Sarah Fay, CEO, Carat USA and Isobar US on Corporate Sustainability, African Safari and Managing Billions in Media Integration
Susan Bratton

Episode 41 - Sarah Fay, CEO, Carat USA and Isobar US on Corporate Sustainability, African Safari and Managing Billions in Media Integration

Get to know Sarah Fay, media strategist, tech enthusiast, super-connector and knitting mama. Sarah is responsible for a cross-functional team of media professionals that manage billions of dollars in combined TV, print, outdoor and digital media for brands including Nikon, Adidas, Reebok, Stolichnaya, Pfizer, Microsoft, RadioShack, Wachovia and Electronic Arts. She shares her experience creating the Isobar global network with Nigel Morris that grew their holdings from 200 to 2,600 interactive experts. She talks about the strong and charismatic team that they put together and how they sustain individualism in their corporate culture.

The Carat/Isobar culture also supports sustainability with a focus on green corporate governance both for themselves and how sustainability can be integrated with media for their clients. She also describes her personal investment in Greener World Media, a leading voice in creating green standards for companies whom she says is "on fire!"

Sarah says "What differs now from 10 years ago is that strategy development starts with a new question: What do we want the consumer to do -- not what do we want the consumer to see." Sarah talks about how this statement manifest in her day to day business and showcases examples of some of her recent work to underscore her meaning. The Adidas Brotherhood campaign connected the media experience through mobile, using "interior moments" in the game of basketball to create connection to and intimacy with the Adidas brand through mobile short-code inspirational messages from Kevin Garnett, NBA player for the Boston Celtics.  She also shares the Web 2.0 experience created for Nikon as a content management system that allows the content to grow and change and talks about the TV shows created for Reebok and distributed on Yahoo! and the gay and lesbian community targeted show for Stoli vodka.

Sarah, youngest of five, whose parents - married for 60 years - are in their mid-eighties, is very close with her family. Hear Sarah and Suz sing the eponymous song from The Roches, a girl group they both love and whom Sarah and her sisters are on their way to see. Then find out about Sarah's upcoming trip to Victoria Falls and the Okavanko Delta on Safari with her family.

A beautiful blend of the personal and professional (the DishyMix goal!) this show will delight and inspire you as you get to know Sarah Fay, one of the most important executives and women of leadership in the media landscape.



Woman 1: This program is brought to you by

Woman 2: This program is sponsored by Isobar, the world’s largest digital marketing company, servicing clients in nearly 40 countries. Visit us at

[musical interlude]

Susan Bratton: Welcome to “Dishy Mix”, I'm your host Susan Bratton. I'm really glad you're listening to the show today. Thank you so much. So, six months ago big news rocked the ad world, the merger of Carat USA, the general media agency, think big TV box, print, outdoor, all the traditional stuff and they merged with Carat Fusion, the digital agency that in a move forever changed the landscape of advertising. We're talking about the merger of Carat USA that has billions in combined billings and nearly a thousand employees with the $500 million of the Carat Fusion and Isobar Network. It's all run by Sarah Fay, the CEO of Carat and Isobar US, a media strategist, a mutual tech enthusiast, a super connector, and a knitting momma.

[musical interlude]

Sarah Fay: We're starting to get better at using offline media as ways to inspire people to do something through digital and that can be go to a website, go to the Web to experience something or it could be through mobile. Then we took it a step further and we said, “If we really want to create community around basketball, mobile is the medium that connects people to each other. So we started thinking of ways that mobile could play a role and we ultimately came up with the idea of using their sponsored celebrities.

The Stoli Show was a show that we devised specifically for the gay and lesbian community and it is meant to depict inspirational people, not the fact that they're gay but the fact that they're inspirational and they happen to be gay.

I've always said that I'll be happy to stay as long as there are opportunities to learn and I've had plenty of opportunities to learn. I would say, right now at this point, I'm drinking from a firehose.

[musical interlude]

Susan Bratton: Please welcome Sarah Fay.

Sarah Fay: Hi, Susan.

Susan Bratton: Hello, knitting momma! [both laughs]

Sarah Fay: I'm going to have a lot of explaining to do on that one.

