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President of Minyanville: Kevin Wassong

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Hard-hitters Phil Mickelson, Wayne Levi, and Scott Hoch share certain characteristics of Ad Star Kevin Wassong. No, it's not their affinity for the green or their choice in clubs (although it could be). But what these men share is their love of what they do, their focus on how they do it, and their determination to do what it takes to win. These men play hard to win hard.

But before landing gigs with pro golfers, Wassong was introduced to the industry by his parents — both were advertisers. He graduated in 1990 from the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University with a B.S. in TV and Film Production and a minor in political science, began working in a small agency in the golf industry, and fell hard for advertising.

Soon ad agency Cliff Freeman sent Wassong to New York to work on a Little Caesar's campaign. And that, as Wassong describes it, was when things "really took off."

Wassong switched gears when he discovered a new passion for technology.

"It was in 1994 that I really got into the Internet and found my calling," says Wassong, who became a harbinger for J. Walter Thompson (JWT) by starting their interactive division, digital@jwt. His talents and creativity built the division into "a top 10 global digital agency with over 220 employees in six offices in North America."

Wassong was flourishing. He had done business with pro golfers, had worked on a major ad campaign, and had built an entire interactive division for a prestigious agency. Success was palpable. Then, in 2004, long-time friend and work partner Todd Harrison needed Wassong's help to further his new brand: Wall Street's financial icons Hoofy the Bull and Boo the Bear of Minyanville. Familiar with Harrison's characters, Wassong accepted.

"[Todd] and I flew to California and met with Stan Gold to present the vision of Minyanville," says Wassong. "[He] told us we had 30 minutes when we walked into the room, but three and a half hours later, he was sitting there mesmerized. It was at that moment that I knew I had to join the 'Ville."

So he did. In 2005, he left JWT, joined Minyanville, and began building an ad supported media platform as the company's president.

"Essentially, my role is to focus on building media solutions that can generate scale and revenue," says Wassong. But his responsibilities don't end there. Along with dabbling in everything from operations and creative development, to business development and marketing, Wassong writes articles for the site. He is also currently helping create animated news shows, featuring Hoofy & Boo: "The Minyanville's World in Review" on Yahoo Finance and "Hoofy & Boo's News & Views" on the Fox Business Network.

"Minyanville = Financial Infotainment," explains the website. "We create branded properties that entertain and educate people interested in finance." With a unique blend of finance and advertising, its no wonder Wassong admits, "Each day is new and exciting. Each day brings a new challenge and a new opportunity."

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. Play with my sons. Write.

Q. Throughout your lifetime, what movie have you watched the most?
A. Star Wars.

Q. What was the last book you read?
A. The Kite Runner.

Q. What music is on your iPod / in your CD player right now?
A. Allman Brothers, Amy Winehouse, Foo Fighters, White Stripes (which is like listening to classic David Bowie).

Q. If you had an extra hour in the day, what would you spend it doing?
A. Working out. There never is enough "me" time.

Today, Wassong exceeds the title of veteran advertiser. For more than a decade, he has developed a great acumen for the industry. And his clientele list proves this. For Sotheby's, he helped create the company's first online auction site; for Mercedes Benz, he developed their first interactive dealership kiosk; and for Merrill Lynch, he launched their first online ad campaign. In addition, Wassong created the first user-generated ad campaign for Unilever's Lever 2000, an ad he's particularly proud of. "This was the most progressive program of its type," he says.

When asked, Wassong claims that one of the best advertising tactics he's seen is "maintaining the interaction in the ad unit."

"You don't see this enough, but it should be done more. The problem with banner advertising is relevancy. If there is not a high level of relevancy, then there will be low interaction. In addition, users do not want to leave a destination. Make the interaction local.

"There is essentially one major trend that has and will drive advertising for the foreseeable future — user control," continues Wassong about the development of TiVo and the Internet. "It's that simple. Whether it's the DVR, user-generated content, personalization, or social networking, the simple fact is the level of user control has increased incrementally over the past five years. There is a formula in media and marketing today: technological advances = increased user control = decreased advertising effectiveness.

"But there is a silver lining," he adds. "In the next three years, we will see a significant resurgence in advertising as consumers come to realize the value exchange. Consumers receive valuable entertainment in exchange for watching an ad. That is the value exchange. Furthermore, if you look at the "new media model" pre-roll or post-roll, you'll find that you cannot fast forward. You have to watch the message in order to view the content. In five years, what's old will be new again."

Wassong's drive has helped him play hard and ultimately win hard in the advertising world. Developing programs, art directing with golf pro Mickelson, and now residing as president of Minyanville, this Ad Star has plenty of sound advice to offer young advertising professionals.

"Start in media. The media drives the creative process today. Ideas must be synergistic with the channels where the message lives. It will also give you an understanding of how the process works. The worst thing that ever happened to the agency world was the uncoupling of media from the creative process. I think we'll see the two come back together again, but media will be the lead horse over the creative agencies in the next few years."
On the net:Minyanville


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