Fifth Estater

Ultimate Mobilizer Kassan Finds More Success

MediaLink CEO helps score win-wins for clients and agencies 3/23/2010 09:41:00 AM Eastern

Michael Kassan is all business—
and business is good. “Can you
hold on for one second?” he
tells this reporter, as his other
phone line rings. With perfect
timing, he jokes, “This is Hollywood; it could be
a bigger name.”

A big name calling would hardly be a surprise.
Kassan has one of the deepest Outlook Contacts
boxes in advertising and media. Rare is the big
industry event he doesn’t attend.

But while he’s well known among insiders,
some might be unfamiliar with Kassan’s wideranging
M.O. MediaLink, where he serves as
chairman and CEO, operates in
four areas: management consultancy,
branded entertainment,
media advisory and regulatory
work. That makes Kassan, in a
phrase, the ultimate mobilizer.

It also makes him the perfect
refl ection of his company—and
explains MediaLink’s success.
“He encapsulates in one person,
and in one company, all the
things you’d normally find from
fi ve or six sources,” says Scott
Donaton, CEO of Interpublic’s
branded entertainment unit,
Ensemble, in which Kassan is
a partner. “His real value is his
ability to see the bigger picture
by dealing across networks with brands, creative
agencies and media agencies and lawmakers. He
has the 30,000-foot view of the landscape.”

And after years of running MediaLink as
a nimble operation, Kassan now seems
poised to take the business wider, and he’s
assembled an all-star team for the effort. Wenda
Harris Millard, perhaps best known as the former
Yahoo ad-sales chief and president of Martha
Stewart Living Omnimedia, is now president and
COO. Soon after joining MediaLink, Millard was
then drafted by News Corp. to sort out the adsales
operation at its MySpace unit.

Last December, Kassan also recruited Jeffrey
Cole, then the director of the Center for the Digital
Future at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication
& Journalism, to serve as a senior advisor.
And in late January, Kassan signed Sandy
Grushow, former Fox TV Group head of entertainment,
as chief creative officer. With Kassan, they
all help manage a lengthy MediaLink client list
that includes Microsoft, AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline,
Unilever, Revlon, Viacom and NBCU.

One sphere of growth for MediaLink is in
advising private equity companies that
“made investments in firms that are now
troubled,” Kassan explains. “At the time, these assets
made sense, but people are asking, ‘How do
we fix those?’ We built a team of quant jocks who
can build financial models.” Kassan hopes to bring
a leader on board for that area soon as well.

The firm is also a player in branded entertainment.
“We’re advisors to Fremantle and Shine/
Reveille on how you should engage better and
smarter with the ad industry,” he
says. “We’re not a maître d’. We
know how to cook the food.”

Regarding regulatory issues,
Kassan helped kill a possible
Google deal with Yahoo on
search. Microsoft drafted Kassan,
who was relentless in his
efforts to build support for the
initiative; he pushed the Association
of National Advertisers
to get members on board to prevent
consolidation.

It’s no surprise, then, that
Kassan still describes himself as
a lawyer at heart. He started off
specializing in tax law and later
rose to head International Video
and Entertainment, which later became Artisan.
While at media agency Initiative, he oversaw the
firm’s sale to its current owner, Interpublic Group.
His own biggest challenges now are “matching
client upside and agency upside, and managing the
procurement of it all.” As a former head of Initiative,
Kassan says it’s important to make sure
procurement officers don’t become the lead violin:
“Wholesale doesn’t always mean good.”

Kassan, who perhaps not surprisingly is reading
Ken Auletta’s latest book, Googled, describes
the ideal work/life balance as something split into
three buckets: family, work and community. His
geographic location is also split in thirds, between
Los Angeles, New York and London.

Wherever he is, Kassan’s mobilizing efforts continue
to add to his caché and infl uence. “In times of
economic chaos, we’re fi nding our brand of adult
supervision to be at a premium,” he says. Media-
Link does much work on behalf of clients eager to
get their agencies to work together: “We bring an
unbiased approach to the conversation.”

MICHAEL KASSAN

Title

Chairman and CEO, MediaLink

 

 

Education

J.D., UCLA, 1972; post-graduate studies,
NYU School of Law, 1976

 

Employment

Partner, Kassan, Kurtz and Cutrow,
1975-1985; International Video and
Entertainment/Artisan Entertainment,
president/CEO, 1985-1987; counsel,
Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs,
Glaser, Weil & Shapiro, 1987-1992;
Western International Media/Initiative,
various posts including president/COO,
1992-1999; current position since
2000

 

Personal

b. Dec. 11, 1950; married to Ronnie;
son Alex, 32, daughter Brett, 31, son
Adam, 29

 

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