How long in current position: Since June 2005

Year of birth: 1952

Place of birth: Pittsburgh

What to watch for: Big changes in one of the world’s biggest media buying companies.

Who knew? Mr. Rosenthal said, “I always wanted to be a jazz pianist, which would be very, very difficult because I don’t know how to play the piano.”