To see just how focused and precise Susan Eberhart is, you could look at the media plans she develops for Nestle USA's brands, chock-full of consumer insights and ideas. Or you could look at the treadmill on which she runs for exactly 32 minutes on most days. "I do an eight-minute mile," she says with a laugh. "I want to make sure I don't go above or below."
That focus-though the source of good-natured ribbing from co-workers-helped ZenithOptimedia prevail in one of the most-watched recent media reviews that ended with Nestle consolidating media planning and buying for its $500 million account at the Publicis Groupe-owned network, snatching a major piece of business from Interpublic's Universal McCann. As Exec VP-Director of Communications Planning, Ms. Eberhart, 41, ran the planning part of the pitch, helping to develop three brand plans for the marketer. "But what they really wanted was to see how we think."
And just how does she think?
"There are two elements: One is an eye on the bottom line, the ROI. What are the metrics we'll have in place to make sure we get this thing right? And then a lot of it is understanding the heart and business of what the brand is. Brand is king."
Karen Crawford, director-media advertising and relationship marketing at Nestle USA, calls her an "integral part" of the pitch team. "Susan provides strategic and creative recommendations that leverage multiple touch points," says Ms. Crawford. "She seeks solutions that not only meet brand-specific requirements but benefit the Nestle portfolio."
Since winning the business, Ms. Eberhart has been involved in the ramp-up, jetting around the country to serve the decentralized company. She oversees a team of 37 on the Nestle account in offices in Dallas-where she's based-New York, and Los Angeles. Her bailiwick includes more than 50 active brands in dozens of categories. "People don't realize the enormity of the business and how decentralized it is. [Nestle] empowers people to run their business."
"Nestle is such a unique business," says Tim Jones, CEO of ZenithOptimedia USA. "She's stepped up remarkably. She's so energetic and committed and responsible." This is echoed by another boss, Zenith Media CEO Mike Drexler: "She's a remarkable relationship-builder. She will not only give a client what they want, but she can be counted on to tell them what they need. It's a great strength. She never takes the path of least resistance."
Until the Nestle win, Ms. Eberhart's primary task was to oversee the Optimedia Dallas office. Prior to joining Optimedia in 1999, she worked at Publicis in Dallas and GSD&M. A Lafayette, La., native with a daughter and a son, she came to Dallas to go to Southern Methodist University and, except for two years in Austin, has been there ever since.
"It's different every day. It's almost like putting a big puzzle together and being able to tell a story with all the tools we have."