Digital Media

From the Broadway Dream to Digital Advertising

Shenan Reed HeadshotAs President of Digital it is Shenan Reed’s job to lead MEC’s digital business and be responsible for further driving the advancement of digital growth and innovation across North America.

A highly respected leader in the digital space, Shenan has a strong background in integrated planning, and a genuine understanding and appreciation for how data informs the overall communications planning process. Her acumen spans the entire spectrum of digital marketing: Digital Strategy, Online Media Placement, Search Engine Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media Strategies, Creative Consulting, and E-Commerce/eCRM Consulting.

TMG: Your career journey is rare in the media and advertising industry. Could you discuss your journey with details about the businesses you have founded, the industries you’ve been involved in, etc.?

SR: Because of when I started in the industry and my circle of friends, it doesn’t feel quite as rare as I guess it must be.  I have been fortunate to be surrounded by entrepreneurs and even some of the folks I’ve hired as employees over the years have gone on to start their own companies.

I started my work life as a musical theatre actress when I was very young and that’s what brought me to New York, the dream of Broadway.  I had a great “ah-ha” moment at about 21, when I realized that I loved the theatre, and was good enough to be a full time actress (not waiting tables) but it was going to be a hard life of constant auditions and uncertainty, and that I probably wasn’t going to be Chita Rivera (still want to be Chita).  So I went back to school to get a BA and while I was there I started paying closer attention to what my Mom was working on for Bristol-Myers Squibb.

She was taking all of this checkout scanner data and overlaying Nielsen, Scarborough, US Census and IRI and turning it into actionable insights that informed shelf placement, order quantities and marketing plans.  I thought that was pretty cool and as a result I interviewed to work for one of her vendors when I graduated school.  The company was Spectra Marketing (now part of Nielsen) and they are responsible for some of the most powerful CPG consumer analytics used in the retail industry.  It was an amazing experience.

My love of data and analytics gave me an opportunity to work for one of the first online advertising agencies in the business, Mass Transit Interactive.  And when Mass Transit changed direction in early 2001 I had the amazing opportunity to split off with a couple of partners and start my own agency, Morpheus Media.  Morpheus started off as a job for us but quickly turned into a real business, profitable every quarter of every year for the 13 years I ran it.  We developed a reputation as The agency for fashion, luxury and retail – working with some of the world’s most recognized brands like Neiman Marcus, Net-a-Porter, Bottega Veneta, LVMH (including Louis Vuitton, Hennessy, Dior, Belvedere Vodka and the rest of the portfolio), Giorgio Armani, Guess, etc.  In addition we had this great balance of non-Fashion/Luxury in clients like The New York Times, The Economist, A&E Television Networks and Vimeo. Our services were all things digital media: display, search, SEO, social, analytics, and we were always developing new service offerings to solve our clients’ needs.  We were on a mission to be extension of our clients’ marketing teams and to really make them feel like they had a true partner.  After 11 years we had an opportunity to sell the business.  I stayed on for a few years to shepherd it through and ultimately decided it was time to spread my wings again.

TMG: Why has MEC been a good fit for you thus far? What opportunities have you seen since joining the media agency?

SR: A few years back a former employee came to ask my advice about two job offers she had in front of her. (I loved playing this role for Morphites and I think they all know that they will forever have me as a mentor and a reference should they ever need it).  She was deciding between a big agency holding company role leading the digital business on a huge CPG brand or a lead digital marketing position at luxury fashion house.  As we discussed her options, I asked her what excited her more, but specifically, would she get a thrill seeing her brands walking down the grocery store aisle or would she get more of a thrill walking past her company’s store on 5th Avenue? Her answer, 5th Avenue. And it was the right answer for her.  When I was ready to leave Morpheus I asked myself the same question – what could I get excited about?  And the truth is I love working on brands that I love, and MEC is filled with brands I love and use every day.  I inherited a thriving digital team (over 300 people in North America) who support a full service digital offering, along with access to a sophisticated analytics team and an incredible partnership with traditional media.  In this role, I have the opportunity to work with the traditional media side of the business, while leading and growing what I would argue to be the best digital media agency in the world. Working in tandem with our traditional media counterparts, we are able to truly see the entire consumer view of our clients’ brands and can architect the full exposure to the brand in every channel, with transformation digital solutions.

