Hayes Gets Bump as Initiative Digital Business Climbs

Dec 3, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The area of digital media has been growing so fast at Initiative that Michael Hayes has earned a bigger title.
Initiative’s digital billings have increased nearly 400% in the last four years. And with its client base growing even faster, the agency promoted Mr. Hayes, who once operated rides at Disneyland, to executive VP and director of digital. It also hired Amy Auerbach from PHDiQ as senior VP and director of digital to help handle the management workload.
At the same time, with Initiative dedicated to integrating its digital folks into all of its activities, Mr. Hayes said he’s getting “more involved in much wider discussions across the agency about how we’re going to transform the agency in the new digital arena.”
That transformation is evident in new business pitches.
“In traditional media agencies, the digital arm was always the last to present in a pitch. Now in a matter of a few years, we’re completely integrated and we’re typically one of the first to present and be a part of it,” Mr. Hayes said.
Winning integrated accounts, such as the Hyundai and Kia car business, as well as the Dr. Pepper/Snapple account, generated a lot of work for the agency’s digital staff. But it has always won the digital business from clients already working with the agency on traditional media. It has won some business on its own, and hopes one day soon that the traditional media business will follow to Initiative, he said.
With the economy tanking, Mr. Hayes said, digital billings have been hurt in the fourth quarter.
“As advertisers have begun to hunker down, digital tends to be the most flexible in terms of out clauses,” he said.
“But I think in 2009, what we’re seeing with our client base is that digital is staying steady, if not growing,” he said. “Because of its measurability and accountability, it’s taking media dollars away from less accountable media.”
In terms of measurability, Initiative got quick grades for its direct-response work for Hyundai. The performance of the agency’s digital ads is up 42% from the previous campaign in generating leads for the automaker’s dealers.
“So even in these tough times, the cost per lead and the cost per conversion is improving,” Mr. Hayes said. “We’re pretty proud of that.”
He’s also excited about the work the agency did to help Showtime launch the most recent season of “Dexter.” Like the print campaign for the series, in which the Dexter character was put onto magazine covers whose well-known logos were “Dexterized,” Initiative’s Web campaign had “Dexter” take over Yahoo’s main page, including the logo.
“It was a great way to create buzz and break through the clutter for the launch, and they had a fantastic premiere,” Mr. Hayes said.
Unfortunately, Showtime and the rest of the CBS Corp. media business followed former Initiative executive Alan Cohen to OMD. But the pain was soothed somewhat by Initiative’s recent win of the giant Miller/Coors beer account.
“We replaced the revenue. It was a nice week,” Mr. Hayes said.
Growing up in Anaheim, Calif., Mr. Hayes followed his brothers and sisters in working at nearby Disneyland. While in high school and college, he operated various rides at the theme park. Upon getting his degree from California State University at Long Beach, he moved to Disney’s in-house advertising operation, where he worked on projects including the launch of the Mighty Ducks ice hockey team.
He left after 12 years at Disney, working first for a public relations firm and then hooking up with Times Mirror, which had just started a relationship with the Prodigy online services. Prodigy thought local content would be a key to getting subscribers, so Mr. Hayes was involved in marketing and selling ads on one of the first online newspapers. He later sold some of the first ads on LATimes.com.
After a stint with another publisher, Freedom Communications, Mr. Hayes returned to Disney as head of its travel interactive group.
He left again to help start up several e-commerce sites, including Buy.com, which crashed when the dot-com bubble burst, and WeightWatchers.com, which became profitable within a year of its launch.
He moved on to a small interactive agency working for Mitsubishi before hooking up with Initiative in 2005.
In his spare time, Mr. Hayes is an amateur swing dancer. He got into it because of an interest in music (he had his own disc jockey company) and history.
“Eventually a girl took me dancing, and the rest is history,” he said.
There are regular swing-dancing nights around Pasadena on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but if you’re really addicted, you can dance almost every night.
And almost everywhere, Mr. Hayes said: There are dance organizations in most American and foreign cities.
“I’ve danced all over the U.S. as well as in Canada and Sweden and Germany and the U.K.,” he said. “I was speaking at a conference in Dublin, and after I was finished that night, I was on the dance floor with a bunch of Irish folks swing dancing. It’s a lot better than sitting in your hotel room.”
Mr. Hayes also is fixing up a vintage house in Long Beach.
“It’s a lot more work than I anticipated,” he said. “Since Home Depot is a client, I visit them often. Every weekend, as a matter of fact.”
Store associates don’t know he works at the hardware chain’s media agency.
“They know me as another customer, but I know the specials well. I know when to get all the good deals,” he said.
Who Knew: Mr. Hayes has met the American presidents from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton because of his work at the Nixon Library. He parlayed his performance on Long Beach State’s championship speech and debate squad into a job with Mr. Nixon, a famous college debater. He worked as an intern at the library and continued as a volunteer even while working at Disneyland, meeting other ex-presidents at ceremonial events, including Mr. Nixon’s funeral.


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