Schooled in P&G Ways, SMG's Kaplowitz Puts the Consumer First

For the Influential Planning Exec, the Connection Isn't Always About Paid Media

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NEW YORK ( -- "Working on P&G early on was my M.B.A.," said Marla Kaplowitz, thinking back to her days in the media business toiling on Procter & Gamble Co. accounts while at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. Now that Ms. Kaplowitz is the top planner on the package-goods giant's entire North American business -- $4.6 billion in ad spending last year -- you could say she's teaching the class.
Marla Kaplowitz, senior VP-director of SMG United
Marla Kaplowitz, senior VP-director of SMG United Credit: David M. Russell

As senior VP-director of SMG United, the unit of Starcom Mediavest Group dedicated to P&G, the 41-year-old is one of the most influential people in media, helping the marketer decide exactly how to spend its ad money. As such, her decisions have serious implications not only for P&G's 100-plus brands but also for the magazine-publishing and TV worlds at large. But true to P&G's consumer-comes-first credo, the consumer, not the media, is at the center of her thinking on how the company's brands communicate.

'All shapes and sizes'
"A connection can come in all shapes and sizes," Ms. Kaplowitz said. "It's about finding that connection with the consumer. "

Ms. Kaplowitz remembers the days when media planning was simple, certainly compared with the current scene where a new digital channel pops up daily.

"Back when I started, we automatically allocated 5% of the budget to cable," she said. Now, Ms. Kaplowitz is still looking at traditional media, but she's also concerned with channels such as public relations, direct marketing and the in-store experience as the consumer's relationships with media and brands change. In recent years, P&G has migrated to a communications-planning approach that accounts for all the ways consumers connect with brands -- not just paid media.

"If you have a passion for consumer, the ideas go further," Ms. Kaplowitz said. "We may have always come up with ideas for PR, but we didn't have the ability to take that further. Now it's not about the tactics but the strategic role. I could never have envisioned my job 19 years ago, but it's incredibly fulfilling."

A California native and a graduate of the University of California-Santa Barbara, where she studied sociology, Ms. Kaplowitz got her first taste of the advertising world during an internship at an agency in her college town.

Grew up loving TV and magazines
Ms. Kaplowitz, who grew up loving TV and magazines, figured out that media was the path for her, and she joined DMB&B in 1987, starting off in its training program and eventually moving over to work on its Crest account.

"That was where the learning exploded for me," Ms. Kaplowitz said. "It was a great time to be in New York and work on media."

In 1999, she joined MediaVest following a three-year stint at Ammirati Puris Lintas and quickly rose through the planning ranks there. Earlier this year, Ms. Kaplowitz was tapped to take over for Richard Beaven, who left his role as head of SMG United to become North American CEO of Initiative.

"I have yet to see Marla shy away from a challenge," said Laura Desmond, CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group/ The Americas. "She consistently meets -- and most times exceeds -- expectations, largely due to this admirable fearlessness that drives her to succeed in her professional and personal endeavors. P&G values her strategic skills and the innovation she brings to the professional care of their brands."

Ms. Kaplowitz lives on New York's Upper West Side with her husband and two sons. Her interest in media stretches beyond work: the film buff sees dozens of movies every year, and she attends the New York Film Festival regularly. But that's not too surprising for a self-described "infotainment junkie."

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Just Asking
You call yourself a film buff. What are your favorites? "I'm all over the place. 'The Sound of Music,' 'Reservoir Dogs,' 'Rear Window.' I'm a big Hitchcock fan."

What are your favorite P&G products? Oil of Olay Moisture Rinse, Clairol Nice 'n Easy Root Touch-up, Oral-B Triumph.
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