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Bonkowski Fluent in Media

Sep 10, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Multicultural marketing is a hot field right now, and you don’t need to be African American or fluent in Spanish to succeed.
Just ask Dana Bonkowski, recently promoted to VP and media director at Tapestry, a unit of Starcom’s SMG Multicultural division.
Ms. Bonkowski said she has spoken to college students who want to get into the business, but don’t think they could get a job marketing to minorities because they are not members of a minority group themselves.
“I’m kind of the poster child for, ‘Sure you can,’” she said.
Ms. Bonkowski was working at Leo Burnett Media on the Hallmark account when she got her first taste of the multicultural business. Hallmark was launching its Mahogany card line, designed for African Americans, and Ms. Bonkowski put together the media plan.
“I really like the opportunity to literally step out of my own consumer experience and challenge myself,” she said. “How would I engage with somebody else?”
Her plans won internal recognition at the agency, leading her to believe she might be onto something.
“Maybe I had an ability to tap into some insights that may be useful to somebody,” she recalled.
It became a big part of her career a few years later. She was up for a promotion and Burnett Media’s successor, Starcom Media Group, was getting ready to launch the Tapestry unit.
Ms. Bonkowski’s boss suggested the new unit might be a good fit and arranged an interview with the unit’s head, Monica Gadsby.
“I said, ‘OK, I speak fluent French, not Spanish, I’m a really hard-working Polish-Greek girl,’” Ms. Bonkowski said.
Ms. Gadsby signed her up.
Ms. Bonkowski said at that point, she wasn’t 100% sure how things would work out.
“So I got my feet wet. Maybe I’ll just try it for a year, and see if I’m still as strong a media professional in this space as I thought I would be in the quote-unquote general market,” she said. “It was many years ago and I’ve never looked back. It’s been a fascinating experience, every moment.”
Ms. Bonkowski said some of the women she works with have baptized themselves honorary Latinas.
“I always say ‘we,’ as in, ‘We do this,’ and clearly I’m not,” she said. But the exposure to Hispanic culture has rubbed off on her, altering the restaurants she likes to go to and the books she likes to read.
She doesn’t see not actually being Hispanic as a disadvantage in her job. She pointed out that the people who work on the agency’s Nintendo account are not really 9-year-old boys, nor are the people working on pharmaceutical accounts necessarily 75-year-old women.
“The way that we’re trained to think about making those connections is what makes us so good at what we do,” Ms. Bonkowski said. “You have to be able to get yourself out of your own experience and get yourself into that of who you’re speaking to. Sometimes I almost feel like you almost have a little bit of a leg up in some way because I’m not bringing with me a focus group of one.”
Ms. Bonkowski’s work paid off last year when the agency helped create Miller Mission: Football for client Miller Beer.
“One of the things I learned quickly many years ago was the American experience with soccer and the Latin-American experience with soccer are incredibly different,” she said.
Miller was a sponsor of the Gold Cup, a tournament that feeds into the World Cup competition, and the agency was looking for a way to reach Hispanics through online media, a space largely untapped by Miller’s rival.
The idea was a video game, but the game couldn’t simply be about playing soccer, Ms. Bonkowski said. Instead, the agency came up with a game that captured the Latin American experience of going to a futbol match and rooting for your national team.
Instead of scoring goals, you were collecting scarves, trying not to spill your beer and trying to win points for your country. Users also were able to experience many of the interactive activities Miller was offering at Soldier Field in Chicago, where the matches were played.
“You would never go to a game without your flag, and without your face paint and without that fervor and that fanaticism,” she said. “To show that Miller really gets it, and to tap into that, was really exciting.”
At the same time, sales reacted positively and measures of brand health rose.
“We were very proud of the work we did there,” she said.
A Chicago native, Ms. Bonkowski planned to become a broadcast journalist when she started at Ohio University, alma mater of “Today’s” Matt Lauer.
When the Fox station in Chicago wouldn’t let her do a second internship with newsman Walter Jacobson, she spent a trimester instead at Starcom Entertainment and learned about the media world.
“It was even more unknown then than it is now, and the minute that I had my foot in the door and saw what was going on there, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love it.’ It was that mixture of creativity and the quantitative experience of evaluating things. I had to be here and I never left,” she said.
Ms. Bonkowski said she spends a lot of time with family and friends. She loves the arts, attending as many movies, plays and musicals she can. She also stalks the farmers markets. “I’m a lousy cook, but I do everything I can to make my way through it,” she said. In addition, she’s an activist for multiple sclerosis research.

Who Knew
: Ms. Bonkowski lied about her age to try out for the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Having studied ballet, jazz, tap and modern dance growing up, she said, “I’m a dancer at heart.”

18 Comments

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