Consumer attention is fleeting, and only the bold and brave cut through the noise. To that end, media in all of its forms needs to work harder and smarter. This year’s Media All-Stars are not only up for the challenge but steaming ahead to create unforgettable work for brands and exciting opportunities for their teams. Our Executive of the Year, Michael Epstein, led the charge for Carat in the U.S., reinvigorating the agency by investing heavily in talent and training, and the positive results speak for themselves. And Rising Star Nadalie Dias of Hearts & Science developed a system to keep her team energized, engaged and always looking forward. Times are changing, but this year’s class of Media All-Stars continues to stay ahead of the curve. —Doug Zanger
Following a turbulent 2017, Michael Epstein led a rebound for Carat, beginning with the retention of Microsoft in May, followed by Intel, United and Philips new business wins and an expansion of Carat’s relationship with Procter & Gamble, ending 2018 with an increase in overall billings of 25% from the previous year.
Disney vp, customer engagement Emmanuel Marques says Epstein has “an extraordinary sense of client service” and is helping move Disney to a more consumer- and data-centric approach to media.
“For all his qualities and accomplishments, the thing that really stands out when you work with Michael is his honesty and compassion for people,” Carat CMO Robert Schwartz says. “Lots of leaders talk about the importance of people in our business, but Michael truly lives it. The agency as a whole always knows where it stands with Michael and knows he’ll be there for them.” —Erik Oster (Read more about Epstein here.)
Nadalie Dias joined Hearts & Science in September 2017 and before the end of 2018 was promoted to her current role, a critical leadership position on the AT&T account overseeing a team of 45.
Among her achievements: She helped create tools from programmatic data and behavioral signals to allow AT&T to maximize its total video reach while increasing the flexibility and effectiveness of the client’s media investments. She also created a system for Hearts & Science that uses self, supervisor and peer evaluations to arrive at scores to identify trends in talent, individual proficiencies and level of engagement, all to understand when employees needed promotions or would be better served by transferring to different departments.
“Whatever media frontier is next to be conquered,” says Chris Stanger, executive director on the AT&T account, “Nadalie will undoubtedly be leading the charge from the front line.” —Erik Oster (Read more about Dias here.)
J.P. Aguirre has achieved two notable firsts: He’s the first member of his family to go to college and first Latino on UM’s global leadership team. The 39-year-old’s most significant accomplishment, however, is the continued success of UM, which is now San Francisco’s largest full-service media agency thanks, in large part, to the 25 clients added to its roster during his nine-year tenure. Among his 2018 highlights was winning the Zillow business. “Every conversation with them revealed kindred spirits,” he says, adding that the client is particularly curious about parent company IPG’s acquisition of data provider Acxiom. “They were very much interested in figuring out how to harness the power of all their home-buyer data to better monetize the process,” he says. “As we talked more about their aspirations and what our data could offer them, it became clear that we were kind of a match made in heaven.” Another high point: retaining Charles Schwab, one of IPG Mediabrands’ key accounts that he calls “near and dear to our hearts.” “The joke was when you’ve been married a long time, how do you spice up the relationship?” Aguirre says. “So we spent very little time talking about the nostalgia of what we had done, and instead focused on all the things that we could be doing together in the future.” Aguirre notes that Schwab continues to take a more “conservative” approach to marketing compared to other recent new business wins such as Fitbit, GoPro and Ubisoft, which have played a key role in reestablishing UM’s place within IPG. “When I inherited the office, we were kind of in a state of free fall,” he says, with San Francisco losing Microsoft global and Wells Fargo digital as New York picked up Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson. Leadership eventually created “a hit list of targets” and landed some of the biggest names in a winning streak that culminated late last year with Columbia Sportswear. Aguirre says one of his favorite efforts from the past year is an execution that took its cues from the temperature. “In Chicago, any time the temperature dips below 30 degrees,” he says, “our digital outdoor ads and our digital campaign ads would fire up with our unique messaging that was specifically designed to target those inclement weathers.” —Patrick Coffee
Shane Ankeney’s illustrious career so far has taken him to multiple agency ports of call: six years at JWT, two stints at TBWAChiatDay, plus time at Carmichael Lynch and Doner. He also spent close to six years at media agency Initiative before heading to Havas Media Group in 2015, where he is president of North America.
A member of the 2017 Adweek 50 cohort, Ankeney has been in the business of momentum for clients and helped develop Havas HealthMedia, a robust agency practice that initially served Bristol-Myers Squibb, only to grow with the addition of other clients like Sanofi.
Today, Ankeney also oversees the entirety of Havas’ New York office, the anchor for Havas Village, which includes agencies, creative and media under the same purview.
According to Ankeney, there are two critical components at the heart of Havas Media Group’s continued success: meaning and experience. The first he believes is relevant in the ever-present race to interpret data.
