A Groundbreaker Who Digs Deep

Mar 1, 2009  •  Post A Comment

The work Starcom President and Chief Activation Director Chris Boothe has done to find ways to make media more measurable and accountable should really pay off now that times are tough.
Chris Boothe
Mr. Boothe was named TelevisionWeek’s Media Buyer of the Year in part because of the pioneering ways in which the agency has sought out new data on consumer behavior, analyzed it to find more effective ways to reach its clients’ customers and incorporated it into groundbreaking deals with media companies.
“He’s always one to embrace the use of new data to provide either deeper consumer insight or better [return on investment] to his customers,” said Michael Pilot, president of sales for NBC Universal.
Mr. Pilot said NBC’s cable networks did their first deal guaranteeing consumer engagement based on numbers from IAG Research with Mr. Boothe and Starcom.
“We did some set-top box guarantees last year with our digital networks with Chris, again at his urging,” Mr. Pilot added. “Those are the kind of things that lead me to call him an innovative guy.”
Two years ago, the television industry changed the way it does business by turning to commercial rather than program ratings to measure advertising buys. Advertisers were interested in paying for the people who watched the commercials they bought, rather than the people who watched a program and either switched the channel during breaks or fast-forwarded using digital video recorders.
Mr. Boothe was ahead of that curve, according to his predecessor and boss, John Muszynski.
“Some of our competitors have taken credit for being the ones who pioneered C3,” or commercial ratings, said Mr. Muszynski, now president of Starcom USA. “You can go back. We were doing minute-by minute and second-by-second deals before any of that C3 stuff came out.”
Mr. Boothe’s efforts “have made the work that we deliver to our clients more precise and encouraged our partners to be more accountable,” Mr. Muszynski said.
Discovery Networks did a deal with Mr. Boothe based on second-by-second ratings for its HD Theater network.
“It proved to us what we thought we knew, which was how valuable that audience is,” said Joe Abruzzese, president of ad sales at Discovery.
Good Deal
Last year, Starcom pushed for a deal based on minute-by-minute ratings, which made Mr. Abruzzese a bit nervous. After checking with its own research department, Discovery went ahead with the deal.
“They’re reasonable and they’re great partners,” Mr. Abruzzese said. “It turned out to be terrific. It kind of set the standard for the market the following year.”
When Starcom pushes for research, “They put money behind it, and that’s really important,” Mr. Abruzzese said. “We may do a research project and we may fund it at 50-50. But it’s in the betterment of us knowing more about our product because of them.”
Mr. Boothe, who was named president and chief activation officer at Starcom in 2006, believes the work Starcom has been doing in measurement and accountability will yield even bigger dividends in today’s tough economic climate.
“Our play in accountability and just being more precise, which is all laddered in to minimizing waste for our clients, all the work we’ve been doing for three, four years, I think the timing’s been quite fortuitous with the current economic state,” Mr. Boothe said.
Over the last four years, he said, the agency has been “gathering data, turning that data into intelligence and then into action for our clients.”
“I think that’s paying off now more than ever, because in this current economic time we are clearly optimizing every dollar they are spending and we’re very proud of that. I think a lot of people are just starting to jump in the pool with that and starting to swim around,” he said. “But we’ve been in there and we’ve taken the data and harnessed it and turned it into proprietary intelligence for our clients, and I think it’s really paying off.”
One indication that Starcom is doing something right came in December from media audit company Billetts America. Billetts found that Starcom was tops in getting its biggest clients’ ads the best positions in commercial pods on the broadcast networks over the course of the television year.
“It’s really the culmination of everything that we’ve been doing has made us very smart and very forward-thinking that, I think, is really helping us navigate through this storm in terms of television, in terms of measurement, in terms of what’s impactful, what’s engaging to consumers,” Mr. Boothe said.
One thing that makes Mr. Boothe different from some of his buying competitors is his background in planning and strategy.
“He starts and ends every interaction from the perspective of our mutual clients, and I admire that about the guy,” NBC’s Mr. Pilot said. “It is reflective of the culture that he builds in his organization and his team, and it’s definitely ever-present in our relationship with Chris.”
“He really, truly understands the strategic nature of what we do, and he’s been able to translate that into the buying arena, or what we refer to as ‘the activation arena,’” Mr. Muszynski said.
He also appears to be more strategic and less strident when negotiating.
Taking It Easy
“I don’t remember the last time Chris raised his voice,” Mr. Muszynski said. “He’s a thinker, he’s a partner, he’s a strategist and he recognizes beating a desk, yeah, it’s going get some people’s attention, it might get you a price in the very early going, but this is a long-term business. And it’s the same players. You don’t want to pound the desk too often, because at the end of the day you have to work with these folks down the road.”
“He is a great person to work with. He has a unique ability to be a passionate advocate for his client’s interests while still working collaboratively and constructively with those of us on the sales side,” said Jo Ann Ross, president of sales at CBS. “Over the years, I have found Chris to be accessible, open-minded, candid and fair. Chris works really hard to make sure that when the deal is done, both sides have met their goals.”
In an uncertain economy, marketers are waiting until the last minute before authorizing advertising budgets. That means ad buyers are taking a day-to-day approach to the market.
“It will be interesting to see how that dynamic ladders into the upfront, which has traditionally been more long-term thinking,” Mr. Boothe said.
“I think it’s going to be really hard to convince clients, based on the current state, to behave in a way they’ve behaved historically. This is not traditional times and a lot of the categories under extreme financial pressure are traditionally some of the big engines that run the upfront,” he said.
“Some clients are business as usual. And there are a tier of clients that are being challenged right now,” Mr. Boothe said. “In cases where you have to think differently, you have to offer them up more creative solutions so that they can achieve their objectives.
“Clearly, they still need to sell, so they need to get people in stores or buy their products, and advertising and specifically TV is still a very scalable way to do that,” he added. “It’s not going to be an issue of not wanting to do it. It’s just how they can do it within the fundamentals of their business challenges to make everything work.”

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