How IPG Mediabrands head Henry Tajer is reinventing adland

April 28, 2016 | Share this article

In April 1 2015, a one-time Australian accounting graduate walked into the foyer of a New York high-rise, caught the lift up to the ninth floor and sat down in one of the best offices in Manhattan’s advertising precinct.

It was no April Fool’s Day joke; 45-year-old Henry Tajer had been appointed global chief executive of IPG Mediabrands, an advertising giant that spends $US37 billion ($49 billion) a year on space in magazines, newspapers, TV and on the internet on behalf of a worldwide roster of blue-chip corporate clients.

Early on in his new gig, Tajer did give his American colleagues a laugh, though. Excited about taking his family on a short break to Mexico, he enthused about the opportunity to again don “a pair of thongs and boardies”. His comments were met with universal horror.

“I was pretty quickly advised that I’d need to wear a bit more than that,” Tajer recounts with a laugh. “They assumed I was going to be schlepping around in a G-string.”

Tajer arrived in New York with his trademark irreverence, yearnings for a quintessentially Australian wardrobe and a daunting remit: to reinvent Mediabrands, the flagship media-buying division of IPG, one of the worlds top four advertising conglomerates.

Between them the big four control most of the $US800 billion spent each year on marketing in all its forms, from advertising, government lobbying, public relations, consumer research and political polling to, increasingly, high-level data analytics designed to unravel how and why people buy stuff, and where and when they’ll be ripe to being influenced. Media buying agencies have traditionally been the middle men, the ones who buy the space on TV, in print and online where the ads made by their creative counterparts are placed.

For the previous nine years Tajer had led a bold diversification strategy at Mediabrands in Australia, extending its role beyond simply buying media space to making brand-funded documentaries and devising less traditional forms of advertising on the smartphones and tablets that have revolutionized not only how we consume media but how we interact with each other.

The big bosses at IPG wanted him to replicate this success globally from advertising’s spiritual home, in and around Madison Avenue, from which the hit TV show Mad Men got its name. Tajer was in agreement that nothing less than a radical reinvention of the global game was needed.

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