New MediaVest CEO’s Task: Forge Identity

Laura Desmond spent 16 years at Publicis Groupe’s Starcom and the media department of the agency from which it sprang, Leo Bur nett. Now her toughest challenge to date may be getting out from under Starcom’s shadow.

Desmond, 37, was named CEO of Star com sibling Media Vest USA earlier this month, replacing Donna Salvatore, who became chief investment offi cer.

Desmond inherits a shop with a quiescent new-business profile. Since it won Kraft’s $800 million business in December 2000, Media Vest has been all but invisible in major pitches, in part because it is still seen by many as “Starcom’s conflict shop,” said one media executive.

The agency also must forge an independent identity after the dissolution of its creative sister, D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, although MediaVest said it has not lost business from that.

The task of building up MediaVest is not unlike the one Des mond had three years ago, when she was tapped to form Starcom Media Vest Group Latin America. With only a Mexico outpost, SMG CEO Jack Klues told Des mond, then heading worldwide media planning for Coca-Cola, to “go build a media specialist network in Latin America,” she said.

Desmond oversaw 400 employees in 18 countries.”While she cut her teeth in Chicago, her experience in Latin America made her as much a MediaVest person as she was a Starcom person,” Klues said.

Desmond, a Jet-Skier and Chicago native, chalked up Media Vest’s low pitch profile to the shop being distracted by having to absorb Kraft and new Procter & Gamble business.

“Call it ‘block and tackle,’ call it ‘meat and potatoes,’ whatever we end up doing in the marketplace will be seen as strong, at least as far as our clients are concerned,” she said.