Seaman Uses Research to Get Attention for MPG

Jan 21, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Don Seaman had a good idea last week.
Mr. Seaman, VP and director of communications analysis at MPG, was thinking about how the government’s digital converter coupon program had run out of money. Another way to make the boxes available to viewers whose homes aren’t prepared for the transition to digital broadcast would be for General Electric to make boxes and distribute them for free. Why would they want to do that? Because the GE boxes would be branded and would automatically first go to the local NBC station when they’re turned on.
This modest suggestion was written as an open letter to GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt and included in a note on the digital transition to the media agency’s clients, prospects and other contacts.
Mr. Seaman is not just another researcher. A big part of his job is to come up with ideas that will get MPG noticed and talked about.
“Our corporate motto is ‘Leading new thinking,’” Mr. Seaman said, “I’m really using research as a kind of public relations tool.”
The agency is relying on the “engagement factor” in the way Mr. Seaman writes and presents research. He describes his writing style as never using 20 words when 350 will work. And his approach to editing is adding to his material, rather than trimming.
“I think there’s an appreciation that it does no good to send out research documents that are so heavy with facts that you can’t get through it,” he said.
Mr. Seaman found himself in this unique niche at his first agency, NW Ayer, whose media department later became part of the Media Edge.
Ayer put out a report every week on primetime television. His boss, Rob Frydlewicz, had been writing it. When Mr. Frydlewicz left the job, Mr. Seaman’s new boss, Beth Gordon, asked if Mr. Seaman could do it.
“I took it and I put my own spin on it,” he said.
Did it work? A couple of years ago, Mr. Seaman had lunch with Mitch Burg, now president of the Syndicated Network Television Association but back then a partner at the Media Edge, and showed his resume to Mr. Burg.
Mr. Burg said Mr. Seaman hadn’t overstated his contributions to the agency.
“Our joke back then was nobody knew us, but they knew of us because of what you were writing,” Mr. Burg told Mr. Seaman.
That helped turn on a light in Mr. Seaman’s head. “I was entertaining myself, but it also had value. It really was an effective tool, and that really helped to get clients.”
Last year, Mr. Seaman had just started a job with Draft FBC when he talked to another former Media Edge executive, Joe Abruzzo. Mr. Abruzzo asked him if he would be interested in doing what he’d been doing back then for MPG, where Mr. Abruzzo is executive VP and director of research.
A few weeks later, Mr. Seaman was part of a wave of layoffs that hit Draft. “At that point, yes, I was very interested in what Joe had to say.”
When he comes up with an unusual idea, such as the one with GE and the converter boxes, he runs it by senior management.
“There have been a few times when I’ve gone to some of the executives around here and said, ‘Is this too far?,’ and they say, “Oh no. Go.’ So they want to shake things up a bit,” he said.
Mr. Seaman is a Jersey guy, originally from Bloomingdale, N.J., and now living in Montclair.
“I think about 80% to 90% of the people living there work in media or advertising,” he said of Montclair. “It’s just crazy.”
As far back as he can remember, Mr. Seaman said, he was obsessed with television.
“When I was 8 years old, I could recite entire ‘Odd Couple’ episodes by heart. You kind of knew where I was going to end up.”
He went to Upsala College in East Orange, N.J., which closed its doors in1995. (“Good luck finding my transcripts,” he jokes.) And the first place he worked, a small marketing firm, was closed by the Bergen County sheriff for not paying its bills. But one of the vendors he worked with suggested he get a job in New York City and connected him to someone at the NW Ayer ad agency, which was looking for a research person.
Between his stints at agencies including Universal McCann, OMD and Draft, Mr. Seaman did some consulting with TV networks including ABC and Lifetime.
“It was nice to see from that side, since I had spent so much time on the agency side,” he said.
He later landed at Draft, but he wasn’t doing what he did best, so he’s almost glad about the layoffs that released him to join MPG last September.
“What I was doing at Draft wasn’t really taking advantage of anything that I have been able to do here, where I really bring value to the agency,” he said. “Draft didn’t need it, and at MPG they were looking for what I do. It was just nice kismet.”
Mr. Seaman has a 3-year-old daughter and an 18-month-old son to whom he runs home at the end of the day. His wife, Jennifer, is also in the business, working as an account director at Media Options.
“So we get to talk shop at night also, which is fun,” he says.
Mr. Seaman has been dragged out of retirement as a bass player by his brother-in-law, who wanted to form a band.
“We have the shyest band in the world,” he says, playing mostly in rehearsal halls. “It’s our version of a poker night.”
Mr. Seaman used his band membership to give his wife a treat on a special birthday a year or so ago.
“She had always wanted to sing with the band,” so he convinced his bandmates to learn a bunch of her favorite songs, then brought her into the studio.
“I didn’t count on the fact that she would be about three months pregnant with a huge migraine that day, so it didn’t go quite as well as I had anticipated,” he said. “But she still had a blast.”
Who knew: Mr. Seaman met his wife while commuting to New York City from New Jersey. “Our standing-room-only bus stopped short and she fell on me,” he said.


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