Susan Bratton: Well, we're explain it here on the show. And that if anybody wants to know, you can just tell them to listen to “Dishy Mix.” [laughs]

Sarah Fay: OK! Well, thanks for having me.

Susan Bratton: It is my pleasure. So on today’s show, we're going to talk to Sarah about managing billions and billings. We're going to talk about Web 2.0 experiences. We're going to talk about what it was like to grow from 200 to 2,600 employees in a short five years. I hope we'll get to covering corporate sustainability because Sarah knows a lot about that, and we're going to talk about knitting and safaris. So it's going to be a fun time.

So Sarah, the first thing that I wanted to talk to you about is you have been involved in this media business for years and years including at the very beginning of the digital revolution. I'm going to quote something that you said that I thought was really interesting, “What difference now from 10 years ago is that strategy development starts with a new question: what do we want the consumer to do, not what do we want the consumer to see?” I don’t know how long ago you said that but how do you feel about that statement in light of the fact that you're responsible for traditional and digital and the integration of that now?

Sarah Fay: I think traditionally, media experts and advertising experts have always begun with the question “What do we want the consumer to see or hear or experience?” just in terms of what you show them. But the new question is, “What do we want the consumer to do?” If you think about it on the online space, that’s been the question for a long time. You begin the strategy with how you want the consumer to engage with your advertising message? How do you drive them deeper in? How can you get them to transact? How can you get them to buy something?

We really haven’t had that opportunity with offline media unless it's a 1-800 number that they're meant to call. There haven’t been lots of opportunities to get them to interact. But today, because of the way we can connect digital media and experiences, we can actually use the butter awareness kind of media to get people deeper into the message and to react in a specific way. I think that that has been happening anyway.

So if you run a TV campaign and you have specific words associated with the campaign or you have branded terms, you'll always see spikes to your keywords online. But if you actually run a program and you specifically tell someone to search something or go somewhere, you can make the spikes higher. So we're starting to get better at using offline media as ways to inspire people to do something to digital and that can be go to a website, go to the Web to experience something or it could be through mobile.

Susan Bratton: Yes, just more tightly. Integrating it and planning it earlier rather than the two things happening separately in the hope the heck they work, you're really making it work together. I want to talk about projects, some specific projects. I heard about your Adidas Brotherhood campaign, can you tell us about that? I think you're proud of it.

Sarah Fay: Yes, we are really proud of that one. Actually, this was a mobile campaign or that mobile was the key element that was the connective tissue that put all of the media together. The idea behind the Brotherhood campaign--and actually, I think that our Communications Planning Service made it a more relevant campaign to the people watching as well.

The insights around the Brotherhood, which was a campaign about basketball and creating community around basketball for Adidas, so creating a deeper association between the brand and basketball. The insights were that what really makes people feel connected to each other in the basketball community is the interior moments. So that the times that the teams spend together where they’re not actually on the court or seen by other people. It's either on the bus or in the locker room or it's the funny moments, and that was information that was fed to the creative partner, 180, to make it a more emotive campaign.

Then we took it a step further and we said, “If we really want to create a community around basketball, mobile is the medium that connects people to each other.” So we started thinking of ways that mobile could play a role and we, ultimately, came up with the idea of using their sponsored celebrities. Kevin Garnett was the primary basketball star in this program but Tracy McGrady was one as well, and there were several others.

But the idea was that every single piece of creative carried a mobile short code for people to dial and get a message of an inspirational message from Kevin Garnett. This [xx] across TV, print, outdoor, and in online and it got a huge response. Within a couple of weeks, we had about 64,000 people dialed the short code and the message delivered from Kevin Garnett to them. Then they could go to a mobile website and use the voices of the basketball stars to either send customized messages to their friends or to customized a message for their own voicemail.

What we never knew we would get is the response of people calling back to Kevin Garnett. [laughs] But we did have a voicemail set up from Kevin on the system, but more than 22,000 people called him back and left messages about how moved they were about the Brotherhood.

Susan Bratton: Oh, wow! That’s powerful.

