Weisman: It’s A ‘Golden Age’

September 15, 2007


Tony Weisman was born to be in the advertising business; you might say he is advertising industry royalty. His late father, Al, served at the right hand of ad legend Fairfax Cone and helped put Foote, Cone & Belding on the map as a top-tier agency and the first to go public. That was in the golden age of advertising in the late 1950s and 1960s.

“This is the second golden age of our industry,” says Weisman, 47, president of Digitas Chicago, one of the country’s leading digital and direct marketing agencies. “There is so much at stake, there is so much flux; it is really exciting to be in an industry that is reinventing itself.”

The elder Weisman may have worked in the days of David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, Bill Benton, Leo Burnett and Fax Cone, but the younger Weisman is thriving in a new age driven by rapidly evolving marketing technology, highly complex business processes and a newly empowered consumer.

“P&G CEO A.G. Lafley called it when he urged marketers to just let go,” Weisman says. “Today’s consumer is not only controlling their own media, they are creating it and sharing it amongst themselves. Every marketer understands in their bones that the pre-packaged broadly distributed model of a message about a brand is no longer relevant.”

Weisman’s 24-year career is a microcosm of industry change and adaptation. He arrived at Leo Burnett in the days when 30-second television commercials and three broadcast networks still ruled the airwaves. The emergence of cable television, direct marketing and the Internet changed all that. Weisman helped lead the creation of a direct marketing arm at Burnett before becoming chief marketing officer at direct marketing powerhouse Draft Worldwide. Today, recognizing the power of digital media, he’s a leader at Digitas.

At each inflection point—from broadcast media to direct marketing to digital media—Weisman has welcomed change and capitalized on the added complexity and choice facing marketers and consumers.

Today, Weisman helps guide an agency committed to digital media that supports a client list that includes AT&T, American Express, Delta Airlines, Eli Lilly, General Motors, Miller Brewing, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee, Samsung and Whirlpool.

What does Weisman think about the evolution of the advertising industry? He sees opportunity and relevance in today’s media. “Great brands always want to be in dialogue with their consumers. Now people can talk back and the brands can listen. You can engage in a meaningful way,” Weisman says.

He is self-effacing and claims not to be an expert in all things digital. He says today’s complex communications environment and broad media mix require a true ensemble cast of experts to build breakthrough marketing campaigns.

Yet listening to Weisman describe the marketing power of widgets—customized, downloadable applications or chunks of computer code that can be added to a Web page—you realize Weisman is savvy about new media. He knows the ins and outs of search advertising and search engine optimization. He can talk about Web page design and ad servers, yet he’s also an expert in the classic forms of marketing and communications—from building strong marketing plans, to executing broadcast and print advertising programs, to implementing direct marketing programs and merchandising at the point of sale.

I’m not saying Tony Weisman is a renaissance marketing man. I think he’s more a beneficiary of his times. He was lucky enough to enter the communications business as an inheritor of the power of the mass media tools invented by his father’s generation in the 1950s and 1960s. He was nimble enough to adopt the emerging direct marketing offerings made popular in the 1970s and 1980s. And he realized early on the power and potential of Internet media invented in the 1990s and evolving into Web 2.0 in this decade.

Had Weisman been born earlier he might have been stuck in the old ways of marketing. Had he been born later, he might have appreciated Internet media but never really valued the power of traditional advertising.

Today more than ever, marketers must be diverse. Simply being an expert in one form of marketing is insufficient. Yet acquiring diverse sets of skills can be daunting. Weisman’s attitude points the way: “Experience taught me there is real craft and true art to being great in disciplines like broadcast advertising, direct marketing, digital advertising, promotion and retail, but they’re not beyond the ability to learn. If you are willing to take the time and ask the questions of the experts and spend enough time swimming in it to really get to know it, you can master it,” Weisman says.

Weisman’s crafted some guidelines for himself for dealing with change:

  • Always embrace change;
  • Learn from the young ones;
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes;
  • Celebrate innovation; and
  • Recognize it’s a golden age.

Those are good guidelines for any marketer trying to make sense out of today’s Web 2.0 world.

Michael Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago, and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com or news@ama.org.



 ©2007 Marion Consulting Partners