Checkeris Brings Northern Wisdom to MediaCom

Nov 5, 2008  •  Post A Comment

What is it about coming up in a smaller market that prepares executives to run giant media agencies in the United States?
Canadian Doug Checkeris, recently named CEO of MediaCom North America, chalks it up to the specialization inside U.S. shops.
“If you come from a market that’s smaller and more concentrated, you will have tended to have done more things, experientially, as you go through your organization,” Mr. Checkeris said.
“In the U.S., because the piles of money are all so incredibly large, you can rationally have people specifically sitting on top or managing those things. And they’re big jobs and they’re big piles of money. It’s kept a level of specialization, which is good on one hand, but it hurts people in terms of developing general management talent,” he said.
“It’s not for a lack of smart people,” he added.
Smaller markets also require “a little more ingenuity on how you use your resources and organize yourselves to get to the outcome,” he added.
That’s becoming more important in the U.S. as media fragments and the dollar value of individual transactions shrink.
“That puts real pressure on all agencies,” he said. “How do you deal with the amount of information, how do you deal with the amount and flow of work, and have we really built the systems and the thinking on how do we simplify that. So that’s kind of a key area,” he said.
At MediaCom, Mr. Checkeris is trying to refocus the agency to be better in terms of strategy and measurement.
“You can’t just write media plans. You have to understand you’re going to be excellent at leading the client to great solutions and you’re going to have to contribute to that. You’re going to have to be great at making sure that the people in the organization develop and you help them, and you also have to understand our business success. I think that’s the way we’ll turn out an organization that will turn out a lot of fantastic future leaders,” he said.
Mr. Checkeris grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, a small town about 250 miles north of Toronto. He says he didn’t find the advertising business so much as the ad business found him after he graduated from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
“I’m just fortunate that happened. I had an economics degree and I kicked around. All I knew is that I was going to leave Sudbury. That part I knew,” he recalled.
One of his first jobs was with a small manufacturing company in marketing and sales. He said one of the owners told him, “You should be hanging around doing this. You should work in advertising.”
He got a job with Media Buying Service, an independent media agency in Toronto, as a media trainee and over 25 years was a part of growing it into Canada’s dominant media buyer.
Through a series of acquisitions and mergers, MBS is MediaCom Canada today, one of GroupM’s worldwide media networks.
When he packed up to move to New York in 2007 as CEO of MediaCom U.S., a friend at the office told him he’d do fine. Asked why, the friend responded: “You’re the most American Canadian I’ve ever met.”
Mr. Checkeris wasn’t sure whether that was supposed to be a compliment, but in the business sense, “The one fantastic thing about working in the U.S. is once you get everybody on your side and convince people to go, they go. They don’t have self-doubt,” he said.
Since taking the U.S. job, Mr. Checkeris has been commuting weekly from his home in Canada. He plans to move to New York in a year, when his daughter finishes high school. His son attends a specialized boarding school for dyslexic boys near Buffalo, N.Y.
Mr. Checkeris plans to keep his country house outside Toronto for holidays and, eventually, for retirement.
In the meantime, he’ll try to “sort out the logistics of a family of four living in three locations,” he said.
In his spare time, Mr. Checkeris recently took up road biking. In August he participated in a charity ride and pedaled for about 450 miles in four days.
He’s also an avid skier and tries to get out to the Rockies two or three times a year.
Who knew: Mr. Checkeris spent a summer doing hard-rock mining, working 5,000 feet below ground in a nickel mine in Sudbury. Some of that time he worked as a laborer, but he also spent time with the blast crew, filling with explosives 150-foot holes that were about 8 inches in diameter. When the crew was ready to set off the charge, they didn’t go to the surface. Instead they went to a safe room in the mine. “After the blast, you hear a little rumble off in the distance, and then you get this incredible rush of wind. And then everything goes black with dust,” he said. “It was a pretty remarkable experience.” But not one he wanted to stick with. “That sort of solidified my need to leave that town,” he said. In fact, the following summer he had a better job: Working as a route salesman for Hostess snacks. Above ground.


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