Universal Reduces Media Knowledge, Puts Less Stock In Future Of Media Futures

In the wake of its Coca-Cola Co. media buying account loss, Universal McCann has begun making some high-profile cuts. Among the executives to be let go as part of the cost-containment move was Jon Swallen, senior vice president and director of media knowledge. What makes Swallen's departure so ironic, was that he also oversaw Universal's so-called "media futures" program, an area that was thrown into question less than a year ago when Universal fired its former head of media futures Mitch Oscar.

At that time, Universal executives asserted they were not cutting back on the area and that Swallen would pick up the reins for tracking, as well as research and development related to new media technologies. The move signals another set back for the program, which has a strong legacy at Universal and its predecessor agency, the McCann-Erickson media department. Among other things, McCann was the first agency to become a member of MIT's fabled Media Lab and was on the cutting edge of developing several interactive TV initiatives.

But despite all their promise, many of those initiatives have yet to yield material advertising results and several agencies have cut back on the area. Among the majors Starcom MediaVest Group and MediaCom still have executives dedicated to media futures.

Universal executives were not available for comment, but one insider told MediaDailyNews that some of Swallen's work on media "modeling" would be taken over by Jim Kite, who recently moved to the states from Universal's London operations, where he was global research director.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear how deep Universal has cut into its talent pool. In a move that may be unrelated to the recent cuts, MediaDailyNews has also learned that Universal has let go of Steve Hantzarides, an executive it recruited with much fanfare late last summer from USA Today to serve as its marketing director, a post that was believed to be a unique position for a media agency at that time.

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