5 Questions For: AKQA's Christine Bensen

by , Oct 31, 2005, 5:22 PM
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As director of media and analytics for AKQA in San Francisco, Christine Bensen is responsible for all of the agency's media clients and for identifying new business opportunities. She plays a hands-on role on the Visa International, MobiTV, UGS, and Pinnacle Systems accounts. Most recently, Bensen developed and deployed a global print plan targeted to international travelers for Visa in the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America. Earlier in her career, she ran an information department for Bank of America's retail brokerage business. OMMA's Tobi Elkin lobs some questions at Bensen.

Are you a triple threat -- a media director at an interactive agency who has traditional media planning experience, plus database management/IT skills?

Understanding the various options available in the world of media, and how to realistically measure them, allows me to work with clients to solve their marketing challenges without the distraction of selling any particular media type. While AKQA is heavily focused in producing effective digital advertising, we understand when a job is best done in print, out-of-home, or TV. Having the freedom to recommend a combination of media allows us to consider the target's behavior as the primary factor in media type selection. While my background in database design generally doesn't influence media selection, it allows me to act as the translator of technology-speak into marketing-speak. Working with digital assets and digital media placements is hard work, fraught with glitches. It's important that most everyone in the agency have a solid understanding of basic technologies, and that a few folks outside the IT department be able to troubleshoot the things that inevitably go haywire when least expected.

What are the skills you look for when hiring new talent?

New talent is increasingly difficult to find. During the dotcom bust, I feel like we lost an entire generation of media planners that have not yet been replenished. The planners who did hang on during that period are now mostly at the supervisor level and have little to no support from below. Our first challenge as an industry is to get young people excited about media again. Because it is so difficult to find qualified online media planners, we have really started to do our hiring on more of an attitude and potential basis. A good attitude, ambition, and mentoring often go much farther than a year or two of mediocre experience. A good mentor makes all the difference in an employee's development. I was exceptionally lucky and had a strong mentor, Carl Hendrickson, early in my career in financial services. More recently, I have had the great pleasure of working daily with Kate Thorp [AKQA's president].

Why do you like media so much? What keeps you involved?

I have always been a huge consumer of media. As a child, I was addicted to commercial jingles. As a media director, I receive hundreds of magazines and get sad that I can't read them all. When I was given the opportunity in 1997 to work at Anderson Lembke in online media, I knew it was the beginning of something big. I worked on the Microsoft account for the first two years when it dove head first into online advertising; I helped develop the tracking, reporting, and analysis department. As insane as that time was, developing the medium was fantastic. Soon, digital advertising will be a phrase that isn't isolated to a computer screen. The conversion of traditional media to the digital platform, particularly to out-of-home, is happening now. How could I not be involved?

What's the toughest part of your job, and why?

Balancing the decision of keeping an experienced client team consistent, and managing the inevitable burnout of working on the same account for years. This is further complicated when the skill sets required to service an account are often different for each client.

How do you address this challenge?

We try to continue to innovate within each of our clients' individual marketing efforts. We invite the entire media department to presentations given by both traditional and online media partners, regardless of what the primary focus is on their accounts. We try to involve people in new business which exposes them to new targets, media types, and approaches.

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