Fast Chat: Monique Nelson

New UniWorld CEO talks about leading a multicultural agency into the digital future

Monique Nelson’s experience as global lead for entertainment marketing at Motorola—where she led the launch of the ROKR in 2005—made her move to UniWorld Group five years ago a natural choice. Agency founder Byron Lewis Sr. built one of the country’s first multicultural shops 43 years prior. He was known for creating successful media properties like the nationally-syndicated TV news program America’s Black Forum and radio’s Sounds of the City as well as launching the American Black Film Festival. When Lewis decided to step down from the top job at UniWorld, the technologically savvy 37-year-old Nelson was his logical choice in bridging the company’s past with its increasingly digital future. Nelson, the new CEO of the company—which has as clients Ford, Colgate, Home Depot, the U.S. Marines, Western Union and CVS—chatted with Adweek about her new role.

Adweek: What advice has Byron Lewis given you in taking over UniWorld?

Monique Nelson: You’re only as good as your people, so take care of them. Keep ideas flowing. Be thoughtful about our industry, our communities and about the depth of these markets and the way we look at them.

What made you decide to leave the client world for the agency side and how did you get to UniWorld?

I had been gone from New York since college in 1996 and I had a hankering to come home. I had a great run at Motorola, traveling the world with them and got a lot of experience under my belt. But since I had focused on a single area, technology, I wanted to see what else I could do. I went to interview with several agencies prior to meeting Mr. Lewis and I was seeking a broader role than what many agencies were structured to handle six years ago. When I went to UniWorld, I thought it was going to be the same scenario: I was going to be put on one brand doing one type of thing when I wanted more of a challenge doing multiple things. But I started talking with Mr. Lewis about my (Motorola) entertainment work with product placement, integration, the fact you can do some exciting things on the ground and push that out to mobile and digital and he really perked up. He said he would love to bring someone in with my level of expertise but UniWorld still needed to make money so he made me a senior account person as well. He was one of the only people I talked to who saw that vision and I also loved the fact I was going to do it for a multicultural audience.

What’s the transition been like in moving from the client side to an agency role?

One thing you don’t see as a client is all of the work that happens before an agency brings something to you. It was absolutely eye-opening and gave me better appreciation for everything my agencies have done for me in the past. There also were certain expectations I have that a lot of people with an all-agency background don’t necessarily have. That’s given me an advantage, especially in dealing with client-facing issues. I don’t know that agencies always appreciate all the pressure clients face inside their companies so those were some of the sensitivities I brought to the table that weren’t necessarily germane here. The one thing I knew, even as I was leaving Motorola, is that there is so much more pressure on an agency to do a lot more for less. So it’s all about being efficient, about having really solid processes and working with your clients as closely as you can to ensure you’re meeting their objectives. I’m pushing my team to spend as much time in the client environment as possible to understand the nuances of their business so we can better anticipate their needs.