“[The term] ‘big data’ is a little misplaced and can be meaningless,” he says. “What I love about the word ‘meaningful’ is when you apply it to data, it helps us simplify and adapt to a client’s specific needs.”
As for experience, Ankeney explains that the agency created a “media experience,” or MX platform. This global initiative—which has its roots in Ankeney’s time at TBWAChiatDay working on Apple—is not just about placing media, but ensuring that the choices connect more to creativity and a brand’s behavior to positively impact the overall experience.
“We hear a lot about consumer experience and user experience,” says Ankeney. “We believe we’re in the business of media experience and how a consumer experiences the media and the brand. It is a broader definition of media and is an exciting thing we’re undertaking.” —D.Z.
LaToya Christian is largely responsible for promoting the growth of multicultural audiences through nuanced data and media strategy. Though she adopted her current role only last November, Christian has spent the past four years flexing her strength in synthesizing data on demographics often overlooked in advertising, like black, Latinx and LGBTQ consumers. AARP, for instance, tapped Christian for assistance reaching the Latinx market. Her media strategy helped grow brand awareness in the demo by 34% and renewal rates by 10%. Her data-driven approach (and the results) indicates that representation does matter, especially in advertising. Christian and her team also leverage data that helps brands remain mindful of the evolving consumer terrain. Gender fluidity, for example, is not only rising in the public’s consciousness but is becoming increasingly vital in marketing strategy. “The way that certain audiences, especially millennials and Gen Z, are talking about themselves and the way they want others to see and talk about them is shifting,” she explains. “So what does that mean for our messaging, our creative strategy and how we do audience targeting?” With major clients like Target and Universal Pictures, Christian says, inclusive outreach is what positions—and keeps—brands at the top of their respective industries. “If you’re not connecting with a certain consumer group,” she says, “there’s an untapped potential that you’re leaving on the table.” —Shannon Miller
Even in an industry that can’t sit still, Sarah Kramer and Spark Foundry saw more than their share of changes over the past year. “We went through a rapid global expansion, and we launched a new global brand in Spark Foundry,” she says. The network also merged with fellow Publicis Media shop Blue 449 in March—and these moves all came just over a year after Publicis dropped the Mediavest name in summer 2017. Kramer sees her company as a case study in adapting, noting that “there are a lot of agency groups that are going through transformations like that today,” and “some of them thrive in that environment and some are still trying to find their way.” One measure of Spark Foundry’s ascendancy: It was Publicis Media’s most successful agency on the pitching front in 2018, picking up new business from Mondelez, NBCUniversal, Telemundo, Audible, Campbell’s, Lenovo, Macy’s and Marriott. As chief client and operations officer, Kramer played a vital role in that string of wins. For example, she helped roll out global product framework HEAT, which uses data resources to help fulfill the agency’s promise to clients. She also launched a data consulting practice that touches on everything from enterprise technology to content production. “I think clients today are looking for agility and more customized approaches to getting at the heart of what is going to deliver results for their business,” Kramer says. “We are constantly thinking about what’s going to be relevant—not just today, but two to three years from today, and how are we transforming to be leaders.” Finally, Kramer has worked to ensure that 50% of employees at the vp level and above at Spark Foundry are women. Many of those executives work in traditionally male-dominated fields such as data analytics and tech, with the ultimate goal of creating a more level playing field. —P.C.
Because advertising awards tend to focus on creativity, sometimes the importance of media strategy gets lost in the shuffle. But Colleen Leddy believes strongly that both the science and art of campaigns are central to their success, especially when both work together from the start.
“There was a time, maybe 20-plus years ago, where media and creativity were unbundled,” she says. “And we lost a little bit of creativity in media strategy. I think the way to put some creativity back into media strategy is to bundle it with creativity and think about it up front in the process.”
Indeed, some of Droga5’s most successful campaigns ended up with monster numbers and had a heavy dose of creativity. Last year’s campaign for Tourism Australia—featuring “Dundee,” the ambitious fake remake of the original films—and this year’s IHOP/IHOb stunt promoting the chain’s burgers are good examples.
“Having creatives think more about media and how to think about it as part of their ideas—the context as well as content—has been one of the agency’s biggest successes this year,” says Leddy, who was promoted to her current role after five months of maternity leave.
As she leads media for the entirety of Droga5’s portfolio, including Chase, ESPN, Google, The New York Times, Heineken, Covergirl and Prudential, this approach, says Jim Mollica, svp of consumer engagement at Under Armour, one of the agency’s long-standing clients, is forward-thinking for brands.
“Colleen is the archetype of the modern media strategist,” he says. “She has the patience and persistence to search for that truly unique insight and connect it to a creative platform that’s not only compelling but drives business outcomes.” —D.Z.
