Comonte: Female Execs Should Be Risk Takers

Plus 10 More Insights From Ad Age's Women to Watch Event

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NEW YORK ( -- This year's Advertising Age "Women to Watch" honorees are facing challenges on various fronts, but that doesn't mean they're playing it safe. Again and again, these executives, from the ranks of the media, agency and marketing professions, voiced the importance of risk-taking and of breaking away from the status quo.

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Tara Comonte, chief operating officer and chief financial officer at Mediabrands, wondered aloud why men seem more inclined to take risks, even though it's women who tend to be more intuitive. "Women need to step up when it comes to taking risks," Ms. Comonte said today during a luncheon toasting Advertising Age's 25 honorees. "Female intuition is so valuable. We should be better risk-takers."

At AOL, which has been in the midst of a major reinvention, risk-taking is a simple as NBD: "When you're trying to reinvent a brand, it comes down to the 'Never Been Done' ideas," said Maureen Sullivan, senior-VP brand and marketing partnerships.

These are the 25 marketers, media and agency executives to keep your eye on today

Of course, taking risks requires diligence, preparation and the encouragement of other leaders within the organization. Joan Gillman, exec VP-media sales at Time Warner Cable, said that she's always had support in taking risks. "You can't fail if you take risks and if you have leaders behind you that encourage you to do so," she said. "You learn that if you're prepared, you just have to course correct if the risk that you've taken is not actually breaking through."

More than 900 people attended the event, which was held at the Marriott Marquis in New York.

Here, 10 tips and insights from this year's Women to Watch event.

  1. Hey, account managers, speak up
    Beth Waxman-Arteta, group business director at JWT, New York, joked that she's been surprised to read the reports about the demise of account management, given that she's been awfully busy lately. But, she admitted, account managers need to market themselves better. "We need to step up and take credit for what we do -- lead a group of diverse people to success," she said.
  2. Take a step back
    When Gatorade set out to overhaul its brand, there were plenty of skeptics. "Sometimes when you're the dominant player in a category ... it's really hard to step back and say you've got to reinvent yourself," said Sarah Robb O' Hagan, chief marketing officer. "A lot of companies have learned in the last decade that sometimes you keep riding a wave of consumer growth, and you're not realizing that you've actually got to stay ahead of the consumer."
  3. Don't point fingers
    In 2006, BBDO lost the $38 million U.S. Snickers creative business after 11 years. It was a blow to the agency, but, at the time, Kirsten Flanik, exec VP-senior account director, said the agency decided not to spend an "enormous amount of time beating ourselves up or pointing fingers." Instead, she said, the agency focused on delivering on the Mars brands it still had, as well as creating solid work for Snickers outside of the U.S. Last fall, BBDO's diligence paid off when it snagged back the Snickers business.
  4. Define your big event
    For some, it might be Comic-Con, for others the World Cup. For Papa John's, the Super Bowl, one of the biggest pizza delivery days of the year, certainly qualifies, but not because of the number of eyeballs it attracts. Melissa Richards-Person, senior director-advertising and promotions, said that, more important than the eyeballs, the game itself is an important event for Papa John's consumers. "We've got to adapt the definition [of a big event] to be about whether or not it's important to our consumer," she said.
  5. Abandon the masses
    Christine Mau, brand design director at Kimberly-Clark, said she is seeing a shift from consumer-led to consumer-informed design. Product development and design, she added, is now about appealing to a smaller, more specific group of people, not to the masses. "When you design something for the early adopters, the rest follow," she said.
  6. Integrate across all media platforms
    Janet Balis, exec VP-media sales and marketing, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, said marketers and media providers need to be fluent across all channels, platforms and devices that deliver content. "But we also have to be able to execute," she said. "Because the most innovative forms of advertising are exciting and high-impact, but they are not always scalable. So being able to integrate seamlessly and deliver execution is critically important for media companies."
  7. Make sure everyone is singing the same song
    Amy Curtis-McIntyre, senior VP-marketing, Old Navy, said that "brand management has always been making sure the product and the marketing are on the same song sheet because if they're not, neither is going to be as impactful as you want them to be."
  8. Raising an agency is like raising a child
    Karen Sauder, managing director, DraftFCB, Chicago, said changes in technology and consumer behavior can easily overwhelm an agency. "As you build an organization for today and the future, you have to be fluid, make sure you are giving your people the right tools, but there is no rule book, so you have to teach them how to make the choices, identify the opportunities and feel good about them," she said.
  9. IPad is not the only answer for publishers
    Sara Ohrvall, director of research and development at Bonnier Corp., said there will be other devices on the market soon but what they all provide is an immediate and direct experience. "Combine that with that natural intuitive user interface, and these tablets represent great opportunities to package and curate both editorial and promotional messages," she said.
  10. Manufacturers and retailers need to get more collaborative
    Laura McCorvie, senior VP-consumer growth and shopper marketing at Kraft, said that "manufacturers are focused on how to work with retailers to both provide the best of what they offer as a company and to help retailers drive store traffic. There are three areas of focus: the manufacturer making sure the core brand's identity is fresh and updated; working with retailers to find the intersections of what they are trying to accomplish and what you're trying to accomplish as a manufacturer; and new product and packaging innovation."
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