Executive Of The Year: Martin Cass, CEO, MDC Media Partners, Assembly

Martin Cass may joke that he feels he is being mistaken for that other Martin -- Sorrell -- but he's actually the CEO of Assembly and MDC Media Partners, the media agency umbrella group responsible for expanding MDC's media business from 4% to 14% of its total revenue in a little more than two years. 

This growth marks an appropriate milestone, and a perfect time to name Cass MediaPost's Media Agency Executive of the Year.

The former elite rugby player attributes his success to being "surrounded by people better than you," he says. And in turn, his colleagues have nothing but praise for this British leader.

"Martin is a larger-than-life gentleman, both physically and intellectually," says Miles Nadal, former CEO/Chairman of MDC Partners. "I was most impressed with his competitive instincts. I knew that his athletic training as a rugby player would make him a great team player, as well as a dynamic leader. And that happened as anticipated. He helped architect the media initiatives of MDC to a whole new level of success and innovation. I was proud to be his partner, and I am certain he will succeed in everything that he sets his mind to."

In a career that spans more than two decades, Cass admits that his path owes a lot to serendipity. "I never really planned my career. I am extremely lucky," he said. His interest in the industry was first sparked by reading the classic 1983 book "Ogilvy on Advertising."

Nonetheless, his life certainly may have been different if he were better with the ball. "I couldn't make any real money as a rugby player," he admits. 

Having spent time at Geers Gross Advertising and Euro RSCG, Cass joined Carat in 1995 in London before being shipped to the U.S. after leading the pitch team that won a share of Procter & Gamble's strategic planning business. He served as president of Dentsu's Carat U.S. and the lead on the global General Motors business, before finally having enough of the ad world and deciding to step away to explore other opportunities.

After 10 months of being "footloose and fancy free," he entered the advanced management program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where a professor introduced him to MDC's Miles Nadal. "Miles told me, 'I want to build a media agency as good as MDC’s creative agencies,'" says Cass.

Cass joined MDC in late 2013 and has been building a new media network ever since. Assembly integrates digital capabilities, develops data analytics and scales adoption of communication planning structure. With 600 people and new clients like E*Trade and 21st Century Fox, the agency is well on the way to fulfilling Nadal’s brief.

"There is an awful lot of opportunity in the U.S. marketplace to win," he says. "I like to win. Winning feels a lot better than losing. If we see other markets, we will expand there, but we don't have grandiose global ambitions." 

Cass is always 10 steps ahead, says Michael Bassik, managing director, MDC Partners. "He was the first to recognize the democratizing power of technology to level the playing field, and he firmly believed in transparency long before it was de rigueur."

With a career full of innovations and high expectations, Cass says he is probably most proud of his network of friends and colleagues. He has learned from everyone he worked with over the years, from Carat's Doug Ray to Huge's Jeff Brooks and Assembly's Sarah Power. Now, his team of "refugees from big holding companies" are building a network for the future. 

"Along with his handpicked team of stars, Martin created Assembly at the time of greatest disruption in the media business and built it into the fastest-growing agency in America," says Bassik. "No one deserves this remarkable honor -- or as he would say, honour -- more than he does. Congratulations, Martin."

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