Media All Stars Announced

Today, MediaPost Communications presents our Online All Star awards in media: Sean Finnegan, U.S. director, OMD Digital, a unit of OMD Worldwide; Nick Pahade, president, Denuo, a Publicis Groupe unit; and David Cohen, executive vice president, U.S. Director of Digital Communications, Universal McCann Interactive.

All of our Online All Stars will be honored at a reception in New York on Sept. 25, the first day of OMMA Conference.

Sean Finnegan

U.S. Director, OMD Digital, a unit of OMD Worldwide

Ask anyone at OMD Digital or any of the agency's clients about Sean Finnegan and they can't compliment him enough. He's a visionary and a people person. He's a great leader, motivator, and team player. He's got a big heart, but a small ego. And he's got more energy than the Energizer Bunny after 10 cups of coffee. It's no wonder he's risen through the ranks to the leading U.S. position at the digital business unit of OMD Worldwide.

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"Sean has a vision for this business, where it's going and what that means to our business, and that's so important," says Page Thompson, CEO-North America for OMD Worldwide. "And he's not just caught up in the technology; he understands how to use it as a tool in the advertising process."

Finnegan became U.S. Director of OMD Digital two years ago, after serving two years as the unit's Midwest director. He also oversees OMD's media service Next; he was recently appointed to the firm's North America Operating Council and named global coordinator for all of OMD Digital's worldwide offerings. He has grown the business from seven to 150 employees and from 10 to more than 60 accounts, including FedEx, AOL, Dell, Bank of America, McDonald's, and United Airlines. Billings have risen from $25 million into the triple-digit millions.

Says Steve Pacheco, director of advertising for FedEx Services: "We wanted to attach ourselves to influencers and to those who were well thought of, and [Finnegan] always came out at the top of the list. He has a tireless work ethic. I've never seen anyone go at it as hard as he does, day in and day out. It's easy to get energized around him because of his passion and enthusiasm."

Finnegan's leadership also contributed greatly to the AOL win. "[OMD] didn't come in and try to tell us that they knew everything and we didn't," says John Lane, senior vice president of online marketing at AOL. "They paid attention to things that were already working well and built on that."

Finnegan started his career in the early 1990s working in spot TV and print at BBDO, New York, but quickly shifted to new media as the Web grew in importance. He worked at several digital agencies and an online business before becoming media director for Omnicom's TribalDDB, Chicago in 2001. A year later, Omnicom formed OMD and Sean was offered the Midwest director position. He was honored as a Mediaweek All Star in 2005.

Apart from his professional accomplishments, Finnegan's greatest achievement is his family. He and his wife Melody have five children ranging from 2 to 12, and there's another on the way, due in January. "They're phenomenal. I love to get home to spend every waking moment with them," he says.

Just 35, Finnegan is humble about the responsibilities he's been given. "Anyone who meets me will understand that I'm very approachable and all about the relationship and the ideas," Finnegan says. "I don't micromanage. I trust the people who work for me and let them do their jobs, and I think they thrive on that."

It's that humility that makes it hard for Finnegan to accept OMMA's Online All Star honor. "Everyone in the digital group comes in every day and reinvents themselves--stays five steps ahead of the curve and puts out killer campaigns and case studies that make an impact." A reward like this, he says, is a reflection of the good work of everyone who works with him.

"We're very proud of him and happy for him," Pacheco adds. "He's a great representative of the industry as a whole and of OMD specifically. As a trusted and valued partner of FedEx, he's more than doing his job there. We're glad to have him on board."

No doubt we'll be seeing a lot more success from this industry leader.

Nick Pahade

President, Denuo, a Publicis Groupe unit

Nick Pahade's parents weren't happy. It was early 1996, and he'd just told them that he was dropping medical school to start "a Web site promotional company" with a few college pals.

"It was the right thing for me to do at the time," recalls Pahade, now 31 and president of Publicis Groupe's Denuo unit. "They took the news pretty well, actually. But it was a few years before they were totally comfortable with it."

The company Pahade founded, which would became known as Beyond Interactive, kicked into gear in early 1998 and was acquired by Grey Global Group in 1999. Pahade stayed on as the digital agency's president, and also served as managing director of Mediacom Digital until earlier this year.

Pahade seems slightly nostalgic for the early days. "We could only hire folks who were willing to work for us without a regular paycheck in the early going," he says. "We were kids. We learned by doing and we learned by screwing up, you know?"

Clearly, that first professional experience--even what he now sarcastically dubs "that little bubble-bursting thing, that tiny market nuance"--appealed to his entrepreneurial instincts. He left Beyond in December 2005 for his new post at Denuo for that same reason: the ability to create, as opposed to sustaining an entity of someone else's making. Rishad Tobaccowala, Denuo's president, explained the basic premise--that Denuo would ply its trade at the intersection of media/marketing consulting, investing, and invention. Pahade quickly signed on.

"[Rishad] said: 'Wouldn't it be great to form a business around just that?'" I was like, 'yeah,'" Pahade deadpans. In reality, he had already sensed that his career was building toward an opportunity like this one: "It hit my passion point, which is to play at the point where emerging technology, marketing, and communications are colliding or fusing, depending on how you look at it."

