Q&A: UM’s Jacki Kelley

Jacki Kelley joined Interpublic’s Universal McCann last April as president, North America, just in time to make key contributions to the shop’s turnaround year resulting in its selection this week as Adweek’s 2009 U.S. Media Agency of the Year. In the following Q&A with Adweek media editor Steve McClellan, Kelley discusses last year’s major accomplishments and what’s ahead in 2010.

What specific actions or initiatives did you implement in ’09 that contributed to the agency’s success?
I think the most critical one was getting the right people in the right jobs to execute the strategy. It comes down to talent. One example of that was taking Guy Beach, who was our chief operating officer at J3 [the dedicated Johnson & Johnson unit], and broadening his scope to be COO for all of UM. Also, we brought over Heidi Browning from MySpace [where she was svp, client solutions]. She comes from a similar background to mine. She’s been on the agency side before, but has a lot of media-owner experience and she is co-leading the Microsoft account.

What was the most challenging pitch in 2009 and why?
The most critical pitch was Nationwide, because we were the incumbent. The health of an agency is typically measured in new-business growth. For me, new-business growth without keeping and growing existing clients would be uninteresting. We will never grow at the expense of the existing client base. That would have really bummed me out if we had lost that.
Most challenging?
I believe all new business is challenging, but Chrysler [especially] because it was a very compressed time frame, and we were intent on insuring our existing clients [BMW and Mini] were supportive of that.
What were the biggest surprises, both positive and negative, you discovered after joining UM?
The most wonderful revelation has been just experiencing the incredible collection of talent inside UM. It was a revelation because as a media owner you only see a very focused view into an agency. UM is full of these curious minds who fully believe that anything is possible. As a result, it is.
Negative surprises?
I don’t have a lot of time for negativity. All good.
What is the most important lesson you learned last year and how will you apply it in 2010?
The relentless focus on executing the strategy. The continual focus on what we believe is the future of the media agency. The application of that in 2010 is the continued operationalizing of our Media Owner Relationship initiative across the broader client base.

Making the switch to the buy side: easier or more difficult than you thought it would be — and why?
I’d say easier. I highly recommend it to all of my friends on the sales side. I have never worked so hard, but I’ve never had so much fun.

You won both BMW and Chrysler in 2009. What kind of car do you drive?
I own both a Jeep and BMW so I’m perfectly aligned. I’ve owned a Jeep since 1998. All I do is change colors and upgrade.
A true evangelist.
I’m consistent if nothing else.
How much of a “car person” were you before joining the agency?
I’ve always felt that you can’t be in media sales for 22 years and not be car person, just based on the importance of that category to every media owner. But even more importantly, I’ve always loved car people. I have always admired the work ethic in Detroit. And while it’s been challenged, it is alive and well. And resilient.
UM takes over the Chrysler business later this month. How is the transition going?
We’re busy staffing up in Detroit. The majority of the staff will be in Detroit, augmented by some strategy and analytics support in New York and San Francisco.
How big will your Chrysler team be?
Somewhere around 100.
Who will run that business for you?
We hired Scott Russell. He joins us from BBDO, where he worked on the brands for a long time. He’s a great example of efforts to bring in really diverse talent to the agency. Scott comes to us with an agency background, but one that has been fully vested [in] the creative side. 

What is next year’s big media trend?
Addressability is a critical trend. The ability to deliver a customized message to individual household TV and computer screens and mobile devices is finally becoming a reality. And the agencies and clients who are testing and learning on that now will recognize an exciting future first.