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Strategy Key for MPG’s Kuehn

Dec 9, 2008  •  Post A Comment

At a media agency, there’s strategy, and then there’s strategy.
Coleen Kuehn, executive VP and chief strategist at MPG/Havas Media, says the agency’s media directors certainly are involved in strategic planning. But that’s in the context of running a business day to day.
“I think it’s very difficult to keep the business running and get the work out the door and still look ahead to the future,” Ms. Kuehn said.
She says her group at the agency has different priorities.
“Our focus is continually on product development, best practices, building a better mousetrap, applying learning from one category of the business to another, uncovering new consumer insights or new trends,” Ms. Kuehn said.
Her group also reviews client businesses periodically to ensure that they’re taking advantage of the new resources and capabilities the agency has been adding to its portfolio, such as its place-based experience unit and Mobex, its mobile marketing unit.
“One of the things that we also try to instill in the account directors is that the job is not just about media. It’s really about thinking like a business person,” she said. “We get treated much more like valued partners if we behave like business partners and we think about things from a business perspective and not just from a media perspective.”
Ms. Kuehn said her favorite part of the job is trying to get people to think differently and exposing them to things outside of their day-to-day jobs. Sometimes she does that by bringing speakers into the agency, or by taking staffers out for a field trip.
Recently the agency had some economic writers from the Wall Street Journal come in to speak to staffers. One of the writers was Robert Frank, author of the book “Richistan.”
“He did some ethnographic research, which was pretty interesting, about the uber-rich and learned how they were different and wrote a book abut how they were almost like their own country,” Ms. Kuehn said. “He talked about the economy and then he also talked about this particular segment.”
She also took a group from the agency to the New York Times’ Media Lab “just to see what some of their developers were doing.”
Ms. Kuehn was born in New York but grew up in Birmingham, Ala., after her father took a job as general counsel at an energy company and moved her and her four sisters south. Her father became CEO of the company, and business seemed like a reasonable career choice for her.
Her sisters all went to Vanderbilt University, but she decided to attend Tulane.
“What I loved about Tulane is it really was a melting pot,” she said. “New Orleans was an interesting place from a cultural perspective and I thought had a lot to offer, whereas my father thought I could just get in a lot of trouble. The truth probably lies in between.”
A number of her classmates were from Washington, D.C., and got internships working on Capitol Hill. One of her sisters was in Washington as well, creating a sort of comfort zone, so she went to work for the Senate, eventually landing on Sen. George Mitchell’s staff.
After three and a half years there, she felt, “There were a lot of terrific men and women, and there were some less so, and I became a little jaded.” She decided to move to the private sector.
She got her business degree from the University of Michigan, whose program was attractive to her because students spent time working with real companies. In her case it was Coca-Cola and Intel in California. Her sister was working nearby at Hewlett-Packard. “Somehow we always ended up in the same cites,” she said.
“It was very valuable, rather than going to a school where it was all done in the classroom, because I had some work experience that was meaningful to speak about in job interviews,” she said.
When school ended she wanted to work for American Express, and toward the end of the interview process she was told there was good news and bad news. They’d picked her, but there was a hiring freeze on and they didn’t know when it would be lifted.
She returned to California and got a job offer from Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, but then Amex called again.
“I was very torn between San Francisco and New York, but I ended up coming back to New York and have been here ever since,” she said.
Ms. Kuehn did product development for Amex, including building some of its early online businesses. She also worked with the company’s ad agency and was recruited to MediaCom by CEO Alec Gerster.
Eventually the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects lured her to the agency business. Her first job at MediaCom was running its Procter & Gamble business. Then she took over its digital marketing unit.
She moved to MPG about six years ago.
Ms. Kuehn has little spare time at home in Brooklyn with three daughters age 4 and under.
“I have a daughter Olivia, who is 4, and of course we wanted her to have a sibling. I have a number of sisters and twins are in my family, and we got the bonus round,” she said of her own twin daughters. “They’re 2 years old now, but it’s still shocking.”
Who knew: Ms. Kuehn played competitive tennis as a teenager, winning a USTA state title and advancing to the nationals. She said she played in high school, but that wasn’t as competitive. “I played in exchange for not having to take physical education,” she recalled. She gave up playing when she went to college. “One of my sisters tried playing tennis and studying engineering at Vanderbilt, and she ended up with a C average, so I decided that was not a good idea,” she said. Ms. Kuehn is hoping to teach the game to Olivia this summer, and eventually teach the twins to play as well.

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