The Kassan Imbroglio & the Lemon-Musk Fiasco

Michael Kassan
Whatever Kassan was doing with company funds, it’s clear his actual business wasn’t doing all that well. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
March 13, 2024

The last time I saw Michael Kassan was, quite naturally, in Cannes, at the Carlton Beach Club on the Croisette, five years ago. I was having lunch with a certain former magazine editor and executive who called the affable and conspicuously-tanned trade marketing entrepreneur over to our table and insisted that “I must know Michael,” because “Michael knows everyone,” and “Michael runs all of this,” which I took to mean that he owned the annual advertising festival. Not quite. In fact, at that point, Kassan had just sold his strategic advisory firm MediaLink to the festival’s owners. But the deal formalized his self-ascribed role as “Mr. Cannes,” the conference’s de facto ambassador and its omnipresent heavy on the weeklong party circuit. A few years later, Kassan would mount an ill-fated bid to buy the festival, but it died in the crib.

In essence, Kassan was an access peddler, the media industry’s archetype of the Gladwellian connector. He had everyone on speed dial and shook hands at every table at the Polo Lounge, and for a price he would provide that access to his clients—a total agent and packager of the highest order. And, sure, he did “reviews” for big brands, advised them on which agencies to hire, even helped conduct executive searches—an advisor, influencer and kingmaker wrapped into one. But the true material advantage Kassan provided was access to decision makers and, indeed, to himself—an advertising svengali and Ferrari-driving bon vivant who had received book-length profile treatment from Ken Auletta and could share trade secrets over a McCarthy Salad.