It's fitting that brenda white works with magazines. She lives and breathes them. So much so, the joke in her family is that the first word she uttered as a tot was "magazine."
Indeed, White started reading magazines voraciously from an early age, starting with Highlights as a kid growing up in West Bend, Wis., before graduating to Seventeen in high school and Glamour in college. "Magazines have always been a part of my life," says White, who, diplomatically, won't reveal her current favorites. "They've always been trusted sources for me."
That passion has earned White the 2006 Mediaweek All-Star for Magazines. At Starcom USA, where she's risen to vp and director of print investment, overseeing spending for clients like Kellogg, Allstate and Lenscrafters, she's helped bring accountability and measurability to print buying through the A.C.E. print-planning platform she helped create and later implement A.C.E.—which stands for accountability, connectivity, engagement—is a research-based set of metrics on which to base a media plan's performance.
When White began working for Starcom president/chief client officer Andrew Swinand, she recalls that there was great frustration over the lag-time it took to get circulation numbers as well as the lack of ability among advertisers to measure return on print spending. At the same time, she and Swinand knew readers connected with magazines in a way that they didn't with other media. "We decided we've got to have accountability out there, because dollars are leaving the medium," White says. "That money goes away very quickly when you can't prove it works. We said, 'We've got to shake up the industry.'" The A.C.E. philosophy they created has become a standard part of every Starcom print plan.
Plans are grounded in consumer research to an extent they weren't before. "It's really getting into the mindset of the reader," White explains, who says the ability to measure results has led to an overall spending increase in magazines by her clients. "We guarantee you're going to be able to tell how the print plan did," she says. "You're going to be able to measure return on objective."
A.C.E. also helped shake up magazines, acknowledges Sally Preston, senior vp, publisher at Martha Stewart Living, who says that the three components of A.C.E. are now an integral part of every presentation MSL makes. "Maybe for a while we got too complacent," Preston says. "When they unveiled that research, it made sense."
Time Inc. has partnered with Starcom for the past two years to better understand and measure reader engagement with its brands' content and advertising, says Leslie Picard, senior vp of sales in Time Inc.'s corporate sales and marketing department. The results deepened the company's understanding of how readers interact with its magazines while helping Starcom understand the value of its print investment with Time Inc., Picard says.
Moira Lisowski, an associate media director who works under White, believes her boss's sincerity enables her to push publishers to think about their magazines as brands. "Sometimes they might not want to hear what she has to say, because it's almost scary. But I think they know it's something that's in their best interest."
On the client side, A.C.E. has helped Kellogg North America make better decisions about where to allocate media spending, says Andy Jung, senior director of advertising and media there. "We're actually making decisions based on what we found out of the study," he says. "We know where [print] is most effective, and we concentrate on those areas. We are now applying ROI metrics in print to the degree that we have not been able to do in the past."
White came to Starcom in 1991 from Philip Morris, where she oversaw planning and execution for all Marlboro media plans and before that, served as an outdoor market specialist. Along the way, prominent industry figures like Bill Harmon, the retired Starcom print guru and 1998 magazine All-Star, and Mary Ann Foxley, executive vp and media director at Starcom, influenced her with their passion for the magazine industry and value of partnership, with clients, subordinates and publishers alike.
White passes on that mentorship to her 40-person group of print experts. "I'm a big believer in teaching, because my philosophy is, you're only as good as your team," she says. "We're all in this together: my team, the client and the publishers."
That belief comes across to others. "She's extremely thoughtful and disciplined in her approach to buying," Picard says. "She encourages her staff to be diligent in their approach and why they're buying certain magazines. We've come in and given group media presentations, and she encourages her entire staff to attend. They ask very thoughtful questions during the meeting. You can tell they're well-schooled by the time they walk into a meeting."
White is also admired for her constancy, conscientiousness and honesty. Jung recalls that when Kellogg positioned its cereals as aiding in weight control and heart health, White was well aware of the changes to the brands and ensured the proper media were chosen to promote them. "She brings the awareness to the publications, making sure the publications understand we are creating brands and product reformulations," Jung says.
Martha Stewart Living's Preston says that as White has risen through the ranks, she remains accessible and involved in day-to-day matters, recalling that White popped into the office recently during a vacation because MSL editors were paying a visit. "She was on her day off and was still her usual charming self," remembers Preston.
White is unabashedly bullish on the outlook for magazines. Because of a lifetime reading magazines, White knows the power of their brands. At the same time, she expresses frustration in the pace of change. "Our industry continues to need to push for more transparency, real-time accountability, and partnership," she says. Lucia Moses is a senior editor at Mediaweek.