She founded a T-shirt company, a jewelry business and a tutoring operation before she graduated from high school and taught aerobics three times a week while studying at Georgetown University.
"I was this crazy woman roaming the halls to get students," she says. "I developed a great following."
Today, Ms. McCarthy, 36, is using that same energy and enthusiasm to convince some of the biggest advertisers in America to do business with Viacom Plus, the cross-platform sales and marketing unit of Viacom.
A top member of the unit since it began in 1998, she has helped change the way clients-ranging from trendy Snapple Beverage Group to package-goods giant Procter & Gamble Co.-deploy their media dollars.
Viacom Plus offers one-stop shopping of sorts, allowing a marketer to buy ads seamlessly, and with a big picture vs. piecemeal approach, across different media under the Viacom umbrella. "We work with advertisers to create unique marketing solutions," says Ms. McCarthy.
One of her latest projects linked Saturn's Ion from General Motors Corp. with CBS' "Survivor: The Amazon." It included a DVD only available at Saturn retailers, a sweepstakes on CBS.com, and advertising on Viacom radio and cable properties.
Clients are buying into the new model. Ms. McCarthy helped convince P&G to boost spending with Viacom Plus to $350 million across 13 Viacom outlets in 2002 from $300 million in its initial year in 2001.
Cadbury Schweppes' Snapple is back, too. "You realize early on that she's about making the deal work not only for Viacom but her clients, too," says Peter Gardiner, chief media officer-partner at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Snapple's New York agency.
Ms. McCarthy had a brief stint in banking before starting her sales career at Turner Broadcasting System. She worked in ad sales at Paramount Television, where she helped launch UPN to the ad world. She joined Viacom Plus (known as CBS Plus before the 2000 Viacom-CBS merger) in 1998, and was promoted to exec VP from senior VP last November. She reports to Viacom President, Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin.
"High energy" is an understatement for Ms. McCarthy, who's married to a police officer and has two young daughters. She has completed two marathons.
"I am not low impact," says the former aerobics teacher.