Online All Stars: The Man On The Flying Trapeze

Rob Norman/Illustration: Molly Crabapple

Rob Norman CEO, GroupM Interaction

Digital media may be known for its measurement capabilities, but for Rob Norman, CEO of GroupM Interaction, his entry into the digital world came about through some serendipity in 1993. "I was literally in the tube," recalls Norman, a native Brit. "And I was in a 'what's going to happen next?' phase of my career."

He picked up an abandoned copy of The Wall Street Journal and became intrigued with a story about interactivity, trumpeting experiments like Time Warner's Full Service Network. When he showed the story to his boss, CIA founder Chris Ingram, Ingram asked Norman to do a presentation on it - and thus an omma All Star was born.

Even as Norman relates that story, one gets the feeling that he would have found digital anyway; the discipline fits his restless and curious temperament. But unlike many digital execs, Norman is also loyal to his employers, instead espousing the idea that, occasionally, people should "kind of provoke them into giving you something new and interesting to do." Sixteen years after that fateful tube ride, Norman is still with the company, even if many of the names have changed through acquisitions and restructurings.

In addition to his GroupM duties, Norman sits on the board of WPP Digital, and on the boards of WPP-owned interactive shop Schematic and gaming company Wild Tangent, in which WPP has an investment.

While his credentials put Norman firmly in the digital camp, what sets him apart from many peers is his ability to see the interrelationship between offline and online media, all because he started in the business when interactive barely existed. One example: his take on one of the most successful viral ads of all time - Dove "Evolution," created in 2006 by sister agency Ogilvy & Mather Toronto: His argument is that the preceding "Campaign for Real Beauty" put it into context, greasing the skids for its ultimate success; offline and online fed off one another. "The fact is that there's a huge symbiosis," he says.

As the worlds of online and offline increasingly converge, perspectives like Norman's will help advertisers maximize the benefits of both.

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