Wieser Looks Inside for Wiser Forecast

Apr 1, 2009  •  Post A Comment

As someone replacing a seer who has been looking at the future for a long time, Brian Wieser has the old adage about those who fail to learn from the past firmly in mind.
Mr. Wieser last month was named lead global forecaster at Magna, succeeding Bob Coen, who for nearly 40 years has been delivering one of Madison Avenue’s most watched reports on the health of the advertising business.
Mr. Coen remains an adviser to Magna, a division of Interpublic Group’s Mediabrands unit. Mr. Wieser expects to pick his brain to figure out how marketers reacted to economic events in the past.
“There is a historical context that has to be accounted for when looking at this,” Mr. Wieser says. “Bob is someone who I will continue to talk to, to find out, so what again did advertisers do to deal with stagflation in the early ’70s? How did advertisers react when the turnaround took off much faster than expected?
“There’s so much history that he has that I think we incorporate into what we do,” he says. “History will repeat itself in its own way, but having context helps us navigate.”
History also shows that change doesn’t always happen as quickly as one expects, or even in obvious ways.
“When we saw search growing into this massive business, it’s not that large advertisers were shifting their budgets into search, it’s that there was this massive segment of millions of small and medium-sized enterprises who all of a sudden were doing something we called advertising. And it was a market expansion,” he says. “That sort of radical change does happen and it happens in little micro-segments.”
Since Mr. Wieser joined the Interpublic unit in 2003, he has seen the industry from a Wall Street vantage point, thanks to previous experience as a securities analyst looking at aspects of the communications and media business.
“From the Wall Street perspective, you hear what management of companies says is going on, and it’s informed by a certain perspective,” he says. “You get on the inside from the agency side, where you really have a holistic view of the content packaging and content distribution business, and you can see, well, here’s why the world didn’t pan out the way they quite thought.”
Mr. Wieser says he asks a lot of “dumb questions” while trying to figure out what the industry is going to do.
“I ask them all the time, because I’m not really a practitioner. So I will call a planner, a buyer, an account person, a creative at any one of our agencies anywhere around the world, and I will ask them, ‘Why do you do what you do? And why don’t you do that?’” he says. “I’ve seen it where people have asked questions they might not otherwise have asked, or maybe asked clients questions they might not otherwise have asked, and it’s really hard to drive a lot of change quickly.”
Mr. Wieser grew up in British Columbia, Canada, and attended the University of British Columbia, where he studied finance, transportation logistics and urban land economics. However, he spent the bulk of his time at the radio station.
Before becoming president of the society that ran the station, he was sports director and news director. He also hosted different types of music shows and even appeared on a “Crossfire”-type program, first as the fellow on the left and then, after his conservative colleague left, as the guy on the right.
He also aspired to be a musician. He put out one record on which he played all the instruments. For another record, he recorded his portion in Vancouver and sent it to a friend in Boston, who added his part. He flew to Boston to tour with his friend and a Norwegian drummer named Bjorn.
Since he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, Mr. Wieser planned to spend a fifth year as an undergrad, but the school had other plans. It figured out that he had enough credits to graduate and invited him to be at the ceremony.
So Mr. Wieser got a job in human resources, then worked for two waste removal companies (one memorably named Trash Busters).
Then he decided finance might be interesting.
“I read about what research analysts do and I said, these guys seem to be the rock and roll stars of Wall Street,” he says. “Then I started the process of going to business school to go work in equity research.”
After getting his degree from the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business, he landed a job with Lehman Bros.’ communications and media group. He was laid off in 2002 when the telecom industry went bust and moved to Deutsche Bank, where he covered the cable and satellite sectors.
He joined Interpublic in 2003.
At home, Mr. Wieser lives in Manhattan north of Columbia University with his wife and a 17-month-old daughter.
“Oh yeah, he’s running,” he says. “It’s fun.”
Mr. Wieser describes himself as an aficionado of chocolates.
Michel Cluizel chocolates give you the best bang for your buck, but Debauve & Gallais’ sweets “are stunningly good,” he says.
He likes other small luxuries as well.
“I do try to make time for the inexpensive joys of life,” he says. For example, while in San Francisco, he’ll go out of his way to visit a favorite bakery that has “stunning” pastries. Or in Montreal, he’ll run to a place that sells bagels.
“I have no aversion to going the extra mile for the best quality of inexpensive but excellent foods,” he says.
Who knew: Mr. Wieser organized one of the largest hip-hop festivals on the West Coast in 1994. The DJ Sound War featured 100 participants in two days, celebrating music, dancing and graffiti art. He says his own musical taste runs more toward indie pop-rock, somewhere between Elvis Costello and Joy Division.


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