‘It’s bet­ter to have him on­side’

Gideon Spanier talks to the in­flu­en­tial Michael Kas­san, who has just sold Me­di­aLink in a $200m deal

Campaign Middle East - - NEWS -

“He has a di­rect line to the CEOs of ma­jor ad­ver­tis­ers, agency hold­ing com­pa­nies, me­dia own­ers and tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies” Steve Al­lan, global CEO, Me­di­aCom

Michael Kas­san has built his me­dia ad­vi­sory busi­ness, Me­di­aLink, by be­ing “in the room” when deals are done. He likes to quote a lyric from his favourite Broad­way show, Hamil­ton, when three of Amer­ica’s found­ing fathers meet to thrash out a se­cret deal. “No-one else was in the room where it hap­pened,” the song goes.

Kas­san has adopted it as his com­pany’s theme tune. “Me­di­aLink has been for­tu­nate enough to be in many, many, many of the rooms where it hap­pened,” says the man who has run some of the big­gest re­cent me­dia pitches, in­clud­ing AT&T’s $4bn re­view and 21st Cen­tury Fox’s $1bn process.

Be­ing in the room gives Me­di­aLink the in­side track on the lat­est in­dus­try think­ing and how the mar­ket­place is chang­ing, he ex­plains. “To take a US ice-hockey ex­am­ple, Wayne Gret­zky fa­mously said his the­ory about the way to win a game is to see where the puck is go­ing [rather than chas­ing where the puck al­ready is],” Kas­san, who grew up in Brook­lyn and was raised in Los An­ge­les, says. “One of our ad­van­tages of ‘be­ing in the room’ is we know where the puck is go­ing.”

What’s more, it is an en­vi­ron­ment that has be­come “fraught with chaos and dis­rup­tion” be­cause of tech­no­log­i­cal change, so clients need more ad­vice, he says: “That chaos has bred enor­mous op­por­tu­nity [for Me­di­aLink].”

It is part of the rea­son why there has been a glut of me­dia re­views – “what peo­ple char­ac­terise as a Me­di­a­palooza, a Me­di­aged­don” – as ad­ver­tis­ers strug­gle with dis­rup­tion, Kas­san says. And “Me­di­aLink has found it­self able to rep­re­sent mul­ti­ple sides of the equa­tion”, he ex­plains, re­fer­ring to how brands, agen­cies and me­dia own­ers are all clients.

No won­der there is a mys­tique that sur­rounds Kas­san, a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive at In­ter­pub­lic with a colour­ful past. The for­mer tax lawyer had his le­gal li­cence tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended in Cal­i­for­nia in the 1990s in a row over the pay­ment of ex­penses.

He is “prob­a­bly the best-con­nected man in our busi­ness”, ac­cord­ing to Mike Cooper, global chief ex­ec­u­tive of PHD. Or as Steve Al­lan, global chief ex­ec­u­tive of Me­di­aCom, says: “He’s got a di­rect line to the chief ex­ec­u­tives of ma­jor ad­ver­tis­ers, agency hold­ing com­pa­nies, me­dia own­ers and tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies.”

Me­di­aLink is a lu­cra­tive busi­ness, ad­vis­ing clients on ad­ver­tis­ing re­views, head­hunt­ing and broader strate­gic think­ing such as dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion, plus there are the glitzy par­ties that Kas­san, the chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive, throws at Cannes Lions and CES in Las Ve­gas. He likes to fly by pri­vate jet, ac­cord­ing to one source.

Me­di­aLink made $14m profit on turnover of $54m last year. Now Kas­san has sold it to As­cen­tial, the Bri­tish owner of Cannes Lions, for an ini­tial cash pay­ment of $69m. But that could rise to as much as $207m if he and se­nior man­age­ment hit “stretch­ing” tar­gets in their earn-out by 2021. He has com­mit­ted to stay for at least four years.

The ra­tio­nale for the deal is that As­cen­tial can help Me­di­aLink to ex­pand glob­ally – Kas­san’s op­er­a­tion cur­rently has 120 staff in New York, Los An­ge­les, San Fran­cisco and Chicago – while Me­di­aLink can give As­cen­tial bet­ter ac­cess to board­rooms and cross-sell other busi­ness in­for­ma­tion ser­vices.

