New Mediabrands CTO Wenzek Discusses The Agency And Technology Nexus

CTO Wenzek of MediabrandsHagen Wenzek is the newly-appointed CTO of IPG's Mediabrands unit.

He recently discussed his new role and technology strategy for the agency with

At a high level, how will your experience at IBM help you create strategy in your new role as Mediabrands' CTO?

HW: I was at IBM for 12 years and my career there was divided into two big buckets. Both will have a fundamental impact on my work here at Mediabrands.

The first half of my career was consulting, which was about understanding the expectations and requirements from clients in many different industries. Many of the industries were directly tied to the consumer ecosystem and required implementing everything from supply chain management, to eProcurement, to strategy solutions for the client.

When I look at the media industry, I see a lot of similarities to late 1990s to early 2000s, in the manufacturing industries, where many eTools on behalf of eBusiness were implemented. The media industry is still missing a lot of these tools and automated processes. So, that's where the whole consulting and implementation experience will help.

The other "big bucket" entails the years I spent in IBM Corporate looking after new growth initiatives and ways to establish new businesses. This included everything from digital conversions to mobility, to "going green." But most recently it included cloud computing.

Building out a strategy for cloud computing, and understanding what works and what doesn't has given me a perspective that actually led me to taking the role at Mediabrands. In this industry, thanks to cloud computing, you can actually do things that I wouldn't have tried to do before – as in using the cloud versus the old days finding the right development resources within IT.

Where are the automated processes best implemented at Mediabrands? Are there any areas you're thinking of right now, or are you still in the discovery phase?

I'm looking at a lot of different areas. So, with media operations, everything around planning, booking, billing, paying - traditional ways of interacting right now with suppliers and vendors is one key area. What I've seen is that many of the tools that are used here have been built in a way to reflect these old processes. I'm working closely with our tool providers and partners to find ways to start getting those rudimentary tools to actually become elements that automate whole, process steps. And hopefully, at some point in time, a more complete business process.

Right now it's more about looking at individual steps inside of this value chain, especially for digital, where shockingly enough, it's the least mature when it comes to automation even though it's the most progressive one because it's digital in nature. It should be much more automated.

Any thoughts about Cadreon? Is it a focus of your role?

I've literally just come from a meeting with [Cadreon CEO] Brendan Moorcroft and we were chatting. For me the collaboration and joint definition of what the overall technology strategy of Mediabrands is key. The technology covers everything from the client-facing side - whether it's about building out new campaigns on social media or building out new ways to find the right audience. That's what Cadreon and Reprise Media are doing.

Also, tying the processes of conducting a campaign to the operations of back offices, billing, et cetera, is part of our comprehensive view of the technology strategy.

Regarding our specialty services, we're actually sitting together on a regular basis to define the overall strategy around technology. And we do that in collaborative view with the leadership team from Initiative and from UM so that we have one complete view, and can divide and conquer.

I’ll be driving the operations forward. Brendan drives Cadreon and the actual revenue generating model forward.

Going back to your original question, another thing I'm bringing from my experience with IBM is the idea of a very flat hierarchy, except for inside the direct revenue generating business. In corporate, it's very flat. You depend on getting a lot of allies to create a vision.

It worked pretty well, especially for cloud computing at IBM, and I'm seeing that actually already with the great team here.

Do you think it will make sense for Mediabrands and IPG to buy technology in the ad space and service Cadreon in a more integrated way, if you will?

Brendan Moorcroft, who's responsible for Cadreon, and I are of the same mindset - we're really looking at an ecosystem approach with strong partnerships. It’s much less about buying companies and pieces of technology. We're looking at integrating everything into a lean platform where we can leverage the partner's innovation capabilities without integrating them into the company.

Also, being able to pick and choose and have two or three partners for a certain type of technology is important as we can't be sure which is actually the right one today considering the dynamic changes going on right now?

We want to build a much more open platform, and, again, the Cloud gives me the opportunity to source services from different partners and combine them into the right solution for us.

You don't have to be proprietary. You don't have to build it yourself. We're not a technology shop at Mediabrands. We are a marketing shop, and we want to, therefore, focus on the raw, domain specific things.

As a proof point, one thing I did when I came in was stop all capital expenditure expenses and told the team that I don't want to see another piece of software or hardware being bought. The rule should be source it instead of buy it.

Can you speak to how the agency world, and Mediabrands specifically, can work with an IBM or other companies like IBM that are bringing cross channel integration capabilities into the CMO suite? Where is the agency going to fit in this world?

I believe that we can work really well with an IBM. There is a very complementary approach because what they're really concerned about is building a very strong and ever‑growing foundation. So they start down at the infrastructure level and move themselves up the stack to the platform level. They have a strength of leadership in place to make a point about how you address the CMO. Next month, a study from my former team at the Institute For Business Value will be launched. They have a very strong point of view about what it is that the CMO requires.

That is kind of the way to express the overall value of IT. The actual deep domain knowledge is what we bring to the table. So when I'm talking to my former colleagues, they will tell me that they're highly interested in adding the domain knowledge that we have to an overall solution that can serve the industry and the CMO. What they bring to the table is everything underneath that domain‑specific layer. So by combining those two layers, I think we can actually be a very strong team.

Finally, what would you say about the agency worker of the future, if you will? What will their skill-set look like?

It's all about how to translate data into insight and then into intelligence and back again. And that's what experts are about. That's what people can do very well, and should be comfortable doing with more sophisticated tools. I looked around a floor downstairs here - at the [Universal McCann] floor in the building - we have all the 20, 25‑year‑old media planners and buyers, and many of them are obviously comfortable with using a lot of technology because that's how you grow up nowadays.

And I think we need to do a better job to actually serve them with that type of technology and not with the old technology that looks more like a plain old Excel spreadsheet or a hidden green screen somewhere.

By applying what you know about technology and then adding that domain expertise can help you be successful as an entry‑level person in accounts or in media planning and buying. If you want to be more of a specialist, then you look into understanding analytics, applying models, as you can create a campaign and measure the outcome of the campaign - that is something that might give you then the edge.

By John Ebbert

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