The business that Leo Levinson, W’74, runs today bears no resemblance to the one he had 10 years ago, let alone 40 years ago when he founded it as a Wharton undergrad. Technically, as CEO of Philadelphia-based GroupLevinson, he still is in the advertising and public relations business, but he and his agency have had to be nimble-minded and adaptable to survive the slow demise of traditional media.
Levinson got his start as an ad man for local retailers as a Wharton student in the early ‘70s—such as the Jasmine House Chinese restaurant at 40th and Chestnut. First, it was newspapers. Then when local advertising grew cheap enough, ad money moved to broadcast media. Levinson and company got used to the VIP treatment from radio stations. Clients would buy six to seven figures in TV spots.
The move from print to broadcast, “it reinvented the whole industry,” Levinson tells us.
Yet it was just moving dollars to another ad-based medium.
Now, with the trifecta of digital, mobile and social, a revolution has occurred. His job is to help clients create an environment to close sales and nurture customer loyalty, to help them find like-minded customers. No matter whether they are business-to-consumer or business-to-business, clients find new media far more efficient to build brands and awareness, to start conversations with consumers and other businesses.
“Which is one of the reasons so many companies have abandoned traditional media,” he says, adding with positivity: “There is an excitement and a newness to our industry that keeps everything fresh.”
It keeps Levinson fresh too.
“I am very much running my business at full tilt on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “I am still looking to do great things.”
His “juices” get flowing when working with a global life sciences consultancy that seeks his firm’s services to help build its thought leadership through PR and social media. Or working with Penn-inspired startup Graphene Frontiers and its CEO Michael Patterson, WG’12.
Enthusiasm is not enough though. He knows of plenty of competitors out there who were big-dog ad agencies two decades ago, who are now floundering or flunked out in the new media environment. One explanation for his success is an optimistic outlook, sure, but it is also curiosity and eagerness to learn. He’s instilled those qualities into his company. Levinson not only keeps his business in front of trends, he learns about those trends himself. He’s read, he’s gone to conferences, he’s grasped the current digital, mobile and social best practices enough to teach them to others. He’s even rolled up his sleeves and designed websites.
“To run a good business, you really have to understand what’s going on,” he says.
To the benefit of us all, Levinson will share this understanding. He is no stranger to the Wharton community; he currently heads the Wharton Club of Philadelphia’s Leads Council. He’ll add to his volunteer resume by becoming one of our newest contributors on the Wharton Blog Network, opining about branding, digital media and the bigger picture of business communications. Please welcome him.