Magna president Elizabeth Herbst-Brady's job is to help clients figure out the marketplace so they can secure the best deals possible. And given the economy these days, her expertise is more important than ever.
In times of recession, her advice to clients is to perform an audit of their media investments to make sure they are maximizing every dollar. She has strong ideas of what this economy means.
“From a macro perspective, some areas poised to do well are search and direct marketing,” she says. “[And] cable is a high-reach vehicle with dual revenue streams that is likely to thrive in this environment.”
Among the more challenged areas, she picks out the huge oversupply of online display ad venues.
Magna, part of Interpublic Group's Mediabrands unit, is the backroom engine that drives media buying agencies Initiative and Universal McCann. The entity was recently given a breath of new life by owner Interpublic, which brought in Herbst-Brady in September to refocus the business. She took over from former chief Bill Cella and is giving the firm a broader purview of the media business than just television.
“We look at the econometric modeling of [director of industry analysis] Brian Weiser; we take that and spin it around and end up with insight that the platform-specific advisory counsel can take into the marketplace,” Herbst-Brady says. She describes Magna as a kind of management consultancy that will become more global in its outlook.
Historically, Magna's place in the wider landscape had been somewhat vague. But its television research department under Steve Sternberg has a strong reputation, and it has potentially impactful large ongoing projects such as Weiser's analysis of the growth of digital video recorders.
Magna's role in negotiating budgets has been less clear at times, even to those on the inside of deal talks. For instance, Magna would sometimes take a negotiating position in upfront deal-making that would soon after be reassessed by head broadcast buyers at the agencies it represented.
But the lines of delineation are now much stricter under Herbst-Brady's watch. She rarely participates in media buying negotiations, and says that rule might bend only in special circumstances such as “if a daytime block on The CW became available and we wanted to buy an hour for an entire year. No individual client or agency would want to do that.”
The 47-year-old Harvard graduate played a lot of field hockey and lacrosse in college, and it was there she learned about the power of a group, a lesson that has proved meaningful in her career.
Herbst-Brady, who grew up in Wellesley, Mass., comes from a long line of doctors and lawyers but was always more interested in the entertainment business. She arrived in New York and told an employment agency that she wanted to work in TV or movies, and was sent to CBS, where she chose sales over affiliate relations or finance.
Her first job was to compare the handwritten ad requests with what was running in a new technology system. She later landed at Barry Diller's Vivendi Universal, where she ran ad sales for Universal Television. “It's there that I got my first thirst for looking at the bigger picture,” she recalls.
Her rise through the ranks has taken a somewhat curvy road. Most recently, Herbst-Brady ran ad sales for Twentieth Television, where she oversaw the branded integration process for first-run shows and ran upfront strategy.
She also sat on the other side of the desk as senior VP and director of national broadcast for Starcom Worldwide in Chicago, negotiating directly for a group of clients who together spent $2 billion in the marketplace.
But her expertise is just part of her success, according to Mediabrands CEO Nick Brien, who hired her. “She is endlessly positive; she's a radiator,” Brien says. “She sends out heat and light, and people enjoy working with her.”