Agency Profile: Mediasmith, Inc.

Its senior executives come from major agencies and make extensive use of marketing, research, and technology. Is advertising—especially Internet advertising—exclusively a young person’s business? Not at Mediasmith, where principals David L. Smith, Ted Block, and Michael D. Drexler all bring decades of experience to the planning process.

Started in 1978 by the eponymous Smith, Mediasmith was the first agency in the nation to feature planning as its primary service. Dormant from 1983-88, it morphed into Mediasmith, Inc. in 1989 and embraced interactive in the mid-’90s. Today, with a staff that numbers close to 50, offices in San Francisco and New York, and 2000 billings close to $75 million, Mediasmith competes with the young and the geeky. Client wins include CBS, BabyCenter, Eidos Interactive, BigWords,,, and, among others.

“Mediasmith comes from a place in traditional media, and we have always worked with all media,” says Smith. He also notes that the agency doesn’t pigeonhole buys or buyers. “We have media planners who understand interactive as well as TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, and out-of-home. The same person plans for both interactive and traditional media and recommends to the client what percentage of a budget to devote to each.”

Considering that its senior executives come from the ranks of media management at major agencies, it’s no surprise Mediasmith has evolved into a well-grounded company that makes extensive use of marketing, media research, and technology tools. Smith himself was part of a 1995 I/PRO team that developed theüXPÒst processes to measure advertising metrics on the web, establishing and defining key terms such as visitors and ad views. Concentrating on strategic media planning, buying, and tracking, Mediasmith assigns every piece of business to a team staffed with a media planner, planning analyst, media manager, and media account director, plus a partner. The group also includes an interactive buyer and tracker. Creative is outsourced to partners such as SFInteractive.

“Tracking and analysis is our basis for being involved in this business,” Smith maintains. Applying those skills on behalf of CBS, Mediasmith was able, in three months, to lower the client’s cost-per-customer-acquired to a third of what it had been when CBS bought media in-house. What made it possible? Smith credits the efficiency of the buys, due diligence in tracking the media, and the results of the back-end optimization his firm did as a function of the findings.

Committed innovators, the agency was among the first to use DART’s Analyzer product, which measures a user’s exposure to a web ad rather than click-throughs. “There’s a lot of talk about click-though rates going down,” Smith explains. “With post-impression tracking, we find out what people are doing. It’s a first step toward a branding metric on the web, which is an incredibly important tool for our clients. Forty percent of the people who click on an ad come in through post-impression tracking. So recall of a banner becomes a very important tool.

“We intend to maintain our leadership in campaign metrics,” Smith adds. “On the web, we get a better feel for ROI than in any other media. CIO Ric Frost was brought on board to aggressively pursue the next generation of ad-serving technology for both online and offline performance. We’re actively investigating how to bring the kind of tracking lessons we’ve learned online to traditional media.”

The agency president is a savvy buyer as well. His strategy: “When we’ve done our negotiation and have our buy—time permitting—we like to go back to the losers first and tell them they’re not going to get the buy. We find there are often two sets of prices: One if a site thinks it’s going to get the buy, another if it’s not. Losers can become winners.”

Michael Drexler, 61, a legendary figure in the world of advertising, came out of retirement this summer to join Mediasmith as executive vice president. In a career spanning four decades, Drexler has held positions as executive vice president and media director of FCB Worldwide, chairman of True North Media, and worldwide media director at Bozell.

At Mediasmith, “The first thing I did was burn my tie.” Drexler’s ascot-free assignment: “to open the New York office, oversee its operations, and hopefully develop a lot of new business.

“In my opinion, this company is the place to be now,” says Drexler. “Mediasmith is taking the leadership role in the development of new media applications and measurements that provide advertisers with full accountability for their marketing investments. It integrates traditional and new media; it’s way ahead of the curve and the competition in terms of interactive measurement; and it really knows how to give clients the optimal mix of media designed to achieve their goals.”

Since August, energetic rainmaker Drexler has brought in Western Union and Career Rewards, and, he says, “we are in the midst of pitching five additional accounts, traditional advertisers as well as dot-coms. A lot of brick-and-mortar companies are realizing the value of online advertising in conjunction with other advertising and marketing activities.”

Does this activity at Mediasmith signify the wise old guys of advertising are wresting interactive planning back from the young turks?

“I think experience counts for a great deal in almost any business,” says Drexler. “You can’t abandon what has successfully worked offline just because there is a new technology or a new way of communicating with consumers. One of the things we so-called older guys seem to have a lot of experience in is the marketing and advertising process. You have to be rooted in it to understand how to apply technology in the most productive way.

“But we’re not trying to wrest anything away from the young gurus. There are things I’m going to learn from them, and there are things they’re going to learn from me.”

Susan Breslow Sardone can be reached at

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