Renetta McCann

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When Renetta McCann donned a glammed-up outfit and lip-synched her best performance of pop queen Britney Spears' "Oops, I Did It Again" as part of Leo Burnett Worldwide's annual employee breakfast, it was yet another example of the multiple talents and boundless energy possessed by the CEO of Starcom North America.

As "chief advocate" for the Bcom3 Group-owned media powerhouse, Ms. McCann manages and mentors a staff of 660 that has doubled within three years. She also sets policies, balances and prioritizes service offerings, and monitors the Chicago-based shop's competitive fitness.

"Part of my job is to make sure the product is vibrant," says Ms. McCann, 44. To that end, she has started think tanks and reinstituted peer reviews in which planners must defend their communication plans. She also set up a case studies database for quick access to the agency's best work for use in new-business pitches. As a result, "there is more sharing going on between different levels" in the company, says Dan Albert, exec VP-chief media strategist for Starcom USA. "You [learned] what other smart ideas there were to twist and apply to your ideas." Ms. McCann began her Burnett career steeped in package goods, handling the likes of Kimberly-Clark Corp., FirstBrands and Kellogg Co. since 1978 and rising through the ranks every year or two. By 1988, she was named a VP and in 1995 she was promoted to senior VP. She landed her current role as CEO in 1999.

A turning point came in 1985 when she broke away from supermarket brands with a pitch for Hewlett-Packard Co., where she says she got to practice the "fine art" of launching a brand on a small budget. It was a precursor to the type of media plans widely used today.

Ms. McCann later won and led the Sony Consumer Electronics business in 1991 while also becoming a mother. She juggled diaper-changing with media plans for 28 separate Sony product lines, while adding Walt Disney World, Fruit of the Loom, a global assignment for Schieffelin & Somerset Co.'s Johnnie Walker, print agency of record responsibilities for Procter & Gamble Co. and Sprint Corp.'s African-American consumer products through the 1990s.

Ms. McCann multitasks with the savoir faire of uber-media diva Martha Stewart. She tosses a Koosh toy between her hands as she speaks in metaphors and similes in an office festooned with needlepoint pillows of her own creation. At home, she keeps a notebook beside her bed to jot down media-related ideas. "When you're in a meeting with Renetta she's always thinking three meetings ahead," says Mr. Albert. "You have to be on your guard."

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