The Young Ones

In case you weren’t paying attention in history class, life is full of examples of what creative minds can accomplish while those minds are still young. John D. Rockefeller built his first oil refinery when he was 24. When The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald was all of 29. Albert Einstein had hit the ripe old age of 26 when he decided to redefine the laws of the universe with E=MC2. And when bicycle-shop owner Wilbur Wright lifted off in the world’s first mechanically-powered aircraft from a North Carolina beach in 1903, he was 36. (Brother Orville, watching from the dunes, was 32.)

For those of us busy leading life’s second half, these anecdotes are perhaps more dispiriting than inspiring. And yet, there’s no denying that there are opportunities for all of us that stem from the innovations of those rare few wunderkinds with the original ideas. Perhaps no place is this maxim more applicable than in the business world — and this magazine’s world, especially. Sure, it takes a quick mind to make the numbers work in a Wall Street accounting firm (especially these days). But few realms of capitalism are more dependent on creative thinking, risk taking and personal flair than those of advertising, marketing and the media.

Creative thinking…like that of Calle and Pelle Sjönell, ad shop BBH’s sibling duo of creative directors who are melding the worlds of traditional brand building and interactive social media into a new advertising paradigm. Risk taking…like that of Neeraj Khemlani, who left a stellar career in TV journalism to revolutionize Web-based storytelling for Yahoo. Inspired leadership…like that of Antonio Bertone, the skateboarding CMO educated in Boston’s dance clubs who’s fearless trailblazing transformed Puma from a sneaker into a lifestyle brand.

They, and the seven others who join them in this AdweekMedia spotlight, aren’t just under-the-radar success stories; most of them are under 40 years old, too. In case that makes you feel a little behind the curve, it might help to remember one other example from the history  books. Colonel Harlan Sanders started franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken (and building a considerable personal fortune) at age 65. It’s proof that you’re never too old to innovate — just like these 10 executives prove that you’re never too young, either.

–Robert Klara


MICHELLE MYERS: The Self-Styled Publisher

JASON ASH: The Ironman of Marketing

ALEXIS BRUNNER: Animal Magnetism

TIFFANY KOSEL: Old Navy’s Young Gun

ERIK SEIDEL: A Marketer on a Roll

IAN SCHAFER: Social Media Butterfly

NEERAJ KHEMLANI: Blending Old and New School

LISA NAMEROW: Tuned In to Growth


ANTONIO BERTONE: The Secret to Puma’s Pounce


How Michelle Myers made People StyleWatch a must-have item

Lucia Moses, Mediaweek

(Photo by Aaron Kotowski)

Michelle Myers still remembers the drubbing she got as a tenderfoot journalism grad trying to land a sales job at Us magazine. “You have no experience,” the publisher had sniffed. “Why would I want to hire you?” Myers replied: “Just give me a chance.”

That took plenty of backbone, but it taught the young sales exec that persistence pays. As it turns out for Myers, persistence would pay twice. In 2007, she took over as publisher of People StyleWatch. Five years out of its launch, the shopping magazine — which featured little more than glossy shots of products and celebrities — was still regarded dubiously by skeptics who questioned why it was needed in a market already clogged with celeb rags. “There was a lot of resistance at first,” Myers recalls. “The biggest [objection] was, ‘if I’m buying People, do I really need StyleWatch?'”

Myers has proven that they do. In her first year at the title, she wooed big-league advertisers like Citibank, Chanel and Clinique. By 2008, ad pages had jumped by 38 percent. StyleWatch’s circulation has grown, too. Since 2007, its rate base has jumped by 27 percent from 550,000 to 700,000. And, in an era of cut-rate subscriptions, the magazine’s single-copy sales have averaged a robust 527,000 copies per month.

Luring advertisers took strategy, of course. Myers commissioned research to demonstrate the magazine’s core premise: That celebrities aren’t just paparazzi fodder, they influence what consumers buy. “We really needed to explain to people in the advertising community the power of the StyleWatch brand as a separate magazine serving a different audience of younger women who love the People brand, but love the fashion and beauty trends celebrities are wearing.”

Myers also was able to prove that readers shop from the magazine’s pages. A regular editorial feature called “In Stores Now” often features a line that’s created a promotion specifically for StyleWatch readers. Though the content remains the purview of editor Susan Kaufman, Myers has stockpiled examples of retailers and designers whose sales shot up in the weeks after their promotion ran.

