Massey Leaves JWT To Become X+1 COO and President

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X+1Peter Massey, the former CFO of WPP's JWT and Ogilvy & Mather agencies, as well as CFO/General Manager of early-days digital agency Modem Media, has been named President and COO of online ad tech firm, X+1.

According to a release, he will be "responsible for management of the day-to-day operations of the company and report to Chairman and CEO John Nardone." Read it.

Massey discussed his new role and agency experience with AdExchanger.com.

AdExchanger.com:  What compelled you to move from the agency world to the startup world?

PM:   For me, I'm coming back home a bit.  I started in the traditional advertising business right out of college and went into media and television show packaging. That's how I worked my way through business school, went to NYU and got an MBA in Finance. Then, when I came out - I joined Modem Media.

At the time, Modem was very small and doing interactive marketing. I was number 15 in the door.  [X+1 CEO] John Nardone was my old partner there and over a six‑year period, we grew from 15 people to 1,500, and from one office to 10 offices around the world. We certainly lived in the Internet growth curve of the time and went public in '99. In 2000, we were at a revenue run rate of about $200 million. And then, we all know about the cliff on the other side.

But, in that experience I learned a lot and did all of the day‑to‑day operations and finance for Modem. I wore several hats along the way - CFO, COO, and then general manager and COO - and was there for 12 years. It was a lot of hard work, but it was rewarding and exhilarating.

We sold Modem to Digitas in 2004 and I stayed to do all the integration work.  Thereafter, I went back into the big agency world and worked at Foote Cone, at Ogilvy, and then, at JWT.  I'd sort of look at that as "finishing" school for me. Certainly, the WPP organization is - in regard to their finances - considered one of the best financial organizations in the business.

John [Nardone] contacted me back in the spring and we started talking about X+1 and the opportunity here. I got very excited about it - about working in the startup world again, and about working with John, who I have a lot of faith in.

What are some of the key differences between what a CFO does and what a COO/President does?

If you look at some of the more developed companies out there and their CFOs, typically you will find what I call "operations/finance people."

If you think about the traditional ad space of the 1980s, where finance was more accounting and "the back office," the reason why Foote Cone, Ogilvy and JWT was interested in my experience was the operational side of it, my ability to adapt systems and understand the business from a day‑to‑day perspective, not just accounting and finance.

When I went to JWT, the organization was looking to the future and trying to take their traditional model and move it into the more digital space -the more project‑oriented space. So, I got very involved with the organization in building the systems to support that [initiative].

I architected three systems over there for them to track revenue and do project‑based jobs. We worked very closely with the client teams - so much more than what somebody might think is the classic CFO position.

The people that I trained there became true business partners to not only the management side of things but also the client businesses.

That's the way I approach, and have approached, the CFO job. And it comes from my foundation, Modem [Media], which was a high-growth, technology company. That DNA is the heart of who I am. The traditional agencies want some of that DNA and they're starting to develop it.

I wanted to get back on this side where, especially in this space, there's a great future, foundation and modeling for what I think will be the future of advertising, or certainly a very large component of it.

Given your agency experience, what would you say are some of the key challenges today that you've seen on the agency side that digital has introduced?

I can speak for JWT certainly and Ogilvy, as well. Ogilvy is a completely different organization and structured differently than JWT. JWT has a great aspiration. They are trying to infuse digital talent into their mix. The traditional, large agency DNA is fostered in large through brand‑building, brand campaigns and big ideas. That's where the majority of their revenue is today.

However, the agencies are - at least JWT is - having real success in bringing in digital advertising.  If I were to define that term, it's different than when JWT bought a company in San Diego called Digitaria, a hardcore digital development company that develops websites, creates banners, things like that.

The agencies right now are trying to figure out - and I think JWT is trying to do this, too - is what digital advertising means to them. We talked about it when I was there. They need to take big brand ideas, big ideas, and take it into the digital world across digital channels.

Their aspirations are great. They're adapting technologies. The DNA is strong. But as for infusing this in, we'll see... As I always say, I can see the bow of the boat turning. You can see it moving. They have to hang on to their mainstream business, sell-in and get clients to trust that they know what they're doing in the digital realm.

They're making inroads and moving along. But it's not a revolutionary thing. It's more of an evolutionary thing.

Last question, is there anything that comes to you coming aboard X+1 in terms of aspirations by the company to go public, considering what happened at Modem, or to become part of a larger company?

There's nothing at all in the works that way, if that's what you're asking. But, I guess the answer to that is “yes” or become a large independent, depending upon how you cobble it together.

I think we're in a position of high growth with the launch of the Origin 3.0 platform and we're going to continue to get interest from big clients to run these campaigns across channels.

And we're going to have opportunities for all the things that you're talking about whether it is a merger, going public, or whether it means being tucked in under a larger entity. All those things can happen. That's sort of financial engineering.

I like to keep our folks focused on X+1 and who we are, and the financial engineering will take care of itself as we go along.

By John Ebbert

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