Starcom finds right balance

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Obtaining new money clients while maintaining the old is at the top of the list for John S. Muszynski, chief investment officer of B Com3's Starcom Worldwide, Chicago.

The executive says he balances his client portfolio to take advantage of market fluctuations.

"The traditional players [like the cereal industry and financials] are feeling a bit of a squeeze. It is difficult for us because we have to manage the new marketplace [the dot-coms]. But in the down years, we have to lean on the traditional companies that are there year in and year out."

One of those traditional companies Starcom has as a client is Discover Financial Services, which is pleased with buys the agency has made for it since last year. "John Muszynski has an exceptionally strong understanding of the current media market," says Cathy Davis, VP-advertising and brand management.


"We are consistently pleased with the placement of our advertising and are confident in John's ability to balance quality and efficiency."

The 41-year-old Mr. Muszynski also has his eye on what he calls "other aggressive categories" such as pharmaceuticals and entertainment.

"The entertainment industry. . . [is] what really drives the market. Today, there are more entertainment choices for the public. And making [consumers] aware of that has resulted in additional dollars spent."

Traditional clients forming the foundation of the $3.7 billion in U.S. billings at Starcom include Kellogg Co. and McDonald's Corp. The agency is the U.S.'s leading syndicated TV buyer.

"John thinks about us as McDonald's and how we work as a franchise," says Peter Sterling, assistant VP-U.S. marketing at McDonald's. "He brings us a solution as a client and marries it together with the needs of the vendor."

Mr. Muszynski says one of his biggest challenges for his clients is dealing with supply and demand. There is more demand for media placement than there are media outlets, he says, which can make negotiations difficult, especially for those Starcom clients without big budgets.

Mr. Muszynski says he likes to help not-so-large companies reach for the stars. In fact, 27 of his 56 Starcom clients ring in at less than $15 million in total billings.

"We don't look at a company's spending limit," he says. "We have big ideas for large and small investments. For example, we have Budget Rent A Car Corp., which isn't mammoth in size."


His team put together a TV feature for Budget to air during the National Basketball Association season. The theme was "Fast break," a play on words for the basketball game strategy as well as Budget's company strategy of the same name.

"If you looked at it as a TV viewer, it would look very large in nature. You would see [Budget] as a big player in the sports area. But Budget's reaction was: `How do we do this with our size budget? Isn't this for big players?' "

Starcom was able to get the deal done in line with Budget's budget by negotiating with TV networks. With 18 years in the industry, negotiating is what the chief investment officer is known for best.

"A vendor told me: `I really don't need a whole lot more of your money. You are on the lower end of the price scale. In fact, you are on the bottom. For every dollar I sell to you at your price, it costs me money because I can sell to someone else for more.' "

But Mr. Muszynski says by asking key questions, he found that the network executive had certain weeks in each quarter where he needed help. A deal was made and the client got time during the season.

"Had I not dug deeper in that meeting, we would not have spent a penny more with this particular vendor."

Mr. Muszynski says it is best when both sides walk away with a victory. In fact, that is his philosophy.

"To be effective in the long term, there has to be a win-win situation."

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