Now Ms. Howell, 43, is helping to break more new ground, as the first deputy head of planning in Ogilvy's fledgling department in New York. Since Chief Strategy and Planning Officer Tony Wright was hired in May, the department has grown to more than 30 people.
"It's important to our clients' business," Mr. Wright said. "The focus group is running out of usefulness, and clients are very hungry to understand new ways of understanding customers."
To that end, Mr. Wright not only is hiring veterans such as Ms. Howell but also non-traditional agency employees, including an anthropologist and a futurist. The chance to work with different types of thinkers and further shape the future of the unit was attractive to Ms. Howell.
"This is a young department with a lot of opportunity, since I'm here almost at the beginning," she said. "Ogilvy has always been an agency on my short list. It's not only great to further my career by running a department but also just to work as a planner."
In addition to assisting in the management of the department, Ms. Howell will oversee the Eastman Kodak Co. account.
"It's good for everyone not only to have a departmental role, but also to have a role in running an account," Mr. Wright said.
ENHANCING A REPERTOIRE
Adding Kodak to her repertoire enhances an already eclectic product history. She has handled planning for brands including Apple Computer; Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Clairol; Club Med; Johnson & Johnson's Stayfree; MasterCard International; MCI; Nabisco's Ritz, Wheat Thins and Triscuit crackers; Pizza Hut; Royal Caribbean Cruises; and Seiko Corp. of America.
Her career in planning began when Ms. Newman took a shine to the young account exec. Ms. Howell was similarly taken. She trained in Chiat's New York office for three years, then moved to San Francisco and later Los Angeles to work on Apple.
STRIKING OUT ALONE
After moving back to New York, she left Chiat in January 1989 to start her own account-planning consulting company, Howell & Co.
"That was probably naive, because planning was still in its early stages," she said.
However, she struck up several alliances with agencies and stayed busy for four years. In June 1993, she left the entrepreneurial world to join Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, one of her client agencies, as a senior account planner.
She stayed at Messner Vetere for three years and then went to Anderson & Lembke, ending up as senior VP-strategic planner at McCann-Erickson Worldwide, which acquired A&L.
Although she said she was sad to leave McCann, the lure of helping to build a whole new department was just too strong. She especially looks forward to bringing in talented new people with diverse backgrounds.
"Planning is more exciting these days because almost everything has become a commodity. That means the brand and the relationship with consumers is more important than ever," she said.