At 41, Dan Khabie has the biggest challenge of his career in front of him.
The 1991 graduate of St. Louis Park High School now heads one of the largest and newest international ad agencies in the digital marketplace, and his assignment is to integrate the cultures, expertise and local knowledge of 11 organizations with 2,200 people in 17 countries.
Khabie, who officially started the job as CEO of the agency called Mirum in January, jokes that he wakes up talking to offices in Europe and goes to sleep after he consults with Mirum’s Asia operations. He has an office and a staff of 50 in Minneapolis, too.
“We were connecting people in Brazil, Asia and Europe, and we said, ‘Let’s consolidate this into one business and call it Mirum,’ ” the Latin word for amazing, Khabie said in a recent interview. “We’re working with brands to drive digital globally. If you are digital, you are global, but you need a local voice.”
Digital advertising is aimed at consumers on the web, through mobile devices and in social media, as opposed to traditional print and broadcast media.
The digital marketplace includes three basic channels: paid, earned and owned. Paid is what a brand buys to promote its message, earned is when the message goes viral and owned is when consumers go directly to the brand’s website.
“The idea is to get the paid and earned channels to drive people to your platform, where you can build your own community,” said Billy Jurewicz, CEO and founder of the Minneapolis digital agency Space150. “That’s the digital hat trick.”
And the revenue potential for digital media is mind boggling.
According to eMarketer, a digital marketing research firm, global mobile ad spending alone will exceed $100 billion next year — up 400 percent from 2013 — and will double to $200 million by 2019.
“The digital space is the first place almost everyone looks for information,” said Jennifer Johnson, an advertising professor at the University of Minnesota. “It’s an exciting area, and it should make advertising communication better because the consumer is starting to expect better stories.”
Coming out of the gate, Mirum has good genes and an impressive book of business.
The new agency is part of J. Walter Thompson (JWT), the legendary advertising company that celebrated its 150th anniversary last year.
Clients include the giant commercial real estate firm CBRE, the Finnish flag carrier Finnair, Mazda, Microsoft, Nokia, Petco, Wal-Mart and the Singapore Tourism Board.
Offices are located in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.
Khabie’s route to Mirum started in St. Louis Park (“I’m very proud to be a Minnesotan,” he notes). From high school he went to the University of Maryland, where he graduated with a communications and marketing degree in 1996.
The lure of the West Coast beckoned Khabie to Southern California, where he landed a marketing job with Disney. And, at the ripe old age of 25, Khabie started his own digital agency in San Diego called Digitaria. In 2012, Khabie set up a branch of Digitaria in Minneapolis.
Khabie’s model for Mirum is based on Digitaria and the concept that once the talent is assembled, it doesn’t matter who does the client’s work or where it’s done as long as the client’s expectations are met.
“We’ll be connected virtually. We have cameras in every agency to create a virtual hallway for meetings,” said Joyce Zincke, managing director of the Minneapolis office of Mirum. “We’re functioning and operating as if we were in one location. It’s a matter of who is available, not where they are, when you need an expert.”
Khabie’s new assignment means juggling the capabilities of 11 agencies with 40 offices under the Mirum umbrella.
“We can centralize work, we can get industry expertise,” Khabie said of the new arrangement. “And we’ll be able to get work done in cheaper locations because of favorable [currency] exchange rates and pass those savings back to the client.”
Khabie’s colleagues in the former Digitaria office in Minneapolis see Khabie as a field general who is good at rallying the troops and making the right logistical decisions.
They use words like energetic, charismatic, visionary and innovative to describe his personality.
“He studies the landscape of the advertising industry very deeply. That’s how he strategically makes his moves,” said Jen Levenhagen, the senior vice president of client services.
“Dan’s continually educating himself so he can continually reinvent himself,” added Zincke.
“The model in Minneapolis is what we’re doing for Mirum,” Khabie said. “Minneapolis was our playground.”