Karen Hunt (UM) and Brett Whelan (Initiative) Named To AdWeek Inaugural L.A. Media Stars

October 11, 2016 | Share this article

Karen Hunt, President, West Coast Region, UM

Karen Hunt doesn’t miss the good old days of gut-instinct movie marketing, but she’s glad she saw it firsthand so she can fully appreciate today’s near-scientific approach.

“The biggest difference between then and now is data—and it’s informing every part of the planning and marketing process,” says Hunt, president of UM’s West Coast region, who launched her career as an assistant media buyer more than 20 years ago at DDB Needham. “We have better data, and that feeds better art, which leads to better outcomes.”

Hunt and her team have worked on a number of industry firsts for client Sony, including an immersive, 360-degree video ad on Snapchat for summer thriller Don’t Breathe. The low-budget, home-invasion flick opened to $26 million, more than double projections, on its way to topping $100 million in the U.S.

That followed another unusual partnership among the agency, studio and Facebook Messenger for an augmented-reality push around last fall’s Goosebumps movie. A chatbot, in character as Slappy (a ventriloquist’s dummy), generated 750 hours of fan interaction, and helped move tickets and related merchandise. Being first is key in the film business, says Hunt, a lifelong Californian and second-generation native of Santa Monica, “because you need to create social conversation.”

With Hunt at the helm, IPG’s UM retained Sony Entertainment, its film, home entertainment, television and other divisions after a global media review last year. This summer, as part of an agencywide reorganization, she added oversight of the San Francisco office where the roster includes Hotwire.com, Edmunds and Schwab.

As Hunt continues to shepherd the Sony account, she will direct fact-finding projects like one with National CineMedia that ties media effectiveness to ticket sales. The exclusive partnership, announced in June, comes as Sony shifts much of its marketing budget from traditional media to digital­—investing, for some releases, half of its usual spend.

It’s an attempt, for the first time, to use data to find out what marketing methods are helping to put butts in seats. “The goal is to close the loop,” Hunt says, “and really track consumer actions.”

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Brett Whelan, Senior Director, Integrated Investment, Initiative

There’s a soft spot in Brett Whelan’s heart for national television, and he’s not about to give up on it just because some naysayers contend that it’s a moribund ad medium.

“It’s not true that TV’s dying—it’s evolving in a way that’s more useful to us as marketers,” argues Whelan, senior director, integrated investment at Initiative. “We’re applying a digital mindset to it now, with things like advanced TV and behavioral data, targeting audience rather than content.”

That’s the approach Whelan and his team took for client Uber, which launched its first major TV campaign last year as a driver recruitment tool.

To be as efficient as possible, Initiative used analytics to figure out the best dayparts and platforms to find potential ride-share workers, making for “a nuanced approach” that proved there was plenty of life left in the medium.

Whelan, who leads a bicoastal team of buyers in digital, print and TV, looked again to television for an all-important pre-holiday program for client Amazon. To supplement an already-heavy ad schedule, he worked with an NBCUniversal specialty division to weave the client’s various products into a number of popular series.

There was a co-branded spot during Late Night With Seth Meyers in which the comedian asked Amazon Echo’s cloud-based voice service Alexa some trivia questions about the NFL and NBC’s Sunday night games. During the Today show, co-hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb ordered packages from Amazon Prime Now on Cyber Monday to demonstrate one-hour delivery.

“It was a way for us to leverage deeper integrated marketing elements at scale,” Whelan explains, “and have Amazon show up in places you wouldn’t expect to see them.”

The program was such a hit that Whelan is working on this year’s edition, noting that it must be “bigger and smarter.”

Whelan says he is intrigued by virtual reality and plans to keep an eye on how it grows over the next few months as gadgets that enable the technology continue to hit the market. He says he’ll stay on the lookout for how brands might be able to use VR—but only “if it can go from being an interesting distraction for the media and tech cognoscenti to being used by everyday people.”

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