It was a balmy October morning, and Mr. Brennan, president of Leo Burnett Co.'s Starcom Media Services, was making a trip to New York for only one reason: To meet with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and tell him he would be much better off consolidating his media buying with a single shop.
The longtime Starcom client hadn't asked for the evaluation. The idea, Mr. Brennan recalls, came out of a brainstorming session Starcom has annually with its media directors.
"We discuss things we could be doing that's in the best interest of our clients," Mr. Brennan says. "Where can we be bringing additional value to them? Then we ask what the business opportunities are for Starcom."
A media consolidation for this client would give it more clout and efficient buying, the Starcom executives reasoned. Starcom would benefit by doubling its billings from the client.
"The way we figured it," Mr. Brennan says, "Either we tell this client to consolidate, or their other agency will, or they'll figure it out themselves eventually and then they'll wonder why we hadn't suggested it."
JETTING TO MANHATTAN
As the plane jetted toward Manhattan, Mr. Brennan understood this would be a no-nonsense meeting. It's rare for the top executive of a large, multibillion-dollar company to focus on media, but Mr. Brennan was able to land a few minutes with him. Mr. Brennan hadn't said exactly what he wanted to discuss, only that it was important.
Then Mr. Brennan recalls sitting across from the CEO, staring back at a pair of laser-sharp eyes. Mr. Brennan explained the benefits of a media consolidation to the CEO. When the CEO asked pointedly if Mr. Brennan was telling him this because it was in the best interest of his company or because it was in the best interest of Starcom, Mr. Brennan replied that a media consolidation was in the advertiser's best interest, whether or not they chose Starcom.
"Then he asked me how this is traditionally done," Mr. Brennan says. "I said, `One of three ways. You just assign it to someone, or you hire a consultant and spend a lot of time and money on it and usually come up with the same answer you would have if you had spent two hours thinking it through, or you go to your current agency partners and talk to them about an AOR assignment.' "
The CEO rose, the two men shook hands, and Mr. Brennan was escorted to the door.
"On the flight home I was hoping that my frankness would lead him to just assign us the business," Mr. Brennan says.
But that didn't happen. Instead, the CEO decided to conduct a shoot-out between Starcom and the company's other media agency.
Mr. Brennan's conversation initiated a review of a $50 million account. The account wasn't in trouble, nor was it being secretly wooed by a competitor. It was a safe account. Now, Starcom would either more than double its billings from the client or it would lose the business entirely.
Starcom managers would be on pins-and-needles for three months; in the end, Starcom was awarded the consolidated account (the client did not want its name used in this anecdote).
It was clearly one of the gutsiest moves of the year, and one indicative of the take-charge, go-for-broke attitude Mr. Brennan and Starcom Chairman Jack Klues have brought to a media operation that in the past has reflected the conservatism of parent Burnett.
Yes, the same boring, conservative, iron-building apples are served on the Starcom floors inside Burnett's Chicago office as they are everywhere else in the skyscraper. But walk those floors and catch the energy: It's much more tangy tangerine.
It's Kate Lynch, Starcom's domestic ratings guru, configuring optimizers to make creative buys; it's John Muszynksi, in charge of TV buying, cajoling the networks to get the lowest cost-per-thousand; it's Renetta McCann and Mary Ann Foxley who spin from publisher to publisher keeping hard-to-please client Procter & Gamble Co. happy.
Bob Wehling, P&G's global marketing officer says that while there was "some concern initially that consolidating all our print buying with Starcom would turn the buys into a commodity, without looking at editorial quality, that's not happened. They've done a terrific job for us."
Rick Fizdale, Burnett chairman-CEO, emphasizes the team effort at Starcom.
"Suddenly, a very good media department leveraged itself into a very good media company," he says.
Starcom won more than $400 million in media-only business last year, which does not include the full-service clients -- such as H.J. Heinz Co. -- that Leo Burnett and Starcom won together. Starcom buys more than $3 billion across all media for more than 40 clients.
