CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/IRWIN GOTLIEB - US media veteran braves the MindShare challenge/Irwin Gotlieb has the task of uniting JWT and O&M in media, Anna Griffiths says

By ANNA GRIFFITHS, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 10 September 1999 12:00AM

The appointment of Irwin Gotlieb to head MindShare worldwide crept up on the industry without anyone really getting wind of it - a major feat in itself. Of course, it’s been known that WPP’s chief executive, Martin Sorrell, has been anxious to unite the media departments of WPP in the US for some time, but Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson seemed happy as they were, and Gotlieb appeared to be cosily installed until retirement as president and chief executive of MediaVest Worldwide.

The appointment of Irwin Gotlieb to head MindShare worldwide crept

up on the industry without anyone really getting wind of it - a major

feat in itself. Of course, it’s been known that WPP’s chief executive,

Martin Sorrell, has been anxious to unite the media departments of WPP

in the US for some time, but Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson

seemed happy as they were, and Gotlieb appeared to be cosily installed

until retirement as president and chief executive of MediaVest

Worldwide.



Gotlieb’s appointment is vital to Sorrell’s vision of a unified

worldwide WPP media network. MindShare UK, which opened its doors last

year, seems to have begun to find its stride. Dominic Proctor, chief

operating officer of MindShare worldwide, has worked hard to deliver the

MindShare entities in Asia Pacific and, most recently, Latin

America.



The inevitability of a US MindShare network springing up must be rapidly

refocusing the minds of its competitors in the US. The combined media

divisions of JWT and O&M will make it the largest media entity, with

billings of more than dollars 16 billion. Sorrell is understandably keen

to point out its potential to combine ’brain with brawn’ - in TV buying

terms it will be a huge and highly skilled operation, with strong

planning and research skills.



Gotlieb, who is 50 years old, is revered in the US for his adroitness in

the broadcast arena, and the way in which he has built MediaVest into

one of the first successful media independents in the States. He was

instrumental in winning the consolidated Procter & Gamble television

account in 1998, and today MediaVest is the ninth-biggest agency in the

US with billings of around pounds 2.5 billion. Sorrell describes Gotlieb

as ’probably the most outstanding manager in media planning, buying and

research’.



Jim Marshall, chief executive of MediaVest in the UK, concurs: ’He is

one of the most influential and knowledgeable figures in the US TV

market. He’s built MediaVest as a mammoth number one TV operation.’



He is respected and liked, even by his rivals. John Perriss, chairman

and chief executive of Zenith Media Worldwide, says: ’He’s very quiet,

very private and not in the least bit flashy, but he’s also fearsomely

tough.’ Marshall adds: ’He has been in the company for 22 years, built

up the business and was highly regarded, so news of his departure was a

bit of a blow.’



Gotlieb’s fondness for collecting and culturing Bonsai trees and his

ability to speak fluent Japanese shows him to be more than just a media

man. He loves his work, but values his private life. One US head says:

’Irwin works to live rather than lives to work.’



His career ladder is heavily weighted towards the broadcast arena. He

started off in network operations for Sullivan, Stauffer, Caldwell &

Bayles before moving on to D’Arcy, where he worked his way up from

associate director of broadcast in 1977 to chief executive of its media

independent, TeleVest (now MediaVest), in 1994. He has been courted by

other media networks, but until now has not been tempted to cut himself

loose from MediaVest.



This time MindShare’s offer was too good to refuse, says Gotlieb. ’I’ve

never had the opportunity to work for a publicly held organisation.

Things are do-able within large organisations like MindShare, where you

can move with precision and alacrity when necessary, which is very

appealing.’



But it will not be a bed of roses for Gotlieb at MindShare. Industry

observers say that while JWT has had some misgivings, O&M’s chairman and

chief executive, Shelly Lazarus, has been particularly concerned about

splitting media from creative in terms of clients, who like a full

service offering, as well as the impact it would have on the agency’s

bottom line.



Chris Jones, chief executive of JWT, however, is enthusiastic about the

US venture. ’MindShare has the potential to be by far the best media

industry specialist globally. In order for it to happen we have to

achieve that in the US.’



Sorrell abruptly dismisses suggestions that he has been pushing for the

union of the two agencies’ media against their will. ’It’s unfair to say

this is my idea. It’s our idea. It’s a question of getting the right

person in the US. They (O&M and JWT) have been concerned, quite rightly,

about client reaction and making sure clients are happy, but they

believe in the concept of brawn and brain and added value. The TV

Alliance (the pooling of JWT’s and O&M’s TV buying) was the first step

and it was a question of having the right leadership to take it

further.’



It seems that Gotlieb is someone who has little time for politics and

some question how effectively he will manage the US situation. One

network head says: ’He’s temperamentally unsuited to the job that

Martin’s given him. The politics are horrendous and they’re putting

someone in who is used to playing the game by his own set of rules.’

MediaVest’s Marshall comments: ’He doesn’t give a shit about politics -

he just gets on and does it.’



Gotlieb himself believes that there are few obstacles to creating

MindShare in the US. ’At the end of the day, bringing together two media

organisations makes a great deal of sense. I believe that the political

stuff will be brushed aside by the people directly involved.’



While no-one would question that Gotlieb can enhance MindShare’s TV

negotiating, there are some doubts about whether he will effectively

leverage the agency’s planning capabilities. One US media head says: ’He

will absolutely need very strong media planning management, and he would

be the first to admit that.’



When Unilever’s media is reviewed in the US, MindShare will be a strong

contender. But Gotlieb knows success is not inevitable. He says:

’MindShare is a far bigger organisation than I’ve ever run and I will

have to adapt my style a little bit. It’s very difficult, even for me,

to figure it out.’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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