Accent on Communications

Nov 15, 2006  •  Post A Comment

You don’t have to have a British accent to be a communications planner. But it helps.
“I think there are some cynical people that believe the accent is all-important,” said Malcolm Russell, director of communications strategy for MindShare North America. “But I think the key thing is being able to speak a multitude of different languages within this business.”
Mr. Russell was brought from MindShare in the United Kingdom to MindShare North America specifically to build a communications planning function at the agency. Last week he was named head of a new Communications Planning Group.
Mr. Russell insists that communications planning is more than the flavor of the day in the media business. “If media agencies are going to grow and have a prosperous future, we need to evolve the way that we plan.
So our vision at MindShare is that what this group is doing becomes over time our planning product. You need to create a vanguard to take us there,” he said.
The folks Mr. Russell recruited for his communications planning group all had media agency backgrounds, but he wanted them to be what he called “strategic generalists.” “They also needed to be comfortable with the language of account planning, the language of marketing and other disciplines, whether that’s direct, PR, or whatever, because this group exists to really make everything work harder together,” he said.
Certainly there is still a role for traditional media planning skills, Mr. Russell said. “Our clients are spending billions of dollars still in television, print, radio, the traditional channels, and we need to make sure we can do that with all the rigor we’ve always done it. But at the same time, we need to make sure that we can take advantage of the new opportunities as well,” he said.
While much media work is analytical, communications planning involves a more humanistic way of thinking. “You’ve got to think about people and what they want and what is going to motivate them and what’s really going to capture their imagination rather than simply placing commercial messages in front of them,” he said.
Mr. Russell, a native of Birmingham, England, first became interested in advertising while a student at the University of Sheffield in northern England, when he did a thesis on the word-of-mouth advertising the British government tried to do during World War II. “It got me thinking about advertising and through one turn or another, I wound up here,” he said.
His first job was with the Guardian newspaper in London, doing ad sales and solution development. He moved to the agency side with Bates, where he was exposed to media and account planning. He also met his wife, Elizabeth, there. She now works for Ogilvy in New York.
After work, Mr. Russell, a bass player, enjoys making music and traveling. Both interests enrich his business life as well.
Mr. Russell produces his own dance music. “The fascinating thing about being involved in music is that you really get to try all of the new things that are going on in media for yourself,” he said. For example, he distributes music through MySpace and he’s got a site on Flickr.com. “I’m using all of these new media tools for my own passions, and I think that gives you a lot of insight when you’re part of it rather than just studying it,” he said.
Mr. Russell also likes to travel to somewhat unusual places. In September, he and his wife went to Iran. “We found the people remarkably open and surprisingly willing to provide their point of view,” he said.
Mr. Russell said colleagues rag him about taking vacations in Kazakhstan (before “Borat”), Kyrgyzstan, Siberia and China. But he observes that MindShare’s business is about 70 percent global. “I think clients are looking for ideas that can travel these days,” he said. “You’ve got to get out there and experience the world if you’re going to come up with that stuff.”
Who knew?
Mr. Russell worked as a “barman,” pulling pints when a Bon Jovi stadium tour came through Sheffield. Mr. Russell said he wasn’t a Bon Jovi fan before working the concert and afterward “less so.”
This article is part of TVWeek.com’s Media Planner newsletter, a weekly source of breaking news, trend articles, profiles and data about media planning edited by Senior Editor Jon Lafayette.


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