Karen Polsky

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Lions from the Cannes International Advertising Festival usually fill San Francisco agency offices thanks to the city's legendary TV and print creative prowess. But this summer, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann garnered one of the prizes for a media campaign.

Karen Polsky, senior VP-managing director at Universal McCann, led the team that won the honor for an estimated $15 million campaign for Microsoft Corp.'s Dick Tracy-like wrist computer, the MSN Direct Smart Watch. The watch displays sports scores, stocks, news and other data.

Ms. Polsky's media plan attempted to reflect those features in an ad campaign that brought almost real-time ads to traditional media such as newspapers and outdoor. For example, newspaper ads featuring the watch were prepared under tight deadlines, which met the paper's editorial deadlines so they could echo the news headline of the day. A stock quote was part of an ad integrated into newspaper stock listings.

"It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears, late nights and stress-filled moments," Ms. Polsky says of the work needed to make the ads as current as possible. "Newspaper [advertising] has been pushed to the side [by marketers], but we found a way to make it powerful for this campaign." Other executions included billboards touting messages involving local venues.

For their part, the papers agreed because "they knew they would get a significant schedule if they agreed to our terms" since the program was a priority for MSN Direct, Microsoft's group planning a wide variety of products using its software, she says.

For Microsoft, the campaign signified more than one of advertising's highest honors. David Grubb, worldwide media director for Microsoft, says the campaign represented a shift in the way the marketer spent its dollars in measured media in 2003.

"I've had an aspiration to get beyond the fundaments and into this area of innovation," he says. "We needed a leader, a strategist and an innovator, and she brings those things to the table in equal parts."

Ms. Polsky, 36, was born in Los Angeles and attended Georgetown University with a major in international business. But her prime interest was advertising, so a friend arranged for her an unpaid internship at Chiat/Day's New York office. When Ms. Polsky graduated, she took a job in 1989 as an assistant planner. "I learned more from answering the switchboard," she says, picking up insights that ranged from the kind of art the late legendary Jay Chiat favored to insights about the business.

"There's a lot of Chiat in my DNA," she says, noting that she worked closely with the agency's planners and creatives. "I can't operate any other way."

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