Four questions for MDC Partners' Michael Bassik

PRWeek's Laura Nichols asks Michael Bassik about his plans for MDC Partners' digital operations and how his political and public affairs experience will help him in that role.

Michael Bassik
Michael Bassik

Earlier this month, former Burson-Marsteller digital leader Michael Bassik moved to holding company MDC Partners, where he is serving as MD and president of digital operations. The former digital chief at Air America Radio tells PRWeek where he plans to take the group’s online and social strategy.

PRWeek: Where do you think MDC needs to improve digitally?
Bassik: MDC agencies have a heritage of digital at the core of everything they do. We supported our partners as they blended digital and social capabilities over the years. Rather than bolting on new digital partners, we believed and continue to believe in the need for a more holistic, omni-channel approach that extends to advanced data and analytics.

MDC also recognized very early on that PR firms were poised to take advantage of the growth of digital and social media. I think our PR firms are also reaping the rewards of early investment in social media services, not as standalone offerings but as fully integrated offerings. That’s also paid off for MDC, where we’ve had compound double-digit growth in PR revenue for the past several years.

PRWeek: What are some of your goals in the new role?
Bassik: My personal role specifically, in the abstract, is to work with our agencies, to support their visions. My role really is to help them continue to drive innovation, thought leadership, and excellence.

Some of the areas I’m particularly interested in are expanding the partnerships with MDC with various [companies], whether they’re media companies or technology companies, or other organizations that we can partner with that can help our agencies continue to drive innovation and excellence across the work that they do. Also, to help MDC Partners and to help our agencies take advantage of trends we’re seeing in the marketplace.

At the same time, more thinking on the creative side, on the advertising side, and then on the PR side. Marketers have discovered – at least online – all content is created equal. So long as content is relative, informative, and engaging, content produced by Samsung is as relevant as a story about Samsung in The New York Times.

Content marketing and native advertising are changing our perspectives of corporate America. At the same time, they’re saving the publishing industry and helping our firms to think through content marketing, content creation, and the partnerships, staffing requirements, and talent that’ll be required to continue to deliver these sorts of services.

PRWeek: How has your political background prepared you?
Bassik: My background in politics was really about innovation and helping candidates and organizations for the first time embrace digital media. What you see in political campaigns is a hotbed of creativity in condensed timeframes, because there is an "all or nothing" aspect of Election Day. So much hard work, sleepless nights, and creativity go into a very short period of time, where testing and optimization aren’t something that you’d like to do, they’re required, because every dollar you spend is precious toward that goal of Election Day. If there’s a better way to spend that dollar than you’re spending it, then you need to know immediately.

The things that I take from politics are a spirit of innovation and creativity. I take two other aspects – one would be being mission-driven to the idea and the principle of winning and believing the work that we do can ultimately help our brands achieve their goals. 

The second is speed. Our industry – digital, social media, public relations – is changing every day. Every day you can feel like you’re behind, even if you’re reading everything, trying everything, and doing everything. The last few years, and certainly decades to come, are going to be marked by dramatic changes in the way we do business.

PRWeek: How does this role differ from previous agency roles?
Bassik: The difference is really the role I’ll be playing. At Burson-Marsteller and in previous roles, I built and ran full-service, digital practices. My background is actually getting my hands very dirty and rolling up my sleeves and helping to build agencies and helping to build divisions within agencies that are now regarded as having excellent digital and social media service offerings.

What I hope to do at MDC is apply the things that I’ve learned over my career to help our partners grow their businesses through some of the same techniques that I’ve used over the years to help businesses like Burson-Marsteller grow.

Instead of working directly with clients, I will be instead working directly with the entrepreneurs and the partners throughout the holding company and helping them to take advantage of digital and social media but also to help them expand into new products and services around the world.

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