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Martine Reardon, Macy's

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"She built an organization from the ground up," says CMO Peter Sachse. "We were changing a lot, but it was Martine's ability to take field reports, react to them and put it back into the field that made the holiday season incredibly effective."

The 2009 holiday season is a testament to Reardon's marketing instincts. With creative help from JWT, New York, Reardon reprised the "Believe" campaign, inspired by the legendary "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" editorial that ran in the New York Sun in 1897. "Believe" pledged Macy's to donate a dollar to the Make a Wish Foundation for every letter to Santa Claus it received. The effort reached its $1 million goal in 2008, the first year Macy's staged it. In 2009, Reardon built on the original idea by airing an animated special on CBS, kicking off a National Santa Tour and supporting the whole effort with nationwide TV spots.

"Believe" found a warm reception in a media weighed down with stories about the recession—some 1.5 billion impressions in total. But perhaps the most notable aspect of "Believe" was how it demonstrated Reardon's ability to discern Macy's longstanding equity with American shoppers. "We studied the heritage of this brand," she says. "The things Macy's really gets credit for around holidays are obviously the parade, the movie Miracle on 34th Street and the whole idea of Santa and believing."

Santa's nowhere in sight during these sweltering months, but Reardon's marketing efforts haven't taken a holiday. In August, Madonna and her 13-year-old daughter Lourdes launched their new Material Girl line exclusively through Macy's. The following week saw the debut of a new clothing line inspired by the Fox series Glee. These initiatives represent major strides in Reardon's determination to keep Macy's relevant for the youngest generation of shoppers— and so is its concomitant embrace of digital and mobile marketing. Besides social media initiatives like the "Prom 2010" Facebook promotion and the "Sweetest Tweet" contest for the most endearing 140-character Valentine earlier this year, the company just partnered with Shopkick, a loyalty reward app that customers can use on their smartphones.

Today, Macy's 2008 crisis is well behind it. The company's 2Q sales were up more than 7 percent, while online sales spiked by 28 percent. Not that Reardon is focused on the past. "I look forward," she says, "to the next 150 years of this brand."