A Talk Brings Kelley Into the Agency Business

May 13, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Jacki Kelley had worked with media agencies, but never for one before joining Universal McCann North America as president last week.
“I have considered them close partners for my entire career,” says Ms. Kelley, who worked for a number of media companies, most recently Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
She got her new job because Universal McCann Global CEO Matt Seiler was doing a listening tour with media owners seeking feedback on the direction he was planning to take the agency.
“I was one of those he sought out for some feedback, and as we sat there and talked, that feedback became much more serious. And here we are,” Ms. Kelley explains.
Ms. Kelley says the agency wants to get involved with the media earlier in the process of generating communications strategies.
“I think that Matt’s vision, and one that I deeply share as a result of being on the media owner side, is engaging them sooner, engaging them with much more strategy and insight on what’s trying to be accomplished, and allowing them to work in a much more collaborative way,” she says.
That should allow the agency to differentiate itself with media owners and generate differentiated ideas for its clients, she contends. “I think a lot of it is simply the timing of moving that discussion, that engagement, upstream at the point of strategy instead of at the point of planning or buying in some cases.”
This may not be the year to make such a change, because in this difficult economy, clients are making marketing and spending decisions later and later.
Universal McCann will continue to work the old way with clients that are not comfortable with change now. But, Ms. Kelley says, “Over time, recessions end. We hope to by that time have a very fluid system in which we can transition them.”
Ms. Kelley grew up in Franktown, Colo., a small rural community south of Denver.
“It’s definitely on a map, but you’re going to have to look really, really closely,” she says.
Her family is in the cattle ranching business. In fact, they are the longest-exhibiting family at the annual National Western Stock Show in Denver.
“We still do it with pride,” she says.
When she was a senior in high school, Ms. Kelley, a proud member of 4-H, raised the grand champion steer at the Douglas County Fair.
She assumed she would always live in Colorado, but decided that college was a good time to try living somewhere else, so she enrolled in Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.
She knew she wanted to be in communications, and Pepperdine had a well-regarded broadcast journalism school. But in her studies she encountered a marketing professor who made the opportunities on the business side of the media seem very interesting.
She took an internship with USA Today and, when that was over, was offered a full-time job with the paper in Los Angeles.
As the daughter of a Colorado rancher, Ms. Kelley didn’t think working in Southern California would suit her, so she took a position with the paper in Dallas instead. Eight years later, she moved to its headquarters in Washington, D.C.
She left USA Today for Yahoo!, trading the most traditional medium for the newest.
“I wasn’t getting enough digital experience [at USA Today]. And I saw consumer behavior changing so dramatically that I wanted to jump in the deep end,” she says. “I was very methodical about looking at the different portals. I decided that Yahoo! was the best place for me because it was a media company first, with the technology as a backbone, which is what I was interested in.”
At Yahoo!, she worked for Wenda Harris Millard, and when Ms. Millard moved to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Ms. Kelley followed.
“MSLO was working on how to integrate the sales organization to truly be cross-platform and bring an integrated solution to market. That was really intriguing to me,” she says.
“It was really a lot of fun to put together an integrated team. I think that applies to all sides of our business, because everybody has to some degree silos in their organization,” she says. “Clients are looking for integrated solutions, so whether you’re on the media owner side or whether you’re on the agency side, figuring out a way to bring those closer together over time is necessary.”
Then came the conversation with Mr. Seiler.
Now that she’s in an agency, she’s been impressed with Universal McCann’s high level of research and insight capability.
“I’ve always known that, but I’m like a kid in the candy store with the level of consumer insights that Universal McCann can bring to bear for clients, and I think that can very much be leveraged and applied to media owners to help them as well,” she says.
Away from the office, Ms. Kelley is a proud mom, playing everything from monkey-in-the-middle to Xbox and singing her heart out on the “American Idol” Wii game with her 6-year-old daughter Ashley, who is sometimes referred to around the house as “Mini-Me.”
Ms. Kelley also tries to play the piano once a week, usually on Sunday afternoon, for a little “me time.” She says her mother was an accomplished pianist and that she began taking lessons at age 4. She hopes her daughter will take lessons as well.
“Maybe that’s something we can do together,” she says.
Living in Connecticut, participating in 4-H might be a stretch for her daughter, but Girl Scouts is likely.
While Ms. Kelley loves to travel, despite being from Colorado, she does not ski.
“That’s something I’m going to work on in the near future,” she vows.
Ms. Kelley gets back to Colorado about three times a year. And while her family naturally is proud of her and her cosmopolitan ways, “I think my grandmother would roll over in her grave if she saw the life I lead.”
Who knew? “When I leave this business, I want to open an orphanage,” Ms. Kelley says. “That’s always been my objective, to somehow create a wonderful environment for children who need it. There are so many children in this world who need homes, and they get harder to adopt as they get older. I think there’s a need there.”


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