Fifth Estater: Creating Speciale Teams in Media

MediaVest exec on a mission to reorient agency operations

MediaVest USA's Donna Speciale is on a mission: to create cross-trained athletes in media. Since her promotion in June, Speciale has been developing negotiators at the company who are no longer specialized by medium, but can execute for agency clients such as Procter & Gamble and Kraft in whatever platform best fits the needs of the brand.

Speciale started small, creating cross-media teams focused on the young male consumer for Heineken and on beauty-oriented women for Avon. Now, as president of investments and activation and agency operations at the 800-person, New York-based media agency, she has evolved the business to the point where agency personnel and their clients can discuss everything from TV to print to out-of-home on a one-to-one basis.

“Those individuals [on Heineken] don't need to talk to Lifetime, and Avon [doesn't] need to talk to ESPN,” Speciale says. “It cuts the learning curve on vendors they need to meet. We are negotiators and activators, and we have the same skills. It's just about learning a new space, a 30-second spot versus a four-page color bleed.”

The project began when Speciale took on her current role at MediaVest in spring 2009. Her aim: to transform how media is bought and sold. Speciale admits she's still learning about areas that were not her core competency; her previous position was in the broadcast buying field at the New York agency.

As TV and the digital world converge, Speciale has been discussing her cross-training plot with several TV sales chiefs who are likewise eager to consolidate their digital- and TV-sales staffs. “Everybody is trying to figure out how to get better efficiencies, but this is more about us changing our behavior based on consumer behavior,” she says. “We can't stay in the silos.”

Television, of course, is having a hard time stemming the drift of ad dollars to digital. Speciale wants to see more targeted and addressable TV advertising options if sellers are to prevent that migration. MediaVest is a founding member of the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM); the group's major goals are to improve TV metrics to reflect consumers' growing interest in moving between the television and their computers, and to better quantify set-top-box data.

“Will there be a single-source metric? You know I'd like there to be,” Speciale says. “But I can't predict if we'll get there. It's a big challenge.” She thinks there will be some progress, however, given that “a lot of people have skin in the game.”

Speciale rose up through the ranks, starting with the Leonard Monahan agency in her hometown of Providence, R.I., before being hired by Jon Mandel at New York-based Grey, where she stayed for 15 years. Mandel remembers her as someone who always knew when to negotiate hard and when to be soft. “She never really goes, 'Screw you,'” says Mandel, then head of buying at MediaCom and now an investment strategist for several private equity firms.

According to Mandel, Speciale can dance between big picture and client minutiae in an instant. “She's the most appropriately named person I've come across in the business, a caring person who is very passionate, and that comes through in her professional life, too,” he says.

Speciale's style of knowing when to keep with the beat and when to start her own can be traced back to her upbringing in Providence, where she played the drums as a child. Her teenage son Jonathan plays drums now, too. Whether he or Speciale's younger child, daughter Devon, will follow her—and her husband, Gary Reisman—into media remains to be seen. Reisman runs New Media Metrics, an analytics firm that helps marketers interpret data.

Speciale is a music and dance fan in general. “I love to dance,” she says. “Music makes me happy.”

Speciale acknowledges 2009 has been a tough year on all sides of the table, but believes the turmoil will ultimately turn out for the greater good. As she puts it: “Nothing will stay status quo.”