Sarah Fay: So we really struck a chord, and the metrics associated with the campaign are--we think it's powerful to get the 64,000 responses. It becomes our benchmark, so next time we do a mobile campaign, that will sort to be the benchmark and we'll know, based on the creative idea, whether we beat this concept or we didn’t quite make it. But it starts to become accountability for how the program performs, so that’s kind of exciting, too.

Susan Bratton: Have you thought about transcribing all of those voicemail messages and posting them on the site?

Sarah Fay: Well, I don’t know if we could legally do that but we have--they're really interesting to listen to and some of these kids have called him everyday for 45 days in a row. [laughs]

Susan Bratton: Oh, my gosh!

Sarah Fay: Just to give them updates and to say things like “I really get the Brotherhood” or “I wonde if you're getting this message” or “I want to go to your basketball camp.” It did really connect with them. The exciting thing, too, is that Adidas is beating their sales goals for this particular line that’s associated with the campaign in a category that’s flat to down. They feel like this was a big success.

Susan Bratton: Absolutely. I want to also talk to you about the television shows you’ve produced for Reebok and for Stoli. Tell us about the Stoli TV Show.

Sarah Fay: The Stoli Show was a show that we devised specifically for the gay and lesbian community and it is meant to depict inspirational people, not the fact that they're gay but the fact that they're inspirational and they happen to be gay. This was just a way for Stoli to kind of wrap its brand around the positive message that would be really relevant to a specific segment that is important to them.

So it's a show that’s on air today and they really feel like they’ve hit is with this specific target. Now, this isn't necessarily a way to gain a lot of reach but it is a way to go very deep into a particular community segment.

Susan Bratton: So with the Stoli television show, did you also run that online, on YouTube or on a website or is it only something that you’ve aired selectively on Network Television?

Sarah Fay: This one is for TV although we do have the opportunity to repurpose the issues online. So for instance, for the show we're doing for Reebok, we have a deal now with Yahoo where it's going to run online as well. We, typically, when we take the deal to a network, we’re also the advertisers so, generally, we come to them with the idea to produce a show but “Oh, by the way, we'll take half of the advertising.” So your job is really done in terms of monetizing it so it makes it an easy deal for them to accept. Then, it leaves their dice [sp] based on whether or not it redounds with the audience and with, in the case of Stoli and Reebok, it has.

Susan Bratton: So before we go for a break, I want to ask you about one more project that I know you’ve been working on for a while that you're just about ready to launch. “Dishy Mix” listeners love to see the newest things. Tell us what you're doing for Nikon. You’ve got a big Web 2.0 experience planned for them.

Sarah Fay: Yes. We're really excited about the new Nikon website. It's getting ready to launch just a couple of weeks now, so check it out towards the end of the month. Nikon has given us the opportunity to really take their business model and transform it through the Web. The beautiful thing about selling camera equipment is that it's so high involvement, it has so much potential for sharing. So this is going to be a site where we focus really on what the products produce in terms of the pictures and also what the consumers are producing with it.

I don’t know if you might have noticed, there was a Nikon campaign recently in the market where they gave 400 cameras away to a community of people in South Carolina and then allowed them to upload the great pictures they were able to take on to a website for sharing. That was a great way of creating a consumer voice in the campaign and to kind of connect the mediums together. So to have an online element where people can participate and go check out what they're seeing advertised in the offline space. Their website is really going to carry this kind of activity forward.

So if you click on a camera, right away you can see what kinds of pictures were taken with that camera. Then beyond that, you can see what kinds of people use that camera because their profiles will be there and their photos will be there. We're looking at ways right now to connect with Flickr and to actually import Flickr pictures taken with Nikon cameras. In addition to that, I think what's really nice about this site is that it's built to last, so it is constructed just like a publishing site, it's constructed so you can constantly refresh.

Susan Bratton: It has a content management system?

Sarah Fay: Yes. It has a content management system, so it's not hard to make changes. It's just beautiful and dynamic. I think, lots of other sites in the category, they just look like e-commerce sites, so this is just a bit more experiential.

