Neel Rules Airwaves for Initiative in L.A.

Mar 25, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Move to the West Coast.
Live by the beach.
Learn to surf.
Be named senior VP/director, national broadcast, for Initiative’s Los Angeles office.
That’s a brief outline of the most recent part of Chris Neel’s career.
While L.A. enjoys a laid-back reputation, Mr. Neel—who started his career in New York—says that’s only partly reflective of agency life.
“For anyone who may be interested in moving out west, it’s a laid-back, casual atmosphere where we enjoy our lives outside of the office playing golf, surfing, just having a great time,” Mr. Neel says. “For our clients (and our New York bosses), it’s a hard-working environment where we take advantage of an extra three hours of the workday to do whatever it takes to get the work done—coming in early, staying here late, working on the weekends.”
It’s the way Initiative and its clients allow Mr. Neel and his colleagues to balance between the two that makes their jobs so rewarding, he says.
Initiative is the biggest national television buyer in L.A., says Mr. Neel, who was promoted in November. He’s worked on the Home Depot account and helped win the Dr Pepper Snapple Group business.
“I think we have a unique offering out here in L.A.,” he says. “Not only do we have the size in L.A., but we have the size with New York and with Magna,” the division of parent Interpublic Group that gathers marketplace intelligence. “No one else really has those types of things behind them,” he says.
At the same time, the Los Angeles office isn’t so big that clients get lost, as they can in the huge New York shops.
Mr. Neel says a bigger-than-expected part of his new job has been coordinating with his colleagues in New York.
“As our business has become more complicated, for us to be as good as we need to be, we have to be constantly communicating with each other,” he says.
That communication and coordination will be a daily effort once the upfront market begins.
Despite the economy, Mr. Neel says there will be clients interested in buying national television in the upfront market.
“I don’t think everybody’s going to walk away. There’s still value to it,” he says. “There are still clients that have absolute needs to book their inventory well in advance.”
On the other hand, there may be clients that will walk away from this year’s upfront market.
“Maybe price will drive some people away,” he says, adding that individual marketers’ business issues will be a more important factor. “If our individual clients are prepared to commit, that’s going to be less about the traditional upfront drivers and more about whether their own business needs will be met.”
Mr. Neel was born in Dallas, but his father was in the oil business and got transferred quite a bit. By the time he was 17, he’d lived in 10 different places.
“I think it’s given me a certain level of independence that not a lot of people are comfortable with,” he says. “It forces you to meet people more frequently and be able to establish relationships more quickly than some people can.”
At SMU, Mr. Neel bounced through a couple of majors before settling on advertising. And he decided that it made sense to take his advertising degree to New York if he wanted to work in the advertising business.
“So I sent out 125 resumes and letters to every agency I could look up. I think I got 125 rejections,” he says.
Ultimately he had a friend who had a sister at Lintas in New York, and through her was able to get his resume on the desk of a human resources person. He got an interview for a planning job, but by the time he got to New York, that job had been filled.
“But they said there’s a job opening in the television group, and I said, ‘I like TV, I’ll check it out,’” he says.
After three years at Lintas, he went to Mediaedge:cia for a year and a half. At that point, he felt the urge to move again.
“After growing up moving all the time, you feel that itch to get up and leave,” he says. He eyed moving to Los Angeles.
“I’d lived on the West Coast before, and when I found I could do the same job [as] on the East Coast, that was very appealing,” he says.
He joined Western International Media, which through a series of mergers and reorganizations became Initiative.
In addition to surfing, Mr. Neel says he enjoys taking advantage of the ability to be outdoors, playing tennis and golf.
After 12 years in one place, he concedes, “It’s not a bad place to live.”
Mr. Neel says he and his wife are constantly in home renovation mode. Sometimes, they try to be handy do-it-yourselfers, but right now they’re lining up professional help for a big project including remodeling the kitchen and bathrooms in their home.
Mr. Neel’s wife is an account executive at ESPN.
“She far and away gets the better tickets to sporting events,” he says. She goes more frequently to games than he does, too.
Sometime they get to go together.
“There are times when she’s the plus-one, and there’s definitely been a few occasions where I’m the plus-one,” he says.
Who knew? Mr. Neel says his aunt’s brother is Stephen J. Cannell, the TV writer and producer known for, among other series, “The A-Team.”


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