Many of them have already weathered tough environments and a variety of challenges in their careers as they've made their way to positions of prominence throughout the advertising community. As Mary Morgan, VP-publisher of Redbook and president of Advertising Women of New York, put it, "These are not women to watch. These are women to follow."
Approximately 800 attendees from agencies, marketers and media companies gathered at the Hilton hotel in Manhattan for a luncheon event to celebrate Ad Age's 30 honorees. Notables such as AOL Chairman-CEO Randy Falco and Food Network star Sandra Lee were also in attendance.
"These women didn't get this award because they're women. That was just the prerequisite," noted Ad Age Digital Editor Abbey Klaassen. "They got it because they're brilliant marketers and leaders. They outsmart competitors, understand business and get consumers."
"Getting" consumers, and understanding their financial restraints in this economy, is of particular importance, noted Mary Beth West, exec VP-chief marketing officer at Kraft Foods. As costs escalate for consumers, Ms. West challenged marketers to walk not just a mile in their customers' shoes but two miles. As a result of doing just that, Kraft is redefining its value proposition. For example, Kool-Aid will now be marketed as costing just one-third as much as soda.
"Once the value proposition has been redefined, spend into it," she said. "Because [consumers] need to know about it."
While rethinking messages to suit cash-strapped consumers is of particular importance today, justifying that marketing spending to top executives is also a challenge. Maureen McGuire, chief marketing officer, Sears Holdings, said that answering to CEOs and CFOs on the question of return on investment is something marketers of all stripes are grappling with. She urged marketers to befriend their information technology professionals -- to better understand and accumulate ROI stats -- and their chief financial officers, to make sure those who control the purse strings see value in marketing programs.
Scanning the globe
Melanie Healy, group president of Procter & Gamble's feminine and health-care division, said another pressing issue facing multinational companies today is cracking the secret to operating in a way that balances competitive advantage with scale across far-flung markets. A question she said P&G is grappling with is, "How do you ... communicate to consumers locally in a way that is relevant and makes that global innovation something that is meaningful to them?"
The oft-raised issue of diversity within the ranks of advertising was also a hot topic. Sandy Constan, managing director at WPP Group agency MindShare, Los Angeles, said that every agency should devise a customized plan of action for increasing diversity and then stick to it. At MindShare, the focus is on bringing in employees who have diverse interests and are at different life stages. That has led to an office where more than half of the employees now identify as nonwhite, Ms. Constan included. The diverse makeup of the agency gives clients a unique perspective on marketing brands, she said.
But it's not just diversity for diversity's sake. Bridgette Heller, global president-baby care at packaged goods giant Johnson & Johnson, said building a diverse team is the silver bullet to keeping an entrepreneurial spirit within a large organization.
Competition for talent
Nancy Hill, who earlier this year was appointed the first-ever female president-CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, spoke not just of building diversity, but the challenges of locating and nurturing talent. She said that one of the biggest problems the agency world faces today is actually an old one: finding talent, compensating it, growing it and keeping it in the face of increasing competition from the likes of Google and Hollywood.
"It used to be that people who were smart and had a creative bent, advertising agencies were where they went," she said. "Now the cultural reference is 'Mad Men.' ... And one poll puts us just ahead of used car salesmen. ... We need to make sure the industry has a profile that's appropriate. It's a big challenge."
There is a distinct lack of talent, particularly of the female variety, in the technology field, said Tara Walpert Levy, president of Visible World. She urged women in the room who had any interest in technology to "take the lead," because that's where the opportunities are.