Madison Avenue shift: Look who’s leaving big firms, moving to digital startups

Executives at major media companies and advertising agencies are defecting to web start-ups in increasing numbers, attracted by some combination of equity and autonomy. Here’s a closer look at who’s left, and gone where.

Executives now at startups:

Mark Kingdon
Was: Chief Executive, Organic
Is: Chief Executive, Second Life
Moved: April 2008

In a somewhat puzzling move, Kingdon announced his departure from Omnicom-owned Organic in New York on April 22. Puzzling, because industry opinion is split: On one hand, many view Second Life as last season’s trendy (and virtually licentious) new web company; others see the opportunity for Kingdon to take a leadership role to legitimize and advance the virtual world industry, which is fledgling to date aside from MTV’s recent success with endeavors like The Virtual Hills.


Sean Finnegan
Was: Chief Executive, OMG Digital
Is: Chief Media Officer at Vibrant Media
Moved: January 2008

In a surprise move, Finnegan stepped down in January from OMG Digital, a unit of Omnicom Media Group that handles media buying for Omnicom clients in over 70 countries. With a high-visibility role at ABS Ventures-backed Vibrant Media, Finnegan is expected to juice agency buy-in of Vibrant’s in-text video ad delivery system. Vibrant has been around since 2000 and profitable for the last five years, according to co-founder and CEO Doug Stevenson.

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Jon Sedlak
Was: SVP – Eastern Region, AOL
Is: SVP of Sales and Strategic Alliances, Vibrant Media
Moved: January 2008

Sedlak, a sales veteran with past jobs at AOL and Time Warner, also went to Vibrant in January.

Paran Johar
Was: EVP Digital Marketing – North America, MRM Worldwide; Managing Director, MRM Los Angeles
Is: Chief Marketing Officer at JumpTap
Moved: January 2008

Johar joined JumpTap in January after a long run at MRM Worldwide, a division of agency conglomerate McCann Worldgroup, where he ran digital strategy for heavyweight clients like General Motors and Microsoft. Why the jump? Johar says he wanted to move from helping clients shape their digital marketing strategies, to helping shape the mobile marketing industry itself. Jumptap is a formidable mobile search, ad and content provider with white-label with agreements with over a dozen carriers in nine countries and a recent extensive content deal with NBC Universal. They took in $22mm in a financing round two years ago led by Valhalla Partners, and including Redpoint and General Catalyst Partners.

Bill Masterson
Was: VP – Agency Relationships and Sales, United Online
Is: EVP at Media Rights Capital
Moved: January 2008

A familiar player in Madison Avenue media circles, Masterson moved a lot of experience and relationships with him from United online to MRC, an independent film studio associated with Los Angeles talent agency Endeavor that is using $400 million in backing (from AT&T, advertising conglomerate WPP Group and Goldman Sachs) to promote films like “Babel.” (More here from NYTimes ).

Adam Gerber
Was: VP – Ad Product and Strategy, Brightcove
Is: Chief Marketing Officer, Quantcast
Moved: November 2007

Gerber joined Quantcast in November of last year and is expected to draw high-profile Madison Avenue attention to Quantcast’s internet ratings system. Based on their data collection methodology alone (which keeps coming out with interesting new data sets, like the useful-looking demographic search feature it just launched today), Quantcast can emerge as a formidable threat to Nielsen and Comscore in the online realm—more so with Gerber heading up marketing. Gerber is a former ad exec at MediaVest Worldwide and was MediaWeek’s 2002 Media All-Star.

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Greg Johnson
Was: Founder and Executive Director, Interpublic Emerging Media Lab; EVP, Global Director of Innovation, MRM Partners
Is: Chief Marketing Officer, Global Gaming League
Moved: August 2007

After 15 years in the agency business, Johnson parted ways with McCann Worldgroup in August of last year to join videogaming media network GGL. Johnson’s IPG Media Lab lives on in LA as a playground for marketers to experiment with emerging technologies and gadgets

Troy Young
Was: EVP and Chief Experience Architect, Organic
Is: Chief Marketing Officer, VideoEgg
Moved: July 2006

Young is a model of how the agency-start-up jump is supposed to work. Since Young joined VideoEgg in 2006 and a few product and strategy revisions later, VideoEgg has emerged as a Madison Avenue favorite in the video ad space, and among other things has also made a name for itself selling high-end video ads on Facebook applications.

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Dan Goodman
Was: Chief Digital Officer at Ogilvy
Is: Chief Executive, Media Rights Capital
Moved July 2007

Goodman left his post at ad agency WPP-owned ad agency Ogilvy to head up MRC, just a month before MRC’s landmark deal with Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, in which MRC distributes exclusive McFarlane content through Google’s AdSense platform. (More on that deal here).

Executives who have left big firms, but have yet to join somewhere new:

Shane Steele
Was: Director, Emerging Media and Online Advertising, Coca-Cola
Is: Undeclared.
Moved: December 2007

Steele is an ad industry darling and frequent panelist and speaker. Since her departure from Coca-Cola last December, she relocated to Los Angeles and is consulting for several area start-ups. After what she describes as an amazing experience with the soda conglomerate, Steele says she was ready to round out her experience and have more autonomy over marketing strategy for different kinds of businesses. She is one to keep an eye on.

David Verklin
Was: Chief Executive, Aegis Americas
Is: Undeclared (supposedly)
Moved: April 2008

Verklin stepped down in April as CEO of Aegis Americas, a massive conglomerate of media and communications companies. Aegis includes Carat, an agency that in the US handles media buying (ad spend) for clients like Proctor & Gamble and Pfizer. Verklin is a larger-than-life industry luminary and prolific speaker (more here). The question is what kind of company could attract interest from such a heavyweight. Consensus from the Madison Ave rumor mill is that he’s expected to join Project Canoe, a not-so-stealthy venture by the six top cable companies to instigate addressable ad delivery on television. (Canoe is also a pre-emptive attack on the potential of the Google-EchoStar partnership).

Moshe Koyfman
Was: Chief Operating Officer, IAC’s Connected Ventures
Is: Undeclared
Moved: March 2008

Koyfman left Barry Diller’s Manhattan nest in March after serving as COO of Connected Ventures (CollegeHumor, BustedTees, high-def video destination Vimeo, and Defunker.com). He was instrumental in IAC’s acquisition of Connected Ventures the year prior. No word on where he’s headed, but he is New York-based.

Dave Morgan
Was: EVP – Global Ad Strategy, AOL; Founder and Chief Executive, Tacoda and Real Media
Is: Undeclared
Moved: February 2008

Morgan left AOL’s New York offices in February after selling Tacoda to them for $275mm in 2007. He’s left a long list of industry players and investors curious about his next move, and if his track record is any precedent he won’t stay still for long.

Eric Eldon contributed to this article.


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