As the chief data officer of Hearts & Science, Megan Pagliuca has implemented bold consumer strategies that have pushed the agency into a more “programmatic first” direction—a concept that wasn’t always a priority within the industry. “Programmatic and real-time bidding has been around for a while, but it’s always been kind of the minority,” Pagliuca explains. “Hearts, as a data-driven agency, has done several things to ensure that we are at 80% to 90% of our spend in digital being programmatic, so it’s no longer a … remnant thing. So [we have] really kind of transitioned and made, I think, the North Star that was a dream for the last 10 years a reality.” Why is the widespread adoption of programmatic buying such a big deal? Because for years it has been touted as the future of advertising, automating the buying and selling of ad inventory while providing real-time, specific target-market analytics for a more informed client experience. The information gleaned from such analysis can also result in reduced frequency waste—or how often a consumer repeatedly encounters a particular ad. Pagliuca’s incentive and savings model, for example, has decreased the company’s frequency waste by 15%. “Megan was literally the ‘heart’ of an agency-level redesign of our digital go-to market approach,” says Scott Hagedorn, CEO of Omnicom Media Group North America and former CEO of Hearts & Science. “You’re either driving change, or you’re trying to hold on to the old world,” says Pagliuca. “And you will be more successful if you are a change driver.” —S.M.
If you were to ask colleagues to describe her, some might call Anita Patil-Sayed a “unicorn” within both Dentsu Aegis Network and her industry. “Anita is a remarkable leader and change agent,” says Coleen Kuehn, evp and general manager of travel, media and entertainment at marketing agency Merkle. “She has achieved so much during her years in media and digital marketing—and she has brought many others along by helping to create a people-based media training program across the Dentsu Aegis Network.” As the svp and head of data and insights for Dentsu X’s Human Truths team, Patil-Sayed has provided a more well-rounded comprehension of consumer data. Her keen interest and expertise in consumer behaviors made her an integral part of securing Dentsu Aegis Network’s biggest client, LVMH, which she says was her most significant win of the past year. “The biggest highlight for me was being able to bring a lot of the knowledge and understanding of people-based marketing and winning the LVMH pitch—being able to show them all the capabilities and how we would be able to understand humans, and human understanding and consumers in new and unique ways,” she says. Patil-Sayed’s overall vision, married with a background in more traditional research, elevates data above the numbers, appealing to the mindset that influences consumer trends beyond quantitative statistics. Aside from her cutting-edge approach to data and insight, Patil-Sayed is committed to pushing her industry into a more inclusive direction. Her participation in the Women in Leadership committee at her agency has resulted in programs that not only empower women but ensures that they are considered for growth opportunities within their network. —S.M.
In the 17 years that Jeff Pray has spent at Starcom MediaVest Group, he has embodied a teamwork ethos. But that philosophy was put to the test when Lionsgate joined because the movie industry doesn’t sleep, so neither could Starcom. Meanwhile, Red Bull had also just joined the agency. While Starcom was onboarding both accounts, Lionsgate was launching movies “at the same time, and opening weekends don’t wait for the media team to be ready,” Pray, an entertainment and pop-culture junkie, recalls. “So we buckled up, ramped up fast and got the job done with great results.” In the Los Angeles office, Pray preaches the importance of data. And with the transition away from traditional channels, finding the data that really matters has become crucial. The terms “OTT, CTV and data-driven linear have basically been coming out of my mouth every day,” Pray says. “As technology and data capabilities continually improve year over year, it’s opening up opportunities for our clients to ignite their core, move toward one-to-one, personalized messaging and reliable cross-channel and holistic attribution.” In addition to bringing on $400 million accounts like Lionsgate, Pray runs the agency’s social committee and oversees the Starcom L.A. chapter of Égalité, a group dedicated to upholding the agency’s mission to employ and support members and allies of the LGBTQ community. “Whenever I am asked about why I like working at Starcom, Jeff is always part of my answer,” says Jennifer Lewis, svp of Starcom L.A. and colleague to Pray for over 12 years. “He cares deeply about the people around him.” —M.R.
Pedro L. Rodriguez
Pedro L. Rodriguez, one of Adweek’s 2018 Young Influentials, has established himself as a media luminary skilled at cultivating a more inclusive communications landscape. Since being appointed to his position last summer, he has become an indelible part of Horizon Media’s fabric by implementing strategies that promote business growth, leading special projects like Horizon’s Voice practice and creating content outside of general media planning, like the digital video series he put together for SXSW. In short, Rodriguez’s position allows him to have a hand in everything, and the young professional cherishes the access. “What I love about the role is that it spans across all of the different products and services, whether they’re built for Horizon or not,” Rodriguez says. “I think in the past year, one that I’ve honed in on specifically is around thinking about how to look beyond existing revenue opportunities for us as a media planning agency.” With Horizon’s clientele ranging from the Carolina Panthers to Kroger, Rodriguez has created a business model that allows the agency to confidently provide services outside of the traditional media agency offerings, such as event promotion and education. It’s a distinguishing factor that Rodriguez feels makes Horizon more than a media company. “That educational aspect—thought leadership—and being able to inform and really equip teams properly is important,” he says. “I think that, for me, was super exciting because there wasn’t anything there before we built it.” —S.M.
