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Special Report: Bob Johnson

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During the course of his 28-year career, Bob Johnson has developed a renowned knack for placing his buys—and sometimes, even himself—where the customer is.

In 1975, as an assistant media planner with a now-defunct agency, he was an extra in TV commercials starring the late Harry Caray for the Chicago White Sox, a customer. "I was back there [in the ads], eating the popcorn," Johnson said. Today, as media director for Mobium Creative Group, Chicago, Johnson still takes a hands-on approach in touting his clients.

To convince Wall Street traders—a group notorious for their frenzied work weeks—to buy the monitors of his client NEC/Mitsubishi Electronics Display, Johnson blanketed downtown Manhattan with ads in places where they’d have no choice but to stand still: telephone kiosks. With this approach, "we created visibility for the client," said Johnson, who’s training for the 2001 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, his first 26.2-mile haul. "We really like to advertise in [our customers’ everyday] environment."

While Johnson is increasingly focusing on technology company media buying—his other accounts include Motorola Corp. and Teamquest Corp.—he grew up in the business handling the accounts of non-tech giants, including Kraft USA Inc., Citigroup, General Mills Inc. and OshKosh B’Gosh Inc. His non-tech experience helps him avoid some of the pigeonholes of tech advertising and bring a more broad perspective to campaigns.

Johnson decided to go into the ad and media buying business back in the early 1970s, after getting on an elevator with advertising executives he described in an e-mail message as "a crew in bib overalls, with long disheveled hair, smoking some suspiciously hand-rolled cigarettes." Now that’s a work environment some today would welcome.

Media buying is a perfect career mix, Johnson said, combining his passion for numbers and creativity. "It’s gone way beyond numbers," he wrote. "And so have I. That’s what gets me excited now."

—P.B.C.

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