Profile: Jennifer Kohl, Y&R'S Brand Buzz

A Jell-O Epiphany in Times Square

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Jennifer Kohl from Y&R's Brand Buzz had her epiphany standing in Times Square, staring at billboards, thinking about Jell-O.

Jennifer Kohl, chief marketing officer and integrated media director, Y&R's Brand Buzz

It was 1997, the down-at-heel Square was being Disneyfied and Ms. Kohl was working for Y&R's media agency, Media Edge, as a planning director. "It was one of those rare occasions when we were allowed out with the creatives," she recounts. "I was walking around with the creative director, trying to choose out-of-home locations. We ended up coming up with an idea to run competitions in magazines for people's best Jell-O stories, then we scrolled those stories in Times Square below the ad. We got a ton of PR around the campaign and totally re-ignited the brand. Kraft [Foods] was delighted."

A light goes on
Most importantly for Ms. Kohl, 34, the experience crystallized her thoughts on integrated marketing. "A light had gone on," she says. "It convinced me you get better results when media and creative teams work hand in hand, and it gave me insight into the power of tying different promotional tools together."

At the time such thinking ran counter to the prevailing mindset among big agencies, which were frantically unbundling their media departments. But Ms. Kohl persisted in preaching her integrated gospel internally, until, toward the end of 1999, she was asked to help found Y&R Brand Buzz as its chief marketing officer and integrated media director. She would partner with the unit's CEO, John Partilla, and creative director, Lincoln Bjorkman.

Quick growth
Brand Buzz, based on the exact integrated concept that had excited Ms. Kohl, came into being at the start of 2000, with just five staff. In three years, tough years for most agencies, Brand Buzz has grown to just under 50 people and has exceeded revenue growth expectations. Marketers are clamoring to work with the unit and half of Brand Buzz's clients had no previous relationship with Y&R.

Ms. Kohl is celebrated by clients for her skill in marshalling the cross-discipline swat teams at Brand Buzz. "When she comes in with a team they are all empowered," says Kelli Freeman, director of marketing for Dr. Pepper/Seven Up, a division of Cadbury Schweppes. "You don't get one person working on your business, you get a whole team."

Clients also love her agnostic and creative approach to media. In devising a campaign for dnL, the new soft drink from Seven Up, Ms. Kohl and her team set new standards for integration with the consumer.

"We love that she not only looks at lots of different media, but that she looks at cutting edge ways of using them," says Ms. Freeman.

Future of Brand Buzz
The success of Brand Buzz is now forcing senior players at Y&R to ask serious questions about its future: Should it be allowed to continue as a stand-alone unit within the business, or could the Brand Buzz approach be harnessed to shape the future of the entire agency? Either way Ms. Kohl's future looks bright.

Former agency executive Ed O'Donnell, senior vice president of marketing at NBC and the man responsible for luring Ms. Kohl to Y&R in 1992, says: "She's great with people, is unusually creative and is one of the few people who is offering clients an approach that starts with the communications architecture. She can write her own ticket right now."

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