It’s been quite a week for Kris Magel. Today we are pleased to announce that we’ve chosen Kris as our 2015 Media Buyer of the Year. On Tuesday Kris was promoted to President of media agency Initiative USA, where he had been Chief Investment Officer.
In naming Kris to lead Initiative in the U.S., Peter Mears, Initiative’s Global COO, cited Kris’ “strong leadership” and the “huge respect he has earned from clients [and] media partners.”
Some of those blue-chip clients include MillerCoors, Merck, Arby’s, USAA and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.
We totally agree with what Mears says about Kris. And had he been in a playful mood Mears could have also gone on to paraphrase the late, great wordsmith (and Yankee catcher) Yogi Berra, and said: “We also chose Kris because this business is all about the future, and the future ain’t what it used to be.”
Yogi was right, of course, and we catch his drift. Media is in the fast lane these days. Marketers are clamoring for their media to find their customers, no matter what platform they are on, and by the way, if that isn’t tough enough, they are also shouting, “I need a strong return on investment.”
Kris knows first hand all about these pressures on media agencies. And fortunately for us, he gets to the point more directly than Yogi ever did. He’s speaks plain, understandable English that illustrates a deep understanding of media today, where it’s been and where it’s going. As one top network executive told us when we told her we had chosen Kris as our Media Buyer of the Year, “Good choice. He’s sharp, smart, and good at problem solving.”
So without further ado, our interview with the brand-new President of Initiative Media, U.S., Kris Magel. It’s an edited transcript of a conversation Kris had with TVWeek’s Chuck Ross. At the time of the interview we did not know Kris was going to be named to his new post.
TVWEEK: The beginning seems like a good place to start. How did you get into the media business?
KRIS MAGEL: It was at the end of 1993 and I was living on Long Island, working for Publisher’s Clearinghouse on a temp basis. I answered an ad for DeWitt Media, who was looking for a billing assistant in its financial department.
TVWEEK: Had you ever heard of the media business before?
KRIS: Not really. It wasn’t really clear to me that this business existed.
TVWEEK: So you’re at DeWitt…
KRIS: Yep. There, I became pretty friendly with the guys in the national TV group, in particular one guy by the name of Bob Flood, who was an inspiration for me. And I raised my hand and said, ‘Hey guys, if something ever opens up in your group I think this would be a job I’d be interested in.’ So, after about six months, they brought me in to the national TV buying. It was at DeWitt that I learned to negotiate network radio and regional sports. I basically said, ‘Give me any opportunity to negotiate whatever you don’t want to do.’
At the time DeWitt was a small to mid-size agency; we had some big clients, but we had some small clients too. What was so interesting about that role was that we had a small group — there were about four or five of us — and we were very diverse in terms of what we bought within the media landscape. So I had the opportunity to talk about unwired networks and regional sports networks and network radio and all those kinds of things. That gave me a really good idea how the business works.
TVWEEK: How long did you stay at DeWitt?
KRIS: Twelve years. By the time I left, the company was sold to Optimedia [owned by Publicis]. That was eight years after I had joined DeWitt. So over the next four years I saw the company completely turn over. By the end I was pretty much managing the day-to-day for the network TV buying group.
I went from there to Zenith, where I worked for Peggy Green for about three years. That’s when Tim [Spengler] recruited me to come here to Initiative to run the national broadcast group. I did that for five years. And then for the last two years I’ve been managing all investment at Initiative.
TVWEEK: You’ve seen a considerable transformation of the business since you started buying more than 20 years ago.
KRIS: If the business were the same as when I started I think it would be safe to say that I wouldn’t be in the business, because it wouldn’t be interesting enough for me.
TVWEEK: Certainly buying is challenging given the choices consumers have today.
KRIS: That’s right. The consumer has a chaotic explosion of choice, which means fragmentation and complexity. That said, on our side of the table we are building out tool sets, data sets, areas of expertise and a structure that can help organize this landscape for clients. It’s our job to sit at the center and make simple what is very complex. That way our clients are informed and able to make good decisions to best reach their consumers and connect with them.
What keeps me personally engaged in this business is that I walk in every day and I really don’t know what at least 50% of my day will be like.
TVWEEK: And it’s such a competitive environment. What differentiates Initiative?
