Power Players 2009

Unilever's Simon Clift Is Ad Age's No. 3 Power Player

Digital Innovation and Focus on Food Has the Packaged-Goods Giant Knocking on Procter's Door

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Last Year
THE POWER: Unilever is a strong global marketing spender and, thanks to currency effects and deep cuts by No. 1 P&G, came close to taking the lead. Led by Simon Clift, who has deep international experience and expertise in personal care, it's also been innovative, with such tacks as a "reverse upfront" where networks pitch plans for its brands. Unilever has been in the right place at the right time in this recession, as food helped compensate for harder-hit personal-care markets, and strength in developing markets insulated it from deeper downturns in developed areas. Mr. Clift reports to CEO Paul Polman, who has put an emphasis on faster action, particularly on problem brands and businesses.

THE NUMBERS: For much of the decade, Unilever lagged global peers, particularly P&G in personal care and Nestle in food and beverage. But after restructuring and playing catch-up, it beat both in the second quarter. U.S. measured media spend was $768 million in 2008; and first-half 2009 spend was up 1.9% to $452 million.

THE KEY LIEUTENANTS: Mr. Clift's London-based corporate marketing group includes a couple of key imports from the U.S. VP -Global Media Laura Klauberg and Babs Rangaiah, global communications planning director.

THE CHALLENGE: Maintaining momentum gets tougher as Unilever cycles past relatively strong year-ago quarters. Getting results from U.S. hair and skincare on par with the seemingly unstoppable deodorant business has proved difficult. Unilever's North America chief remains a player to be named later.

THE AGENCIES: WPP's MindShare and Ogilvy & Mather join Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Interpublic's Lowe as key global relationships. There have been few key digital-agency relationships, though a new global digital roster is likely to change that. Mr. Clift and company have also shown themselves open to tinkering with startup shops, crowdsourcing and creative partnership with media companies. Results of a global media review are pending.

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