clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Weather Channel exec, digital ad pioneer Curt Hecht dead at 47

Digital advertising pioneer Curt Hecht | Provided photo

Before many people used Facebook or Google, Curt Hecht was trying to figure out ways for companies to advertise online.

He helped revolutionize ad buys with programmatics, a cousin to electronic trading.

Today, many online ads are based on real-time programmatics, which track a user’s search history to serve up individualized ads that can be updated on a millisecond’s notice.

“He pioneered it and launched the first global programmatic trading capability for Publicis Groupe in 2008,” said Laura Desmond, the chief executive officer of Starcom MediaVest Group, a communications company owned by the Paris-based marketer Publicis. “He was a leader in the first moves into digital overall, and he did this on behalf of [client] General Motors. He was the first person to execute Google-search buys in advertising. He helped make search a core component of an advertiser’s media mix.

“It set the standard for others to follow,” Desmond said.

By monetizing Internet ads, “He helped build the foundation of advertising that is the fuel” for Twitter, Facebook and Google, said Tracey Scheppach, executive vice president at Starcom.

Mr. Hecht died after a five-month struggle with lung cancer on Aug. 31 at New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where he was taking part in a clinical trial.

His death, at 47, shocked many colleagues, as Mr. Hecht never smoked, watched his weight and was an elite cyclist who biked an estimated 40 miles a day from his Winnetka home to downtown Chicago and back.

Young Curt Hecht grew up in Tinley Park and went to Northern Illinois University. He spent the majority of his career at Leo Burnett and its sister company, Starcom, before working for another Publicis subsidiary, VivaKi. At the time of his death, he was chief global revenue officer for The Weather Company, which operates the Weather Channel.

“To him, cancer was like a challenging bike ride,” said David Kenny, chief executive officer of The Weather Company. “He attacked it with grit and determination and fearlessly agreed to clinical trials so that others could also learn from his fight.”

At work, “Curt was an early pioneer in search, ‘native’ advertising, localization, social-informed ads, and retargeting,” Kenny said. “He strengthened our relationships with key partners including Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Hearst.”

“In every tough situation, Curt kept me anchored on what matters — family first, our people second, clients and audience third, and the money will take care of itself,” Kenny said.

Next to spending time with his wife and daughters, Mr. Hecht’s favorite pastime was riding one of his many bicycles.

When he helped Publicis land the huge General Motors account in 2005, Publicis CEO Maurice Levy thanked him by making one of Mr. Hecht’s dreams come true, said Lena Petersen, a Starcom executive vice president. He arranged for Mr. Hecht to ride in a pace car during a mountainous segment of the Tour de France.

He liked to travel with a collapsible bicycle. When he was on the road or at an event like the Cannes international advertising festival, he organized bike rides with like-minded tech people.

Curt Hecht on one of his many bikes. | Provided photo

“We traveled to China — and the bike was there,” Desmond said. “We traveled to London, and the bike was there. Paris, and the bike was there. That bike had more miles on it than the average business executive.”

One of his favorite quotes, attributed to Albert Einstein, was: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

His garage had about 12 bicycles, chosen for maneuverability in rain or snow or for long distances. “He had one for every weather condition,” Scheppach said.

“If you needed to know how many ounces of pasta to eat to keep your body weight,” Desmond said, “and how to fix a flat tire, he was your guy.”

Mr. Hecht is survived by his wife, Dorothy Rotatori; daughters Peggy and Kaki; his parents, Curt and Linda Hecht; and brothers, Kevin, Chris and Chad. Services have been held. Public memorials are also being planned in Chicago and New York City.