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Making mergers fly in spite of hot spots

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Kathleen Brookbanks has done something twice that few executives ever do once in their careers.

Over the past three years, the 43-year-old media executive has twice shepherded billion-dollar media mergers. Currently managing director for OMD Midwest, Ms. Brookbanks joined in August when Omnicom Group last year merged the buying and planning teams from its agency networks into one company. OMD snared Ms. Brookbanks from MindShare, Chicago, where she was managing director of the WPP Group media buying and planning unit and was 75% complete through its own merger of Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson Co. media operations. "What's been amazing is that I've been able to do this from scratch, twice," she says. "It was a great experience to see how these difficult times do push miraculous things."

Considering her cool-under-fire demeanor, it's no surprise she hails from a family of firefighters. Incredibly organized ("I couldn't live without my lists") with an uncanny sense of timing, Ms. Brookbanks has won respect from her staff and clients despite her short time at helm. Already, she has shaken up teams and is looking for an account leader for State Farm Insurance Cos.

"She is really direct," Deb Nevin, OMD group strategy director, says of her new boss. "She doesn't mince words, and she doesn't lie." Ms. Brookbanks also trained the unit on OMD's planning system, called Checkmate, to prepare for the upfront. Moreover, despite other print operations moving to New York, she's committed to keeping a print buying and planning unit in the Midwest.

"Frankly, for somebody running a place the size her office is, we've been impressed that she's been so actively involved in our business," says Peter Sterling, VP-U.S. marketing and media at McDonald's Corp. He says Ms. Brookbanks has helped to "dimensionalize" planning insights about how young men and mothers interact with the fast-feeder and incorporate those insights into branded and non-traditional media for the 2004 calendar. "You're going to see a lot of Kathleen's influence in our 2004 media approach," he says.

While she thinks her management skills are stronger than her media skills, Ms. Brookbanks is unapologetic about the tigress underneath her elegant poise. "I have great conviction," she says. "I can see great work, and I fight for it."

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