Mandel described his departure as amicable, and said he accomplished what he set out to do, but increasingly found himself like a "fish out of water" inside a big bureaucratic company like Nielsen.
"When I joined, I promised them I'd give them two years and develop new products and services. Many of those products have matured and they've moved into ongoing businesses, and I felt it was time for me to move on, and get back into marketing. And I don't want to say anything negative about the Nielsen Company, but I never understood the humor in 'Dilbert' cartoons before, and now I think they're the funniest things I've ever seen."
A Nielsen spokesman confirmed that NielsenConnect has fulfilled its role, and is being phased out as the businesses it "jump-started" have become integrated into other parts of the Nielsen organization, and as the principles of integration developed via NielsenConnect have become infused throughout Nielsen's organization.
"NielsenConnect was formed two years ago to jumpstart the process of integrating products and services across the company. The plan was to operate an internal incubator for cross-company ideas until Nielsen's broader initiatives took hold," the spokesman said, adding: "NielsenConnect has run its course--and the hits are being transitioned into businesses. The principles upon which NielsenConnect was founded are now a part of our entire company and we're focused on them every day."
Mandel told MediaDailyNews that he has been weighing three offers in the marketing or media industry, and that he recently turned one down that would have involved relocation to Washington, DC. He said he has to travel to the West Coast to meet with executives about another.
"I need to have something that is about being in marketing, being in media, and being in the center of it," he said, adding that he is looking for "perfection."
Before joining Nielsen to launch NielsenConnect in November 2006, Mandel was a top executive in WPP's GroupM unit--a company that coincidentally was a major partner, and is now a chief competitor of Nielsen Co. Mandel, who previously was Co-CEO MediaCom Worldwide, a media shop that WPP acquired along with Grey Advertising, had been a media executive at Grey since joining the agency out of college in 1974.
Since joining Nielsen, Mandel has forged a number of high-profile deals integrating and/or fusing one or more Nielsen marketing and media research products to generate new consumer insights--usually for big media companies, including Univision, NBC Universal, ESPN, Sony Pictures Television and others.
In its November 2007 deal with ESPN, for example, NielsenConnect integrated Nielsen products capable of providing a 360-degree perspective of how sports fans consume its content across the "three screens" of TV, online and mobile devices.
During his time at Nielsen, Mandel frequently described himself as a "kid inside a candy store," meaning that after decades on the media-buying side, he could finally begin putting pieces of data together that actually explained the phenomenon of media and advertising impact on consumers. Mandel could not always speak publicly about some of those insights, but during a keynote at MEDIA magazine's Outfront Conference in New York last year, he let on to some extremely sophisticated and somewhat secretive work he was doing on behalf of the federal government.
Without explicitly naming the Department of Homeland Security, Mandel said NielsenConnect had developed methods for tracking "disease plumes" in a way that could be used as an early warning for biological or chemical terrorist attacks.
"You may think lives depend on television ratings, but trust me, in disease plume stuff, they really are at stake," Mandel quipped to the TV industry crowd attending the conference.
While Mandel is well-known for his media-buying clout and acumen, he is probably best known as a media industry pundit who has made memorable--and sometimes outrageous--comments and observations that have made him popular with the trade press.
Mandel coincidentally is the second former well-known Madison Avenue executive to leave Nielsen in less than a month. He follows David Marans, who joined A&E Networks as its head of research on Jan. 19th, and had been executive vice president-media at Nielsen's IAG unit. Before joining IAG Research in 2005, which was eventually acquired by Nielsen, Marans was a top research executive at WPP's Mindshare unit, and at JWT and Y&R before that.
Mandel said a lot of what NielsenConnect set out to do has been accomplished, and that the culture inside Nielsen has grown more collaborative, and is spawning new integrated products independent of the stand-alone entity.
If that's true, it would be the realization of a dream inside Nielsen and its predecessor companies, which have long tried to integrate their marketing and media research components--something that has often been described as a "Holy Grail" project.