KRIS: It ties in with that idea of simplifying the complex. We thought about this several years ago when we put together a set of the optimal behaviors defining how we could simplify things in this complex world for clients. We call it FBDS. It stands for Fast, Brave, Decisive and Simple.
The world is moving a lot faster than in the past, so it’s important for us to keep up with all the changes in the landscape, as well as to change strategies when our clients’ businesses change, and to be able to do that quickly.
Being brave is all about offering your client an unfiltered point of view and pushing them into areas where maybe they are uncomfortable. That’s the only way you can create progress.
From a decisive standpoint, we really don’t want to ever present something to a client without a strong point of view. You don’t want to give them choices without saying what you think they really should be doing.
And simple is just what we’ve spoken about: simplifying complexity — really only presenting them with the data that matters to make a decision.
You come up with all sorts of ideas to organize a company and get your colleagues to rally around something. When we came up with FBDS we seeded it throughout the company and allowed people to express themselves around it. People would just pick up on it organically. You’d be in a meeting and someone would say, “You know, we aren’t being very FBDS right now, and we’d all get it, and the meeting would then move forward in a more productive manner. So I think that’s been great for us, and fun to rally ourselves to look at a very complex media world.
When we were thinking how do we live FBDS from a media lens, that’s when we came up with Human Link. That’s making sure we are connecting with our clients and with each other in the company as human beings, as people. To that end, a number of our meetings start with ice breakers, simply telling a little about ourselves so everyone can get to know each other and have a real conversation.
And in a world where there is so much data and technology, it is critically important to understand that behind all those data points there are human beings who are all living out their daily lives. We use the data we get to understand why people make the decisions they do. And if you can understand that ‘why,’ you can market better to them.
TVWEEK: Speaking of data, where are we with that now? How good is the measurement, the data, that you use on a daily basis?
KRIS: If you look at media measurement, we are probably on our own 10-yard line. There is a lot of behavior that is going on that is hard to reconcile by using the current data, without having to piece together disparate data sources. Not that that’s the worst thing in the world. It’s just that sometimes it makes it hard to do business because it’s hard to do apples to apples. Now we’re having the over-the-top space explode. I do believe that Nielsen works very hard to stay on top of all the new technology that’s being used in the living room at the very least. Without being imprudent, they have rushed to measure the over-the-top space and the usage there. There isn’t a whole lot of detail, but what you can see is the growth of the access, the growth of SVOD. There is not a lot of advertising there right now, but there are advertising opportunities. The media world has to catch up and decide what’s the optimal ad model in the space. The distributors have to catch up with it — will they accept advertising in the next couple of years? I think some will and some won’t. And how does the measurement catch up so there can be a transactional marketplace?
That’s media measurement. The other part is how are you leveraging client data, or third-party data, to make better media strategy and media buying decisions? On that we’re not anywhere near the 50-yard line, we are probably on the 25- or 30-yard line. By that I mean that we have access to a ton of different data sources, whether it’s set-top box TV data, or digital data, or behavioral data, or first-party data that comes from our clients. And we have ways of merging that data so we can actually look at the media usage of a specific customer. We are using that data to make decisions, but we are not transacting on it a whole heck of a lot. It’s a little clunky, very manual, and not as automated as we would all like it.
You see a lot manifesting itself in the digital space from a programmatic standpoint. It’s a pretty large part of what we do in digital, be it display or video, paid, social, search, whatever.
In the TV space you’re beginning to see networks building out audience selling operations, where they are willing to contract for a single audience across multiple networks and programs in their portfolio.
We’ve tried to push the envelope here at Initiative and IPG Mediabrands. We’ve had an advanced TV group that’s been procuring audiences and measuring those audiences for clients for about three years now. We call it Magna AdvancedTV.
TVWEEK: Talk about Programmatic Buying a little bit more.
KRIS: First, let’s talk definition. There are people who live in the purest area. They hold very firm that programmatic is technology that is automated and data-driven ad delivery. You are purchasing advertising on a real-time basis, on a one-to-one basis, based on what you know about a person at a certain time.
That’s very pure, and there are grades that scale from that that offer either data- or technology-assisted ad delivery. A good example of that would be audience buying in national TV.
