On The Hot Seat

Client communication is key in ad industry

Bruce Mittman Bruce Mittman, (left) owner of ad agency Mittcom Ltd. and a partner in Community Broadcasters, which owns eight radio stations and their affiliated websites in New York's Watertown and St. Lawrence Valley markets. (Suzanne Kreiter/ Globe Staff)
By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / September 20, 2009

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Bruce Mittman is the rare combination of ad and radio man. A former president of Boston’s WFNX where he helped develop the station’s brand and ratings, Mittman had early success in the world of advertising with the initial branding of Salomon Ski Bindings and Timberland Footwear. In 2003, he launched his own agency, Mittcom Ltd., where he marries his broadcast and branding background. His clients include Legal Sea Foods, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, Newbury Comics, and Empire Loan. His company, one of the largest ad agencies in the state, has annual billings of $16 million. He recently expanded by moving his nine employees to new offices in Newton. Mittman is also a partner in Community Broadcasters, which owns eight radio stations and their affiliated websites in New York’s Watertown and St. Lawrence Valley markets. Globe reporter Johnny Diaz recently caught up with Mittman in his Newton offices.

Why did you open your own ad agency after years of working in radio?

There was an opportunity to grow an agency. I thought agencies really had lost their way a little bit in where the universe was moving. A lot more decisions these days were predicated on channels, not just messaging, and how do you best utilize those channels and how do you best buy in those channels. When you work on the media side for a long time, you really understand inventory, what media entities can really bring to the table and what they can’t. I always knew that the agencies were always looking at some of the things that were irrelevant, I felt, to really having an impact on the marketplace.

Such as?

They worry only about buying drive-times on radio stations or buying rating points. . . . It’s cheaper to buy on weekends. So you should be recommending to your clients to buy on weekends. You will see with people meters now that (morning drive) is important, but afternoon is more important. Ten (a.m.) to 5 p.m. on weekends is critical time in radio. Cable is much more important than it’s been. So there’s a lot of media options.

How does your radio background help you in your advertising?

I much more know what the trends are out there. I look at my billing. I get every agency in America calling on our radio group; and I’m seeing the pitches and seeing what they are talking about and what they are negotiating. It’s a big advantage owning a broadcast company. I have my fingers in product as well as in marketing. I think that’s another advantage of our company.

How does social media and networking factor into what you do for your clients?

Social media is becoming a lot more important obviously. I think there are a lot of mistakes at this stage in social media. A lot of people are throwing too much money at their digital assets. I think it’s a media mix. To be effective, social media to me is an extraordinary opportunity to do database marketing, to have a relationship, to do relationship marketing with your customer, to have a one-on-one kind of relationship, to feed and build a passionate following. General basic media is still an umbrella that allows you to image yourself, allows you to direct people to various levels whether it’s online or in-store. Plus, it gives you 60 seconds to tell a story. Although digital is important, it’s not the sole solution.

But you often hear about the growing importance of digital advertising and how traditional media is changing.

The other media is not dead. The report of their death is greatly overstated. If you want to make an impact in Boston, you can still make a great impact on TV. If you want to reach a lot of people, radio still reaches 94 percent of the marketplace Monday through Friday. Those are facts that haven’t gone away. Digital is just another component in that mix and that’s how we use it. Will it shift more and more to digital? It’s still shifting and it’s not a done deal yet. The mediums are learning to utilize each other.

What kind of fires do you put out on a daily basis in running your own shop?

So many. The tough part of advertising business is that there are so many different points of entry into your relationship with you and your client that you are constantly having to re-discuss things that you had agreements on. You are constantly trying to keep everyone on the strategy. That is why we build a marketing plan before we do anything.

We get agreement from our client on strategy, so that when we do implement creative or media plans, there is a basis for that media plan so that everyone agrees that is the direction we are taking. That internally puts some fires out when someone says, “Why are we doing that?’’ And then they can go back to their marketing plan and go, “Well, this is what we agreed to do, and this is the process we agreed to follow, and we are all onboard with this.’’ Communication is critical in managing any service in business, but more so for advertising because there are so many inputs into the business.

How has the current economy affected your business?

It’s a challenge. A lot of our budgets have gone backwards. We have been forced to get new business to cover lost ground from an operating point of view. Also, the expectation of expenditure and return is much greater now than it has been. Much more so everyone is focused on, “I spent X, what has been the return?’’ That is probably why a lot more Internet has grown because it’s much more measurable. When you use more traditional media, it’s a little harder. . . . There are a lot of hungry agencies out there. . . . I have three hand grenades and two machetes on me at all times.

Any advice for college students looking to break into advertising?

Don’t. The smart people breaking in are trying to get internships - and they don’t care about whether they are getting paid or not. Internship for college credit is a critical thing. This is an apprenticeship business. You can’t walk into advertising and be an expert. It’s exposure as much as anything else.