Susan Bratton: The thing I find most fascinating about that particular project is being able to see the people who used the product, other people who own this product and what they look like, that’s very interesting! Could you imagine if there were some device that you could look into where if you pick up your cellphone or your car or a box of cereal, you could get this flash of images of all the other people who’d bought that and are consuming that product and what they're look like? [laughs]

Sarah Fay: Yes. By the way, I wanted to mention that that site was built by Molecular. I should them a little [xx] there. Yes, the whole concept of Web 2.0 is very constant in the Molecular world, and indeed, across all the agencies of the Isobar Network. But the human element at the website, the feeling of having other people there is so important for stickiness.

You know, Brett Hurt. We both know Brett Hurt from Bazaarvoice, that even just the adding star ratings to your website increases the time people will spend there and the comfort level they have in making a purchase.

Susan Bratton: Absolutely. Well, it's been fun to talk about that campaign and I can't wait to see it. We're going to take a short break to thank our sponsors, one of whom is you! [laughter] I just want to take a minute to personally thank you for supporting “Dishy Mix” from the time that I launched it here on the Personal Life Media Network. You had belief in me early on and the show’s grown month over month over month over month so thank you for supporting me.

Sarah Fay: I know better than to bet against you. [laughter] We love being a “Dishy Mix” friend, people mention it all the time.

Susan Bratton: Oh, I'm so glad! I've been hearing so much about it and it's because of my great guests, so it works out well. So we'll let everyone listen to our sponsor messages, we'll be right back with Sarah Fay because we're going to talk about what she learned as a candy counter girl and a cocktail waitress. Stay tuned; we'll be right back.

[radio break]

Susan Bratton: We're back, and today, you'll get to know a little bit more about Sarah Fay. Sarah, has--I think you're worried about this, Sarah, I don’t know why you are, but you're really worried about the fact that you’ve had the same job with, essentially, the same company for how many years now, since about 1993?

Sarah Fay: Yes, 15 years.

Susan Bratton: So you’ve been working at the same place for 15 years. You’ve moved office as a couple of times but that’s about it.

Sarah Fay: Yes. It's a different place, so when I went to work at this company, when I took the interview and came here, it was a company called Freeman Associates and I was the fifth person who joined and I became a partner in that firm. We were a media agency for high tech companies, and of course, we grew and changed and we're acquired by Carat and Carat changed. There were just constant changes for me at the company and, obviously, a lot of opportunities, so I was just never went anywhere, I never wanted to.

Susan Bratton: You don’t need to, you're company has evolved so swiftly and the tenure that you have and the knowledge and the people connections, why would you want to change that? I think you're really lucky to be able to do that. I remember being at excited home through all those roll ups and all those acquisitions for seven years, and I really felt like I'd mastered a lot about the place and could be very effective. I think in many cases, there are a lot of people who miss that feeling today.

Sarah Fay: Huh! That’s interesting. I have always said I'll be happy to stay as long as there are opportunities to learn, and I've had plenty of opportunities to learn. I would say, right now, at this point, I'm drinking from a firehose.

Susan Bratton: Exactly. It's funny, too, you have--gosh, let's see--2,600 people working just specifically in the Isobar Global Network. The Isobar Group is your--a lot of different interactive agencies all over the world and you, yourself, had a big-O wallet. You were out buying digital media companies and agencies when the market was shit. You were laying people off and then you're starting to go out and buy up companies. How many have you personally acquired here in the US just in the last few years?

Sarah Fay: OK, since we launched--initially, the company was called Carat Interactive. I was given the charter to launch the digital hub for Carat and since we launched Carat Interactive, we acquired Lot 21…

Susan Bratton: Yes, that was your first.

Sarah Fay: …Vizium, Freestyle which is Freestyle today. Vizium and Lot 21 kind of just were absorbed by Carat. Then some of the big acquisitions were iProspect and Molecular.

Susan Bratton: And Ammo.

Sarah Fay: And then since then, Ammo.

Susan Bratton: Yes. You did Ammo, that’s your last one.

Sarah Fay: Which is Word of Mouth. No, the last one was Bluestreak, actually, the ad-serving company.

Susan Bratton: Oh, right! Annette Tonti.

Sarah Fay: Yes!

Susan Bratton: Yes, we know Annette. So and then, I just saw that Molecular, maybe in the last year, but ION.

