"I said if we're going to go to battle, she's going to be right by my side," says Mr. Calhoon. "From our strategic approach, media is not off on a shelf," says Ms. Fedurek, 42. "We are integrated in the [marketing] process from the very beginning." Determined to find another agency that understood how key Wendy's "message, media and creative" strategy was to its success, the team met with several agencies and found a new partner in Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide and media buying sibling Universal McCann.
"It was obvious from the get-go they weren't looking for silos," says Donna Wolfe, exec VP-chief negotiation officer for Universal McCann, referring to unbundled media. "The whole company operates from a similar set of guiding principles. It's an understanding that we're in the business for the long term and never being shortsighted about decisions for today without realizing that it could have implications for the future."
That commitment to integration also worked to Wendy's advantage as the media world shrunk from roughly 30 players to five.
To better leverage her media dollars amid the media consolidation, Ms. Fedurek in 2002 aggressively pursued cross-platform deals, including the massively successful Garden Sensations entree salads launch with AOL Time Warner, and the innovative "Road to Bristol" sports promotion with ESPN.
Ms. Fedurek's 20 years of experience prepared her well for such a dynamic year. After graduating from Michigan State University, the Trenton, Mich.-native got her first job at the Windy City media buying service Ad Leibov.
A few years later she landed at now-defunct N.W. Ayer, working on the Burger King business for two years.
When Wendy's recruited her in 1989, Ms. Fedurek instantly went from handling local media to managing 204 markets and 60 ad agencies. Observers credit her blend of creativity, compassion and collaboration in making Wendy's media work so effectively despite its far smaller budget than that of share leader McDonald's Corp.
"Michelle is a nice balance of a taskmaster, meaning she asks hard questions and wants research, but she's also open to new ways to think about things," says Gary Steele, exec VP at McCann WorldGroup.
Ms. Fedurek admits she's "a little tough" but insists she's not the screaming, table-pounding type. "She can get there if she needs to," counters Mr. Calhoon, adding that his nickname for her is CG, short for creative girl for her willingness to offer up new ideas for just about anything.
A notorious night owl, Ms. Fedurek finds creative ways to balance work and family. With husband Geoff, she's seen her family grow with her media budget. With son Jack, 3, daughter, Kara, 18 months, and her 24/7 commitment to the job, she's also a big customer of Wendy's, where they eat three times a week.