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Tim Armstrong shocked the online-advertising world when he announced in March that he was leaving Google to helm the much-maligned AOL. What could he possibly want with a 1.0 portal and dying dial-up biz? Turns out he sees a next-generation media company -- a content powerhouse for big brands. He's also running a newly public company, as of Dec. 10. Will the strategy work? Too early to tell. But wouldn't it be rich if AOL, of the disastrous Time Inc. marriage, redefined consumer media for a digital age?
CHAIRMAN-CEO, NEWS CORP.
Nobody did more this year to make newspapers reexamine their approach to digital media than Rupert Murdoch. As he railed against giving expensive content away on the web, Murdoch seemed to shout out ideas that others wouldn't have even considered: Put pay walls on all newspaper sites! Disappear from Google search results! Just because The Wall Street Journal can charge for access online, or could survive without appearing in Google search results, doesn't mean other papers have the same options. But conditions are rough enough that publishers needed to take another look -- and they did, largely because Murdoch was out in front.
At 69, John McGarry has already had a legendary run in the agency business, but he's not even close to done. The longtime Y&R exec -- envied for his knack for striking up relationships with the crème de la crème of the marketing world -- left in 2002 to hang his own shingle, and took a slew of clients with him. He's since run one of the most successful Big Apple ad shops, McGarryBowen. In 2007, it opened in Chicago, and this year, it sold the agency to Japan-based ad giant Dentsu. This year marked the agency's best year yet; founding client Verizon returned for the uber-successful launch of Droid, and the shop snagged more work from Kraft and Pfizer's most popular brand, Viagra.
VICE CHAIRMAN, GENERAL MOTORS
What a year it's been for Bob Lutz and his employer, General Motors. Lutz, who rejoined GM in 2001 as vice chairman and assumed oversight of global product development in 2004, was due to retire at the end of 2009. But the "new" post-bankruptcy GM tapped Lutz to head marketing and communications. Although early on he said GM's agencies were safe, it wasn't long before Cadillac threw its national creative into review and Chevrolet was calling in agencies for major launch assignments, shaking up what are likely the longest client-agency relationships. In early December, GM Chairman and interim CEO Ed Whitacre said Mr. Lutz, 77, was out as CMO but would stay vice chairman and an adviser to him on design and global product development.
CHAIRMAN-CEO, COMCAST CORP.
Mr. Roberts has long been associated with the more-pedestrian parts of the media business, the cable lines that pipe programs and data to our TV and computer screens. Now he's made a dramatic entrance into the entertainment arena by taking a majority stake in NBC Universal -- with a twist that could well affect the marketing industry in a significant way. By using NBCU's many programming assets to build audiences, Mr. Roberts' company could also accelerate bold new experiments in new-tech advertising that gets closer to consumer habits and wants. Will he be able to manage a massive news operation, ride out the Hollywood business gossip wave and fix an ailing broadcast network all at the same time?
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE"
Lorne Michaels is more than just the leader of NBC's vaunted "SNL." He's also a gatekeeper, as Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch InBev learned this year. Mr. Michaels and his team were instrumental in crafting one-of-a-kind ad ventures for each marketer that mixed in content from "SNL." In Pepsi's case, it was a series of ads based on long-running "SNL" skits. For Anheuser, it was sponsorship of behind-the-scenes peeks of SNL content that hadn't previously aired on TV. As more show-runners dive into this sort of ad management -- witness Marc Cherry's work for Sprint on ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and Tim Kring's ongoing efforts on NBC's "Heroes" -- they have the opportunity to become even more powerful in the business -- so long as their efforts don't hurt or undermine the programs they've spent so much time developing.
DIRECTOR-WORLDWIDE MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS OPERATIONS, COCA-COLA
In the last year, Ms. Armstrong has been on a whirlwind tour touting Coca-Cola's value-based compensation model. She was hand picked to take implementation of the new model and has embraced it, speaking at ANA events about why the industry should embrace value-based compensation. In being named a Woman to Watch, Ms. Armstrong said she's comfortable being the individual at the company that people point to as an example. "I think we have a really compelling story to tell about where we've been and where we're trying to take this," she said.
PRESIDENT-CHIEF CONCEPT OFFICER, KFC
KFC's president and CCO steered the company through what became its most-successful launch ever: grilled chicken. Bedraggled by two years of same-store-sales declines, grilled chicken boosted sales, traffic and buzz, bringing new and lapsed users to the brand. But it could have been a disaster. A key launch component was an Oprah Winfrey-endorsed giveaway that overwhelmed stores. Mr. Eaton apologized on TV for the "kerfuffle," and offered consumers a rain check.
CEO, TIME WARNER
By giving the TV industry's biggest challenge a name, TV Everywhere, Bewkes helped brand an issue that will continue to plague media companies and advertisers in 2010 -- how will TV shows remain available to paying cable customers and still ensure marketers that their ads are being seen? For Time Warner, it's an industry-wide initiative to make cable TV programming available on an on-demand basis online to any multichannel subscriber.
MEGAN COLLIGAN AND JOSH GREENSTEIN
CO-PRESIDENTS OF MARKETING, PARAMOUNT PICTURES
These two may have figured out a way to manage both the upside and downside of Twitter. The so-called Twitter effect on viral movie buzz, the biggest enemy of films such as "Bruno" and "Land of the Lost," had the opposite effect for these two marketers. Colligan and Greenstein proved that bad buzz from social media has little sway on blockbusters ("Transformers" and "GI Joe") but good buzz can turn a $15,000 horror film ("Paranormal Activity") into the most-profitable movie in the studio's modern history.