MediaVest CEO Takes Non-Traditional Path to the Top
In his first interview since his promotion, Brian Terkelsen talks about creating branded content and his evolving business
By John Consoli -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/28/2012 2:30:34 PM
Since that time, he co-founded a television production company with Mark Burnett, serving as chief operating officer and executive producer for several adventure racing TV events. He also conceived content and negotiated programming deals at Quokka Sports, and served as general manager of Be Here Technologies, where he directly managed sales, marketing and production groups, as well as the sale of broadcast services to assorted networks.
A chance meeting in 1993 with now Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Laura Desmond changed everything. Desmond was, at the time, a Leo Burnett account executive who turned down Terkelsen's pitch to get some Burnett agency clients involved in his first TV venture. The meeting proved to be a boon a decade later when Desmond hired Terkelsen to his first agency job as senior VP and director of marketing for MediaVest.
Upon joining MediaVest, Terkelsen created the agency's branded content unit, connectivetissue, which he headed until 2010 when he evolved it into LiquidThread, incorporating both MediaVest's and Starcom's content practices under one umbrella, and became president of that unit. In his role at connectivetissue and LiquidThread, he has spent nine years developing entertainment marketing solutions for MediaVest clients.
LiquidThread creates branded content for TV, digital content, communities and conversations for the agencies' client brands. Connectivetissue, under Terkelsen, developed over 200 programs for MediaVest clients that included over 8,000 minutes of content. The unit won awards for creating programs such as CoverGirl's involvement in America's Next Top Model on the CW. Most recently, MediaVest won the Cannes Lions Gold Award for Branded Content and Entertainment for a seven-minute integration of Wheat Thins into The Colbert Report that was created by LiquidThread working with Kraft. The spot has more than 760,000 viewers online so far, the most streamed segment in the history of the show.
Two weeks ago, Desmond named Terkelsen MediaVest CEO, succeeding Bill Tucker, who was appointed president, global client operations, SMG Group.
In his first interview since taking over in his new position, Terkelsen talks about his road from investment banker to media agency CEO and about his thoughts on where the media agency business is headed.
Mark Burnett is known for his hit TV reality series, but back when you first met him, he was also searching to find something more creative to do. How did your paths cross?
I met Mark Burnett [because] we had the same chiropractor and he got us together. We were both in transition phases. We met for a four-hour lunch and the concept for the company [Eco-Challenge Lifestyles, Inc.] was created right there. Mark, at the time, was pursuing a French-based adventure-type race and wanted to bring it to the United States. We got the rights to bring it here, get sponsors and make it a TV event. It aired on a small cable network back in 1993. We eventually created our own version of a race and called it Eco-Challenge. Neither of us knew anything about the television business or how media worked. We were young, but we figured it out.
Where was the race you created first televised?
It was on MTV. I met with Judy McGrath and Doug Herzog who were then both working at MTV at the time, and we worked out a deal to televise Eco-Challenge. Through the 1990s, it also aired on ESPN as the Extreme Games, and on Discovery. Mark and I were executive producers. We did everything and learned about production along the way.
After leaving Eco-Challenge you spent some time at Quokka Sports and Be Here Technologies, and then made the move to MediaVest in 2003. How did your hiring there come about?
Part of our deal with MTV was to let us sell advertising sponsorships for the telecast, so I met with a Leo Burnett account executive and tried to sell what was then a novel idea. I proposed that we would integrate client products into the race and we would film a one-hour special with their products focused on. They also could use the footage to make their own 30-second commercials showing their products in action. The account executive turned the idea down, but she never forgot my pitch. That account executive was Laura Desmond who, in 2003, brought me into MediaVest and who recently promoted me to CEO. When she hired me back in 2003, she told me that my ideas stayed with her and that the marketing industry was now ready to implement those types of ideas. She brought me in to help with branded content and innovation in media.
In addition to doing branded content around surrounding shows, you have also gotten MediaVest clients to be the focal point of a scripted storyline. How did that come about?
