Universal McCann Brings In New Planner

Margaret Lewis to Lead Communications Planning

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Margaret Lewis, 43, recently joined Universal McCann in the new position of exec VP-U.S. head of communications planning. She joins the Interpublic Group of Cos. agency from WPP Group's Mediaedge:cia, where she was instrumental in developing several high-profile integrated initiatives such as AT&T Wireless' sponsorship of Fox's "American Idol." MediaWorks caught up with her to talk about her new gig and what she's learned in the past 10 years.
Margaret Lewis
Margaret Lewis

MediaWorks: What attracted you to the position at Universal McCann?

Margaret Lewis: As I started talking with Mary Gerzema [Universal McCann's president-U.S. region] and Wayne Fletcher [global head-communications planning], it became clear what a tremendous opportunity this would be because I really thought they had this incredible clarity of purpose. This is a big year for Universal McCann in terms of looking at everything we offer and how we do what we do and really reinventing a lot of things. Between [Worldwide CEO] Nick Brien's vision, Mary Gerzema's leadership and Wayne's strategic brilliance, I just thought: How could I resist?

MediaWorks: What do you see emerging and evolving in the practice of communications planning?

Ms. Lewis: We're developing a way of working, an approach to how we do things here, that's just going to take all of our collective experience. We have this opportunity to look back and see what has worked and what hasn't worked for clients. ... We are very focused on some specific things: How can we be as innovative as possible in how we engage with consumers? How can we be as accountable as possible and yet still be, in our creative approach, developing ideas for clients?

I think that one of the opportunities we have is the opportunity for Universal McCann to engage with McCann Erickson. That's a tremendous chance to take the best of what we can do and our skills and our analytic capabilities and our creativity and insights about channels and consumers and combine that with the strength of what McCann Erickson does.

MediaWorks: Do you plan to change the way your buyers interact, perhaps by creating teams around clients?

Ms. Lewis: If we think about our structure overall, we're going to have a communications-planning team, we've got the media-planning resource and we've got the different implementation groups. There will be a very definite approach to having total integration between the people with the strategic role and the people with the tactical or implementation or buying role.

What will enable that, besides having a great way of working and a process that will be shared with everyone in the organization, is also the concept of having a really strong central idea behind what we do for clients for each initiative that we put in the marketplace. As long as we have a shared understanding of a strong brand idea, then it is clear for everyone what they are looking to do in the marketplace.

Also, we as strategists -- given that the marketplace is changing every five minutes and what you can do in the marketplace is constantly evolving and there are so many thing emerging -- we can't strategize intelligently if we're not close to the people who are implementing things and sharing knowledge back and forth and sharing insights back and forth. There are very specific, practical reasons that I can't do my job well in communications planning if I'm not attached closely to the people who are implementing.

That central idea is going to be based on insights that we uncover with our clients with our other agency partners about consumers and brands and how those consumers interact with our client's brand. That's going to be the genesis of the idea, and that idea will be driven across all channels.

MediaWorks: What are some of the biggest challenges you foresee in the coming months?

Ms. Lewis: One of the biggest ones is developing new currencies -- and I mean that in a conceptual way. New currencies are ways of setting up metrics for success across communications channels that don't currently have consistent metrics. In the traditional media world, we have metrics that are a part of our language: GRPs, for the most part. When we are developing communication programs for clients beyond traditional media channels, we have to develop ways of measuring and a currency that factors in ideas and how ideas should work in the marketplace and what impact they will have on our client's business.

Another major area of focus is developing ways of working that will help all of Universal McCann build toward developing communications planning for our clients, uncovering insights, taking those insights and turning them into great ideas and great strategies. Part of my focus will be helping to develop those ways of working and sharing and helping to support and develop that across the agency.

MediaWorks: In your previous position at Mediaedge:cia, you were instrumental in integrating AT&T into the sponsorship of Fox's "American Idol" in the form of text votes -- something that seems to be part of almost every reality show now. How did that concept develop?

Ms. Lewis: That concept was sort of a perfect storm -- a bunch of things happening on different fronts. There was the opportunity that the program itself got imported to the U.S., and it was right at a time when we were really searching for a way to get consumers to take on this behavior called text messaging.

Several years ago it was really difficult to get consumers to text. It was a behavior that people didn't see much of a purpose for in the U.S. We had tried a number of campaigns and quite a bit of traditional advertising, and it just didn't seem to be moving the needle. So we started looking for ways to prompt behavior, and we tried a lot of different things with all kinds of different media partners that gave us a sense that this might be the thing to do -- to prompt the behavior instead of just talking about text messaging.

Then the "American Idol" opportunity came along, and we said: What better prompting could we give consumers than the opportunity to vote in "American Idol"? There was this tremendous broadcast opportunity, and there was the need in place. We had had some little wins with small-scale things that looked like "Idol" on a tiny scale. We had the opportunity to do this sponsorship, to do the integration and to build an entire communications program around it, including in-store communications, a lot of offline advertising and a lot of online advertising. It was a very integrated communications program. The central part of it was the television sponsorship, but the way it all came together was a perfect storm.

MediaWorks: What career advice do you wish you had gotten 10 years ago?

Ms. Lewis: I would have advised myself to be a good student of analytics, research and methods of measuring ROI, because that's a big learning curve, and I was glad I was able to have it over the past few years. That's a huge area that requires a lot of study.

Also to focus on the consumer to the point of really understanding consumers -- not just being a good interpreter of data, but learning how to develop real consumer intimacy.

Then, ultimately, to really be fearless and not be afraid to be the one with ideas. Ten years ago that would not be a way I would have described a person in the media-agency world.
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