I started my interactive agency career at Modem Media in the US in 1995 as a Columbia MBA intern and was immediately sent off to New Jersey seconded at AT&T. The task was to determine the cost savings if printed sales collateral were published to an electronic salesforce tool called MyPartner instead of printing it. We weren’t unbiased–we knew the sales team was leaving the beautiful dimensional DM and 4-color brochures in the trunks of their cars. We also knew how much was stacked up in a warehouse somewhere waiting to be sent off to various regional offices. It was fun.
After joining full time, I worked in a new team Doug Ahlers set up as part of Modem’s IPO planning called The Relationship Technology Group. The idea was we would look for commercial applications in the general work we did as an agency and productize them. It made logical sense — for example we saw an engineer create a bespoke IM app for a client well before ICQ — but pretty quickly we realized how different product businesses are from services businesses. And that an ICQ is a success because of the execution, not the idea.
During this time I also ran around to various VCs with John Houston to get funding for one of his first projects (Worldtrek– bought by a research company in the end) and and then sold in an intranet strategy project to AT&T UK. This had me join the original Modem UK team of Norm Johnston and Glenn White in setting up a London office. After 8 weeks in a hotel, working first in a tiny serviced office and then an unloved room in the back of FCB’s offices on St. Martin’s Lane, I came back to CT. Pretty quickly I was recruited by an ex-Modem Mia McNeice to join Mike Golden as we set up Organic in NY, initially as Director of Business Development and then Director of Strategy.
In 1999, after working on the Chrysler pitch and assimilation of Ross Roy’s Interactive team in Detroit, I dodged a fulltime posting in the Motor City by winning boo.com in NY and being lucky that SF won HP’s ecommerce business, including HP Europe. This gave us the revenue we needed to go with our business plan to set up a new office in London.
It was a high growth time and the American accent did wonders — we took the business from start up to 100 people strong within two years. Also got the opportunity to be on the Cannes Lions Cyber Lions jury with GM O’Connell and Carla Hendra amongst others in 2001. Later when bottom really fell out, despite having moved into Tequila’s offices off Cambridge Circus, we were down to only BT as a client. Agency.com London was also down to only T-Mobile, run by David Eastman, which encouraged Omnicom to act — we closed the Organic office and took the team and client over to Agency.com who had been set up in London longer.
I completed the transition over 3 months working with Andy Hobsbawm and company but decided it was time to try a larger more established DM agency, so I bought a wooden boat, took 3 months off to do restoration and moved to join Simon Hall at Proximity London in January 2003 as Head of Digital Services. Not as daring as it sounds — we had had a partnership when we first set up Organic in London and Proximity was still BHWG.
Unquestionably the best work there I did there with the team was winning the full digital business for Royal Mail. Although working on the global, worldwide, integrated Omnicom network response for HSBC was also fun. After a year my remit expanded a bit as we worked to form a network out of BBDO’s newly rebranded direct agencies — I was given a classically random agency title: Worldwide Digital Champion.
In 2004, the call of entrepreneurship hit again and I moved back to the US to open a business with my brother. The business was AzureAviation which was an Internet application service for scheduling and marketing private aircraft. The big idea was that once we knew where the aircraft were located because we managed the scheduling, we could market and sell the times when the aircraft flies empty to reposition. This hit a host of problems particularly in finance and ended up with the two of us consulting to pay the bills which didn’t bode well for building the business, so I went back to Europe and sailed the wooden boat from the UK to Estonia and then started looking at choices.
It was either Boston with BzzAgent or CharterAuction (then Jets.com) where I was consulting, Philadelphia with GSI Commerce (an old Organic client) or at the eleventh hour, London with OgilvyOne. I joined Ogilvy in 2006 as Managing Partner, Client Service Director, OgilvyOne and Head of Ogilvy Interactive (Ogilvy also takes its titles very seriously). Unquestionably the biggest and most professional agency I had worked in at that point — although the OgilvyInteractive part had already been solidly integrated. Best work there was redesigning Brand Republic and expanding the Unilever business working on Vaseline and Flora.
In 2008 it was George Nimeh who I worked with at Organic in NY that introduced me to Ian Millner and Stewart Shanley at iris. He had built the team from 6 to 15 and the agency had decided to make the digital team a dedicated group with its own P&L and management. In March 2008 I joined iris Digital London as joint-Managing Director and we took the team of 12 digital folks and built it to 70 card carrying digital specialists in 2 years. The economy was contracting from the financial crisis and we sold on the fact clients needed an independent agency that was considerably less expensive than the established agencies and with a parent that understood sales promotion, we could talk about driving sales.
I thought this would take me back to the travel game like my first consulting job (after I stopped painting houses) at AIRINC but a change in our structure to a regional organization took me back to NYC as Regional Digital Director. Although the title covered four offices and 100 people, the business was very small in the US and it was difficult to match iris’ “we are big enough to do everything” with the small team in the US, and conservative American clients.
So in November 2010 I moved to JWT as President, Client Services for New York. Like Ogilvy JWT is a big agency with all of the skills and issues that brings. I was recruited by David Eastman and over 50% of the management team had heavy digital backgrounds to drive change in how the agency operated. Going all the way back to Modem we said if you could take the brand building skills and access of a traditional agency and add strong multichannel delivery skills you could make a great agency. Of course as Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and this change is a much longer process. After about 18 months I moved into a global role working with JWT’s digital subsidiaries around the world, pushing integration and sales into the JWT and WPP business directors.
This lead us initially to do dotJWT but after a few significant pitches we realized we needed to create a new agency brand. Working with the entrepreneurs around the world, we created Mirum, defined the new agency culture and launched in Feb 2015. 11 agencies rebranded fully on the same day and all of the relationships and goodwill from the dotJWT days has carried us with continued growth and more global wins over the last two years.
And did I mention I own a leaky wooden boat project called Nordic Eagle? The more you read professional bios, the more you realise we all need hobbies.