Online All Stars 2010: Trevor Kaufman

KaufmanCEO, Schematic

Even though it's been far more than a decade since Trevor Kaufman got his first job in interactive media, the reasons he is still in the business somehow haven't changed. He explains that at his first employer - the CD-ROM publisher Voyager - he thought the fact that people could download files electronically and pay for them online via credit card was amazing. Now, his enthusiasm may be directed at much more sophisticated technology, but the focus is the same: on improving the customer experience, these days for Schematic clients such as Dell and Bank of America. "What has excited me from the beginning is ways that we can use technology to make people's lives better and do things for the first time," he explains.

Actually, in some ways, his out-of-the-ordinary vision goes back even further - to his father, a long-time creative director within the Interpublic Group. Father told son: "The best client relationships come from a shared vision of what marketers can be that's bigger than they ever dreamed it could be."

For Kaufman, who, prior to Schematic, was co-CEO of Grey Advertising-backed Kaufman Patricof Enterprises, these visions are motivation, even when the payoff isn't readily apparent, or valued in dollars. As an example, he points to a touch-screen version of the agenda at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, which Schematic has produced for the last two years. When the company originally talked to Cannes officials about a sponsorship, their suggestions were prosaic - like putting Schematic's name on a lanyard. Instead, the company developed a Touchwall that allowed users to literally put their hands on the entire Cannes agenda. Approximately, 6,000 people used it in its first year at the Festival, and it's easy to see why; it's a combination of cutting-edge creative wow, personalization and usability, showing visitors 3-D maps of bars and restaurants in the area, allowing them to email and connect with other visitors, and - by embedding an RFID tag in each attendees' badge - greeting them as they approached and offering up a customized agenda. Sometimes, Kaufman explains, it's important to do projects just to test the limits of what's possible. "That thing was expensive and no one paid us to do it," he says. "But we did it to push the medium forward."

In 2007, Schematic caught the eye of WPP Group - it bought the agency outright. The acquisition has brought Kaufman - and his agency - to a significant place within the holding company, which already had some enviable digital assets. Says Mark Read, CEO of WPP Digital: "Trevor is one of the visionaries of our industry. He leads an agency with a passion for clients and for creativity and results that shines through in the quality of the work that Schematic produces."

Schematic executive vice president, managing director Andrew Solmssen, who has worked with Kaufman for 14 years, describes his talents this way: "Quite simply, I've never seen anyone with a better or broader understanding of digital media than Trevor. He can electrify any room; from coming up with the big idea around which to shape a pitch to understanding the needs of a consumer to presenting a digital strategy, he connects with everyone, from CEOs to hard-core technologists." That's a combination that most of Kaufman's contemporaries can't touch.

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