PHD US CEO Catherine Sullivan discusses 2H 2021 media spending


It’s rare to find a media agency CEO with both buying and selling in their background.

Catherine Sullivan, CEO of PHD US, spent over 25 years selling ads for Disney / ABC and NBC before moving to the buyer’s side in 2016 as President of Investments for Omnicom Media Group and in 2019 , director of investments. Now responsible for the doctorate since September 2020, she must also take into account the needs of clients.

“The road I travel gives me a perspective that separates me from anyone else in the business,” Sullivan said. As a result, she is intimately familiar with the buying and selling extravagances of NewFronts and Upfronts. Here are some of his thoughts, slightly edited for brevity and clarity, on agency transformation, multicultural needs, and being screen independent:

What is the contrast between buying and selling and then monitoring?

As CEO, it’s about making sure my team is well-trained enough to ensure they provide thought leadership. This past year has been a decade of transformation in one year. At the start of last year, we were talking about trading as that distant future, but if it’s not part of your practice now, you better get moving because it’s here. We saw 20% growth in streaming year over year and then suddenly it grew to 73%. Video is video and it doesn’t matter if it’s in your living room or on your phone. If you don’t take that massive leap forward, you can be left 10 years behind. I truly believe this is not a year that you can take incremental or minor steps to figure out how you are going to spend your media money.

How are your customers dealing with change?

I look at our FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) customers from a business perspective, they are lower in the funnel than other brands. What I am seeing is that commerce could account for almost half of their media spend by 2023. Not all of them, but there is an opportunity based on the growth we are seeing now and the maturation of the way. they use it. These relationships become very interesting as all these e-merchants and retailers create their own media channels. Everyone is a frenzied enemy now, and everyone is in everyone’s business.

Media spending focused on DE&I is getting a lot of talk this year. How is PHD involved?

The fact that multicultural budgets are always separate makes absolutely no sense, if we look at the complexion of the United States, I had a client I asked, “Why are you only putting 5% of your public versus multicultural? They said that was the number. But I told them that 30% of consumers of that specific brand were Hispanic. Why don’t you realize that’s where the growth is? This is where the growth of our population is. When [the industry] moves away from demographics and begins to engage with the audience, multiculturalism should be a layer above the audience you build and shouldn’t be a separate conversation. The brand must represent something and remain consistent. You can’t just show up to Black History Month and think you’ve done your job.

You say video is video – how do you approach the market that way?

The biggest problem our industry faces is, even with the 73% migration from linear video to streaming video, [the latter] has two-thirds less inventory to buy. That’s why you always see the amount of money showing up on linear television. There simply aren’t enough opportunities to buy that quality stock that customers are looking for. We talk to some production companies [studios, digital content companies and independent producers] directly on [co-creating], trying to find ways to be creative and provide opportunities for clients.

You’ve been doing partner tops, which are like inverted initials, for a few years. Why?

Two months after I arrived on the sales side, I couldn’t remember who had brought me which idea. Was it NBC, was it Google? If I couldn’t get everything in place after NewFronts and Upfronts, how will our clients do it? After this first year [of the Partner Summit] with just the big media companies i realized i need google here i need facebook here i need to see what vevo is doing and watch all the streamers no one knew about the time. And our customers loved it. We actually got a lot of first looks and made a bunch of offers. When Condé Nast set up his Prime Video pack [in 2019], we took that off the market in 24 hours.

‘This isn’t the year to take baby steps’: PHD U.S. CEO Catherine Sullivan discusses media spending heading into 2H 2021


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