No Commercial Breaks

Smart and driven, Renetta McCann heads one of the nation's leading media companies

in the company’s training program and as a media supervisor in 1982. In 1989 she was promoted to media director, and over the next 10 years she handled a variety of clients including Sony, Keebler, McDonald’s, and Dewar’s. As managing director, McCann was making new business pitches every 18 months to two years and winning all of them.

“In 1993 I had five different clients and that’s when I learned to balance different client needs. When you’re spread that thin, you find a way to connect with each client even if you didn’t have all the time to spend with them.” She became senior vice president in 1995. In 1999 the industry started to change, and so did McCann’s career path.

Executives at Leo Burnett realized that the media department, which had always driven profits for ad agencies, would also become the driver of strategy. As a result, Starcom Global was formed. “Media has become predominant in the strategic process by which advertisers communicate to their customers because of fragmentation, consolidation, and the rapid pace of technology,” explains Feuer. “It has taken on a new urgency.” It was a reluctant decision, but it was strategically critical for a separate media company to be formed to tackle the market trends.

There would be other benefits. “By spinning off, it allowed us to develop our talent [instead of waiting for management's approval] and have greater influence over how we manage and protect it. I know my people. I know their capabilities.”

McCann was chosen as managing director and then Leo Burnett merged with D’Arcy. As managing direc
tor, however, she was also aligned with three other VP’s whose structure in authority gave them parity, although she had the bigger title. “Going from media director to managing director was a big leap,” McCann explains. As media director she could strongly advocate for those to whom she had a direct connection — her clients and her employees. “But as managing director, I represented the voice of the company. I had an obligation to balance the needs of the company against those of a client or any specific media piece. They were probably hedging their bets.” It was a low-risk proposition. If she failed, they had three others who could easily replace her.

“I had to perform extremely well. And on that level, the politics sort of explode. I’m sitting there going, ‘I’ve got this title. I should by all rights have these responsibilities, and I’ve got these three people keeping me in check.’ I just kept doing the work. The reason people fail at this is because they let others into their head. At this level, everybody’s got an agenda. A friend on Monday is a foe on Tuesday. I don’t let anybody mess with my head.”

Performance is a given. McCann credits her objectivity and conflict resolution skills with landing her the title of CEO in 1999. “I’m very comfortable between rocks and hard places, making sure we don’t get crushed.” Feuer describes McCann as a media thinker by nature,

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