UM's Jacki Kelley Swims in Other Side of Upfront Pool

Q&A: Former MSLO Exec Discusses How Agencies, Media Handled Protracted Ad Talks and the Role of Scatter

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Since Jacki Kelley joined Universal McCann as its North American president a little less than four months ago, the agency has pulled off an impressive run of new-business wins totaling more than half a billion dollars, helping the Interpublic Group of Cos. shop mount a comeback from its troubles a few years back.

Jacki Kelley
Jacki Kelley
Starting in May, when Ms. Kelley joined Universal McCann, the agency quietly won the $40 million Dyson account. A few weeks later it made a much bigger splash, winning BMW's media-planning and -buying business. In July it kept the momentum rolling by bringing in another $200 million in business through the $100 million-plus Charles Schwab planning-and-buying account win and the retention of media-buying chores for insurance and financial services provider Nationwide.

Even if some good luck followed Ms. Kelley when she came aboard, she refuses to take much of the recognition and instead credits agency CEO Matt Seiler and his mission of creating more strategic relationships between media owners and agencies.

"Matt gets much of the credit," she told Advertising Age. "But our formula is really based on collaboration. On these new-business pitches we are demonstrating our willingness and expectation to create a higher level of collaboration between the media owners and ourselves."

The former exec VP-media sales for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia spoke with Ad Age about the biggest challenge she's encountered so far at the agency, the way the upfront is playing out, and what it's like being on the agency side of the table for the first time in these negotiations.

Ad Age: How are marketers and media owners responding to the new collaborative approach Matt Seiler and you are pushing?

Ms. Kelley: Media owners are very excited about this, because they recognize that there is a lot of value that can be created that is left on the table based on the way agencies historically engaged with them. There's a tremendous appetite.

Ad Age: How has the upfront been going for Universal McCann?

Ms. Kelley: It's been a slower market. But we're very pleased with the way in which we have been able to invest and shepherd the client's investment that we are accountable for. We feel that we got to the right place. It took a little while for sellers to reset and realize the marketplace was not going to move at the rate they were initially asking for, but I think we are really pleased with [the deals] that we locked in and the rates at which we have done [them].

Ad Age: Do you get the sense that a happy medium was found for marketers and media owners?

Ms. Kelley: The market always finds its balance. The agencies are always pushing on behalf of clients and recognize the climate we are in, and sellers are appropriately trying to garner the best rate for their products. I have a lot of trust that the marketplace will find the right balance, and I believe it has in this case. There's always a desire, mind you, on the agencies and clients to continually get more, and in some cases we have not put money on the table because we believe it's better to wait and manage it through scatter, but that paragraph has yet to be written in terms of how that turns out. They will find the right marketplace.

Ad Age: Are the reductions where you'd thought they'd be?

Ms. Kelley: They were a little less than I anticipated they would be at this point.

Ad Age: Are any media owners doing or offering anything really unique?

Ms. Kelley: There were a couple that did some really interesting stuff, but the things we are working on with them are not yet public, so we can't talk about them. But they are really great examples of rich content integration that really provide a different level of collaboration that we're seeking. But there definitely were some media owners that brought something new to the table this year. And when I say new, I mean the back-and-forth we created with them, the level of transparency we gave them in what needed to be accomplished and the very creative in which we worked with them and the creative agency to bring that to market.

Ad Age: How surprised were you by the length of time it took for things to move?

Ms. Kelley: I wasn't surprised at all, coming from the media owners' side, because in a climate like this you are going to hold as long as you possibly can. So it's not surprising that it has been this protracted.

Ad Age: Did the upfront stalemate cause the agency to alter its approach?

Ms. Kelley: Our approach was always around scenario planning, so we had several scenarios we knew we would execute on if the market went one way or the other. A lot of pre-planning went into that so we just managed the scenario plans we created in advance and executed on those as the market moved.

Ad Age: How has it been sitting on the other side of the table for the first time?

Ms. Kelley: I always say we swim in the same pool we just see slightly different shades of water. It's the same game but playing it slightly different. It was certainly interesting, but you continue to appreciate both sides of the coin.

Ad Age: What's the biggest challenge you have encountered so far?

Ms. Kelley: There is so much appetite to create meaningful change, but there are simply not enough hours in a day. So the biggest challenge, like anything, is to pace yourself for the right combination of productivity and results and recognizing you have to keep wheels on the bus as you go through this transformation.

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