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Warriors for Performance

Eleven women who lead media agencies take a crack at just a few of the questions answered on stage during the "Women Warriors" panel at PDMI West on Oct. 26.

By Thomas Haire

This is the cover story of Results Magazine's September 2022 issue. Click here to read this feature via our digital publication website or simply scroll down to continue reading here.

At PDMI West in San Diego on Wednesday, Oct. 26, PDMI E-Commerce Council member Fern Lee — CEO of New York-based THOR Associates — hosted a roundtable discussion among a group of women who serve as top-line media agency executives in performance and direct-to-consumer marketing. Titled "Women Warriors: Media Executives Discuss the Present and Future of Performance," video of the session is available on our Youtube channel by clicking here.

The session dove into how these executives are providing clients media channels with unique opportunities, through the journey from direct response to brand response and via connected TV (CTV) and OTT, along with numerous other marketing initiatives. The ability to navigate these channels and run a profitable media agency speaks volumes to these leaders and their business acumen.

Results asked Lee for just three of the many questions that she had her group address in front of the live audience. She agreed, and we then flipped these questions out a group of women who serve in media agency executive leadership positions in business from across the PDMI membership.

Read on for the thoughtful responses from 11 of these women — including some who sat on stage in San Diego.

How do you feel your "inner warrior" has contributed to your agency’s success?

Nancy Arnold, owner and chief marketing officer, Diray Media: Successfully partnering with strong, inspired, innovative and caring people. We are women-owned and led, and fiercely passionate about our clients’ success. At Diray, performance is more than an objective; it’s in our DNA. We see challenges as opportunities. And we define success as our clients’ success. Diray was there for the media shift from broadcast to cable, and the commerce shift with the rise of the big box store (Walmart) take-over. We see a lot of similarities in the navigation of that shift to the rise in streaming, Amazon’s takeover of e-commerce, and the proliferation of ways to reach people and drive performance. We work in a real-time, test-and-learn environment, which requires a nimble, agile, and forward-thinking approach. These values led the last 35-plus years of success and are why our team continues to inspire and deliver growth.

Denira Borrero, COO, Omni Direct: Our world changes daily based on various market conditions, the media landscape, current events, and the business priorities of our clients. To succeed in this business over the long haul, you have to approach every day with a warrior-like passion for digging into the data and responding quickly to consumer, market, and technology trends. That includes having resilience and staying power to overcome the ups and downs of a performance marketing business, because it’s through failing, learning, and pivoting fast that we are able to profitably scale campaigns at record pace. We enjoy going into the fight every day on behalf of every client and every campaign, and I believe that has been part of our secret sauce for remaining competitive and relevant for more than 20 years as an agency.

Anat Freed, vice president and managing director, Kingstar Media: I have never really thought of myself as a "warrior" and certainly credit the success of Kingstar Media as the result of many great people who are committed to growth and excellence, as opposed to a solitary focus on that excellence. It has taken a lot of focus and discipline during the past 19 years to grow and expand the core business, along with a lot of hard work, patience, and compassion in our constantly changing media landscape. My expectations are high — for my staff, vendors, and partners. I always try to see both sides and lead the teams to achieve the best possible outcome for all.

Christena Garduno, CEO, Media Culture: As a female CEO and leader who built a career from the bottom up, I’ve faced my fair share of difficulties. But since I know others depend on me, I strive to be strong, driven, and quick on my feet to adapt and tackle problems. During the pandemic, instead of worrying about our company’s future, I spent my time analyzing market trends and researching how to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. My findings became beneficial and helpful for our company during those tough times.

Through my dedication and hard work, I was not just able to create innovative business strategies, I have also influenced my team to give the same level of effort and commitment in trying to reach our goals. When I reflect on my success as a leader, I can’t help but think about how I depend on my team just as much as they depend on me. So, I always seek opportunities to learn and improve myself. Where I cannot provide solutions, I keep an open mind to gain new insights and maintain honesty to instill trust and confidence in my team and our clients.

Since challenges are inevitable, I always carry a positive mindset and a bright attitude as we face difficulties. I also try my best to influence positivity, where everyone on the team recognizes the bad and good in every situation and still chooses to focus on the good. This leads us to taking meaningful actions when something terrible happens to achieve the outcomes we are aiming for.

Michelle Green, president, Two Twelve Direct: Any success our agency has achieved is attributable to a focus on trust as a principle and intuition, giving us an ability to authentically connect to our stakeholders. Amid an industry that can be transactional and transitory in nature, I’ve focused on building enduring relationships with our clients, team members, and industry partners. This is not something that is achieved overnight; it takes commitment day in and day out, but the reward is a sense of inner calm that steadies that inner warrior, knowing we have done everything possible to build equity capable of withstanding the ups and downs of an oft-volatile industry.

Karen Kluger, founder/CEO, Touch-Point Integrated Communications: Staying relevant in our rapidly changing media world is critical to our agency’s successes and equally — if not of more importance — to the success of our clients. Balancing branding and response is a skill that DR agencies have had to master as they go hand-in-hand now, along with the use of technology and data to perfect our trade. Collaboration with our clients, ensuring we build profitable and balanced media programs delivering not only against KPIs but providing the ability to scale and grow businesses, is critical. It takes aggressive strategic moves to keep our agencies competitive and profitable and our business takes no prisoners. We must be secure in what we know our strengths to be and be knowledgeable and confident enough to turn any weaknesses into strengths.