“When we do this, [the results are] very trackable,” she says, adding that the feature is particularly relevant today, with advertisers demanding proof of performance. Andrea Luhtanen, president of Haworth Media, whose client, Target, signed on as a StyleWatch advertiser in 2008, recalls that her first reaction to the pub was, “Do we really need this?” But over time, she says, “It grew into something that lives as a brand. It just became so current.”

Myers, too, grew into her currency as a top publisher. As a teenager growing up in the New York City suburb of Long Island, she devoured shopping magazines — a habit hardly discouraged by her mother, an unabashed shopaholic. Myers parlayed those interests into a meteoric ad-sales career, going from Us to Condé Nast’s Allure and then American Media’s Star before landing at StyleWatch. Amy Monroe, who followed Myers from Allure to Star, where she’s now Midwest ad director, lauds Myers’ knack for remembering details, a talent that’s helped her both attract and stay close to advertisers. “We had a client we’d probably met [only] one other time, and she specifically remembered that this person always had a cosmo before dinner,” Monroe recalls. “When she’s with people, she is really listening.”

Myers will have to keep listening, of course, because sustaining StyleWatch’s momentum in today’s dismal economic environment won’t be easy. The magazine is still benefiting from its newness; ad pages ticked up 2 percent through May while the fashion/beauty category plummeted 28 percent, per the Mediaweek Monitor. No matter what happens, however, Myers has one piece of proof that her title is now the act to beat. Us Weekly — the magazine that nearly didn’t give her a break all those years ago-planned its own celebrity fashion spinoff to compete with StyleWatch. That is, it did until the recession hit.


For triathlete Jason Ash, branding is just another race to run — and win

By Kenneth Hein, Brandweek

(Photo by Aaron Kotowski)

Even in a sensory-overload place like New York’s Times Square, a one-of-a-kind spectacle went down on the afternoon of June 21, 2007. High above Seventh Avenue, in a niche of the Reuters Building, a shirtless guy was casually trotting along on a treadmill, oblivious to the thousands of people staring up at him.

A launch of a new athletic shoe? A promo for expensive workout equipment? Not quite. It was the kickoff of Cadbury Schweppes’ $50 million blitz for Accelerade, the ready-to-drink sports beverage that was presumably helping über-athlete Dean Kamazes — he was the shirtless guy — set a world’s record for the 24-hour endurance run.

It was a proud moment for Jason Ash, then the 33-year-old general manager of Cadbury’s sports, energy and water business-but a moment was all it was. Soon afterwards, Cadbury switched strategy and sold off Accelerade, and the young Ash’s plans along with it.

Most would find the failure crushing, but Ash was not about to give up. He believed in Accelerade’s protein-rich line (it might be because Ash happens to be an Ironman athlete himself). Initially hoping to sublicense the New Jersey-based brand’s pills, powders and gels from the U.K, Ash changed his plans after PacificHealth Labs chairman Robert Portman asked him: “Why not just move here and do it? “The consumer strategy for the business was not optimized,” Ash recalls. “I was being given the chance to do it on the big playing field in the U.S.” He accepted.

As far as marketing the brand went, well, Ash had already had a few ideas about marketing. As a student at the University of Durham in England, he’d made a tidy sum by signing up local pubs to advertise in leaflets he then crammed into fellow students’ pigeonholes (American translation: mailboxes). Ash’s plans to “take the business to London and obliterate the leaflet market,” however, were detoured by a stint as a pro rugby player. But Ash cut that gig short, figuring he should “probably learn how to use a calculator.” He went to work for food giant Unilever where, before long, he found himself promoted to brand manager of Marmite.

A spread made from yeast extract, the shoe-brown, salty, tar-like condiment is either loved or loathed by Brits. And it was this very theme that Ash graphically (and, by consensus, hilariously) harnessed for a TV spot in which a nerdy guy’s dream-come-true kiss with a beautiful woman is ruined (he breaks into a fit of retching) because she’s just eaten some Marmite. The commercial would win Unilever its first BATT gold award in seven years.

Things moved quickly for Ash after that. His work for Unilever got him poached by rival Masterfoods. Ash’s creation of an explosively popular pouch-packaged “express rice” product for Uncle Ben’s in turn got him poached by Cadbury Schweppes. In 2002, Ash went to work on candy brand Bassett’s. He gave Bertie Bassett, the brand’s candy-man mascot first introduced in 1929, a computer-generated makeover while simultaneously launching the “Allsorts” line extension.

