Ted Leonsis, The Capitals and My Advertising Career

Ted’s Digital Advertising Advice

I don’t usually talk about career development on this website. But, last night’s Washington Capital’s hockey game and their owner Ted Leonsis made me think of my own advertising career. More on this later.

Watching Ted Leonsis’s Washington Capitals win the Stanly Cup was exhilarating for two reasons (for my international audience, the Stanley Cup is the National Hockey League’s 60-year-old champions cup).

First, hockey is the only sport that equals the second by second excitement of football (for my USA audience, football means soccer).

Second, Ted had a great impact on my career because he helped give it/me purpose.

Ted And My Purpose

In 1994 I returned from working at Saatchi & Saatchi London to our New York office to run business development with my buddy Beau Fraser. Unfortunately, 1994 was the worst year in the history of the agency with poor management, very bad USA press, loss of any new client interest and the ultimate departure of Maurice and Charles, the founding brothers. We couldn’t sell a damn thing. I even got laughs from Goodby and Silverstein in a shared NYC cab when they heard that my job was selling Saatchi’s services.

BUT… another thing that happened in 1994 was that I “discovered” digital marketing and the Internet. Coming from Luddite-rich Great Britain and seeing what was going on in the states with CD-Roms (LOL) and the graphical web, delivered a HUGE WOW. I sensed that digital was the future (duh!).

I used my Saatchi credential to go down to Florida to meet with Ted Leonsis and his Redgate Communications – as far as I knew, Redgate was the first digital agency. Ted explained what a digital agency did and informed me that AOL had just bought Redgate and that he was going to be AOL’s president. How did Ted do at AOL? Well, he now owns Washington’s hockey and basketball teams. Here’s the AdAge annountment.

Most importantly, he gave me this advice:

“Get the fuck out of traditional advertising and get into digital.”

I did. Ted’s advice was instrumental in helping me find my purpose – and at that time, it was not working at a failing full-service advertising agency. My true purpose was becoming a brilliant marketer. I think I did grow into that. I won’t bore you with the bio details. You can see the post-Saatchi digital bio here.

Peter, What’s The Point?

The point is that you need to locate the one or two people that can help you find your purpose and light the light. It wasn’t an accident that I flew down to Florida on Saatchi’s dime to meet Ted. I went to learn about digital marketing for the agency. But, I knew quite well that I needed to hear what a digital agency was, what digital marketing was going to be (the promise) to help me get to my next stage. FYI, Saatchi management did not agree with me about digital marketing at that time.

Last night… So, when I saw Ted’s team win, there was a bit of extra personal satisfaction and “hey, that’s some cool shit.”

I listened to the right guy in 1994. He is a winner.

By the way, a few years later Ted, as president of AOL, called me up to tell me that AOL was not going to buy my early-stage bot companyActiveBuddy. But, that’s another story.


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