Ryan on a mission to polish JWT's new-business record

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When she started last January, one of Rosemarie Ryan's first projects was having the door of her office removed.

It seemed simple enough a task to carry out, and terrifically symbolic, as well, for the new president of WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, New York, but it turned out to be far more time-consuming to achieve than she'd expected.

Hopefully, the difficulties she encountered in establishing-literally-an open-door policy are not a harbinger of things to come for the former president of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York. Ms. Ryan, 41, brings more than a decade of experience at Kirshenbaum, a relatively young entity known for creating nontraditional advertising such as the MeowTV TV show and the Song airline store.

That experience in managing and building an entrepreneurial shop was one of the reasons Bob Jeffrey, CEO of J. Walter Thompson, recruited her.

"We're already known as one of the biggest and most reliable networks," he said. "My goal is to have Thompson be perceived in a more innovative type of way."

Mr. Jeffrey and Ms. Ryan go back at least a decade, to when she was a planner at Chiat Day, New York, and he ran his own shop, Manhattan-based Goldsmith Jeffrey. Both agencies worked on Nynex, and from the time they met, said Mr. Jeffrey, he admired her "honesty and candor." He said in looking for someone to head JWT's flagship office, "I talked to many people, but I was anxious to give it to someone I could really trust."

What does it take?

Such a bond will be important as JWT executives roll out a repositioning of the agency over the next several months that will change "how the agency looks and feels," said Ms. Ryan.

"JWT needs a reason to matter," she said. "We're asking of the agency the same sorts of questions we ask clients about their brands: What actions should it take to make it real in the marketplace? What does the brand stand for? We need a point of view."

But Ms. Ryan is already taking action. Soon after her January start, she assembled a new team-Creative Directors Eric Steinhauser and Nat Whitten; Brian Martin, director of business development; David Lamb, head of planning; and Megwin Finegan as general manager-and focused on re-energizing the New York office, which in recent years has suffered under a dismal new-business record and lackluster creative.

Communicating with her troops is a central part of how she manages. For instance, Ms. Ryan shows new-business pitches to the entire agency, regardless of the results. "It acknowledges the work and the people involved in these reviews," she said; in staff memos, she thanks all who "gave up vacations, worked over Easter and Passover, and busted your butts to help JWT."

She "has a deep sense of doing what is right," said Richard Kirshenbaum, her former boss. "In a business where people do things for the wrong reasons sometimes, that's an important strength."

The new team takes pride in its efforts to build JWT's 0-20 new-business record from last year. In January it reeled in the $20 million Welch's account and in June, the $29 million Jenny Craig business.

For the latter, the pitch team went on the Jenny Craig diet and lost a combined 50 pounds. While not the only factor in the agency's win, it impressed Scott Parker, the company's VP-marketing. Although it didn't prevail, JWT New York also reached finalist status in three of the year's higher-profile reviews-Verizon Wireless, Staples and Old Navy.

"The agency feels much less traditional in attitude and approach" under Ms. Ryan, said Judy Neer, exec VP-managing partner, Pile & Co., Boston, the consultant on the Verizon Wireless and Old Navy reviews. "It's less hierarchical. "

Ms. Ryan, however, has some goals. Keeping up a momentum in new business is top of mind, and by January 2005, she aims to have two or three "stunning pieces of creative work" to show. "Most of all," she said, "I want to have people know what J.Walter Thompson is all about."

Résumé

Name: Rosemarie Ryan

Age: 41

Now: President-J. Walter Thompson, New York

Who: A strategic planner by background, she led creative shop Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York, through highs and lows as the company evolved into a full-service integrated communications company.

Challenge: She leads the flagship office of a 140-year-old agency as it tries to reposition and reinvent itself and improve its creative output and new-business performance.

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