Today we can look at set-top box data and can merge that data with a number of different data sources to understand which TV shows are being watched and are cared about by a very specific customer definition, based on their purchase behavior. We can create TV ratings against someone who has purchased a certain group of cars, or a certain group of consumer packaged goods, or a number of other categories as well. We can also create targets based on people’s web behavior and can merge that with set-top data too, with our own internal, proprietary data set.
We built those targets out. In the next step you have to figure out how to overlay that data over an inventory set. How do you access inventory in order to make that actionable? Today it’s somewhat manual. We are loading that into technology we’ve built, with partners, and are sort of RFP-ing a number of inventory suppliers, and that runs the gamut from satellite providers to local cable providers to a pretty long list of national cable networks. We are able to find the inventory that makes the most sense to deliver a high composition. What’s important here is complementary incremental reach of a core customer target for a client.
It is a manual process. We are not buying those avails on a real-time basis, day-to-day, minute-to-minute, but it is a lot more flexible, and purchased on a more scatter basis than your typical upfront buy or even your typical scatter buy. We are definitely buying those a lot closer to market and I think for clients it’s a real win. We are able to spend their money in a way that is smarter than just a couple of years ago, and with capabilities that were not available.
TVWEEK: Are we moving to a time when all buying will be programmatic?
KRIS: I recently was on a panel where that was discussed. What seemed clear to me is that the folks with a digital background were definitely in the camp that believes that the large majority of inventory in the traditional marketplace, maybe five years from now, will be purchased on a programmatic basis, with less of a reliance on context and content and less of an association with premium media brands.
The folks with a traditional media background put a little more emphasis on the value of content and associating with the right content that a client’s consumer base is passionate about by creating all sorts of multifaceted elements with a media partner.
TVWEEK: Which side are you on?
KRIS: I think David Cohen over at UM said it best: ‘If you asked me two years ago what my 4-year-old would be doing in two years, I would have said I have no freakin’ idea.’ There are clear areas of passion that a client’s consumer cares very much about. Those are areas where you want to create an association, where you want to add content to that story, and want to add value to the consumer’s life. Creating multi-layered strategic partnerships with all kinds of publishers, whether they be TV companies or individual producers, or magazine publishers — and amplifying that with social media, mobile, and multi-screen techniques — that’s a really important part of any marketer’s campaign. And I don’t think that kind of thing will fade into the background.
And then you pair that up with a data-focused approach. Think about what we do today. A lot of what we do involves focusing on a very small part of the media package — the premium content — that makes the most sense, and we are fighting to get as much of that as we can into the package. But there is also a lot of other stuff packaged into media deals in traditional media today, whether it’s TV or print or even digital. If you are able to take a large chunk of that and make it more effective by filtering it through data and technology that assists the ad delivery, you are empowering the investment in a much more significant way. You don’t even have to spend as much if you are being effective in that [programmatic] manner.
So why wouldn’t we push our clients to spend as much as half of their media budgets in that way? So I see it becoming closer to 50/50 in maybe five years from now.
TVWEEK: One of the major issues that have been discussed in recent months regarding U.S. media agencies is whether or not some ask for or demand kickbacks or rebates, and whether that is unethical or even illegal.
KRIS: If you look around the world, the idea of media rebates being delivered through the volume that is spent is a relatively common practice. I want to acknowledge that. But it’s not a common, nor illegal, practice here in the United States. We do not engage in rebates with our media, tech, or our data partners, period. And that’s really important.
TVWEEK: Clearly media, from usage to measurement, is in a tremendous state of change. Is that good or bad?
KRIS: All of the complexity that seems to have media companies and marketers and media agencies worried or concerned about the current model just means that we are in a constantly evolving industry. I do see a lot of opportunity in the complexity we are currently experiencing. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a sea change in the way consumers connect with the content that they love. Even the relationship they have with individual media companies and marketers is changing. People have to give up a lot of information about themselves — and they seem willing to do that — to customize the experience they have with that media company or that brand.
And that offers a wealth of opportunity, right? It allows you to have a more direct conversation on a one-to-one basis with that consumer. So that’s a good thing. The idea that people are consuming content or TV or any kind of video programming on a multitude of screens — we are going to catch up with the measurement, and, quite frankly, I think it offers a better opportunity for marketers. It will make video advertising more powerful.