Women to Watch

Jo Harlow

By Published on .

Offense sells tickets. Defense wins games.

That's a key insight that Jo Harlow, a pre-Title IX Duke University woman's basketball captain, is applying to help Nokia compete in the tough U.S. market.

Ms. Harlow has taken the offensive with a number of plays designed to sell Nokia handsets, while defending against the wireless service carriers seeking to own consumer loyalty and, in effect, move handsets into a giveaway, commoditized position. In Europe, the draw for most consumers is the cell phone itself, with service an afterthought. The opposite is true in the U.S., but Nokia wants Americans to think of its phones as a premium product.

Another challenge, as a Gartner Inc. analyst puts it, is to "regain the initiative in ... brand and technology leadership in the face of strong competition from the other top five vendors."

"The need for a handset brand has never been more important than it is today," says Ms. Harlow, VP-North America marketing operations, mobile phones. She's mixed innovation into Nokia's estimated $50 million ad budget. In addition to traditional TV advertising, Ms. Harlow's initiatives include 40 Nokia "experience" centers, stocked with the latest gadgetry as well as Nokia representatives able to help consumers get the most of out of their phones' wizardry.

Ms. Harlow also launched a program called "Nokia Unwired," in which the Nokia name was placed on high-profile public performance spaces. The Nokia Theatre Times Square opens this summer; it will include a lounge where consumers can charge their phone, try new products or download mobile content.

"She is very tenacious as a marketer," says Steve Centrillo, who was familiar with Ms. Harlow in his role as chief operating officer of WPP Group's Grey Worldwide, Atlanta, and exec VP-managing partner of darkGrey, the tech unit that handles Nokia. Mr. Centrillo is now heading to Interpublic Group of Cos. as exec VP-chief growth officer.

Nokia's product developers are also pitching in. The new NSeries phones, which haven't hit the U.S. yet, boast functions including personal digital assistant, Internet browser, music player, video and digital camera.

Ms. Harlow earlier was recruited by Procter & Gamble Co. in part because of her athletic leadership. At Reebok International, she became VP-worldwide marketing operations, which she calls a "dream come true" for a female executive devoted to opening up sports to women.

Ms. Harlow's Nokia efforts are starting to pay off. Nokia began 2004 with a 28.8% global share but rebounded to 33% by the end of the year, according to Strategy Analytics.

And the full-court press continues. Gartner says Nokia also is likely to retain its leadership position in 2005.

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