2006 Hot List: Jennifer Neal

Jun 26, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Good wasn’t good enough for Jennifer Neal, managing director of PHD, which handles the media buying for Discovery Communications. And that mind-set has helped endear her to her client.

Discovery gave the PHD team that good evaluation after Ms. Neal joined the agency last year. “Some people would be happy with good, quite honestly, but she’s got that ‘never settle’ attitude. It shows she’s looking out for our business almost 24-7,” said Chris Schembri, VP of media planning and partnerships for Discovery Networks.

“We’ve been pushing them and she’s been accepting those challenges,” he said.

Ms. Neal says she comes by her assertiveness and competitiveness naturally, being the fifth child in her family. She grew up in Iowa, where she focused on sports, and her leadership qualities emerged at Georgetown University, where she was captain of the women’s basketball team in 1994 and 1995.

Her basketball background took her to the NBA and the WNBA, where she was senior director of marketing partnerships and business development. It also helped when she jumped to Arnell Group, a marketing agency that had a small piece of the Reebok business when she arrived.

By the time she left, Arnell had all of Reebok’s domestic business and its international business as well.

Matt Seiler, president of PHD, said he had been looking to bring someone with a nontraditional background into the agency to run the Discovery account. A mutual friend suggested Ms. Neal, and they met. “I knew somewhere between ‘Hi’ and ‘How are you?’ that she was totally the right person,” he said. “She’s someone who doesn’t just think in terms of media, but thinks in terms of the Discovery client’s world and how to build their business.”

She has already doubled the size of the Discovery account, adding the online buying assignment, a research team looking at the return on Discovery’s marketing investments, and responsibility for Cosmeo, Discovery’s product that helps students with their homework.

Along the way Ms. Neal’s team has put Discovery into some innovative media choices. For TLC’s “Life Lessons” campaign, PHD bought MySpace.com, where baby boomers could share their lessons, and AOL Coaches, where they could get useful information. For Discovery’s “I Shouldn’t Be Alive,” a survival quiz was delivered via cellphone. Messages for the second season of “Deadliest Catch” were imprinted on coffee cups for crews on fishing boats.

And that’s what’s making the business fascinating to Ms. Neal. “There are so many ways to reach consumers and your audience, and innovative media and all of the new and emerging technology is a place right now that is paving the path for the future,” she said.

Ms. Neal would like to run her own business someday. It could be at an agency, but her exposure to the media world has piqued her interest in that field. Producing content and figuring out ways to deliver that content, “That’s the fun side,” she said.

Mr. Seiler, of course, would like to keep her at the agency. “The thing about Jen is she’s preternaturally positive.” he said. “I think she could do anything she wants.”

The Lowdown

Title: Managing director on the Discovery Communications account at PHD.

Date of birth: March 8, 1973

Place of birth: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Big break: Working for Peter Arnell at the Arnell Group.

“It was the first time I was working in a highly charged, innovative, creative environment on a business I loved.”

Who knew?

She relies on her two stepchildren, Tyler, 17, and Allie, 13, to keep her up to date on the digital media landscape. “They are my built-in focus group on any and all things involving new media,” she said. One thing they let her know was that video game advertising must be organic and unobtrusive: “Gamers are very savvy, so you have to do it in a way that doesn’t disrupt the flow of play.”