Agency Interview: 32 Questions with Sean C. Reardon

January 17, 2017

Sean C. Reardon is CEO of Zenith, Moxie. His experience in the advertising agency business includes stops at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and Publicis & Hal Riney, where he learned the value of culture. He matriculated at Penn State University, and as a fan of the Nittany Lions, he makes a compelling case for the team’s inclusion in the just completed College Football Playoff. We asked Reardon 32 questions. Here are his 32 answers.  

1. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

My “go-to”…two eggs scrambled, grits, bacon, wheat toast.  I’ve become a big breakfast guy since my daughter was born…it takes energy to keep up with kids. More energy than you get from a bagel and a coffee.

2. What’s the last great thing you binge watched and why?

“Westworld”…my dad and I have really connected in watching it together. The phrase “it’s not as good as the original” is common in his vernacular, but this show is just too good, and we’ve burned through it. He’ll occasionally reference the Yul Brynner version as we’re watching, but for the most part, HBO has us both charmed. The depth of the acting roster, the delicate and not-so-delicate dance with mortality in the storyline, the numerous Radiohead allusions, and Anthony Hopkins — what’s not to like? I’m ready for Season 2.    

3. What’s the industry buzzword that annoys you the most these days?

This is a tough one, because there are so many good choices. I guess at the moment I really struggle with usage of “model” in common industry lexicon. It is such a clinical term for an industry charged with human connectivity and persuasion. I think it also suggests that “Shangri-la” is just out of reach for the many and mounting challenges we face as an industry. “New models will show us the right way to connect with consumers.” “A new agency-client model will prepare us for the modern landscape.” “Our business model accommodates new and old elements of the industry.”

Our business is increasingly complicated, so I understand the want to reduce complexity and standardize, but let’s be honest with ourselves…this train we’re on is moving and with haste. Models may solve for the day, but what works today will not work tomorrow — unless someone finds a cure for change and that’s not happening. My perspective as an agency leader is this: agencies in motion will stay in motion, agencies at rest will rest in peace. Models may guide, but they will not solve. People will solve, and that’s where I’m investing.

4. Where do you think the future of programmatic ad buying is headed, particularly for b2b?

It better be headed toward a much more dynamic, engaging place, because the current gap between potential and practice is massive, whether we’re talking b2b or b2c. I personally submit that programmatic ad-buying requires three things to reach new heights:

  1. Application to more engaging canvasses and experiences
  2. A richer pipeline of content/assets created with precision and personalization in mind
  3. Greater connectivity to data activities across the client ecosystem, particularly CRM and e-commerce arenas. 

5. What’s the last great book you read? Why was it great?

“The Golden Ratio" by Mario Livio. In between Baldacci, Child and George RR Martin (aka “mindless reading”), I like reading about numbers and anything about “phi”/Fibonacci fascinates me.

6. What’s your favorite vacation spot?

Cape Cod. This was my answer when I was 9 years old; it’s the same answer today. Steamers at the Squire in Chatham are my happy place.

7. What’s the biggest change in the agency business since you started?

I’m old enough that when I started media functions still sat inside of full-service agencies. The unbundling of media and creation of global media companies are the biggest changes without question. 

8. How have you (and your agency) adapted?

Zenith was a pioneer in this change, so it has evolved more than it has adapted. With that said, while our expertise in the economics and execution of buying media remains, the biggest advance in our offering is the role we play in guiding understanding of consumer engagement given the proliferation of new media and fragmentation of old. The canvas of consumer connectivity was once an afterthought, because, speaking frankly, reaching the masses was a much simpler endeavor. Now it sits front and center. Investments in media and production are too great not to factor how the assets and experiences clients create will be consumed and engaged by consumers.

At Moxie, my answer is a bit different. Our roots were as a digital advertising agency of which media was a part, but not a majority part. So as the global media companies have taken a firmer grip on media duties, we’ve pivoted ever-so-slightly to focus on and accelerate data, technology, and creation capabilities. This focus has been at the foundation of our biggest year in our history, because it has allowed us to expand our perspective beyond advertising and lean into next gen marketing, where the client demand is great and few (if any) can do what we do.

9. What’s your proudest moment in business?

This is going to sound cliché if not corny, but starting on my first day at my first job was my proudest moment. On this day, I officially joined the professional ranks, which meant everything my parents had worked so hard to provide for me was going to have a return. That meant a lot. Any and all the successes since that point have simply been me doing my job.

10. In life?

Becoming a husband and becoming a father. Nothing else is even close.

