Norman Sherman (NS): Welcome to Game Changers Live. This is your host Norm Sherman. I’m here today with Andrew McLean, CEO of Mercury Media. Andrew how are you today?
Andrew McLean (AM): I’m very well. Very well indeed, thank you.
NS: Great! So let’s jump right into it. You’re the CEO of Mercury Media. For those in the audience who aren’t familiar with the company can you give us a 30,000 foot view of who you are and what you do?
AM: Well Mercury Media is one of the largest independent media agencies in the U.S., but our focus is on what we call performance media. We were born out of a number of direct response agencies that were acquired and consolidated but as everyone can view today the world of direct response has moved into many different directions and so we talk now about areas of performance. Performance is really what every client seeks when they spend money in advertising, when they invest their dollars in media – they’re always looking for a return on their investment. The issue has been that that return on investment has always been something that happened further down the line and was hard to prove in a direct way. What Mercury does is literally look at the performance of every single spot, every single digital insertion, and every single piece of material we run. We look to assign response and we look to attribute the performance of it. That’s why we’re called a performance agency. I started off in the business many, many years ago buying air time and audiences and we believe that the future of the business is all about buying outcomes. Many of our clients come to us with a very hard edge business challenge or business goal. I want to sell X many units, I need so many million people to come to my website, I want so many leads. These are the kinds of daily challenges that our clients bring to us. It’s a little different from what many agencies and media agencies in the space are doing but it’s something that we do day in day out. We have 200 people here who are very very focused on delivering performance for our clients.
NS: What kind of clients come to you? What client would think about Mercury Media as a good media resource for them?
AM: We work best with challenger brands and entrepreneurial businesses, those clients who have a very clear view of the business that they’re in. We will run the gamut and some of those clients may be pure direct response, like Telebrands who are one of the pioneers of the space. Another company is Europro which sell blenders and other types of home devices. We also work very closely with insurance companies across the category – health insurance, home insurance, auto insurance. A lot of these clients are focused on drive to web. We’ve been particularly successful in a whole new area which we call web services. These are businesses that didn’t exist ten years ago. Angie’s List is a great example. We are working with online casinos; we’re working with fantasy football sites. These are all incredibly new businesses that use media to drive business directly. Another segment we are seeing tremendous growth in is the travel and leisure sector, where they’re trying to drive people to either book directly, book online, even book by the phone. One of the things that continues to surprise me is just the volume of people who still like to buy by phone. It’s interesting as just a sidebar because even Google realized it because they’re investing a fortune in click to call. So, we think that as the clients evolve and become very much more focused on performance the direct response business will become a focal point in how they advertise.
NS: How do you get compensated for what it is that you do?
AM: We get paid on commission. We are probably one of the areas of the media business that has not gone to a fee based model or manpower based model. Our clients are wedded to a commission model. That occasionally can make for cold winters but the long term prognosis for advertising is very positive and so I’ll place my bet on the commission model.
NS: Do you ever get any of your compensation based on your actual performance?
AM: Oh yes, as you can imagine being called a performance agency the majority of our accounts to some degree or other pay us to perform. We have a whole sector of our business called PGM or Performance Guarantee where we literally are working with our clients and being paid on the basis of our response only. So again we have to insure every week is a good week for our client and that we’re delivering their business goals and in return we’re getting paid for that. Again it’s a different model – it works particularly well with entrepreneurial businesses as you can imagine because many entrepreneurial businesses – they’re not necessarily going to have large media budgets so that they can put into capital outlay well, if we’re prepared to share the risk with them, they are more than happy to share the reward as well.
NS: Thank you. Andrew you had a long and successful career in the very classic media planning and buying world. More for brand building I would think than for transactions. You’re in a very different world now. What is it that made you decide that the move to Mercury Media was the right one for you?
AM: It actually was something that I felt passionately about. When I started in media many, many years ago back in the UK one of the things that excited me and amazed me was that we would run ads for our clients – and this was going back to running television ads for clients and even running print ads for clients and then we would get a phone call saying: hey do that again next week because we’ve sold X or Y or working on a campaign for a particular product and then going into a shop and seeing people buy that product or brand. And as a newbie to the business I got such a huge kick out of doing that. And as I went through my career I got a little more removed, I started to look and say what are we doing? Are we able to demonstrate the impact of media and advertising to the degree that secures this business? And I will still question that today that if we stop highlighting those examples where media builds businesses and drives businesses – and I could give you a hundred examples from clients who are running with us today – of how we drive their business; the business would be in trouble. And I do think that many brands and I do believe the large volume of media reviews and the degree of apathy in some areas of our business is connected to us not getting back to our roots of showing how media builds and drives businesses. And so when I was asked to come and lead this great company, for me it was like going back to my roots a little bit. I had a client this afternoon who called me up and said Hey – you know that campaign we ran last week? And I’m like yeah and he goes well, it blew the doors off, so do it again this week! And, that’s great to hear. We’ve got a client now whose business is now rocketing, he’s got a great sense of business and we’ve got more media to buy and so the wheel turns again. And we are very comfortable in doing that. I think that working with great clients and great people and a more engaged in a hands on way,than I had been doing in the last few years has been very refreshing. Again, I am a media buyer at heart and even though I have a rather illustrious and probably not deserved title I’m much closer to the practice than I had been and I’m enjoying that.
NS: You’ve been in the CEO role now for a little over a year I believe. Any surprises you foun d when you got here – anything that you said Oh my God I can’t believe this.
