Media Anthropologist: The Third Act’s Stephanie Sarofian

stephaniesarofian.jpgStephanie Sarofian is a keen observer of behavior. Perhaps it’s her passion for photography, interest in distant cultures, or a more inherent sense of storytelling and exploration that led to her role as observer of media behavior.

Sarofian heads up The Third Act, a Digitas-owned outfit that acts as a hub for Publicis Groupe’s media, creative and production units, helping them understand and act on emerging opportunities like developing and distributing branded content.

Taking an extended break from college, Sarofian toured much of the East, from Greece and Turkey to North Africa, India, Nepal, Thailand, Korea, and Japan. “I went to study cultures and people,” she said. “I’m an anthropologist at heart.”

Later, her love of photography propelled her to her position as director of photography and partner at The Image Bank, a New York image library firm now owned by Getty Images. From there, she joined Digitas in ’94.

To Sarofian, human interaction, and how it intersects with new modes of communication, is all about story-telling. “The story is really important…it’s just that the mechanics have changed,” she explained. An appreciation for good stories may be in her blood though. There’s an especially rich one she tells of a grandfather who fled from the Armenian genocide in the early 1900s, complete with tales of haystack hideaways, gold coins and escape routes through Russia and the Mid East.

At age 46, Sarofian is still traveling, though now it’s usually between New York and the Boston-area home she shares with her partner Tracy and fraternal twins Luc and Miles. As Sarofian puts it, “I don’t have any spare time. I have twins.”

Her work life seems busy enough. Besides shuttling back-and-forth weekly between New York and Boston, she can often be seen ricocheting from one meeting to another, then back to her own office; she tries to set aside a block of time each day to do work at her own desk. Sarofian also visited London and Paris recently, in part to work towards creating a European hub for The Third Act.

stephaniesarofiancasual.jpg A typical meeting at the sprawling Digitas offices doesn’t necessitate a stuffy conference room. You’re just as likely to spot Sarofian lounging on the crimson colored rug in an open area, chatting with a colleague. When ClickZ visited recently, she and a creative exec discussed a Web site in development for a big name footwear brand. The video-driven effort would require Sarofian and the Third Act Team to bring in tech and content partners as well as media distribution and possibly cross-promotional partners.

“If you’re thinking about [branded] content, you have to think about distribution,” she stressed.

So, amid talk of big name endorsements and hip event promotions for the effort came the less glamorous side of her work: the bottom line. Can money from the media budget be reallocated for a brand content budget? It’s up to her to figure that out. In other words, Sarofian’s job is as much about the art of understanding media as it is about the art of the deal.

Another meeting took her to a different floor where she listened in on a pitch from an animation studio looking to connect their content to Digitas client brands.

Sarofian prefers open dialogue to scheduled meetings, though she does make sure to meet once a week with the Third Act staff — about 15 people. Her travels have actually influenced her management style, she explained. “It informed how to think about building an organization of diverse people and how the mechanics of that work — and also how to make sure that everyone in that organization is developing.”

The Third Act is truly its own entity, with its own cost structure and profit and loss statement. That means a lot of Sarofian’s time is spent developing potential clients. “We’re always in seeking mode,” she said.

Part of establishing new business entails educating Digitas clients — talking with CMOs and procurement folks to help them understand things like pricing, models for buying content, and how The Third Act can help their brands operate in the evolving media landscape.

One Third Act project involved Digitas creative and media teams. That collaboration, for Starburst, resulted in the Mars candy brand’s sponsorship of “Nite Fite,” a Web series in which two animated loudmouths debate whether or not Rush qualifies as a heavy metal band or if The Who are sell outs. The day ClickZ visited Sarofian, she had a “Nite Flite” sticker slapped on her shirt.

Another recent alignment involved The Third Act and Mediavest. One of the media agency’s CPG brand clients asked The Third Act to co-present with Mediavest, to get a handle on how each firm’s role differed from the other. Concluded Sarofian, “It’s a special request but it’s a great request.”

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