The true value that Digitas provides to clients is right there in its name: digital media. And as the Publicis network’s newly promoted global chief media officer, Clint Simpson brings a disparate group of talent around the world together to deliver against brands’ changing needs. Since his March 2019 promotion, Simpson has led the global media practice for Digitas clients like Whirlpool—and in the last year alone, he helped add Macy’s and Dunkin’ to that roster. The skill sets on his team range from data science and media technology to programmatic expertise as they adapt to a demanding client set that has led Digitas to call itself the “Connected Marketing Agency.” “[We have] a diverse set of capabilities, which means we can quickly turn ideas into things,” Simpson says. “Over the last 12 months, the media team, working with data and tech, has been able to build solutions to solve new problems, including what I believe is the industry’s best fraud and verification solution.” Simpson ties his connected approach to collaborations with fellow media shops like Zenith and Spark Foundry. “I am proud of Digitas’ ability to leave ego at the door and collaborate openly within a ‘Power of One’ model to win clients like Macy’s, GSK and Dunkin’,” he says. In one recent project, Digitas targeted School of Rock attendees with a ticket-pricing tool designed to use machine learning and information about attendance at past shows to “suggest the optimal price per seating section, help prices remain competitive” and ensure each show was as close to capacity as possible. “A former colleague used to say, ‘You will only succeed if people want you to succeed.’ This has never been more salient than it is today,” Simpson says. “The model has changed, and with the acceleration of in-housing and the growing number of stakeholders in the mix, we need to have a clear point of view—but we also need to flex depending on our role in the model.” —P.C.
On the media agency side of the business, there is a small group of people who have been deep into the evolution of programmatic advertising. Anagram general manager Jenna Umbrianna is one of them. Starting as an analyst at Hill Holliday, Umbrianna managed the agency’s programmatic media practice in 2010 and eventually became the svp and general manager of Havas’ programmatic strategy and trading divisions across the holding company’s North American client roster. Arriving at Anagram in September 2017 as chief client officer, Umbrianna helped more than double client investment and facilitated formal partnerships with six major technology companies, growing the agency’s offering from primarily display programmatic to fully cross-channel programmatic. In April, she was elevated to general manager. “Jenna has been a force of innovation throughout her career,” says Joe Zawadzki, CEO of MediaMath. “She was an early adopter of technology-enabled, data-driven marketing in digital, and has been indefatigable ever since. What Jenna accomplishes is extraordinary.” Looking ahead, Umbrianna sees the ability to get data via walled gardens (from the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google) as a continuing challenge. “It’s hard to get a complete view of an end-to-end consumer journey if you’ve got some big blind spots,” she says. But Anagram’s methodology, which includes in-depth surveying for additional consumer insight, has helped close the data gap and is a boon for the agency’s clients, including one in the travel space that elevated the agency from a U.S.-centric to a global footprint. “When you make that shift from being on somebody’s roster to someone they trust enough that you’re an extension of their team,” says Umbrianna, “that’s always the most rewarding for me.” —D.Z.
In the lawn-and-garden space, Scotts Miracle-Gro is, as Drew Watson puts it, an “800-pound gorilla” with some serious name recognition. So when his longest-running client wanted something new, the stakes were high. Watson reached out to BuzzFeed’s Product Labs, and after a week of ideation, they created Lunarly, a subscription-based box featuring a plant and an assortment of wellness products. Lunarly, which sells out every month with over $1 million in incremental sales to date, has refreshed a staid category and been a hit with its intended target, millennial women. “If Scotts doesn’t take on the challenge of modernizing lawn and garden, no one is going to do it,” notes Watson. One of the keys to Watson’s success is moving away from the antiquated cost-per-thousand model to cost-per-incremental visit, using data and insight that better maps customer behavior. This approach was crucial to Mediahub’s landing the $100 million Bloomin’ Brands account last year. In addition to Scott’s Miracle-Gro and Bloomin’ Brands, Watson leads a portfolio of more than $300 million in media billings that includes Mediahub’s massive Royal Caribbean account, where he presented a unique plan that was modeled on consumer demand instead of just revenue. “It was the best meeting of the year,” says Royal Caribbean CMO Jim Berra. Looking ahead, Watson has been quick to position his brands in unique new categories and presently is bullish on audio. “The question is, ‘What does your brand sound like?’” says Watson. “There’s a huge explosion in streaming radio and podcasts. Direct marketers are using it effectively, and brands have an opportunity to rethink how to use the platform effectively.” —Mitch Reames