Interview: Matt Seiler, Global CEO, Universal McCann: Current Ad-Sales System Is ‘Ridiculous’

Beyond the buzz about TV Everywhere or any of the options being tossed around for making programming available across platforms, lies a simple economic reality: in order to make any of it work, advertisers will have to pay for a viewer’s attention regardless of the platform. That would mean a dramatic shift from a world where value is based on the screen being viewed to a unified theory of advertising. As The Cable Show concluded in Washington, D.C., late last week, I asked Matt Seiler, the global CEO of Interpublic’s Universal McCann, what it would take to truly sell ads across platforms. Seiler, who took that job last August and has since reorganized the ad agency, bluntly listed the current buying system, including the upfronts, as an obstacle holding everyone back: “It’s ridiculous. It is not consumer oriented. It’s not client oriented. It’s antiquated-industry oriented.” Edited excerpts from our conversation follow:

Staci D. Kramer: You talked a little bit about how to get to a unified audience, a unified sell. You’re interested in accelerating things. What actually has to happen?

Matt Seiler: That’s such a great question. I want to solve for an industry issue but as UM, I can’t really change the entire market dynamics. We’re creating a new division within our organization that gets to the media owners much, much, much earlier in the process than what typically happens. The way that it usually works is there’s a buyer that works with the sales person around a specific medium late in the process so planners and clients have decided what the target audience is going to be and what the media mix is going to be, and too often it’s what the media mix was last year. … All of that stuff is predetermined so how much can we really do things differently if there are that many givens?

What we’re trying to do is get to the media owner really early in the process, not necessarily the sales person, to say here’s what we’re looking to accomplish on behalf of our client, here’s what the business objective is and here specifically is the target audience and everything that we know about them.