Sarah Fay: That’s right, I forgot about that.

Susan Bratton: Wei-Tai Kwok, love Wei-Tai Kwok.

Sarah Fay: Yes, Wei-Tai is a superstar.

Susan Bratton: He is.

Sarah Fay: And they're really neat service, too. Fits in well with Molecular, so we've combined those two. The Isobar way is generally to allow a company to keep its brand and to keep its DNA if it focuses on a special category so that the people of that company know what their company is all about. They know their sweet spot, they know what they're good at. It allows them to maintain focus and it keeps creativity and innovation alive. So it's a people strategy that’s really worked out well. But if the company being acquired is the exact same flavor as another company in the network, then we just try to assimilate that company into the bigger one.

Susan Bratton: The one thing you don’t do is assimilate personalities. Your organization has some real, super chargers. I'm thinking about Nigel Morris, fabulous guy. I mean, David Verklin, such a wonderful speaker and person at the top. Julian Aldridge from Ammo, Frederick Marckini from iProspect, we've talked about Wei-Tai, Gene Keenan, Andy Tress. You’ve had and have continually, I wouldn’t call them quirky but I'd call them even strong personalities, not the way you think strong sounds a negative word, but just people who were…

Sarah Fay: They have strong personalities. [laughs]

Susan Bratton: They do have strong personalities, but very charismatic and that seems to work well that there's a place for people to be exactly who they are in your organization. Where does that come from? It has to come from the top. Right?

Sarah Fay: I don’t know where it comes from. It comes from them. The entire network really celebrates diversity and entrepreneurialism… [laughs]

Susan Bratton: Easy for you to say.

Sarah Fay: …and thought leadership, so we love fresh ideas from the organizations that’s encouraged for people to come forward, to own things, to debate. There's certainly a culture sharing ideas, nobody gets in trouble for thinking differently.

Susan Bratton: That’s great.

Sarah Fay: You know, it's expected.

Susan Bratton: Yes, exactly. It's the standard. One of the other things that I know--I don’t want to just keep talking about your company so we're going to be done with that. But I know that Nigel has made this real core focus to have sustainable and green business practices. That’s great within your organization, but you also have a personal investment in the company called Greener World Media. Just tell us briefly about that because I want to get into some more stuff about you, too.

Sarah Fay: OK. Actually, Greener World Media is connected to my earlier career. I started out in ad sales for a network of high tech magazines and my boss at the time was someone named Pete May [sp] who’s really my original mentor and taught me everything I knew about selling. He is someone that built an amazing business and went on to be a group publisher in another organization and has [xx] always succeeded. It was his idea to launch a publishing company that would educate companies on how to go green, what are the standards for being green because there really isn't a voice out there in the B2B space for that. So that’s how I became connected to it and he actually sought out a guy names Joel Makower who…

Susan Bratton: I know Joel.

Sarah Fay: Do you? OK, so Joel as you know, is one of biggest voices in the green community.

Susan Bratton: Absolutely.

Sarah Fay: And he had a non-profit website that he was already publishing and so Pete partnered up with him to take it profit and, actually, to build that bigger and to dimensionalized it with other kinds of properties. So they're doing that, it is really a great time to do that because companies are focusing on the theory out there. They're seeing financial reasons to do it as much as social reasons. So I felt very good about being a sort of an angel investor in that organization and, I believe, they’ll go far.

Susan Bratton: Yes, I'm doing really well in the green space. We've had a podcast on the Personal Life Media Network called “Living Green: Effortless Ecology for Everyday People.” It's about super heroes in the green space, just everyday people who are devoting their lives to making a difference in sustainability. We've recently taken on a new show that wanted to join our network called “Green Talk Radio” and they focus on the products that are changing the landscape both at home and at work. It's a really good content area, it's monetized from a media perspective and the people are so darn fun. So those are good shows.

Sarah Fay: Yes. It makes you feel good to be involved in something like that.

Susan Bratton: It does, absolutely. So one of the things I also know about you is that family is really important. You're married to a lovely man, Richard. You have a beautiful little girl, Grace, who's now 14! And you are the youngest of five and you're parents are still together after 60 years of marriage which is fabulous. One of the things you told me is that you’ve got a couple of sisters coming in to town this weekend, you're going to see the Roches.

