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Cass Takes the Lead at Carat

Oct 22, 2008  •  Post A Comment

London native Martin Cass paraphrases quintessential American writer Mark Twain when describing the situation at Carat, where he was named president of U.S. operations last week.
Mr. Cass succeeds Scott Sorokin, who held the post for a little more than a year. The past few months at Carat have been marked by a badly handled round of layoffs, which stemmed from account losses the agency maintains weren’t a reflection of the quality of its service. In one case, its client New Line Cinema was folded into Warner Bros. In another, client Pfizer sold a division to Johnson & Johnson, which moved the business to one of its own agencies.
Though shaken, reports of Carat’s “demise are severely over-exaggerated,” Mr. Cass says. “I think the reality tractor and the press trailer have come a little disconnected in the past few weeks.”
Mr. Cass said the clients that remain at the agency, including Procter & Gamble, whose account he ran, remain satisfied.
“We’ve got some pretty sizable clients that are happy with the service and the strategic input and the excellent execution we provide,” he said.
Mr. Cass came to the U.S. from Carat’s office in London after helping the agency win P&G’s global communications planning account in 2004. He has also been heading up the agency’s communications planning function in the U.S.
In his new role, he says, the biggest change will be that he’s responsible for the lives and careers of a much larger number of colleagues.
“I’ve got the mortgages, life expectations and dreams of 600 people on my shoulders,” he says. “I want to make sure that the people on my team and the broader Carat community [are] in good safe hands and have a very steady hand on the tiller.”
Under Mr. Cass’ watch, the agency’s basic principles shouldn’t change.
“What I’ve been doing for the last four years with Procter and prior to that in the U.K. is really making sure that we deliver the very highest level of strategic advice and we execute with excellence. And I don’t think anything is really going to change, whether that be in the world of TV or whether that be in the world of search engine optimization. It’s still the same basic principles,” he says.
Mr. Cass got involved in the media business when a friend—whose father had been in advertising—lent him a copy of the book “Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy.
He’d studied history, politics and economics at Southampton University, and what he read about advertising “fascinated me, and that was really the starting point of it.”
He began his career at Geers Gross in London while still pursuing an athletic career as a semi-professional rugby player.
“Back in those days, it was much easier, I think, to get into the ad business than it is today,” he jokes.
He got more serious about the business when he moved on to RSCG, which was one of the first agencies to spin off its media department to form a separate media agency. He joined Carat in London in 1995 to run the Reckitt & Colman account.
In the early 1990s, Mr. Cass says, he saw the media industry in London begin to adopt the idea that what was being bought was as important as how much it cost.
“So the principle of ‘buy the eye and buy it cheap’ began to be questioned,” he says.
Clients also began understanding there was a lot more to connecting with customers than just buying ads, he said. One such client was Diageo, marketer of Guinness beer, which was known for its brilliant advertising, most of which appeared on TV.
But while Mr. Cass worked on the account, Guinness shifted it emphasis to sports sponsorships as a way to make customers feel close to the brand. Now a good chunk of its spending is in sponsorship, including naming rights to the top rugby league.
“It’s not just about where do you place your advertising anymore. It’s about what platform and what is your overriding strategy for making what you’ve got work harder,” he says. That kind of thinking helps clients because it resonates with the financial community as well, he adds.
Mr. Cass lives in Greenwich, Conn., with his wife, 10- and 8-year-old daughters and a son who’s 5.
That leaves little free time on the weekend, when he feels like a taxi driver.
“This time of year, from kiddie kick soccer to dancing to singing lessons to basketball and you name it, I’m a chauffer service for three children on Saturday mornings.
Since coming to the U.S., he says, he’s become a fan of American football and goes to see the Giants play whenever he can “because I still have the desire to watch grown men beat the hell out of each other, no longer being in any fit state to do that myself.”
From time to time, he convinces his wife to allow him to “detox” on the golf course. He has also found a cricket club in Greenwich, and plays two or three time a year.
“Many of the hobbies I had in the U.K. don’t exist here,” he says. “You don’t play an awful lot of rugby and cricket.”
Who knew? Back in London, Mr. Cass’ first boss was Richard Beaven, now CEO at Initiative, and they remain good friends. “He had about six months’ experience. I had none. So there’s a connection. You have two old Geers Gross boys working running agencies in New York now,” he says. Mr. Beaven used to let Mr. Cass leave work early on Mondays and Thursdays to train with his rugby team, Harlequin, which was semi-pro back then, not full time as it is now. “I used to come back in on a Monday limping a few times,” he says.

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