Marla Kaplowitz, chief executive of WPP's U.S. media investment management company, MEC North America, came into the advertising business during a time of stability when most ads were bought on TV, radio and magazines. She switched jobs in the mid-1990s when the Internet created a new platform for ads, driving agencies to fold and merge.
After graduating in 1987 from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a degree in sociology, Kaplowitz moved to New York and worked for eight years at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. It was there that she first focused on media planning -- helping brands pick the best and most cost-effective media for their ad campaigns. Kaplowitz then moved to Ammirati Puris Lintas for a three-year stint before joining Starcom MediaVest Group and leading the Proctor & Gamble team.
In February 2011 Kaplowitz left MediaVest to join MEC as president of U.S. clients and head of planning, taking over a roster of big-name clients, including IKEA, Campbell's, Macy's, and Yum Brands. She was promoted to CEO of MEC North America on October 13, 2011.
The 46-year-old mother and wife spoke to FINS about why she chose media planning, the importance of setting career goals and the rewards of working for Procter & Gamble.
Damian Ghigliotty: How did you get started in the advertising business?
Marla Kaplowitz: I was incredibly determined to move to New York and start my career here. I was forewarned that I would make no money. I made $14,000 a year when I first came to the city and I had my plan: Moving into an apartment with three other women and walking to work every day to save money.
But I loved it. Back in the late-80s and early-90s there were a lot of media parties and it was a great way to experience the city and hang out with the people that I worked with. I was also really focused on the work I was doing. I started at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles and spent eight and a half years there. It was a great experience since I was very focused on media planning. I then left to go to Ammirati Puris Lintas and stayed there a few years. But then realized that staying at a full-service agency was not for me.
DG: What gave you the feeling that you weren't in the right place at a full service agency that created ad campaigns as well as bought media for them?
MK: I sat down with one of Ammirati's creative directors one day and we were looking at an ad that we had priced for a full page, even though he had wanted a big, full flashy spread that we couldn't afford. As we were looking at it, I said, "Oh I think that ad looks pretty good," and he looked at me and he said, "That's why you're in media." That's when I said to myself, "And that's why I don't want to be at a full service agency."
DG: How did you make the switch?
MK: At that point, in the beginning of 1999, MediaVest was being formed between the media departments of N.W. Ayers, DMB&B and Televest, and I knew a lot of people at DMB&B who were asking me to return. They coaxed me into coming back over to work on Avon at MediaVest and run that globally, so I left my job at Ammirati and my resignation speech was something like, "I'm 33-years-old and I'm single and all I do is work every night until 11 o'clock. I don't need to be the big cheese anymore. I'm going to have a life." And yet, that success still followed me, so lesson learned. Your destiny is your destiny.
DG: How did you get the opportunity to work on the Procter & Gamble account?
MK: When I started in the business as an assistant media planner in 1987, I had all of these little accounts like Wiltshire Stay Sharp knives and Bahamas Tourism. But the big league was Procter & Gamble and the biggest account at that time was Crest. The toughest media planner in the entire department was on the Crest business and I when I got to DMB&B I wanted to work for her since I thought I would learn the most from her. So I was rotated onto the Crest account in March 1998 and was on it for five months.
Later in January 2003, during my third year at MediaVest, they asked me to go in and return to P&G to lead the team. I started spending a lot of time in Cincinnati and really rolling up my sleeves. I came in with great enthusiasm, recognizing the opportunities to drive change. And it really paid off when we retained and won a significant portion of their business to drive communications planning.
DG: Why did you leave MediaVest after so much success on P&G?
MK: It wasn't an easy decision, it was something I had been thinking about for a while and I wasn't sure what would come next. But I remember at one point I was starting to wonder if I was getting burnt out on the agency side, working on the same client all the time. I was even thinking about moving over to the vendor side and doing something completely different. But then MEC came calling and things went a different way for me.
DG: What qualities have gotten you through your more than 20 years in the business?
MK: Above all, my commitment. Cindy Trip, who was the associate director for media and communications planning at P&G, gave every senior agency leader a quote that reminded them of her. The quote for me was: "The surest way not to fail is to determine to succeed." I think that has gotten me through a lot of the challenges I've dealt with. The other two qualities that have helped me succeed have been my passion for the business and my sheer curiosity. I'm never afraid to ask why and I encourage my employees to do the same.
DG: How has the Internet and digital advertising affected media planning?
MK: When I started it was very easy to put the majority of your budgets in TV and you had modeling that would show the effectiveness of that. Now with the growth of digital, you have so many choices, but you still have to show the return on that investment. Right now it's also about being able to juggle several things at once and being able to move between different projects because the media landscape is so fragmented. There are lot more tasks now, especially at a junior level.
DG: How do you plan to lead MEC North America?
MK: I'm now in charge of more than 700 people and that feels really rewarding. My goal is to make sure that those people feel empowered to do the right things and that they feel challenged and excited by coming to work every day. We're in a business where some clients might look at media agencies and say, "Well, they're all the same." That's fine, but what makes MEC different is the people and I want to make sure our clients see that.
Write to Damian Ghigliotty at Damian.Ghigliotty@dowjones.com