Media All-Stars 2003: Magazines – Karen Jacobs

By connecting to individual titles, she learns what each is trying to do for the reader.

Little did Karen Jacobs know her college degree in cognitive science would take her so far. With a B.A. in detecting B.S., Jacobs’ keen understanding of the human condition has served her well over the years as Starcom Worldwide’s executive vp/director of print investment.

As overseer of Starcom’s print investment team of 32 and more than $300 million in print spending for clients including Kellogg, Heinz, Discover Card, Allstate, Canon and Nintendo, Mediaweek’s Magazines All-Star has a well-earned reputation for being smart, fair, knowledgeable about the magazine business, and passionate about print.

“She is a star. She has great strategic horsepower,” says Renetta McCann, CEO of Starcom North America, the media specialty division of Chicago-based Leo Burnett. “Karen has a remarkable ability to observe the situation, understand the facts, and bring to me and our clients a very well- thought-out assessment.”

Jacobs, who grew up in picturesque Harvard, Mass., graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University in 1985. She knew her strengths, but armed with a liberal arts degree, she didn’t quite know what to do with her life. “What I really counted on was that I knew how to write, I knew how to think, and I knew how to speak, and somehow or other I would get a good job,” she says. Jacobs also brought to the table some business and management skills acquired through her experience as manager of a 500-student work force for the largest campus cafeteria, where she was responsible for hiring, firing, promoting and training.

She was recruited right out of college by Leo Burnett and spent a year in its media department as a trainee, working on Kellogg and First Brands. Jacobs was promoted to Client Service in 1987, where she worked for the next year and a half on M&M/Mars, new business and P&G as an account executive.

But in 1988, she “saw the light” and returned to media as a media planner/buyer for Kellogg. A year later she was promoted to media supervisor and worked on StarKist, Miller Beer, Pillsbury and Green Giant. Fast-forward to 1993, when Jacobs became media director on Pillsbury, Kraft and Rockport shoes, then went on to oversee Kellogg from 1996 to 1998. In May 2001, she began leading Starcom’s print investment team.

Jacobs over the years has worked on both broadcast and print, but she has always had a passion for the latter. “[Print] has more strategic planning factored into the job, because by nature print is about reaching readers one at a time. You’re more involved with the medium. It’s not just about getting the lowest CPM [cost per thousand] but also the composition of readers of the magazine, and [determining whether] the brand fits with my brand.”

For Jacobs, what distinguishes print buying and selling relationships from those in TV is that print allows for more relationships that are deeply based in the product.

Television relationships, she explains, tend to be about the programming in any given season. “But when I have a relationship with Vogue and their salespeople, that relationship is a really deep understanding of that magazine and what Vogue can do for my clients and the people they’re trying to reach,” she explains. Meeting the editor of a magazine is also a really important part of the job, continues Jacobs. Editors in chief provide a different view of the magazine, which is integral for understanding the product and the target audience. “I don’t know if in the broadcast world it happens quite the same way. I don’t know if I need to speak to David [E.] Kelley. I don’t know if I need to hear [from him] who The Practice appeals to.”

Jacobs is highly regarded among publishers, not just for being a great negotiator but also for taking the time to understand the business and looking for innovative ways to evaluate print. “Karen is one of the people most interested in educating herself about her clients’ business and our business,” says Jeannine Shao Collins, vp and group publisher of Meredith Corp.’s Ladies’ Home Journal and More. Last spring, Jacobs and LHJ collaborated on a circulation study that helped the women’s service title learn more about its readers’ involvement through different circ sources. “She’s a brainiac!” says Collins with a laugh. “She’s a really a smart woman, and it makes you want to be smarter as well.”

While the Magazine Publishers of America, even as recently as October’s American Magazine Conference, suggest publishers not slam each other during sales pitches but rather unite against broadcast or speak positively about print in general, Jacobs contends that’s nonsense. “I think that’s silly and not realistic,” she says. “I actually like it when somebody comes in and talks about their competition because I see that as a basic marketing fundamental. ‘Here’s my positioning versus the other guy’s.’ If a publisher doesn’t understand that, I guess I question their ability as a salesperson.”

But it’s not not all about business for Jacobs. Besides juggling job and family—she has a 12-year-old son and a 10-year old daughter—when she gets a moment to herself, Jacobs likes to cook, sew, knit, and root for the Boston Red Sox.

In recent years, Jacobs has managed to branch out. Besides heading up the print investment team, Jacobs last January became a member of Starcom’s U.S. Leadership team, managing several client relationships, including Sara Lee and Canon.

Her real passion, however, is mentoring. Jacobs, or “KJ” as she is fondly known by her staff, maintains a wide-open-door policy. “It’s not about titles,” insists Starcom associate media director Brenda White. “Associates who are many levels below her are very comfortable going into her office to talk about the market, a magazine or a negotiation. That’s huge for someone at her level. I have learned so much from her.”

“That’s how I get my jollies. I truly love it,” Jacobs says of training staffers.

“I’m not necessarily the front-and-center person with clients, and and that’s not accidental. It’s OK, as long as they can say, ‘Wow, that Starcom print team, they really rock!’ And not necessarily that it’s all about me.”

Lisa Granatstein covers the magazine industry as general editor for Mediaweek.