The success of both within his first year at the company landed him a promotion overseeing the firm’s business in Istanbul, Turkey. A year after that, Ash found himself in Texas as the marketing director of Dr Pepper North America. There, he helped push through the brand’s first major repackaging in about 10 years. But soon, Ash would be assigned the task of tackling the growth areas of the beverage business heading up its sports, energy and water portfolio. And, well, we know how that ended.

Today, at 34, Ash is notching his second year at PacificHealth, which has licensed Accelerade back from Dr Pepper. Accelerade sells at leading retailers including GNC and Vitamin Shoppe, but according to Gerry Khermouch, editor of Beverage Business Insights, the drink still has plenty of untapped potential. “Certainly there seems to be an undercurrent of consumer disenchantment with existing sports drinks that some of the more protein-oriented marketers may be able to tap into,” he says. Not one to sit out a race, however, Ash has moved on to develop other sports beverages. He’s at work on the launch of one called ForzeGPS, an appetite suppressant that comes in a liquid form aimed squarely at Slim-Fast and Muscle Milk. “It’s a great opportunity to expand the business,” he says.

In a short but successful career, Ash has already done a good deal of that sort of thing. But what about that dream of dominating the leaflet business? “I’ve managed to let that one go,” he says.


Alexis Brunner dumped the cute critters and let Animal Planet pounce

By Robert Klara, Brandweek

(Photo by Bill Cramer)

It’s a hushed house at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater on a recent, rainy afternoon and the brass at Animal Planet-including vp and creative director Alexis Brunner-have taken a seat in the cushy rows to watch a dry run of the channel’s upfront presentation. As the lights dim, LCD screens air previews of the season’s programming. Whales surface in icy, Antarctic waters. Plucky meerkats scramble across the dry plain. Then the camera creeps in close-very close-to a family of tigers. The mother of the pack regards the lens with a narrowed, protective eye. In a split second, 500 pounds of Panthera tigris lunges forward with a hellish growl, her milk-white fangs nearly tearing the lens off.

Startled, the audience slams into its seatbacks. But here’s what’s strange: Brunner does, too-even though she knew it was coming; even though she’s worked on this spot for weeks. That flinch tells you two key things about this 39-year-old marketer. Alexis Brunner prefers a strong reaction and she’s willing to push the limits. “She pushes on strategy and insight more than I’ve ever seen a creative director do,” says svp of marketing and operations Vicki Lowell. Adds Animal Planet president Marjorie Kaplan, “She’s like a pit bull.”

At Animal Planet, being called that name is a compliment. And a big one, too, because 13 months ago, a pit bull (at least the marketing kind) is exactly what the channel needed.

Since first going on the air in 1996, Animal Planet had been the doggie-and-kitty station. It was safe, reliable — and stagnant. With Kaplan assuming the corner office in 2007, Animal Planet changed with chameleon speed, rolling out a roster of faster-paced, mature programming that would appeal to the viewer aged 25-54. As Kaplan says frequently: “We’ve shed our cute and cuddly image. We’re plenty entertaining, and a little edgy.” Brunner (whose first major TV job was co-launching the CTC network in Russia and, later, re-branding the Discovery Kids Channel in the U.S.) came aboard to market the entertaining and edgy part.

The newer, less-cutesy Animal Planet has hunted down more viewers. The channel pulled in 6.3 percent more total households this April versus last and its 18-49 viewership rose 17.9 percent, per Horizon Media, New York.

How do you make adorable little critters edgy? Exhibit A is Meerkat Manor, a show that followed the daily romp of a family of the tiny mammals. While Season Two got an attitudinal makeover with bolder storylines and a sharper character development, Brunner’s marketing reflected the shift. “I said, we have to get this way out of the box,” Brunner remembers. “This is life-or-death drama.” In the new ads, the meerkat family appeared Sopranos-style, standing in a well of spotlights with blood-red lettering beneath. “The Family is Back,” it said.

Then there was Whale Watch, a show that wasn’t even produced when Brunner was told to market it. Her 30-second spot (a “tone poem,” she calls it) not only established a template for the look and feel of the show, it distilled the new attitude of Animal Planet’s programming with raw, quick-cutting footage set to popular music. (Smashing Pumpkins, in this case.) Brunner did the same for Jockeys, a real-life drama about the injury-prone lives of those who ride racehorses, with an ad showing a helmet being murderously trampled by horse hooves.