Kooky, yes, but 'Lucy' stars as a role model

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Shari Cohen's favorite TV show is "I Love Lucy." She's not just a fan. The ups and downs of Ricky and Lucy's zany life inspired Ms. Cohen's career choice. "That show made me realize that I wanted to work in television," says Ms. Cohen, 38, recently hired by WPP Group's MindShare as senior partner-managing director, New York. One might think Ms. Cohen was a bit kooky herself, considering her Lucy influences.

"She's definitely a comedy queen," says Geri Wang, senior VP for prime-time sales at Walt Disney Co.'s ABC Television Network, who has worked with Ms. Cohen for more than a decade. "She's our version of `I Love Lucy.' "


"She is Lucy with a black wig," adds Joanne Ross, exec VP-network sales at Viacom's CBS, who's also worked with Ms. Cohen for about a dozen years. "But if you don't laugh at her jokes, she gets really pissed off."

It's clear that Ms. Cohen likes "to have fun," as she says, but it's also very evident she knows how to get down to business. "She is a very aggressive media person," says Peggy Green, exec VP-director of national broadcast at Zenith Media, jointly owned by Cordiant Communications Group and Publicis Groupe. Ms. Green worked with Ms. Cohen at Publicis' Saatchi & Saatchi.

"She's a brilliant strategist," adds Brad Simmons, VP-media services at Unilever North America, who's worked with Ms. Cohen throughout her career.

Ms. Cohen currently is part of the broadcast buying team at one of the top media buying and planning shops in the business. MindShare moved more than $2 billion in network dollars last year, coming in at No. 2 in Advertising Age's list of top 10 agencies by network TV billings.

The MindShare broadcast team is led by Marc Goldstein, president of national broadcast and programming. It includes Jason Maltby, also senior partner-managing director.

Ms. Cohen joined MindShare in April from Disney's ESPN, where she was VP-event marketing. Before that, she was at Interpublic Group of Cos.' General Motors Mediaworks, where she managed the prime-time, news, early-morning and late-night slots for one of the biggest advertisers in the U.S. "I was a personal shopper for GM," Ms. Cohen says. "It's nice to be a personal shopper for someone when they have lots of money to spend."

At MindShare, Ms. Cohen oversees another massive piece of business, the Unilever account. "I've been on both sides of the business-on the network side and on the agency side," Ms. Cohen says. "That is one of my strengths." She's also worked at SSC&B:Lintas and Saatchi & Saatchi.

Ms. Cohen began her career in media in the planning department of SSC&B:Lintas, New York. She later moved over to the buying side, joining the agency's national broadcast team. One of her first buying assignments was for Unilever. She helped launch the company's Snuggle and Impulse body spray brands. Four years later, Ms. Cohen was lured over to the media department at Saatchi & Saatchi, before half of that department was reorganized to create Zenith Media.

At Saatchi, Ms. Cohen worked under Ms. Green and ran the Helene Curtis account, a brand that was later acquired by Unilever.


Ms. Cohen's career journey, like a loopy Lucy episode, has taken a circular route. After working at Saatchi, she was determined to move to the dark side. She aggressively lobbied her network contacts and eventually landed a position at ABC, starting in marketing and sales development for daytime and kids. She moved around at ABC, then to CNBC and UPN. "I was a jack of all trades at UPN," says Ms. Cohen. "It was a small group of people and a start-up. They were innovative. There were no rules and regulations."

Finally, after working eight years on the network side, the agency business lured her back and she landed a job at Mediaworks that involved handling all network dayparts for GM.

Ms. Cohen is a golf fiend known for her awesome power drives.

And she's proud of her network years. "It pays to infiltrate the enemy," she says. "I know what it takes to convince them, and I have the relationships."

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