IPG Mediabrand’s Initiative Hosts First-Ever U.S. Media Agency Upfront

Initiative Host’s First-Ever U.S. Media Agency Upfront

Initiative, a global communications network within IPG Mediabrands, hosted the first ever upfront by a U.S. media agency. The event took place recently at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York. Upon learning that I was part of something (in our industry) so progressive, I was surprised to not find any of the trades reporting on the event, or even any real social media buzz. Is the digital advertising industry that jaded that we can’t collectively support and report on something refreshing and in many ways groundbreaking?

While the packed room of hundreds may have had varying expectations of the event, we all came away more excited and refreshed by the new position Initiative was taking to lead the charge in becoming the “best agency partner in the market,” and really (in my opinion) their approach should serve as a model for all interactive agencies.

Having Fika and catching up before the upfront

The morning kicked off with time for attendees and Initiative folks to talk over coffee and pastries in the courtyard before the upfront started (many of the world’s problems should be handled over coffee, or ‘Swedish Fika). At shortly after 9:30am it was time for everyone to enter the theater, get seated and for the upfront to begin.

Standing room only

“We are Initiative,” announced Initiative CEO Mat Baxter as he unveiled to the audience of approximately 500 attendees his firm’s rebranded mission statement, and commitment to partner excellence. Baxter described the three reasons for why Initiative is improving the way they work with partners moving forward:

  1. Media owners have largely been mistreated by media agencies
  2. Media partnerships exercise more control over Initiative and a brand’s collective success than ever before
  3. Partners are the biggest advocates (or detractors) to Initiative’s work. “We want everyone in this room to be an advocate of ours”

One of the main sources of inspiration for Initiative to address these areas of improvement seemed to be driven by a recent survey they conducted. This survey asked their publisher partners to rate the areas Initiative excelled in as well as areas that could use improvement. Maureen Bosetti, Chief Investment Officer of Initiative walked through the results of the survey, which highlighted that publishers valued relationships, quality insights into clients business, accessibility to agency teams & response/feedback on proposals amongst the four areas they considered most important in a successful partnership. The results of the survey weren’t very surprising to the majority of us the audience, as the digital advertising world has been needing an overhaul and an injection of transparency and humility for a long, long time. However, I was very pleased to be in attendance to seeing Initiative address their pain points and publicly announce they wanted to improve.

Complimentary notebooks and pens

Through the learnings gleaned from this survey along with the observations Initiative as an agency has seen first-hand for years, they’re making some serious adjustments. With this gift of feedback, and commitment to change, Initiative has at least on paper staked a bold claim in their position as pioneers, sparking a movement to improve their own business as well as the plagued overall advertising industry. By committing to more effectively grow brands through transparency and authenticity — if they execute on the promise — Initiative is poised to become the “best agency partner in the industry.”

“We help brands take the initiative to put their best foot forward in culture.” This emphasis on culture really resonated with me. For the past four months, as Vice President of Partnerships for Wide Open Media (WOM), I have been telling our story (in simple terms, we’re the Buzzfeed for heartland lifestyle). At WOM, we spend a lot of time describing the culture that our content and brand represents to our readers, to our brand partners and to each of us as employees. Unfortunately, as an emerging property, traditionally it has been very difficult to be heard, let alone explain your story and offering to agencies. However, that may change for those of us that are not the “big guys” like CBS, NBC, Facebook, Fox, Microsoft, etc. Now that Initiative is breaking the agency trend and making a promises across their teams to be a better partner, they’ve committed to all of us (no matter the size of the company) to communicate more, listen more & share more about their clients objectives. As a digital advertising veteran, this is refreshing, especially for those of us that are just looking for a chance to show the great partners we truly can be.

Highlight was bathroom decorations

The upfront lasted a solid two hours (with no breaks) and was jam packed with not only attendees but great content, including presentations on several key Initiative brands, covered off by their respective Initiative business leaders and profiling the brand’s objectives, competition and general strategy. The day was a major success and the re-launch of Initiative’s own brand and commitment to partnership is demonstrative of how all businesses need to throw out sacred cows (the way things have always been done) and find ways to improve and innovate.

This ‘upfront’ transparency and communication on the behalf of an agency has (up until this point) been unheard of in this country. We can hope that other agencies (and publishers) take notice of Initiative’s lead, look in the mirror and make changes to how they represent themselves and do business. Together, if we all look for ways to improve how we conduct ourselves, treat each other and in general be better partners, the digital advertising world will be a much better place when we leave it.


Initiative is a global communications network within IPG Mediabrands, one of the world’s preeminent media services entities and part of Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG). Initiative employs more than 2,500 creative and dynamic colleagues in 94 offices in 73 countries managing approximately $16 billion in billings annually. Initiative’s comprehensive range of communications services include: insight and strategy, analytics, media planning and buying, digital communications, branded content creation, evaluation and accountability services and social media strategy and community management.

Wide Open Media:

Wide Open Media Group is the parent company of rapidly-growing Heartland-focused websites, WideOpenEats.com, WideOpenCountry.com, WideOpenSpaces.com and WideOpenPets.com (Wide Open Roads and Wide Open Places coming soon!). With a dynamic, hard-working office in the heart of downtown Austin, Texas and team of freelance writers and editors throughout the country and abroad, Wide Open Media publishes well over a thousand unique pieces of content each month (articles, video, podcast), with the Heartland consumer in mind. As we continue to explore and fine-tune efforts to give our audience what they want, new original content verticals are on the horizon. Media Kit

Culture is everything

VP, Head of US Ops @ 7shifts. Former Yelp, IAC, Yahoo! & Apple Leader. Hoboken Hospitality Founder. Startup Advocate. http://www.LinkedIN.com/in/prestonjunger