Media Headliner: Kleiner knows social media but he's not a guru

Havas Media's first UK head of social media despises the hoopla surrounding it and says he doesn't have a plan.

Everybody wants a social media guru this season. And last month Havas Media, which brings together the resources of MPG Media Contacts, Arena BLM, Archibald Ingall Stretton and Cake Media, became the proud owner of one.

Not that Neil Kleiner, who joins Havas Media from Interpublic's below-the-line network Momentum, where he was a global social media strategist, sees himself in those terms. In fact, he finds the frenzy around social media somewhat distasteful: "I despise marketing speak and people who call themselves gurus - the amount of people in social media who call themselves gurus is disgusting. I pride myself on not necessarily knowing anything but then discovering things."

Some may find Havas Media's "acquisition" of Kleiner as opportunistic, an attempt to wear a social media badge just because clients expect it. But this would be a harsh judgment when you consider that its media agencies via the BLM Quantum and Media Contacts divisions have been among the more progressive in "getting" online and other digital trends.

And Kleiner, while resisting any attempts to position himself as a poster boy for social media, is not new to it, having worked in an "official" social media role for three years at Momentum, which acquired Green Room, the small agency where he worked for clients such as Sony Pictures. At Momentum, he worked on more traditional clients including Nokia and Nestle - launching its Rowntree Randoms brand via Facebook - and conducting a global audit of social media activity for Coca-Cola.

We meet at MPG's offices near Leicester Square and Kleiner comes across as articulate but not foaming at the mouth with techie zealotry. His back story helps paint an image of a passionate but openminded character and he's perhaps slightly distracted because his first child has just been born and he's on paternity leave just one day into the job.

Kleiner hails from East London and has stayed there. He left school and went into business straightaway, launching his school fanzine Beware The Cat as a business venture and spending five years running his own company. But then, he says, "the internet came along and killed us so I took the view of 'know your enemy'".

He certainly ticks some of the "social media guru" boxes - he's in a band and had his own radio show until recently, but, actually, his band Dark Captain, Light Captain are well regarded by the critics and are working on their next album. So how does the new role at Havas fit in? "The first six months - or at least three probably - are about listening. One of the great proofs of the support I've been given is that I don't have a plan yet. The plan is to do what we need to do, it's pointless having a roadmap of achieving 'x' by three months," he says.

Kleiner describes his role as promoting best practice, sharing case studies, and identifying third-party suppliers to work with. He adds: "It's a tremendously exciting role - four different agencies producing amazing work, and it's about marrying the strength and depth of experience and raw data that Havas has with energy and passion because, overall, social media has had issues with ROI and metrics."

And he believes the timing is right: "It's an important time for social media - there's a sense that this year is the tipping point - consumers and brands have changed but most agencies haven't. Consumers are wanting more from brands and clients have taken that initiative before most agencies."

Kleiner is critical of those who use social media as a mere label. "It's a new discipline in some respects but my view is that it's about social anthropology - it's not about Twitter, MySpace and Foursquare, it's about people having conversations powered by technology but where the paradigm has changed in the way brands communicate with consumers," he says. "It's all about achieving objectives for clients and if the old digital economy was based on display, the new one is based on conversations and display."

He's wary of too much over-prediction but is pretty safe in the knowledge that location-based marketing is impacting clients' marketing plans and argues that "real-time web" linked with other media such as television is exciting.

And Julia Smith, his former boss at Trinity Mirror, where he was the head of digital content for two years before joining Momentum, says: "He was really intuitive at knowing what the next big thing was, having his finger on the pulse and then delivering this in terms of partnership and strategy."

Kleiner also impressed while he was at Momentum. Julian Ingram, the Momentum managing director, says: "Lots of people say they're social media gurus and Neil is the first to say that they're liars because things are changing so quickly.

"He's a very intelligent digital strategist and has a big job with a big canvas. He was much-loved and appreciated at Momentum but the task in hand is a big challenge and I tend to think he'll fall foul of the French."

Ingram's last remark is delivered tongue in cheek but maybe highlights that Kleiner will have work to do in establishing himself at Havas. There is a risk that he will disappear between the cracks, yet his open and jargon-free approach should go down well with its agencies. Right now, he looks like a valuable acquisition rather than a cast-off that won't see the light of day once this summer is over.


Age: 33

Lives: Walthamstow, East London

Family: Wife, Vanessa; son, Reuben and cat, Ra

Most treasured possession: Probably my collection of music. From vintage vinyl to hard drives full of MP3s

Favourite gadget: My digital Harinezumi camera. I bought it in Tokyo in December and it is a kind of digital Lomo camera

Interests outside work: I've always been in bands and am currently still making music with a band called Dark Captain, Light Captain. I also love photography, film and cooking

Motto: Good ideas can come from anywhere.