Sarah Fay: We are.

Susan Bratton: I love it, so I'm going to sing to you. [sings]

Sarah Fay: Hey! That’s good! [sings and laughs]

Susan Bratton: Go ahead, sing along! [laughs] I love it! So I've been listening to the Roches since the ‘70s as, obviously, have you and that’s a terrific girl band. When I read that you're going with your sisters, I thought, “Oh, man! I would love to go with you to that!”

Sarah Fay: I wish you could!

Susan Bratton: I wish you could, so when you're there, I want you to take a picture on your phone with your sisters and send it to me.

Sarah Fay: I will do that.

Susan Bratton: All right, and I will be there with you in spirit and I'm going to listen to my Roches albums this weekend. [laughs]

Sarah Fay: [laughs] Excellent!

Susan Bratton: I love it. So the last thing I want to leave with today is that you told you're going to go on a safari and Taylor is pissed because we had to cancel a safari trip that we'd planned last year because we decided to launch business instead. She hasn’t forgiven us, but you're taking Grace--she is the perfect date--tell us about where you're going.

Sarah Fay: One, I'm going with two of my sisters as well.

Susan Bratton: There you go.

Sarah Fay: So my sister in Portland, Oregon is the one who arranged the trip and we're all really nervous because she is an adventurer and we think that we might be staying in [xx] tents. So 14 people are going including Richard and Grace and we're going first to Cape Town for a couple of days and then we're going to fly to Northern Africa to the Okavango Delta.

Susan Bratton: That’s where we're going to go, yes.

Sarah Fay: And go out on safari and then there's a bit of a river trip there, too. So we'll be in dug out canoes [laughs].

Susan Bratton: Nice!

Sarah Fay: So, we're really excited about it and then we'll also be going to Victoria Falls which are the biggest falls in the world. I think we're doing a white water raft trip as well.

Susan Bratton: Well, I know Richard is a big adventurer. How does all this sit with you, the whole dug out and the white water? Are you good?

Sarah Fay: Yes! You know, I'm used to it. Richard has always been kind of I'm type A and he's type B when it comes to career, but when it comes to vacation, it's split. So he's a very ambitious vacation planner so Grace and I know that there's no lying on a beach, there's no real relaxation when we go on vacation. It's going to be all about adventure, which is fun. We definitely experience a lot of things together.

Susan Bratton: Well, I've been fortunate--I think your going to have a blast and I hope you take a bunch of photos and we want to see them all up on Flickr. Thank you so much for coming on the show today and sharing…

Sarah Fay: My Nikon camera. [laughs]

Susan Bratton: With your Nikon camera, exactly, [laughs] and apparently, your Adidas basketball shoes. [laughs]

Sarah Fay: Or Reebok.

Susan Bratton: Or Reebok, yes. You probably have plenty of shoes. So yes, thank you so much for telling us a little bit more about who you are and singing with us on the show today. You get extra points for singing. [laughs]

Sarah Fay: [laughs] I got the words wrong though.

Susan Bratton: Well, it's been a long time since you’ve heard them, I'm sure. You remembered, it came back.

Sarah Fay: Yes.

Susan Bratton: So it was great to have you. Thank you for your time today.

Sarah Fay: Thanks for having me. I hope to see you soon.

Susan Bratton: Me, too.

Sarah Fay: Bye, bye.

Susan Bratton: I just want to let everybody know that we do transcribe the show. So if there are a little pieces and bits you'd like to send around to friends, they’ll be at You can also find out more about our guests on the “Dishy Mix” blog at You can send me an email anytime at [email protected]. I love to hear from you. Thanks to everybody who emails in, it's so great to hear your comments and ideas. You can call anytime and leave a message at 206-350-5333.

All right, so, I'm trying to grow my audience bigger and bigger and bigger. If you'll tell someone about “Dishy Mix.” I'd really appreciate it. Feel free to send my show to someone online. Have a great day and I'll be with you next week with someone else really, really fun and really interesting. All right, have a great day. I'm your host, Susan Bratton.

Woman: Find more great shows like this on