No Commercial Breaks

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

which, he says, is a prerequisite for a media network leader. “She thinks of media as a solution to business problems. She has a very deliberate and strategic approach.”

For most industries, 2001 — 2002 offered little growth. Total U.S. ad spending dropped 9.8% in 2001. That year, however, McCann reeled in Disney, a significant conquest by advertising standards.

In the final stages, Starcom beat out a challenger, boasting bigger and wider communication distributions. “In the six-month process that I’ve gotten to know Renetta, she has a no-nonsense reliability that’s reassuring,” says Matt Ryan, senior vice president of corporate brand management for Disney. “It came down to their track record, their reputation, and their smarts.”

McCann led the pitch. “We were able to take the clues that they gave us and put it into a story that was coherent for them as a company. Everybody talks about the Disney account as if it is one thing, but we picked up 16 pieces of business [with Disney]. The key of the presentation was saying something that was true for the overall company but also resonated with each of the Disney products.”

A big disappointment this year was losing the bid on the $600 million Sony account and not retaining Maytag.

Back in the Leo Burnett building, McCann has several calls to return. Business style is casual and informal. McCann is in a linen pantsuit with sandals. Her office is actually a large cubicle set in a row of four executive spaces, including that of Klues. Their open door policy is having no doors.

McCann’s office overlooks the Chicago business district and is reflective of her eccentric tastes. There’s an African mask and needlepoint pillows handmade by McCann. Needlepoint, crocheting, knitting, and constructing miniature dollhouses are among McCann’s hobbies. During downtime, she thrives on tedious, intricate tasks. There’s a small collection of Barbie dolls; images from The Wizard of Oz, one of her favorite movies; the movie poster of How Stella Got Her Groove Back — Angela Bassett serves as her workout inspiration; and a framed quilt of Dancing at the Louvre by her favorite artist Faith Ringgold.

There are also photos of McCann’s children, Ella, 12, and Alexander, 10. McCann has known her husband, Kevin, a former ad executive turned “Mr. Mom,” for 30 years. They’ve been married for 18. On the ground is a gift illustrative of how many view McCann. In a drawing, she is standing on top of a globe balancing the family in one hand and flexing a barbell in the other. She’s wearing Mickey Mouse ears, although she is partial to Minnie. “She’s a rock star,” McCann laughs.

Also on her wall is a framed 1999 Advertising Age article titled, “Burnett Executive Paves the Way for African Americans.” Celebrating McCann’s many achievements, it also highlights the most imposing barriers preventing minorities from corporate advancement:

  • Lack of an influential mentor.
  • Lack of informal networking with influential colleagues.
  • Lack of role models of the same ethnicity and/or gender.
  • Lack of visibility on projects.
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