A Small Upstart to Oversee Ad Agencies (NY Times – August 25, 2013)
September 9, 2013
Craig Woerz, left, a managing partner of the Water Cooler Group, and Antony Young, who will become its president.
By STUART ELLIOTT
Published: August 25, 2013
A WELL-KNOWN senior Madison Avenue executive, Antony Young, is leaving the biggest agency holding group for one that, if not the smallest, is certainly the newest.
Mr. Young is becoming president of the Water Cooler Group, which is being formed to be the parent of four agencies — Bolt, Hip Genius, Maude and Media Storm — that specialize in tasks like media planning and buying, social media, creative and content development and interactive television. Clients of the agencies in the new holding group include Connecticut Tourism, Food Network, Fox Sports 1, FX, Major League Soccer, MLB Network, MTV, Open Road Films, TV One, Viggle and WE tv.
Mr. Young’s hiring is to be formally announced on Monday by the principals of the Water Cooler Group, who say the new agency holding company has been in the planning stages for more than a year. The Water Cooler Group will have offices in New York, where Mr. Young will be based, and Los Angeles.
Before joining the Water Cooler Group, Mr. Young held top posts at Mindshare, a media agency owned by the GroupM division of WPP, which is the world’s largest family of agencies — at least until the completion of the merger, announced last month, of the Omnicom Group and the Publicis Groupe to form the Publicis Omnicom Group. Before his work at Mindshare, Mr. Young held a top post at Optimedia, part of the ZenithOptimedia Group division of Publicis.
“I’ve spent a lot of my career in giant holding companies,” Mr. Young, 48, said in a phone interview last week. “Joining the Water Cooler Group is a zag,” he added, as in zagging when everybody zigs.
“What Mindshare and GroupM are doing is some of the best work in the marketplace,” Mr. Young said. “But there are clients — and, frankly, agency people — who are looking for something different, an alternative,” he added, particularly on a smaller scale than the giant media agencies that keep “getting bigger.”
Mr. Young and his new colleagues hope that one of those alternatives will be the Water Cooler Group. The name was chosen, said Craig Woerz, a managing partner at both the Water Cooler Group and Media Storm, to invoke a holy grail among marketers: stimulating conversation, word of mouth, buzz and social sharing among consumers, a k a the water-cooler effect.
“We’re trying to be a challenge to the big-agency model,” Mr. Woerz said. “Antony came through and really blew us away. I felt I was talking to myself a little bit. He shared our entrepreneurial mind-set and had a big-agency background but is not set in the big-agency way.”
Mr. Woerz, 42, founded Media Storm in 2001 with Tim Williams, who is also a managing partner at Media Storm and the Water Cooler Group. With Mr. Young’s arrival, Mr. Williams, 56, will move into a nonexecutive role, Mr. Woerz said.
Another executive, in addition to Mr. Young, is joining the Water Cooler Group from the outside: Chassar Howell, 35, as managing director for strategy and ideation; he previously was managing partner at the New York office of Naked Communications.
Other senior managers at the Water Cooler Group include Benson Hausman, 44, as executive director for marketing and development; he has worked for agencies that include KraftWorks, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners, Leroy & Clarkson and Lipman.
Mr. Hausman was “our first Water Cooler Group employee,” Mr. Woerz said, as he was hired while the company was being planned.
Mr. Young’s arrival at the Water Cooler Group is the most recent job switch for a senior agency executive in a spate of such changes. Most of those moves have involved executives who specialize in creative work, but there have also been some top managers of media agencies in the mix — including a previous change for Mr. Young, who was named last month to a worldwide business development role at Mindshare after serving since September 2011 as chief executive for the Mindshare operations in North America.
The Water Cooler Group joins the ranks of smaller agency holding groups that also include MDC Partners and Project WorldWide. They are dwarfed by the likes of WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, the Interpublic Group of Companies, Dentsu and Havas.
And the big keep getting bigger: according to the trade publication Advertising Age, the Publicis Omnicom Group would own three of the world’s five largest media agencies, including the four largest media agencies in this country.