Kas­san has “a nice anec­dote” to ex­plain how he met Dun­can Painter, CEO of As­cen­tial. Their “first date”, as Kas­san puts it, was at a party thrown by “our friend” Joanna Coles from Cos­mopoli­tan pub­lisher Hearst and Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel at Cannes Lions two years ago.

Painter was in­tro­duced as “the guy who owned Cannes Lions”, prompt­ing Kas­san’s friends at the party to joke to the Me­di­aLink boss: “Jeez, I thought you owned the Cannes Lions”, be­cause he has been such a vis­i­ble pres­ence at the ad fes­ti­val.

Me­di­aLink has worked with Cannes Lions’ clients at the fes­ti­val since 2011 but the busi­nesses will stay sep­a­rate to avoid po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est, Painter says.

One of Kas­san’s first ob­jec­tives is to use As­cen­tial’s global scale to ex­pand his busi­ness to Lon­don and Hong Kong. ( Cam­paign pub­lisher Hay­mar­ket has a joint ven­ture with As­cen­tial on the Spikes awards in Asia; Cam

paign Mid­dle East pub­lisher Mo­ti­vate is a part­ner in the Dubai Lynx.)

In­dus­try ob­servers say the fact that Me­di­aLink has not ex­panded out­side the US un­til now is a sur­prise, but Kas­san has con­sid­ered ac­qui­si­tions.

Cam­paign un­der­stands that Me­di­aLink has pre­vi­ously ap­proached Lon­don re­cruit­ment con­sul­tan­cies The Light­house Com­pany and Grace Blue, as well as Oys­ter­catch­ers, the in­ter­me­di­ary that was bought by Cen­taur Me­dia in Septem­ber last year.

Kas­san de­clines to con­firm mak­ing any takeover ap­proaches but says he is “in­ter­ested in find­ing like­minded en­ti­ties”.

Re­cruit­ment is a large part of Me­di­aLink’s busi­ness and Kas­san is fo­cus­ing on top-level board roles too. “We be­lieve gen­uinely that there is a void in the board­room of peo­ple with mar­ket­ing back­grounds, par­tic­u­larly those who have em­braced the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion that ev­ery com­pany has to go through,” he says.

In­dus­try play­ers re­gard Kas­san with a mix of ad­mi­ra­tion and wari­ness be­cause “he has fin­gers in so many pies”, as a ri­val puts it. A typ­i­cal com­ment is from a me­dia owner who is happy to pay Me­di­aLink a reg­u­lar re­tainer,: “I feel it’s bet­ter to have him on­side.” Some of his big­gest clients are said to pay monthly fees stretch­ing into hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars.

Cooper is a Kas­san fan: “I only have good things to say about Michael on the record or off the record. Peo­ple say Me­di­aLink is like a mafia, but that’s ac­tu­ally a com­pli­ment be­cause he’s so good at it.”

Al­lan says: “Michael is a bril­liant re­la­tion­ship builder who earns trust quickly be­cause he is some­one who also cares. When on the odd oc­ca­sion I’ve in­tro­duced some­one to Michael, I know that they are go­ing to ring me a few days later to tell me about their new best friend. That’s a tal­ent.”

If Kas­san is so im­por­tant to his com­pany’s suc­cess, then that might leave As­cen­tial’s share­hold­ers with a lin­ger­ing ques­tion. As one per­son who knows Me­di­aLink well asks: “What are you ac­quir­ing here apart from Michael’s ad­dress book?”

Painter is con­fi­dent that Kas­san’s 120-strong team will “strengthen” As­cen­tial’s ex­ist­ing “board-level re­la­tion­ships” with clients and “sig­nif­i­cantly” ac­cel­er­ate growth over the com­ing years. “What this gives us,” Painter says of the ac­qui­si­tion, “is the abil­ity to lever­age that sup­ply of in­for­ma­tion we give to th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions [ clients] and, through Me­di­aLink, re­ally help them to ex­e­cute to a much higher stan­dard.”

Kas­san, the show­man, has a more colour­ful way of ex­plain­ing his global am­bi­tion. “Our real hope is we start an in­ter­ga­lac­tic busi­ness,” he says.

Kas­san: at CES ahead of the sale of his busi­ness to Cannes Lions owner As­cen­tial

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.