Executive of the Year: Jeannine Shao Collins

There are lots of stories told in the halls of Meredith Corp. about Jeannine Shao Collins, and they usually go something like this: At an Association of National Advertisers conference a couple of years ago, she and a group of her associates cornered the chief marketing officer of a major packaged-goods company that Meredith had been trying to woo. A few minutes into the conversation, Collins, svp of Meredith 360, the company’s integrated marketing arm, discovered that she and the CMO were graduates of the same high school in Potomac, Md. A connection, and subsequent business relationship, was born.

“If Jeannine rides the subway down here, she’s had three conversations and met someone who can help our business,” cracks her boss Tom Harty, who is president of Meredith’s National Media Group’s consumer magazines, which contains 23 magazine brands including Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal.

Collins shrugs off such encounters as typical: “Some people have six degrees of separation; I have two.”

Be that as it may, in a business built on relationships, Collins’ knack for making connections isn’t insignificant. It’s part of the reason AdweekMedia’s Publishing Executive of the Year — and Meredith — have been able to weather the ad recession relatively well while other publishing companies have seen their business drop precipitously.

While industry ad revenue fell 25.6 percent in 2009, per the Publishers Information Bureau, company executives say Meredith’s 360 unit doubled its revenue last year — Collins’ first full year running it. The unit — which uses research, experiential, interactive, magazines, books, mobile, broadcast and digital assets — represents close to 10 percent of the National Media Group’s advertising revenue. Through the first quarter of this year, 360’s revenue is already half of what it was in all of 2009, says Collins.

Meredith used to be set up in silos like many of the media agencies with which it does business. But advertisers increasingly have shifted dollars from traditional media and demand more customized programs. Meredith president Jack Griffin created the 360 unit to capitalize on that shift. He also acquired a string of interactive marketing firms like O’Grady Meyers in Los Angeles and Big Communications, a Ferndale, Mich.-based healthcare marketing firm. Last summer, the company issued a new positioning to reflect this evolution.
Its publishing unit was rechristened the National Media Group to reflect its marketing capabilities and broad reach with American women.

Under the new model, Meredith’s corporate sales group continues to sell multititle deals across the magazine brands, dealing mainly with print-buying agencies, where most of the buying decisions are still made. Collins and her 20-member 360 staff take multiplatform ideas directly to clients, who are better able to push through complicated programs.

With demand for large-scale deals growing, Harty in April 2008 tapped Collins, who was then leading Meredith’s lifestyle group, to be svp, client solutions. That November, she was named to lead the unit after a reshuffling that saw her boss, Jack Bamberger, exiting the company.

In Collins, Harty saw a natural leader for the role. She had joined Meredith in 1993 to work in ad sales at Ladies’ Home Journal and knew its brands well, having held executive roles at many of the company’s biggest titles. Collins had also brought a multiplatform sensibility to the company’s magazine brands. While overseeing More, the lifestyle title for women age 40-plus, she conceived of key marketing programs like the More Marathon, billed as the only marathon for women over 40; More Model Search; and More Reinvention Convention series, a day of career and personal enrichment seminars. Finally, Collins was an “external client animal,” someone who had great relationships with senior-level executives at Meredith’s clients, says Harty.

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