Tough negotiator steps up to take Starcom down nontraditional roads

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John Muszynski is facing his toughest negotiation yet: a rapidly evolving media environment.

It's the job of Mr. Muszynski, CEO of Publicis Groupe's Starcom USA, to not only lead his clients through the media revolution as the consumer takes control, but also to maintain the agency's strong competitive position in these times of roiling change.

"In the beginning, I questioned `Why am I qualified for this [leap to CEO]?"' said Mr. Muszynski, 47, noting that "this business has changed more in the last five years than in the entire 20 years I've been in media."

But then one glimpses the steely negotiator that makes sellers sweat. "The subject matter changes, that's all," said Mr. Muszynski, who played college hockey and looks it. "The way I attack the business, the way I go about solving problems is the same. It's just different subject matter."

IN HOT PURSUIT

He's fair, tough, creative, disciplined and straightforward, characteristics that will serve him well not just going into the upfront but also as part of the SMG team that's trying to yank General Motors' plum $3.5 billion media account away from Interpublic Group of Cos.' GM Mediaworks.

That would be a stunning coup for the country's third-largest media agency, with $7.4 billion in billings. The 25-year Starcom vet is succeeding Renetta McCann, who called him "a media hockey player" who combines power, speed and agility and the ability to see the whole rink.

Still, the new post is a particularly daunting one for Mr. Muszynski, formerly managing director of investment and operations at Starcom, given his illustrious predecessors: Jack Klues was CEO and Bob Brennan was chief operating officer when the agency was carved out of Leo Burnett USA in the late 1990s. Ms. McCann followed.

Ms. McCann-who was Mr. Muszynski's first boss and whose promotion to CEO of SMG Americas paved the way for his rise-said that while Mr. Muszynski made his name as a buyer, he has a solid strategic sense. Indeed, he started on the planning and strategy side working with marketers including Kimberly-Clark, McDonald's and Kellogg, and was part of the SMG team that won Coca-Cola's media account in 2003.

Moreover, he's demonstrated his ability to lead Starcom in nontraditional directions. He oversaw last year's launch of Starcom's Video Investment Group, which takes a neutral view of visual media-be it TV, broadband or video on demand-and makes investment plans accordingly. Clients including Nintendo, the U.S. Army and Kellogg have participated.

"He knows his own mind and he has the self-confidence to execute against what needs to be done," said Mr. Brennan, now the top media executive at SABMiller's Miller Brewing Co. "He has the ability to listen ... to get different perspectives."

changes

Indeed, Mr. Muszynski has gone through plenty of changes. Developing a taste for marketing via an internship at McDonald's, he got a job with one of its agencies, with Leo Burnett Co., after graduating from tiny Elmhurst College. He soon found himself as a media planner working on Kimberly-Clark feminine-hygiene products before moving on to McDonald's and Kellogg, where he really made his mark.

His proudest career achievement was creating a syndication deal between Kellogg and Buena Vista Television to help sell the "Disney Afternoon" children's programming in 1997. "I created something that didn't exist before on behalf of two powerful companies," he said. "Phrases like `can't be done' or `first of its kind' are phrases that get my competitive heart pumping."

While he says he enjoys the planning and preparation that go into buying, Mr. Brennan points out another essential quality: "He's not intimidated by anybody."

On the other side of the negotiating table, he's known for being straightforward rather than posturing or grandstanding. "John's style is to be very, very direct," said Bruce Lefkowitz, exec VP for Fox Cable's FX, National Geographic and Fox Reality networks.

Just Asking

John Muszynski's rules of negotiation

1. Do your homework. Know as much as you possibly can. A big part of that is listening.

2. Set your strategic game plan. In a lot of people's cases, I think they don't have a plan.

3. Clear communication. It eliminates 90% of the problems of negotiation. People sometimes say that I'm a little too straightforward, a little too blunt. [But] when you walk out of this office, you know where you stand with me.

4. Partner mind-set. That is truly a difference in the marketplace. There are very few true partners.

5. Be decisive. If you get to the point where you have all the information laid out and you're going to make a decision, go forward.

6. Don't look back. Not to say don't learn from your mistakes. But the focus has to be looking forward.

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