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Executive of the Year: Chris Boothe CEO, Spark
It would be easy to misinterpret Chris Boothe’s impressive career path as the simple result of coincidence. But that grossly underestimates the quality that the CEO of Spark, Starcom MediaVest Group’s up-and-coming media shop, has employed best in his rise: the ability to super-serve the tiniest details while never losing focus on the big picture.
In 1987, the fresh-faced graduate of Miami University in Ohio landed his first job as a media associate on Kraft at Leo Burnett—the same day, as luck would have it, as Laura Desmond, now CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group. Boothe never left the family, climbing the ranks to a four-year run as Starcom’s head buyer (he was a key right hand to then-CEO John Muszynski), and culminating in his being named Starcom COO in late 2010.
A year ago, Desmond picked Boothe to run Spark. “When you become a CEO for one of the SMG brands, it’s not by chance,” says Desmond. “It’s because you’ve prepared for it, and you’ve had enough diversity in your roles—that you’re ready to do the job.”
Boothe has turned a small, digital-leaning shop into an integrated media player on par with some of the major media units of rival holding companies. Spark boasts lead status for brands like Taco Bell and Ace Hardware and major accounts such as Kao (Jergens, John Frieda) and AbbVie. Those gets have helped Spark double its billings to more than $1.3 billion and grow revenue some 35 percent to more than $40 million in the last year, per Adweek estimates.
While no one person can take all the credit, Boothe believes strongly in a hands-on approach to winning and keeping business. “A lot of our clients are looking for that type of high touch from senior-level folks but knowing they have the comfort and the size of SMG behind them,” he says. That’s part of the startup ethos he’s working to foster across the agency, to which he’s added staff like millennial insights expert Scott Hess, and, in a role reversal of sorts, traditional media vet Muszynski as Spark’s chief investment officer.
Boothe’s “got this big vision from a macro perspective, yet somehow can operate down at the micro level,” says Muszynski. “Most people cannot do both.”
A casual observer wouldn’t be mistaken in thinking that everyone in the media business is allergic to neckties. Boothe stands out for always wearing one. That sort of attention to his own presentation extends to every aspect of the agency’s new business pitches, down to the attire of Spark’s staff and to the flowers on the presentation table. And while those nuances might seem trivial, they serve to illustrate a point of difference that’s helped Spark win over new clients.
“The process he’s put in place in Spark, where they have a very well-organized business perspective of how they go to market through the whole planning process, is what sets them apart,” says Juliet Corsinita, senior director of media and brand partnerships at Taco Bell.
Spark has managed to appeal to challenger brands like Taco Bell in part because, as the smallest of SMG’s three agencies, it too is a challenger. But if Boothe continues to meet his mandate, it will have to shed that mantle. Spark’s “growth rates are the highest across the SMG network,” says Desmond. “We’d like to see it expand globally. We’d like to see it crack top-five agency in terms of billings in the next two to three years.”
But only if the details are done right. —Gabriel Beltrone
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