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McOwen’s New Tune

Apr 25, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Bill McOwen is a TV guy learning new tricks.
Echoing an industry trend, MPG last month named Mr. McOwen, who had been head of broadcast, as director of media investment. In the new job he is responsible for how money is disbursed through all media channels and platforms. The idea is to make sure that “the themes we’re trying to get across in one media are lending themselves to another and that the relationships today are truly content-driven as opposed to platform-driven,” he said.
At this stage, Mr. McOwen says he’s getting educated on the tactile media-magazines and newspapers-as opposed to the electronic media. “I’m just becoming familiar as to how they work and how they can potentially be beneficial in some greater relationship, and that takes time.”
But the agency’s efforts at tearing down the walls that separate the buying of one media from another are already paying off. In video, some staffers from the agency’s interactive Media Connect unit have been brought into the TV buying unit to create a new video integration unit. Similarly, a new audio group is being formed that will look at terrestrial, HD, satellite and Internet radio.
Mr. McOwen believes all the changes that have been fragmenting and compartmentalizing media options have improved the business.
“All these real individual tastes are really coming through,” he said. “You’re not just throwing everyone an assembly-line product anymore and assuming you can reach them. It’s much more interesting, obviously, doing what we’re doing today than it was even three years ago, certainly five years ago.”
It is more time-consuming, but worthwhile, he said. “I think what used to frustrate a lot of people, at least I hope it used to frustrate a lot of clients and agency people alike, was the subjectivity and the leaps of faith that people had to make in believing and selling a certain concept or network as the vehicle that makes the most sense for you.” These days, “We’re stripping out all that subjectivity” with more sophisticated research, he said.
There’s still an opportunity to do some gambling when it comes to new content, such as new TV shows, but even that is subject to increasingly sophisticated modeling and profiling. Some buyers might have put clients into NBC’s hit “Heroes” rather than its highly touted “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and been suitably rewarded. “I was not one of those smart folks on a large scale,” he said, adding, “I definitely saw ‘The Office,'” another NBC show that has become popular. “So there you go.”
Mr. McOwen grew up in Balboa Island, Calif., and came east to bolster his resume. As a college student, he was working in the public relations department at the Walt Disney Co. “I was kind of a go-fer and lackey,” he said. He held the hands of celebrities doing business with Disney, on call 24 hours for people like Jack Nicholson, Steven Spielberg and Michael Jackson. He also served on occasion as mayor of Disneyland, the front line in taking complaints and finding lost children.
He wanted a better job in PR and was told his best shot was to go to New York, build a resume and come back in a year. “So I left. Within two weeks, I had a job at Chiat/Day. And once I was here, I kind of liked it and saw no reason to go back to Disney,” he said.
He started at Chiat opening invoices and answering phones in the media department. “It was not by any means a great job, but through osmosis, you got to watch some of the buyers and some of the planners do what they were doing, and that’s really how I learned,” he said.
His career advanced from Chiat to Grey Advertising, where he worked with Jon Mandel, now at Nielsen, and Bill Morningstar, now at The CW. He then went back to Chiat, and then to Arnold Advertising when it won the Volkswagen account. Arnold became part of Havas and its media operation got rolled up into MPG.
Mr. McOwen has “two lovely daughters,” ages 10 and 7.
He’s also recently taken up the guitar. “My hobby is playing. My guilty pleasure is collecting the classic guitars of all the guitar gods out there,” he said.
Mr. McOwen been playing for two years, but has already purchased five guitars: a Taylor acoustic, a Telecaster, a Stratocaster, a Les Paul and an Eastwood Airline like the one played by Jack White of the White Stripes. He’s looking for a Rickenbacker.
Using those guitars, he can imagine he’s playing like Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughn. “I’m butchering every power chord they ever played,” he said. “It’s my hobby that I love, but the reality is I have a long way to go.”
Who knew: As a boy, Mr. McOwen’s ambition was to be a coal miner. He had a book in which the main character wore a helmet with a light on it and was able to explore by digging anywhere he wanted to go. “I thought that was the ultimate in being able to do what you wanted to do, basically,” he said. “My parents quickly advised me otherwise. That’s a hard life.”

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