The Player: Hafitz turns planning unit into Mad Dogs profit center

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Robin Hafitz, co-chairwoman and chief strategy officer at boutique agency Mad Dogs & Englishmen, New York, is described as one of the planners who's bridging the gap between the old generation (the English) and the new (the Americans).

She's also co-chair of the American Association of Advertising Agencies account planning committee and as such is a champion of the planning discipline. (Jane Newman, the mother of U.S. planning, was a colleague at the former Chiat/Day/ Mojo, New York.)

"In the pantheon of planning, she's my goddess," said fellow committee member Michael Fanuele, global planning director at WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, adding that more than anyone else, Ms. Hafitz is prepared to rip up her work and start again until she's got it right.

Ms. Hafitz wowed the crowd at this year's Four A's account planning conference in Boca Raton, Fla., where she took to the floor to explain how a group of planners would tackle the issue of overweight Americans. She won the Iron Planners' trophy-a spoof of TV show "Iron Chef."

Having started small, Ms. Hafitz gained experience of all the jobs done at an advertising agency, from copywriting to art directing in addition to planning. She describes herself as the classic "right-brain/left-brain person: a painter and debater, a geek and an artist."

Hired in 1992 by Mad Dogs founder Nick Cohen, Ms. Hafitz helped create a separate planning division, Mad Logic, that works across the company's clients: Jamba Juice, Atkins Nutritionals and Diageo, among others. However, her planning department also has its own clients, including Vivendi Universal's USA and Sci-Fi Channel. Ms. Hafitz describes Mad Logic as conducting "innovative research." As part of that research, the company might ask clients to "write their dream/nightmare headline and describe brands they admire," said Ms. Hafitz. "We ask them who would personify their brand and what their customer would be like."

more planners

She admits Mad Logic was one way of allowing the agency to hire many more planners than a 35-person agency might otherwise require. Mad Logic has five dedicated staffers. "I wanted a more robust planning department and it had to be a profit center," she said.

Ms. Hafitz, who grew up in places as diverse as Nigeria and Montana, graduated from Yale University. After a year and a half of waitressing in New York in pursuit of a career as a painter, she found an opening in advertising. Her way of pushing boundaries in planning at Mad Dogs is to get as close as possible to the consumer. "Marketing is a huge spectator sport in America," she said, adding that consumers are more than happy to join in and give direction about reaching them.

When asked what her greatest challenge is, the reply is surprising: she wants to step into the background a little. "I tend to be dominant in meetings," she said, explaining that she spent so many years trying to be the smartest girl in the class, that she realizes sometimes, "it's important to let other voices be heard."

Fast Facts

Name: Robin Hafitz

Age: 41

Now: Co-chair and chief strategic officer, Mad Dogs & Englishmen

Challenge: To be a less dominant figure; to give the team greater support

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