With a roster that includes megabrands like Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, MasterCard, L’Oréal, Sony and ExxonMobil, Universal McCann (UM) has become a dominant media agency. The force behind that success is global CEO Jacki Kelley.
Yet Kelley doesn’t come from a media shop background. Or an ad agency background for that matter. She was a seller, having risen up the ranks at Gannett’s USA Today, Yahoo and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
In fact, Kelley might never have made the jump to the agency side had then-UM global CEO Matt Seiler not realized when recruiting for the new post of North American CEO in 2009 that he needed an executive to transform UM’s dealing with sellers. He asked around. Kelley’s name kept coming up.
Kelley took the post at UM as the agency was in the midst of its much-vaunted turnaround. (It was named Adweek’s Media Agency of the Year for 2009.) Her charge: to reinvent the buyer-seller relationship. Her solution: to take the focus away from the final transaction by collaborating and inventing with clients early in the process.
Kelley’s background was an ideal fit. Two years later, she took over for Seiler as global CEO when he left to take the helm of IPG’s Mediabrands, of which UM is a part.
“We’re very lucky to have Jacki,” says Michael Roth, chairman and CEO of IPG. “She’s one of the most well-rounded people you’ll ever meet—a mentor for working moms, deeply involved with an amazing cause called Free the Children and an exceptional business person. At work, she brings an understanding of the media world from multiple perspectives and can look at the industry in a way that’s different than other CEOs in the space. She’s savvy about talent and creativity, she gets the power of analytics, and she is a real game-changer for IPG.”
Before joining UM, Kelley had spent 18 years at USA Today in a variety of functions, including circulation and ad posts. She joined Yahoo in 2006 as VP of worldwide strategies and solutions just as digital services were gaining traction with consumers, and in 2007 she headed to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia as EVP of media sales, where she led the creation of an integrated media team.
About the decision to move to UM, Kelley has said that UM’s take was “in line with the approach I’ve advocated on the media side, which is to focus on the audience and change the conversation from one about planning and buying to one of strategy, insight and the creation of shared assets.” While that sounds fairly straightforward, said Kelley, “It’s more uncommon than any of us would like.”
Today, Kelley is leading UM into its next stage. She’s built a team that aligns with her consultative approach. Her top lieutenants include Yin Woon Rani, who succeeded Kelley as president of UM North America, Guy Beach, global chief operating officer; Kristi Argyilan, chief transformation officer; and David Cohen, global digital officer, all of whom stepped into their current roles in the past year.
“Clients respect her tremendously and have come to adopt her new model for effective
relationships between marketer and agency—historically often strained in a cost-cutting world of efficiencies,” says Beth Lawrence, EVP of sales and media solutions for The Weather Channel. “She sets high standards and people fall in behind to meet her expectations. She’s exemplary in her approach to business and her approach to people.”
According to Kim Kadlec, worldwide VP of Johnson & Johnson’s global marketing group, what makes Kelley’s approach exemplary is her creativity.
“Jacki really comes at her clients with different perspectives and solutions to problems that weren’t traditional agency client services,” Kadlec says. “She’s bringing a tremendous culture of partnership that will transform the way we do business.”
“It’s true, of course, that clients want to see the real results of their ad spending,” Kelley recently wrote. “But from our standpoint, sophisticated technology and advanced analytic structures also help inspire more creativity. Knowing which portions of our investments work can give us the freedom to take greater risk.”
Toward that end, Kelley has been key in helping shape “Media 3.0,” UM’s overall platform that involves strategy, analytics as well as creativity and content development. “If we want to experience a creative renaissance and give our client partners the confidence to experiment, agencies and media owners must be willing to measure more and be willing to be compensated based on performance,” Kelley explains.
Although advertising and agency professionals alike might fear change, Kelley argues that fear can actually be an inspiration. “Rather than letting fear stop us, it should inspire us to experiment with new approaches that prove which advertising is most profitable, so we can be more creative in our efforts.”
“What a pro,” Lawrence says. “Smart, inquisitive, no political agenda, just asked for the facts to then determine how to improve business. How refreshing.”
At Yahoo, Lawrence witnessed how Kelley’s deep understanding of organizational processes consistently yielded creative results. In other words, Kelley fostered innovation by creating new systems and fine-tuning systems that were already in place.
“[At Yahoo] her brain was geared to a heavy-process project and in no time the various task forces were operating like the Metro North trains,” Lawrence says. “While I didn’t work with Jacki at Martha Stewart, I know firsthand how the team respected and admired her business acumen, client savvy and general advertising and marketing knowledge.”
“She chose a whole new career path at Universal McCann because she wanted to reinvent the agency services model,” Lawrence says. “She inspired a global network to look at media relationships in different ways.”
Kelley’s passion for people extends well beyond her workplace, as she proved last year by redefining the way that a media agency can support a charitable partner. As part of a company-wide partnership with Free the Children, an international nonprofit organization that adopts villages in Africa to lift children out of poverty, Kelley led several trips to Kenya. UM has been appointed the Free the Children agency of record, and Kelley recently joined the organization’s board of directors. Her efforts inspired UM-sponsored Free the Children events in New York City and New Canaan, CT., garnering invaluable attention for the organization’s work.
“Jacki constantly looks for ways to support charitable partners while sharing the experience with her family,” Lawrence says. “Her daughter Ashley has an outstanding role model right there in her own living room. Simply put, Jacki’s a rock star and a good person in life.”