AM: There’s been a surprise every day. I don’t think a day goes by without a surprise. I think part of that is getting back to an independent agency. We are a smaller agency, we have come together through acquisition and as part of that there are always surprises when you go through that acquisition. When you go through that sort of the part where you’re reviewing all the different bits and how each company operates – you take four companies that worked slightly differently and you start to do the consolidation and integration and you find surprises. I think the best surprise I had was just what amazing people we had. I think that it’s a real fallacy that holding companies like to portray which is talent only wants to work at the biggest shops. I bought into that but I’ll tell you I’ve got 200 people who are certainly the match and certainly in many cases could knock spots off many of my old ex colleagues.
NS: Yes, it’s been our experience in the search world that talent really wants to work in a place where they can make the greatest impact and get the greatest satisfaction. It sounds like this is an organization and an environment where that can happen.
AM: Well, they certainly get to see the direct results of their actions and the way of working. I think the other thing is that being a smaller company we don’t have the layers of hierarchy and management. And look I’m not standing here throwing rocks at holding companies just for the sake of it. You need an awful lot of structure when you are a big company. We don’t have that and that means that people are 100% focused on media and on advertising. They don’t have one eye on a time sheet or one eye on a ratio.
NS: I’m sure you’ve been thinking about the future. What’s going on in the media world, what Mercury Media’s place is in this world. As you look to that future and the vision you have for the company what are some of the key things that you’d like to accomplish?
AM: There’s always a danger in this sounding like platitudes and there’s no surprise in the fact that data and analytics is now becoming the essential part of everything that we do. I think maybe the surprise is that it took us so long to work out that that’s the most important part of the business. I mean we both came out of an agency that used data and analytics earlier than many other agencies but even then it wasn’t the heart of everything we do. Data and analytics is certainly where the future lies, it’s certainly of high importance, and its where we’re investing right now, ahead of where we thought it would be. But if I look to the future I’m very fortunate to able to look not only through the eyes of my kids as they grow up but also a lot of the students at the University of Georgia with whom I’m very closely aligned. And then also a lot of the young people who have joined Mercury Media and they view and consume media in a different way. They react the same to great messaging well placed so that’s the same but the process that they do to curate and manage their way through this system is very different. Now the other thing that’s very different is they just consume tons more media than we ever did. I mean I grew up in a country where we had one commercial TV station the majority of my life, which gives away my age!
NS: And boring television to begin with!
AM: Yeah, you know now it’s called classic television on PBS but yeah, it was pretty boring in those days when it was all you got! A lot of the people who we have here are just incredible media planners. They feel really comfortable knowing that they watch a bit of television and they spend time online and they spend time here and they see an ad on a billboard or they listen to the radio – all at the same time! We have to get really good at attribution. We know that your decision to buy a Starbucks cup of coffee or a can of Coke doesn’t have anything to do with the last ad you saw. It’s about everything you ever knew about the product or service of the brand. A lot of what we do is strategically place products and brands in front of people that never heard of and may not even have considered wanting it but we put it in front of them, demonstrate and explaining this is why you need this. We’re a little more hard edged and that’s why we’re looking for this direct response. And what’s very interesting is the younger audiences and the next generation of audience reacts the same way when you tell them directly, give them something that is a really good deal or a giving them a really good reason to buy they respond. They may take a different couple of steps to get there, they have consumed more media to get there but they’re still reacting in the same way which I think the great thing for Mercury insures to our clients that Direct Response is reflecting what is going on amongst the consumers and customers and buyers.
NS: So you talked a little bit about the people who work here. When you’re hiring is there anything in particular that you look for or what kind of people will be successful here?
AM: I always hire for nous.
NS: Hire for nous?
AM: NOUS. Nous is a word, it isn’t dirty, that comes from the north of England, which is where I’m from, and it’s the mixture to be book smart and street smart. We look for people who really can work well in a fairly scrappy environment. I find the best media people have that ability to be very, very book smart but then in the next breath they can be hard edged negotiators battling away with the media vendor of the time. I also look for people who have personality and who are genuinely likeable. Our clients don’t select us because we’re the biggest. They will select us because we’re the best but we have to prove we’re the best. But they will come and work with us because they like working with us. There’s an old adage from a book I read which was teaching me about leadership because no one back in the day would teach us about leadership. And that was that people do more business with people they like. And if you’re a Media Buyer or an Account Exec or someone of that ilk or a buyer and everyone likes you, they’re probably going to do more business with you.
We tend to hire a lot for attitude as much as anything else. We are very clear; we have six values and those very quickly are: That it’s we not me. That it’s an output vs. an input. That you have to bounce back because this is a tough business and there’s knocks coming all the time. That you’re someone who delivers performance. That you’re somebody who works with honesty and respect. And those are our values and every one of our staff has them pinned on their wall or right next to their desk and so that guides our recruiting process.
NS: Andrew this has been fascinating. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve enjoyed it – I promise to use the word nous in a sentence sometime in the next 24 hours if I can figure out how to do that, and maybe I’ll even use it in Words With Friends!
Thank you. This is Norm Sherman for Game Changers Live. Andrew thank you again very much for your time.
AM: Thank you, my pleasure.
Andrew McLean joined Mercury as their CEO having spent over 25 years building some of the most successful media agencies in the UK and the US. Most recently he was involved in building a technology platform for advertisers and clients backed by WPP and McAndrews and Forbes. He has also spent time walking in the client’s shoes having been Head of Advertising for The Walt Disney. He has worked at Omnicom’s PHD as CEO and WPP, Group M and MEC in various roles but at his heart is a media buyer. He has worked with many large DR advertisers in lead gen and response. He is a self confessed “media junkie” and also a board director and guest lecturer at The Grady School of Mass communication at the University of Georgia. As an Englishman in New York he also serves as Chairman of International Advertising Association and is an advisor to a number of ad tech companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.