Mandel Takes VNU


Jon Mandel, known in TV circles for his media-buying savvy and outspoken nature, is bringing his fastball to VNU, where he takes over as CEO of a new business unit called NielsenConnect. Mandel, 54, has worked in the business since he first joined Grey Advertising in 1974. He was most recently chief of strategic solutions for GroupM and previously chairman of GroupM subsidiary MediaCom US. He is tasked with culling information from all of the data-collection companies at VNU, which was acquired this year by an investor group. Mandel spoke with B&C's Ben Grossman about overcoming Nielsen's perception problems and why advertisers feel scammed by the television industry.

What is the goal of this new division?

Because I come from the marketing side and the buying side, I come with a perspective people are looking for. A lot of the time, people don't realize all the things within the VNU world, so people tended to ask them very narrow questions and, to a large degree, questions about the past. When you get out of the Nielsen division that you individually know, you can ask what should I do or what should I know going forward. I am the butterfly net that catches all this stuff and the glue that sticks it all together. Hopefully, our clients will end up finding that there is more and more stuff they want to do with us, and there is a strong possibility of increasing the client base.

Why make the jump to VNU now?

I met with [VNU Chairman and Chief Executive] Dave Calhoun, and his brain scared me. Plus, I wouldn't have done this a year and a half ago, but the company has changed, and it is moving forward and moves very quickly now.

What will be your biggest challenge?

Probably dealing with everyone that has a complaint about Nielsen for some reason or another. There are a lot of people who are down on this company for all the wrong reasons. Susan Whiting [CEO of Nielsen Media Research] has done a fabulous job in getting from emotional conversations to legitimate conversations. If the emotions can stay out of it and we can just do business, I think it will be fine.

Outside of Nielsen, what is the biggest misconception in the TV industry today?

You have a lot of people who are general sales managers of local stations in major markets who made it big when it was a different world, when the money just came in and you didn't have to work hard. All of these people just think it is still that way, and they are trying to manage the business that way, so they just whine about the Internet. They say, “I am four years from retirement. Let's just hold on until then.” I hope Nielsen can be a big help getting the TV business to that next level.

Another November sweeps period just came and went. How long will that be relevant in the industry?

From where I sat in my old job, I thought they were totally irrelevant for years. It makes advertisers think we are full of shit in the industry. C'mon, advertisers aren't stupid; they know that things are pumped into the sweeps, so they know they are going to get less at other times. So they think we are trying to scam them. It's like this live or live-plus-seven-day thing; we look like a bunch of kids in a school yard having a fight, whereas if we just went to commercial ratings—and now I am speaking from my old job—then the clients pay for who is watching the commercials, whenever they watch them.