One strategy used by Starcom to woo clients is to tell them the importance of tactical decisionmaking to improve media delivery and efficiencies. This empowers buyers to decide what TV programs and magazine titles will be bought -- including positioning -- and what added value will be sought.
These functions historically have been agency responsibilities. P&G was probably the first client that moved these responsibilities to the buyers, and Starcom, convinced it's a flexibility needed to ensure the lowest cost and best buys, thinks it's a winning concept.
As Mr. Brennan says, it's part of a media landscape that has changed.
The executive, with his movie-star good looks that remind one of Tom Selleck, is a month shy of his 40th birthday and is the aggressive, bottom-line, no-nonsense side of the Klues/Brennan partnership.
Mr. Klues, 44, is the hand-holding client specialist. He's a tad over 6 foot 4 inches, but it's a friendly tallness -- imagine a combination of the avuncular Walter Cronkite and Wilford Brimley at his folksiest.
Messrs. Klues and Brennan have put in a combined 40 years at Burnett.
With typical precision, Mr. Brennan says, "I have street smarts and Jack has people smarts." Or, as Mr. Klues says, "I'm the ambassador, probably more of a diplomat than Bob is."
Importantly, their partnership works in relating to clients, which is still the single most important task at a successful shop.
In winning new business, Mr. Brennan says that "Seventy-five percent of the decision is relationship." But the other 25% is nuts and bolts, and in the Starcom pitch a key element is how the media have changed today.
"How do you bridge from strategy to execution with the best tactical tools? Optimizers are the key bridge tool," he says.
Mr. Brennan concedes most top flight media organizations know how to buy well. The key, he emphasizes, is knowing what to buy.
"That's the more valuable skill," he says. What's changed the rules of the game is that for every dollar we can deliver to a client in knowing how to buy, we can deliver $4 or $5 in value to a client in knowing what to buy."
After the buy, Starcom offers clients a software program called Battlefield, which "links client's business results to media plans," says Ms. Lynch. "It's accountability in terms that a client CEO would care about," says Mr. Brennan.
Yet another service Starcom says is getting client enthusiasm is what the company calls Mission Control; it's a password-protected, custom-built Web site that integrates all of Starcom's data for a client and its creative agencies to use.
Clients are clearly pleased. Starcom's success is continuing in 1999, with such wins as the recent $200 million Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. media consolidation.
The biggest setback for Starcom last year was that the proposed worldwide media merger with MacManus Group fell through.
"It was definitely a personal disappointment," says Mr. Klues. "I had close to two years invested in the project. On paper it looked like the right thing for the global media company."
Despite the fact that P&G's Mr. Wehling says he still thinks the merger of the two media entities is a good idea, Mr. Fizdale says the deal won't likely be revived.
"It was an idea that got out of control," he says, adding, "We originally approached them because both of us needed our combined muscle in Europe. The last place in the world we needed to combine is in the U.S. But we both said, why do this only in Western Europe, and perhaps block either of us from a larger deal someday? So let's see if we can pull this off globally. That wasn't hard outside of the U.S. But here we could not find a way to shuffle the deck."
Since then Burnett has announced it's in talks with Dentsu, wherein the Japanese giant would take a minority stake in Burnett.
"If that deal comes off perfectly," Mr. Fizdale says, "Starcom will have, in Japan, a partner in the home country that is without precedent. "They are the media. So any client of Leo Burnett or Starcom that wants to do business in Japan will find themselves having access to the best of the marketplace.
"It is also possible," he continues, "that over time Dentsu's agencies in other countries, when their current media deals run out, would favorably consider moving business to Starcom, if clients agreed. I think the Dentsu deal could fuel a long-term growth strategy for Starcom."
Indeed, Canon USA is a client of Dentsu's DCA Advertising, New York. This month's media consolidation of Canon's $90 million account at Starcom has been characterized by one Canon insider "as a gift from Dentsu to Burnett and