One of the 13 most admired media executives of 2015.
Michael Epstein is quietly commanding in a way that lets you know he's got everything covered. Which, if you ask him, is one of the reasons Carat president Doug Ray brought Epstein aboard in 2013 as the agency's first chief strategy officer. But Epstein's description of his two-year Carat USA tenure certainly underplays the agency's huge uptick over the same period—a 13 percent jump in revenue and a hand in bringing in more than $700 million in billings.
"Michael has always been committed to driving a culture of innovation," says MediaLink vp of innovation strategy Neil Carty. "His ability to inspire talent and develop collaborative teams, test new business models and experiment on the bleeding edge has been critical in keeping Carat ahead."
This past September, Epstein assumed the role of chief client officer while retaining chief strategy officer duties. By that time, he had brought in new clients like MasterCard and Danone while nurturing organic growth from clients already on the agency's roster, like Relativity EuropaCorp Distribution.
Epstein stands out among both his clients and peers for his personable approach to his work.
"I have had the great fortune to work with Michael as a colleague and a client," notes Relativity CMO Angela Courtin. "Through both experiences, I've witnessed firsthand his brilliance as a strategist, implementer and collaborator. He has a keen sense of marketplace dynamics and peering around corners to advance change and achieve success."
One of Carat's strongest suits, notes Epstein, is its insistence on turning behavioral data into valuable insights that can be applied into plans. "Every agency has its sweet spot, and all agencies are great in their own ways," he says. "Everybody likes to talk about big data. It's actually what you do with that data and turn it into insights" that matters.
It just so happens that's also one of Epstein's strongest traits. Under his leadership, Carat is starting the Innovation Catalyst Group, which pairs together strategists and the technologists that use consumer insight in order to cultivate better-informed strategies for its clients.
"Michael has been a key collaborator in the development and implementation of our audience buying strategy," says Emmanuel Marques, Disney Destination's vp of global media. Epstein "was able to ensure that the strategic services the agency provides are shifting quickly to align with our business need, the evolution of the media consumption of our targets and the increasing development of data-driven and audience-based media opportunities."
But the Innovation Catalyst Group is just one product of Epstein's insistence on nurturing a we're-all-in-this-together culture at Carat. "Collaboration is really important to me," adds Epstein. "We want it to be a place that people want to work with, and we want our clients to be happy. Those things often go hand in hand."