MEDIA HEADLINER: McCann’s mystery man goes for full-service world strategy - Claire Beale talks with Ira Carlin, the massive media name that rings few bells

The name Ira Carlin is not exactly tip-of-the-tongue material when it comes to global media leaders. The prize for most anonymous international media person, maybe, but he’s so unknown on this side of the Atlantic that even his making the shortlist for that dubious distinction is doubtful.

The name Ira Carlin is not exactly tip-of-the-tongue material when

it comes to global media leaders. The prize for most anonymous

international media person, maybe, but he’s so unknown on this side of

the Atlantic that even his making the shortlist for that dubious

distinction is doubtful.



Last week McCann-Erickson announced that it is finally bringing all of

its media under the Universal McCann name around the world. Time to find

out who Ira Carlin is.



Carlin is 51 years old, describes himself as ’a student of the impact of

technology on modern culture’, likes opera, Russian classical music,

taking long walks and spending time with his family. He also enjoys the

title executive vice-president worldwide media director of Universal

McCann, the so-new-it’s-not-even-here-yet global media network.



Yes, another new global media network. The dominos are finally falling,

but while some of the latest entrants on the international media scene

are fully fledged media specialists, Universal has gone for a different

approach. Which is perhaps why Mr Carlin is a little less easy to get a

handle on.



Because while he is the architect of last week’s decision to roll the

brand out around the world, there is no doubt that Universal McCann is

very much an integral part of the McCann-Erickson agency. Unlike a John

Perriss or a Dominic Proctor, Carlin is hardly forging a new

operation.



More than any other media network, Universal is a rebranding of a string

of in-house media departments. None of this fight-on-your-own-two-feet

stuff for Universal, this media baby is very much clinging to its

mummy’s apron strings. And while that might sound a little dismissive,

what it really means is that Universal McCann can claim something of a

USP in the media market.



As Carlin puts it: ’The trend has been towards unbundling, but we felt

that we needed to make a contrary statement. Media is a core driver not

just in the route you take to speak to people but in understanding how

to speak to them. It’s much more than a one-way window to people, it has

a key role to play in developing the communication and creative

strategies.’



And the best way to effect this, Carlin believes, is to offer a

full-service approach whenever it’s feasible for the client. What’s

more, severing media irreparably from creative as the unbundled media

agencies have ’simply reduces media to a commodity’, Carlin insists.

’We’re not about commodity, we’re about a truly rounded communications

offering.’



But if you buy into the idea that media is slowly elbowing creative

aside in the battle for the client’s ear and the number one slot in the

decision-making hierarchy, isn’t that easier to achieve outside of an

agency for whom creative credentials are still key? Carlin says he has

not had to struggle with internal politics to win media its due

recognition within the agency. ’The chairman of McCann-Erickson, John

Dooner, is an ex-media man and he truly understands the value of media.

The huge successes of our media offering in recent years have been

recognised throughout the agency.’



Then there’s the fact that McCann media handles a chunk of business

which is completely independent from the main agency, giving it its own

client portfolio and independent income stream. In fact, Carlin says

that McCann’s US media department won more media-only business last year

than any other media operation. ’But we weren’t getting the public

recognition for that and for the achievements of our media team,’ he

explains. ’That’s one of the reasons we’ve decided to take the Universal

name worldwide.’



The Universal McCann global media network will take the European

Universal McCann as its blueprint, building on its media approach which

goes well beyond planning and buying to embrace all of McCann’s areas of

communications expertise.



All of which seems relatively straightforward compared with the pain of

merging separate in-house media departments like a MindShare or a

Zenith.



So why leave it so late to join the global media party? Carlin believes

that because much of the hard work has already been done this is simply

not an issue. Besides which, with billings of dollars 13 billion, ’we’re

bigger than most and our approach to media is ahead of the game’.



Carlin points out that the agency began laying the foundations for the

change four years ago, introducing standard systems, professional

planning processes and proprietary research. ’This is almost the icing

on the cake.’





THE CARLIN FILE



1971: Grey Advertising, media executive



1974: The Marschalk Company, associate media director



1981: Interpublic, director of media systems



1982: McCann-Erickson New York, media director



1986: McCann-Erickson, media director, north America



1993: McCann Erickson, worldwide media director.



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