When I joined MediaVest in 2003, my goal was to be innovative around commercial messaging. With the WB network we began doing innovative plays with some of our brands. When the WB and UPN merged to form The CW network in 2006, we were the first agency to walk into their offices and suggest that they run advertising beyond 30-second spots. One example was what we did with an episode of the CW series What I Like About You starring Amanda Bynes. We helped create a special episode that made Herbal Essences the entire focus of the storyline. The Amanda Bynes character was trying to get a role as spokesperson for the product and to appear in a commercial. In the episode, she was competing against the actual Herbal Essences spokesperson and lost out. And at the end of the episode she watches the actual Herbal Essences commercial on a TV set in her apartment.
And getting brand exposure extends beyond television.
Yes -- we created The Thread in 2008 to serve different P&G self-care brands. The Thread is an online site featuring branded, up-to-the minute style video content segments co-produced by the LiquidThread team. P&G's sole sponsorship of The Thread allows for an immersive brand presence. In addition to streaming content, the site includes banner ads. In the past year, The Thread has gotten 53 million page viewers with an average of 11 minutes per day spent engaging with video content. And Yahoo has made The Thread a permanent feature within its OMG Style property. We also have a Spanish version of The Thread called De Moda.
You were also instrumental in working a content deal between LiquidThread and BermanBraun that provides MediaVest with first looks for new sites, formats and ideas. What has come out of that?
We recently launched in partnership with BermanBraum a website targeting mothers called Mom.me. It is unique to other mom sites in that it recognizes and creates content based on different phases of motherhood -- pregnancy, baby, toddler, little kid, tweens, teen and empty nester. It has much targeted content for every phase.
Who came up with the names connectivetissue and LiquidThread?
At a meeting after hiring me back in 2003, Laura Desmond said this unit should have an identity and I said, â€˜Let's call it connectivetissue,' and she said OK. It represents the space between the traditional 30-second spot and program content. LiquidThread then evolved from connectivetissue. They may be weird-sounding names, but people remember them.
Clearly you do not have the typical career path of a media agency CEO, in that you never worked at a media agency on the buying or planning side. How do you view your ascension to the CEO position?
It was a fearless step that Laura took in promoting me into the CEO position. I wasn't an unknown entity within the agency business, but I certainly wasn't in the mainstream of traditional media agency type executives. But everything I've been doing here for the past nine years has been building to create a media agency business that is more than just media buying. Our premise is that all experiences come to life through content. I am excited to see what we can do to continue to evolve branded content beyond the traditional 30 throughout all the media space. This is an evolutionary business. It continues to evolve. I don't think we need to do change for change's sake. But I don't think we need to worry as much about technology. Instead, we should concentrate on what we do best, innovate around new business models and be willing to explore platforms and ways to connect brands with consumers. Of course the planning and buying continues to be the major part of what we do. But our hope is we put everything together and do it better than everyone else. Laura has not sat down with me and given me a specific mandate so far. But I now have to run a company of more than 1,000 people and I have to grow our clients' business.
You were the creator of connectivetissue and then LiquidThread and now you have move to a bigger position in the agency. What will life be like at LiquidThread without you there?
If you look at the moves within the company that have been made recently, you'll see we have lots of bench strength and top people stepping up. Brent Poer is the head of LiquidThread North America and he has done a great job, so nothing there will change. He has been running LiquidThread North America for the better part of a year now. In the next several months, I will create an evolution plan for LiquidThread globally. But we already have a dedicated and competent staff there too.
What is the future of the 30-second pre-roll commercial and branded content?
Today the consumer has the ability to tune out traditional 30-second commercials and that's what's become a challenge to marketers. Branded content will play a more important role in marketers' advertising going forward. We're firm believers of brand exposure and consumer experience in a myriad of ways. We're building branded content to meet consumer needs in ways that are different and beyond the 30-second spot. But it is not just content for content's sake. It's creating strategic content that's appealing to the consumer.
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