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Meil Innovates at Initiative

Sep 17, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Jason Meil could have been working at Lehman Brothers now.
Mr. Meil started his career at the once-venerable investment bank that just collapsed, but he decided to indulge his more creative side, moving into the media business.
Earlier this month, Mr. Meil joined Initiative as executive VP and director of its Innovation team. Before that, he was senior VP for original programming, acquisitions and user-generated content at Current Media, a trendsetter in airing video from viewers and other forms of interactive media.
At Initiative he’ll be charged with seeking opportunities for clients on the industry’s cutting edge.
“My hope is that I can bring to bear the kind of spirit of innovation that Current was all about, combined with my unique background on the creative and the business side, and just my knowledge of what’s happening in the space and what is the latest and the greatest,” he said.
Mr. Meil believes technology is turning the marketing and media world into a sort of Wild West, where anything goes.
“There’s just a lot of interesting creative possibilities in terms of what can be done in a world where ads go viral as content and nobody knows whether ‘LonelyGirl15’ or ‘The Montauk Monster’ is a scripted series, an actual Webcam or an advertising viral campaign for the next TV show or movie,” he said.
Marketers need a guide to that world.
“I’m not doing my job at Initiative, I don’t think, unless I can figure out how to leverage these platforms that everybody is on now, but [clients and agencies] are still just figuring out, like Facebook or Twitter or YouTube,” Mr. Meil said.
The other part of his job is to “identify the next Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and make sure we can bring that to existing clients and new clients and develop interesting campaigns around what these new technologies have to offer,” he said.
Mr. Meil was born in Philadelphia and moved to the suburbs when he was young. While attending Harvard, where he was part of an honors program studying the social sciences, he became interested in the business world and took a job as an analyst in the media and communications group at Lehman Brothers when he graduated.
He worked on mergers, acquisitions and initial public offerings, doing deals for industry giants including Comcast, the Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner.
“I really enjoyed it and had great experiences working with people there to this day that I greatly admire and keep in touch with,” he said. “But I knew that long-term, pure-play finance and investment banking was not what I wanted to do. I was more of a creative person. I wanted to have more operational experience.”
Mr. Meil went west and landed at DreamWorks in a strategic planning and development role. He then attended business school at Stanford at a time when lecturers and classmates were building the first wave of dotcom firms in Silicon Valley, giving him some valuable new-media connections.
He started getting into the content business at CBS News Productions, then went to National Geographic, where he helped its television and film unit reach out to a broader audience. From there he went to Al Gore’s Current and helped build a programming operation around consumer-generated content.
“Everyone thought we were kind of nuts when we came out 3½ years ago and said we were going to have some of our content created by users,” he said. “And of course then YouTube, and $1.6 billion later everyone said it was a brilliant idea.”
In his spare time, Mr. Meil says he’s getting more boring, spending his time hanging out with his wife and their 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.
“My basketball and tennis games have mysteriously gone downhill over the past five years,” he said. “But my dance skills are mad good now that my daughter makes me dance to ‘High School Musical.’”
Who Knew: Mr. Meil sang his way around the world as a member of an a cappella singing group during summer breaks from college. The Harvard Din & Tonics sang mostly jazz and pop. “It was more Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Cole Porter, but every once in a while you threw in a little ‘Tainted Love’ and AC/DC when you could,” he said. Mr. Meil also was the group’s business manager, a task no one else wanted. “It was like running a small business, and we got to see these amazing places when I was 19 years old,” he said.

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