In most ways, Denuo behaves more like a boutique consultancy than a marketing communications, media, or technology shop. It defies easy categorization and is relatively low-key about its mission. Asked about this, Pahade is quick with a response: "The job is to figure out how one plus one equals three, as clichéd as that sounds," he says. "In some cases, we'll bring that extra spark or catalyst. In others, we'll bring a little extra muscle for the heavy lifting. We have to figure out what's real and what's vapor."

So far, Pahade says Denuo remains a work in progress, and that he wouldn't have it any other way. The firm's name, after all, stems from a Latin phrase roughly translated as "anew, a second time." Tobaccowala, Pahade, and their team are working with consumer brands, tech upstarts, venture capitalists, and basically anybody with a forward-thinking outlook.

Pahade scores high marks from interactive marketing executives. Jakob Schwerdt, chief executive officer of music/media distributor Media Global Intertainment, praises him for being "a visionary about knowing where the market is headed." Jackie Woodward, Miller Brewing Co.'s vice president-programming, media and marketing assets, lauds Pahade's "unique ability to be both futuristic and realistic at the same time."

Pahade himself has no idea where the future will take him. He says he hopes to be doing "great things" within the Publicis family and acknowledges an interest in venture capitalism. He plans to spend as much time as possible with his two young daughters, nearly four and two, as well as indulging his Buffalo Bills fandom and enthusiasm for marine life; he keeps a few salt-water tanks at home.

Ultimately, though, Pahade's focus will be where it's always been: on innovation. "At home and at work, I'm a tech geek-slash-nerd-slash-dork," he says. "The response we've gotten so far has been great. Companies are treating some of the things we do as their future and not as their 'quote-unquote' test budget, which is really exciting." He pauses before quipping: "At least it shows that we're not completely crazy."

Mom and Dad are pleased, of course. After all, not all is lost, Pahade says: "I have a younger brother who's doing his medical residency, so at least they have one good kid."

David Cohen

Executive Vice President, U.S. Director of Digital Communications, Universal McCann Interactive

David Cohen can thank digital media for many things--including his wife.

Okay, maybe that's overstating the case a bit--but they did meet more than eight years ago at a client meeting. Cohen was working on behalf of Coca-Cola at Thunder House; she was working for MediaVest. "Great story, right?" he cracks dryly.

Cohen seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. At 36, he has ascended to the post of executive vice president, U.S. director of digital communications at Universal McCann Interactive. In that role, he oversees somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 digital media/planning professionals and around $300 million in annual billings. The firm's client roster includes such brand and marketing luminaries as Microsoft, Sony, Wendy's, and Kohl's.

He arrived at the post in a somewhat roundabout manner. After ditching the idea of practicing medicine ("I was in it for the wrong reasons--money and prestige, versus what I really wanted to do"), he graduated college without a clear career direction. A family friend in the advertising business urged him to chat with a few media director types, and eventually he landed at Neil Faber Media, where he stayed for six years.

Looking back, Cohen views that the experience as invaluable to his professional development. "I cut my teeth on traditional media. I did everything from strategic thinking to the nitty-gritty, crappy work," he says.

During his time there, convinced of digital media's potential, he talked his boss into letting him start a new media unit. The agency world beckoned shortly thereafter, and he joined Interpublic's Thunder House as its second media employee. Thunder House was rolled into Zentropy Partners before too long and Cohen eventually became North American media director.

"Betting on a fairly unknown medium back in 1996 was the riskiest thing I could have done, but I was young and excited and willing to take the chance," he recalls. "Even then, I could say with 100 percent certainty that this was a tailor-made profession for me."

Still, the Internet bust taught Cohen a few lessons. In contrast to the everything-is-awesome outlook of the late 1990s, Cohen is now loath to identify a new technology or methodology as the next big thing. He stresses that digital media is "at Step Two or Three of a 100-step race" and says that his focus is on "building solid, sustainable business models, rather than getting caught up in the moment."

At the same time, he expresses mild frustration about the hesitancy of some companies to fully embrace digital opportunities. "Clients aren't spending what they should, relative to what this medium can deliver," he says. He also believes that further education is needed on the creative side of the house: "There's a limitless canvas to play with. Everybody has to think outside the shackles of a page or a spread or a 30-second unit."

Happily for Cohen, UM's clients have shown few reservations. In recent years, Cohen and his team have helped Wendy's familiarize itself with the world of MySpace and have linked Sony Entertainment with Google for a campaign centered around "The Da Vinci Code," among other projects.

Kohl's chief branding officer, Julie Gardner, who has worked with Cohen and UM for six years, commends his skill in helping usher Kohl's into the digital era. "We started by putting a toe in the water and he was comfortable with that. He didn't push us to move at a faster pace than we wanted to," she says, hailing his work on behalf of the retailer's "Transformation Nation" and "Generation Transformation" initiatives.

Asked where Cohen will be professionally 10 years from now, Gardner says: "Probably pioneering the next digital ecosystem." Cohen himself, however, harbors no such grandiose ambitions. "I'm always going to want to answer the question of, 'What's next and how do we get there?'" he says. "Whether I'm on the agency side or the client side or wherever, that's where my mind will always be."

Lynn Russo and Larry Dobrow contributed to this report.

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