Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Summer 2005Kellogg School of Management
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  Mark Mitten '83

Marketing as entertainment

By Kari Richardson

Fans of reality television's "The Apprentice" need little prompting to share their favorite moment in "the boardroom" or to dish on the candidates vying to work for one of Donald Trump's businesses for a year. The show, a creation of Mark Burnett, the man behind the "Survivor" series, pits contestants against one another in a series of weekly business-related tasks.

What Kellogg School grads may not have realized is that fellow alum Mark Mitten '83, was one of those putting contenders through the paces, dreaming up the challenges that would make or break their chances for success.

A producer for seasons two and three of the show, Mitten's venture into the entertainment field began in January 2004 as he was leaving McKinsey & Co. for a sabbatical. While clearing out his desk, Mitten (pictured with Carolyn Kepcher, executive VP of the Trump organization) fielded a call from a Hollywood talent agent friend asking if he knew anyone from McKinsey interested in joining the team of a nascent NBC show.

The timing appeared right for Mitten himself to take on this new challenge. After starting a branding-strategy firm with four colleagues in the 1990s, he became a partner at McKinsey once the consulting firm purchased his startup, Envision (McKinsey's first acquisition in 10 years, Mitten notes proudly). After four years at McKinsey, he had fulfilled his objectives and wanted a break before embracing his next opportunity.

"You get into a certain pattern as you get older," Mitten says. "You are more risk-averse and less willing to take on something new. This was the perfect chance to do just that."

Mitten had never produced a TV show before, but leapt in as one of just two "Apprentice" producers with a formal business background, helping to design tasks that cleverly blurred the line between entertainment and advertising: Contenders created a new Pepsi bottle, launched a new toothpaste for Crest and helped brand the New York City Police Department - a few of Mitten's ideas that featured advertisers and their products as an organic element of the storytelling.

"Many existing advertising platforms are not as effective as they once were," says Mitten, who has left the show to pursue his own ideas for TV fare. "Marketers are looking for alternate ways to communicate beyond the traditional media mix."

Don't be surprised to see more of Mitten's ideas coming to a television screen near you.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University