11. Should Penn State have made the college football playoff this year?

This shouldn’t be a debate. PSU beat Ohio State, won their division and conference, both losses were early, on the road, with 18-year-olds playing linebacker because of injury. I could go on. 

12. What’s the most important way the rise of social media, from YouTube to Facebook to LinkedIn, has changed the way companies reach their audiences?

I think social is underappreciated for its contribution to advances in marketing on mobile devices, because without the names listed above, what do we have, where would we be in mobile marketing? With that said, I think we have a long way to go in mobile, so I suspect the full impact of social media in this area is far from being realized. And I expect the players listed above (and a few others) to play a major part.

13. Digital ad spending is poised to surpass TV ad spending. Is this a problem for agencies or an opportunity?

If this is a problem for you, you’ve had your head in the sand for at least a decade. this has been brewing for 20 years. Conversely, if you see it as a big opportunity, welcome to 2016, Mr. McFly.

14. Is content marketing an evolution or a revolution?

To me, it’s a logical progression of classification. So to answer your question, an evolution. Our industry moves far more methodically than we often give it credit. We tend to cry wolf on revolutions.

15. How has the availability of data changed marketing (or not)?

You could base a thesis on this question. I’ll try to avoid the temptation. Said simply, the future of our industry is not a mystery. Consumer connectivity will be personal, mobile, tech-enabled and data-enhanced. The impact of data to date is probably overstated a bit, but we’re in formative years. To deny the impact of data that is likely ahead…not a mistake I’ll make.

16. How do you use LinkedIn — for networking? For content marketing? Searching for talent? For sales prospecting? For staying abreast of news?

Networking and talent searches without question, content marketing to a modest degree as well. For me personally, I use it for news more than anything else. I am in work mode when I’m on LinkedIn, so the role it plays as a source of industry intel is really important.    

17. How do you use LinkedIn advertising for your clients, and what’s working well for them?

While I’ve never been accused of being short on words, I’m always careful not to talk too much about what we’re doing with clients in public forums. So without giving too much detail, we look at LinkedIn as a key partner particularly when targeting businesses and professionals and we’ve had a lot of success together. I’m very curious to see how the marriage with Microsoft enhances your platform … I have high expectations. 

18. What is your top-secret superpower?

I’m quite talentless, so if there’s a secret superpower, it is also a secret to me.    

19.  Who should play you in the movie version of your life?

Among living actors? Fassbender or bust.    

20. If you weren't at Zenith, Moxie, what would you be doing?

I would teach.      

21. What is your favorite Disney character and why?

I think Luke Skywalker is now technically a Disney character, so that would be my choice. Why? He has the Force…obviously.       

22. What do you have an irrational hatred for?

Balloons. On their own, not so bad, but the noise they make when people touch them...shiver. 

23.  Best movies ever. Go:

#5 The Usual Suspects

#4 Fight Club

#3 A Clockwork Orange

#2 The Godfather

#1 Once (I fell in love with my wife to this movie, it contains our wedding song)

Honorable mention: Anything from Malick, Kubick, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Big Lebowski, The Professional

24. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Centerfielder for the Red Sox

25. What's your most annoying habit?

I’m a world-class fidget…I never stop moving.

26. How long would you survive a zombie apocalypse?

Until I ran out of food.

27. What jobs did you have in high school and what lessons did you learn from them that you still put into practice today?

I worked in restaurants — as a bus boy, a host, cook, waiter and bartender (after high school). I honestly could not think of a better formative-year regiment to prepare for this industry. Two lessons learned that I still carry with me: 1. The client is always your Northstar. Do right in this regard and things will work out 99% of the time (some people will always tip $2).  2. It’s a team game, you want the best players on your team.

28. What lessons did you learn at Goodby and Hal Riney that have stuck with you?

The importance of culture in our business cannot be overstated. What I experienced at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners was magic and everyone there knew it and perpetuated it by believing in it. When I was at Hal Riney shortly thereafter, Hal had retired, so it wasn’t quite the same experience for me, but a similar magic had been felt by those before and around me…that much I could still sense.   

When your culture rallies the best from your people, two things happen…1. you find spectacular where you may not have been looking. This is really important for leaders to recognize, because very few of us start off as stars.  2. You attract spectacular people from outside your organization.

29.  What’s not on your LinkedIn profile?

There aren’t any references to or photos of Danielle, Ashley and Chewy. They’re the best things worth knowing about me. 

30.  What’s the best dinner you’ve had in the last week?

Scarpetta (NYC location)

31.  How often do people mispronounce your first name?

Not often. Nobody calls me Sean at work. I generally go by “Reardon.”

32.  What are you most looking forward to in 2017?

Making magic happen at Moxie and Zenith. 

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