Women to Watch 2009

Robin Domeniconi

VP-Advertising, Microsoft

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It's not too big a stretch to say that the future of Microsoft's advertising business, long a symbol of futility for the Redmond giant, is in the hands of its newly named VP-advertising, Robin Domeniconi.

Robin Domeniconi

A word about those hands: Ms. Domeniconi, 47, can write backward and forward, with both of them -- at the same time -- a feat that is hard to comprehend until she demonstrates it, which she's happy to do. It's a legacy of childhood dyslexia, which made it tough for her to learn to read but also gave her the ability, or maybe the need, to be doing at least two things at once. To borrow some Microsoft marketing parlance, she's a PC.

It also taught her to work extremely hard to succeed, which probably suits the task at hand: convince the world's biggest marketers (and their agencies) that Microsoft is here not just to sell its array of products and services but to solve marketing problems by leveraging its audience of 140 million users across properties such as MSN, Hotmail, Windows Live and Xbox, as well as advertising partners like Facebook and WSJ Digital.

"When I got here, they were selling products, not audiences," she said. "We need to become problem solvers, not product sellers."

It's an approach Ms. Domeniconi learned at Time Inc., where she was launch publisher of Real Simple, one of the most successful titles of the past decade, which happened to roll out just 10 days before Hearst Magazines and Oprah Winfrey launched O, the Oprah Magazine, another title chasing the same demographics. "That's what we were up against," she said.

Her background is in selling content businesses under strong brands, and while Microsoft is a brand, and certainly makes content, its dominant gene is that of a technology company. As the new face of Microsoft advertising, Ms. Domeniconi is expected to make rain for a company that lost $1.2 billion on web services in 2008.

Things at Microsoft didn't start smoothly. She arrived in January in the aftermath of another shakeup: CEO Steve Ballmer brought in Yahoo search executive Qi Lu to lead the unit, triggering the departure of Advertising President Brian McAndrews, as well as Sales VP Bill Shaughnessy. The move was widely seen as renewing the focus on battling Google in search, not brand advertising, Ms. Domeniconi's specialty.

The good news: She's got some unique assets and the ability to sell three screens: the computer (MSN, Hotmail), TV (Xbox, Massive) and mobile (Windows Mobile). And this spring, Microsoft is rolling out its search engine, Bing, with a massive push.

Rob Norman, CEO of Group M Interaction, said he believes search will help Ms. Domeniconi land brand dollars for Redmond. "If they can gain traction in search, Robin can package a more complete proposition to advertisers," he said. "It's an opportunity few other sellers of media have."

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