CAB Turns to Adman Cunningham

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After a prolonged search, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau last week chose Universal McCann executive vice president Sean Cunningham as its next CEO, succeeding Joseph Ostrow.

CAB chairwoman Kim Kelly, head of a search committee that had been at work since last October, lauded Cunningham as "an outstanding leader and strategic thinker" in a statement last week. She could not be reached for additional comment.

Her search committee, aided by headhunter Korn/Ferry International, was apparently thinking young: Cunningham is 42.

Cunningham has headed Universal McCann's New York office, with a 165-member staff. Universal McCann is the media-buying unit of Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, and the New York office generates $6 billion in annual billings.

Ostrow, who'll remain with CAB as a consultant, said the group had made "a wise decision." He said his successor has "a highly credible and articulate voice."

"I was contacted, and I was intrigued from the start," Cunningham said in an interview last Thursday.

Asked what he thought impressed the search committee, the adman cited his "breadth of planning and buying experience in literally every form of media, national, regional and local; the breadth of [ad] category experience; and, frankly, my objectivity" in evaluating various media.

New priorities

Upon joining the CAB later this month, Cunningham said his top priority will be "first and most obviously, to tell cable's tremendous story, which is happening week by week [with Nielsen Media Research's primetime ratings reports] and, these days during the upfront, hour by hour.

"There's a tremendous selling story to be harnessed and taken to the community."

Another priority, he said, will be "to tap into the strength of resources built up" at the trade association.

One early contender for the CEO spot had described the CAB as resembling the United Nations, in that its CEO must work on both the network and the local/spot sides of the cable industry — sectors whose aims may not always coincide.

Cunningham said he is up to the challenge. During his nearly 20 years in the agency business, he has worked with "clients from all categories and [with] all kinds of missions and personalities."

Cunningham said he has worked with those in the local and spot-cable arenas, where he sees more broadcast- and cable-network advertisers "tapping into local cable to build retail traffic. I see that continuing [to grow] exponentially."

The new CEO sidestepped such topics as the dearth of local cable ratings research and what some agencies see as the slow improvement in local cable's back office.

"Infrastructure issues are progressing," he said.

Those subjects arose at the CAB's sales conference in Chicago two weeks ago. Cunningham couldn't attend. "There was a bit of an upfront going on that kept me from going."

Landed clients

Prior to Universal McCann, Cunningham was an executive with Lowe Lintas and its predecessor, Ammirati Puris Lintas. When Interpublic merged those agencies in 1999, Cunningham moved to Lowe Lintas as executive vice president and media director.

He helped Ammirati get the Dell Computer, Ameritech, GMC and Nickelodeon accounts, and launched the firm's Chicago and Toronto offices.

While at Ammirati, Cunningham was "instrumental" in landing such clients as Wendy's International, Sony Corp. and Maytag, the CAB said. Both Advertising Age
and Adweek
named the firm "Media Agency of the Year" in 2002.

Prior CAB CEOs were Ostrow (1994-2003), Thom McKinney (1991-94) and Bob Alter (1981-91). (For more on McKinney, see page 38.)

Ostrow announced plans to retire last July. He extended his contract in March after onetime Food Network and Saatchi & Saatchi executive Erica Gruen passed on an offer to be his replacement.

Cunningham declined to discuss his salary; a CAB spokesman said that matter is "confidential."

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