Scott Lindenbaum, Deutsch’s SVP, digital planning director, beginsa conversation about his evolution into one of the digital world’s preeminent media minds with a broad, innocuous statement. “It’s been a series of very different experiences that landed me here,” he says, much as many other media execs do when asked about their own paths.
After hearing his back story, however, that sentiment enters the realm of massive understatement. Lindenbaum says he “didn’t attend high school in any meaningful way,” instead pursuing life as a professional snowboarder. Lindenbaum had the talent — he was a sponsored rider for Burton Snowboards — but a broken femur altered his journey in profound ways. He found himself at the University of Vermont (which he attended owing to its proximity to snowboarding terrain) with “no real holistic education” and spent his months “trying to learn all the things everybody else knew… I never gave myself a chance to learn anything except backflips.”
That mission led him to, uh, the back of a New York City recording studio, where he temporarily bunked with members of his band. Soon thereafter, he entered an MFA program and later, with a friend, started a publishing company, Electric Literature. The company, which still exists as a nonprofit, was ahead of its time. It anticipated the rise of device-based consumption, becoming the first publisher to serialize storytelling via Twitter, courtesy of a project with author Rick Moody.
Broadcastr, Lindenbaum’s next project, similarly pushed the digital envelope: It tied audio clips to physical locations, feeding listeners content as they moved in and around settings like the 9/11 Museum. Ultimately the company failed due to an inability to scale up the concept, but Lindenbaum had by that point earned a reputation as one of the mostly highly regarded digital storytellers in the biz. Not that this made him feel much better about Broadcastr’s demise. “At the time, it was like, ‘I have a failed startup on my hands, but at least I’ve been on TV a lot,’” he deadpans.
His work since joining Deutsch has been no less revolutionary. Charged with bolstering the firm’s output in the digital realm, Lindenbaum has proved an agency natural. While he downplays his impact — “there was latent digital acumen here. I’m just the connective tissue” — Lindenbaum’s arrival coincided with Deutsch’s transformation from a middle-of-the-pack performer into one of the agency world’s elite digital operators.
Take the agency’s recent work on behalf of Sherwin Williams brand Krylon. Deutsch more or less commandeered a cross-continental yard sale along a 690-mile stretch of Route 127, transforming its purchases with Krylon paint and posting them to Pinterest. As the team’s tricked-out van hit the various sale sites, it engaged with consumers in real time (“should we buy these roller skates or this lamp?”). The brand’s reach and engagement metrics soared.
At the same time, one senses that Lindenbaum could do without the attention that the firm’s recent work has generated. “I get a lot of pleasure when things go out into the world in an interesting way,” he says. “I like to see what happens when you punt that ball into the middle of the field. Do people play with it? For me, that’s the fun part.”