In addition to the clients and the full consumer view, MEC has been an amazing fit for me as it promotes a culture that I very much believe in.  Our mantra of ‘Don’t Just Live. Thrive.’ empowers us to find creative ways to grow our clients, our company and, most importantly, our people.  I am a big believer that the most important assets of any agency walk out the door every night, and if we are lucky, they come back the next day.  At MEC not only do they come back, but they are excited to do so because they know they have a leadership team striving to help them grow both personally and professionally.

TMG: Could you discuss your point of view on viewability? What are your thoughts on new pricing models for digital advertising?

SR: GroupM’s stance on viewability and the standards we are setting for our clients is quite well covered and clear. I not only fully support our stance on viewability, but am excited to be one of those leading this shift in the industry.  MEC is taking a strong leadership role in this change thanks to Jon Hsia, my head of digital investment.  While it is a bumpy process to move in this direction we are working hand in hand with our partners so that together we can do what is best for our clients.  Viewability is a great step in creating scarcity in the marketplace, which will be good for everyone.  What I want to change next is how we measure and trade on impressions.  From the start of this industry, we have somehow equated digital media to print media – charging by each impression served.  But as display media becomes more about sight, sound and motion we really need to start developing methods to align it with television.  A few years ago while speaking at the NYU Digital Summit I predicted that we would change how we trade on digital media to a CP30 – cost per 30 seconds of viewable time. I believe this is a viable metric that would get us closer to TV comparable GRPs.  As a result, we are working to roll out some tests to evaluate this metric and ideally look to find a way to trade against it in the future.  It will again create scarcity in the display market and give publishers a true sense of their value to an advertiser.

TMG: As the only woman in the room, what sort of challenges do you face on a day-to-day basis? What have you learned from that? Have you experienced challenges that were particularly difficult to face?

SR: Over the last 15 years of being in this industry I have often been the only woman in the room. As my career progressed and the people I was meeting with grew increasingly higher in rank, the lower the female/male ratio in the room.  It is not lost on me that I am quite comfortable in these environments, but that not all women are.  As a result, I try to analyze what it is that allows me to be confident and comfortable in these settings.  Is it that as an only child, I am both my father’s son (working on cars, helping with household construction projects, learning how to sell by following him to mechanic shops and truly talking shop) and my mother’s daughter (learning to love evening gowns, to display proper table manners, and present myself with grace and poise)?  Is it that they both worked to instill in me a sense of self – appreciating and valuing my own intelligence, understanding that I have something to bring to the party and owning my convictions?  Is it that one of my Morpheus co-founders and business partners was my husband, who worked side by side with me for 13 years as a completely equal partner, challenging me when it was warranted, pushing me when I needed it and celebrated me when I deserved it?  Or is it (to paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell) that I have achieved my 10,000 hours of practice being the only woman in the room?  Likely the answer is all of the above and then some.  As a result, when I have the opportunity to coach young women coming up in the industry, I try to instill some of the things that work for me like: Be proud to be you, never let them see you sweat, don’t sell yourself short, and make them forget you’re a girl.

TMG: Your background is very unique compared to others in similar positions. Could you discuss your background and passions, and how you see them playing a part in the future of your career?

SR: I’d compare myself to an onion with many layers. I think it’s rather fun when people who’ve known me for years find out something new about me. So I won’t reveal it all here, just to keep them guessing, but suffice to stay that I’ve had my fair share of stage time in my life.  I’ve learned a great deal from my varied path that applies to my daily life – mostly to remain a constant learner, the study of any craft is never complete. I’ve learned to be comfortable in front of audiences, big and small, and I don’t get taken aback by a microphone or stage lights.  Learning how to gracefully answer a question you don’t have an answer to is an art form and one I still strive to perfect. You can’t always know everything and being honest about it without being defensive is very powerful. My early career with Spectra taught me a love of data and analytics which powers me every day in this job and I believe will continue to push me forward as we discover new ways to analyze metrics and how they can help us understand consumer behavior.  Lastly, I enjoy reading and learning about other companies and their paths – Maverick by Ricardo Semlar of Semco, Hug Your Customer, Hug Your People by Jack Mitchell of Mitchell’s Department Store, Minding the Store by Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus, Delivering Happiness by Tony Hseih of Zappos, Enchantment by Guy Kawaski of Apple are all some of my favorite business books. All of these and others have shaped the way I look at employees and customers. I believe that empowering your employees to drive change and making it your job to get boulders out of their way, treating them like adults and celebrating their successes are the keys to a successful business.