Mike Sheldon: Chairman & CEO, Deutsch North America

My NativeAdVice:


As Chairman & CEO of Deutsch North America, Mike Sheldon is at the helm of one of the most awarded creative shops in the U.S. In his two decades at Deutsch, Mike has transformed the agency’s LA office from a handful of people into more than 500-strong. Since taking on the role of North American CEO, his leadership of both the LA and New York offices has earned Deutsch a spot at the top of the Ad Age A-List, Fast Company’s Most Innovative list, and the Forbes “Ten Hot Agencies to Consider.” Mike’s been a driving force behind iconic work for world-renowned brands like Volkswagen, Taco Bell, Target, Dr Pepper and Anheuser-Busch. By investing in digital, music, design, Hispanic marketing, production, artificial intelligence and other key capabilities, Mike has changed the game in the industry.

He has been featured on Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, CBS Super Bowl Preview and ABC Nightline, as well as in top business publications Fast Company, TIME, Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times and USA Today. He currently sits on the Board of Directors at the 4A’s and the Board of Governors at the Paley Center for Media. At heart, Mike’s an adventure-seeker. But after numerous ambulance rides, he hung up his motocross boots and now enjoys golf, boating, guitar and acting as his family’s private pilot. He lives in Pacific Palisades with his wife, Gina and their two children.  

How did you get into the industry?

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and always knew I wanted to be in advertising. The creative side of the business really appealed to me so I studied it in college. A month before I graduated from Michigan State, I got a job at Y&R as an account coordinator making $12,500 a year in LA. They had just won the Suzuki Motorcycle account, and being a motocross racer my whole life, it felt like I landed my dream job. I drove out to LA from Michigan lugging a motorcycle trailer along with two filing cabinets and a door that eventually became a desk. I lived in Echo Park in what looked like a mobile home. I worked in advertising during the week and raced motocross on the weekends. That was my big break into advertising and I loved every minute of it.

Any emerging industry trends?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. A lot of advertisers go heavy into digital. They over-index and then come running back to TV. The reality is that TV works. There is no replacement for strong storytelling. That said, with the rise of AI, micro-targeting, social, mobile and VR/AR, there’s a lot of opportunity for a different type of storytelling. The year of mobile has been every year for the last 10 years. But I think this year is different because marketers have figured out how to take what’s great about mobile and leverage it as a utility. URL is the new IRL. AR lets you envision products in your home in the palm of your hand. Biometric ID allows you to pay with a smile. New technologies are creating all sorts of opportunities, and TV still works.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

We’re seeing a lot of value in bringing our clients together. That’s new math for us. A lot of our clients face similar challenges and are curious about the same things. This year we launched an invite-only conference for our clients, called Next12 Sessions, focused on how clients could significantly impact their businesses in the next 12 months. We brought in different perspectives from outside of their industries. The clients loved it so we’re going to do this more frequently in the future.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the business?

Oddly, ad agencies don’t invest, there’s no R&D budget. We invest ahead of revenue. We put on conferences, we built an AI division, we created our own production studio, music division, etc. Just like all great companies, we make small bets, invest in innovation, and hire people that shake up the norm. With clients taking more work in-house and moving toward project-based work, we’ve doubled down on investing and innovating even more. As the industry faces challenges, we have to work on becoming more indispensable to our clients. We have to get further upstream to solve their business problems. If we’re not changing the game, we’ll lose.

What's next for the business in the near future?

Tech is the new CPG. It’s the new go-to place for growth. A lot of the big traditional companies we all wanted to work at straight out of business school are being overshadowed by a slew of tech brands like Squarespace, Uber, Airbnb, Casper, Zillow, etc. As an ad agency, that’s changing how we’re doing business. We’re getting in on the ground floor with more of these digitally born businesses that are disrupting industries. That means smaller teams and working faster on smaller projects.

Your most difficult moment at the business? (And what did you learn?)

Saying no to things that you want to say yes to.  The hardest thing (and sometimes the best thing) to do is to know when to say no.

How do you motivate others?

Don’t be an asshole. Don’t be the boss. Don’t pretend to know everything. The less you try to motivate somebody, the more they are motivated. If you tell them what to do, it’s tremendously demotivating. Instead, ask questions, ask what they would recommend, encourage open dialogue. That creates a work environment that empowers people and fosters creativity.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Don’t go into the advertising industry, go into the business-building industry. If we think about ourselves as business builders, we’ll always be valuable.

My motto?

Run your business as if you’re going out of business, and you won’t. Oh, and be nice.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

Being in an advertising agency motivates the shit out of you. It’s a daily highwire act. We are always singing for our supper which means that advertising people vibrate at a higher frequency than most. I look up to advertising people – they’re brave, intelligent and a heck of a lot of fun.