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Starcom’s Kulesza Loves the Art of the Deal

Mar 5, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Donald Trump has nothing on Jackie Kulesza.
Just across the Chicago River where Mr. Trump is building a 92-story hotel and apartment complex, Ms. Kulesza buys billions of dollars worth of television advertising for clients as VP and broadcast activation director at Starcom USA. Her favorite part of her job is making deals.
“I really love the art of negotiations, working with our partners to get the maximum benefit for the client,” Ms. Kulesza said.
She doesn’t see herself as pushy in her bargaining with the networks.
“I think I’m more of a persuader,” Ms. Kulesza said. “I get a lot of feedback that one of my strengths is that I can do a good job of talking to them about my clients’ situation, so the more they understand, the better they can help.”
Jo Ann Ross, president of sales at CBS, is a fan.
“Jackie is very open and communicative and has a wonderful ability to grasp the big picture when negotiating, that price is critical but value and environment are just as important,” Ms. Ross said. “When you negotiate with Jackie, she is very collaborative and will give you a fair shot while getting the best deal for her client.”
Bill Morningstar, executive VP for ad sales at The CW, described Ms. Kulesza as someone who is “always prepared, totally grasps her clients’ needs, can articulate them in a professional manner, is a good listener, is creative and, most of all, is tough but fair.”
Ms. Kulesza says she figures the more the seller knows about what her clients need, the more the seller can offer. At the same time, she tries to find out what it is that the media seller needs.
“I believe the best way to get what you need is to help them when you can achieve what they need,” she said.
Of course, when media outlets are looking for double-digit price increases, the haggling gets a bit testier.
“Then, there’s a lot more nudging,” she said.
Media buyers are gearing up for upfront season. Even with the Writers Guild of America strike over, this year’s prime-time bazaar is likely to be different from past years.
For one thing, the networks are talking about year-round programming and year-round development.
“We think that’s great. We hope that the change in how they’re doing pilots will allow us to be more involved in the process than we’ve been before,” she said. “Client needs don’t happen at one time of the year. Consumer trends are changing so rapidly along with the ability consumers have to access content. You need to be in the market talking about that with all our partners all the time.”
Despite the growing number of year-round conversations, the upfront will remain an important part of buying network television.
“There are benefits for our clients to making long-term commitments,” Ms. Kulesza said, noting the high prices paid in the more short-term scatter market. But she expects there will be some changes in the upfront, if only because of the changes in the way the networks are developing programming and putting together schedules.
But with overall network viewing down, clients have to think about how big a part it should play in their marketing mix.
“Supply is really down, and it was down even before the strike, so as you’re thinking about it from a solution-neutral perspective, you need to be taking that into account,” she said. “Not only do you not want to create a crazy pricing scenario by throwing more demand at shrinking supply, but you need to evaluate how a television network that’s doing less than they had the year before should factor into your buy.”
The key to Starcom’s approach to TV buying will remain accountability. Last year, the industry adopted commercial ratings, but Ms. Kulesza said there’s more progress to be made, both in the short term and long term.
“There’s more granular data available today we can use,” she said. “We need to demand greater precision. We need to demand it of ourselves, of our current and future measurement providers, as well as those that have access to the data. Clearly second-by-second is an obvious next step, but we need to be more innovative than that.”
Ms. Kulesza grew up in Canton, a small town in South Dakota, where there were 70 kids in her high school class. Her parents were active volunteers in politics, so dinner-table talk often revolved around understanding public opinion and how to craft and deliver messages.
She went off to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., planning to take pre-med classes.
“It wasn’t interesting to me once I got there and started to do it,” she recalled. “I took an ad class and as a junior realized this is what I really wanted to do.”
Ms. Kulesza got an internship with Mediamark Research in Chicago, where part of her job was servicing the Leo Burnett media department, which later became Starcom. When she graduated, she joined the agency under John Muszynski, now CEO of Starcom USA, and worked her way up the chain.
Ms. Kulesza and her husband have a 5-year-old son and a 3-year old-daughter. Until she got a digital video recorder, the kids made it hard for them to watch much prime-time television. Now, “I use the heck out of my TiVo,” she says, watching shows ranging from “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” to “Friday Night Lights,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Samantha Who?”
The family likes to go to a house on the lake in Michigan for long weekends.
“The kids and my husband fish. I lay on the boat,” she said. “We spend a lot of time on the water together. It’s family time. It’s very special.”
Who Knew: In college, Ms. Kulesza won an auto race on an obstacle course at an event overseen by the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. That was a surprise because in high school, her reputation as a driver took a big hit when she nearly drove onto her parents lawn during drivers ed. While Ms. Kulesza disputes some details, she admits she did overshoot the driveway and the instructor did stop the car with the emergency brake.

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