Player Profile: Martin Agency's McCullough takes the road less traveled

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Abbott always goes with Costello, the way Sonny went with Cher. So when Kim McCullough joined Interpublic Group of Cos.' Martin Agency earlier this year as senior VP-group management supervisor, it would have been just as natural to pair her with the Saab account, the Richmond, Va.-based shop's biggest automobile client.

After all, Ms. McCullough, 40, has a background in cars on both the client and agency side. Most recently, she was general manager-marketing services at Land Rover North America. Prior to that, she worked at Interpublic's McCann-Erickson Worldwide, where she was in charge of the agency's launch activities for the current Buick Park Avenue, as well as a six-year stint at Mazda North American Operations, where she launched eight new vehicles, including the Miata.

Instead, Ms. McCullough was immediately installed as the head of Martin's UPS account, the agency's largest, as well as Olympus cameras.

"Most people assumed I would go to work on Saab because of my background," Ms. McCullough said. "Heck, I thought I might go to work on Saab."

Not only is Ms. McCullough a car junkie, but she's a second-generation ad brat. And there's a definite connection between the two. Her father, Ed McNeilly worked at Doyle Dane Bernbach in the 1960s and `70s, specifically on the great Volkswagen campaigns.

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, right?" Ms. McCullough mused. "I remember as a kid seeing story boards and such early on. I remember Bill Bernbach and what a great introduction that was. I also remember running to the airport with my mother to see my father when he was just changing suitcases, on his way to Germany."

After attending Florida International University, Ms. McCullough got her start at Foote, Cone & Belding, Los Angeles, in the media department, working on various accounts. From there she joined Kenyon & Eckhardt to work on the Chrysler Import Division account, where she began to gain an appreciation for the client side and the power of working with multiple marketing disciplines. Then it was on to McCann-Erickson, for Mazda and Land Rover.

Ms. McCullough joined the Martin Agency on Jan. 8. The impetus, she said, was simple: to stay on the East coast, closer to family, since Land Rover was moving its headquarters from Maryland to Irvine, Calif. The Martin Agency was more than just a convenient logistical choice. She had applied to the shop before, in 1994, and was impressed with its work.

"I had sent a letter to [Martin Chairman-CEO] John Adams and I got the greatest note back from him saying they didn't have a job for me," Ms. McCullough recalled with a laugh. "It was so well written that I never felt so good about being rejected before."

This time, there was no rejection. "Kim brings to the Martin Agency an asset that is often undervalued in the agency business-the ability to think like a client," Mr. Adams said. "She assumes total ownership of her clients' businesses, immersing herself in their industry and thinking strategically-not just creatively-about enhancing their competitive posture."

Involving the client as a true partner is an axiom often used, she said, but rarely executed. "Being now back on the agency side, I'm a lot more sensitive to the information we present and how it's used," Ms. McCullough said. "I'm a lot better at helping the clients I work on now with their internal issues. I think, and I would recommend, that people get some client-side exposure. It really does round you out."

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