Ballis Making Kraft-y Plans at MediaVest

Feb 4, 2009  •  Post A Comment

When Amy Ballis arrived at her new job at MediaVest, there were a lot of familiar faces there to greet her. Over the course of her career, it seems, she’d worked for many of the media agency’s top executives.
Ms. Ballis began her career at Leo Burnett Media in Chicago and has never left the company.
“Laura Desmond [now CEO of Starcom Media Group], was my boss in Mexico, when I was a junior on Nintendo I reported to Lisa Donahue [now president of MediaVest’s Truth & Design group], and when I was in Canada I reported to Bill Tucker [now CEO of MediaVest USA],” Ms. Ballis said.
When she was considering joining MediaVest, she said, “You think about who your leaders are. It was a bit of a no-brainer for me from that perspective.”
Her new job as senior VP/connections director, working on the Kraft account, brings Ms. Ballis home after a two-year stint with Starcom in China, the most recent stop in a well-traveled career.
“The two years was up and it was time to think about the next step, and I think it was time to come back and settle down, if you will, and return home,” she said. “But when I thought about home, home to me was the United States and not necessarily Chicago, and someone said to me, ‘Everyone at some point in their life when they’re single needs to live in New York.’
MediaVest just seemed like a win-win.”
Ms. Ballis, who was born in Chicago and attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, thinks of herself as a Midwesterner through and through.
She caught the media bug early, spending her youth reading magazines and glued to the TV. Her fate was sealed during an internship at MTV’s affiliate sales office in Chicago; she then was recruited right out of school by Burnett Media.
But she also had the travel bug. She talked her parents into letting her spend a summer at Oxford University in England when she was 15, and she spent part of her junior year of college in Madrid.
“It was part of my DNA—wanting to travel and learning about other cultures was just part of me—so when it came time to evaluate work opportunities, having an international footprint was certainly a critical piece for me,” she said. Burnett had international offices, and she was quickly sent on a tour of them.
Just two years after being hired, Ms. Ballis went to Mexico to work on the Kellogg’s account.
She returned to the U.S. to work on the Philip Morris account in Chicago, but as the tobacco media business burned down, she was sent to Toronto to work on the Kraft business.
Ms. Ballis returned to Chicago again, this time working in client service at Burnett on the Philip Morris account. Then came the offer to head up Starcom Worldwide’s Procter & Gamble business in China.
“Working in China was actually tremendous,” she said. “I was there during such a unique time because it was right when China was on the world stage. It was during the Olympics. They were opening up to the rest of the world, and it was really great to see how media could fit into China’s world.”
Now she’s back in the U.S and back on Kraft, which she calls a fun assignment. She is leading communications planning on Kraft’s beverage business, which includes brands as diverse as Maxwell House coffee and Capri Sun juice drinks, ensuring that she’s been working on target audiences ranging from children to moms to empty-nesters.
“Kraft has a fantastic vision and is doing some brilliant work, particularly in the kids arena,” she said. “I also think it’s really an exciting time for Kraft, particularly given the economic situation that we’re all in. We all know people certainly gravitate toward their comfort zones and things that they’re familiar with, so in times like this, eating Kraft Macaroni & Cheese at home with your family seems like the way a lot of people are moving.”
When she’s not working, Ms. Ballis is a runner who’s looking forward to doing her thing in Central Park and along the river.
She’s also a theater junkie who’s excited about experiencing Broadway.
New York pizza is on her agenda as well. “I must say I like New York pizza better than Chicago’s,” she admitted.
She also loves to cook, having learned a bit everywhere she’s lived, except perhaps Canada. “I definitely learned how to cook Mexican, which is one of my all-time favorites,” she said, “and, yes, I took several cooking classes in China.” Depending on how much free time she has, she’d like to take more classes in New York.
The travel bug hasn’t left her. “I’m sure when I do get to take vacation, I’ll probably be doing some weird exotic thing, going back to Asia or down to Africa. I’ve never been to Africa, so that’s on my list.”
Who knew: Ms. Ballis said people might be shocked by her love of ’70s and ’80s music. “If someone looked at my iPod, they would be completely appalled at my song list and what I go running to,” she said. The playlist includes Duran Duran, Neil Diamond, the Bee Gees, Barry Manilow and Kajagoogoo. “I don’t think I ever outgrew those two decades,” she said.

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