"Fate whispers to the warrior ... You cannot withstand the storm, and the warrior whispers back ... I am the storm." — Jake Remington

Marianna Morello, CEO, Manhattan Media Services: Being known as a "trail blazer" and winning the Folio Award in this category, I guess I have always been an "inner warrior." I have been a fighter from the day I opened MMSI 27 years ago to do my best for our clients and also to keep a balance with our vendors.

But times have changed — especially in the past two years — and we have to fight much harder to help our clients make it through these difficult times! MMSI is an agency that works so closely with our clients to be sure we can assist them to achieve the ROI they need to stay profitable. With that as our goal, we have expanded from just a print media agency to add a division for digital/social media. Kelsey Bugden and Andrea McEvady are our pros who head up this division. We also provide out-of-home (OOH) media when the marketing plans call for it.

The "inner warrior" is someone who changes with times and seeks the best solutions for our client’s needs!

Jennifer Peabody, president, Havas Edge: I’ve been cursed and blessed with a mind that is in perpetual overdrive. In my free time, I create lists of "things to explore," running the gamut from professional to personal topics I am interested in learning about. I believe this thirst for "what’s next" has helped Havas Edge evolve over the years to stay relevant in an ever-changing landscape and to be future-focused by consistently challenging where we are and where we are headed.

Asieya Pine, president, Lockard & Wechsler Direct: Some believe a warrior is fearless, but I don’t think anything can be accomplished in life without a little fear: fear of competition; fear of failure; fear of not being the best. To me, the warrior spirit is about overcoming these natural fears to persevere in the face of tough challenges.

In this regard, my inner warrior is tested every day. Our clients have entrusted us with huge sums of money that could make or break their companies. Our many employees and their families depend on us for their livelihood. This means that most of my decisions are high-risk decisions, and the agency is depending on me to decide correctly. Sometimes, it’s even just about taking action in the face of what could be paralyzing indecision. It could be something as simple as taking the lead on a hard conversation, or it could be something as complex as choosing how to invest now for success later.

I think of the last three years, in particular. If not for a warrior spirit, I would never have had the strength to endure the challenges of the pandemic or the courage to make the significant investments we made in order to not only survive but continue to be the best at what we do.

Gina Pomponi, president and COO, Bluewater: I wake up every morning and the voice in my head says, "Let’s take over the world today!" Then I have a couple cups of coffee and rein myself in just a touch. In all seriousness, the warrior inside of me is focused, determined, and highly driven to succeed. I bring it every day to everything I do and always have. I believe it has made me more successful at all three agencies I’ve helped build. The opportunity with Bluewater was different. Not only did I have the opportunity to build a successful media business, but as a partner, I was also doing it for myself this time around.

Bluewater Media was a successful and reputable creative production company prior to me joining. Andy Latimer and the other partners stepped back and let me do my thing. I developed a media team with structure and processes and set it for scale. My primary focus was to bring in new business and feed the strong media team I set up. I did this immediately — and drove significant growth each year.

I’ve always loved building media businesses. It’s like a drug. But my inner warrior really comes to life when it comes to my clients. I love to put a strategy together for a client who has a challenge and see it succeed. I love to know that we played a role in the client’s success, and in turn, ours as well. There is nothing like being a direct marketer and seeing immediate results. It’s exhilarating. It’s the fire we all live to stoke.

But this time, I didn’t stop with TV media. I developed an account management team to keep us on strategy and act as the internal client voice across services. Next, I took over the digital media team and brought it together with TV media, as it should be. Bluewater’s creative may have set it apart as a leader in direct-to-consumer strategy but the combination of our creative warriors with the media-and-analytics warriors created one of the top full-service, direct-to-consumer agencies in our industry. That makes my inner warrior smile. We are well poised to take a client challenge, then develop and build a successful campaign!

Carrie Smith, COO, Apex Media: When asked how my "inner warrior" has contributed to our organization’s success, I can’t help but to reflect on the 30-plus years Apex Media has spent building a legacy in our industry, serving hundreds of clients, generating billions of dollars in revenue for them. It’s very humbling to be part of something of this magnitude.

When I think about my "inner warrior," I know she is passionate about facing this ever-changing world with: the wisdom gained from all life’s experiences; embracing a daring attitude to navigate through the unknown; creating daily routines to achieve balance between career and home life; nurturing a natural curiosity to learn new things, along with embracing necessary change; and a serving mindset that continues to provide value to our clients.

What channels do you see providing the least or the most growth opportunities for today’s marketers — and why?

Arnold: Connected TV (CTV) is the biggest growth opportunity for our clients today. It is an emerging sector that exploded in 2020. It still has maturing and much innovation to come via new formats, e-commerce, and content opportunities. Utilizing CTV has allowed us to expand our audiences (demos, ages, etc.) and reach those we couldn’t otherwise reach via linear (cord cutters). It is very fragmented, and there is debate and confusion on how best to approach it. Still, now is the time to invest in a test-and-learn strategy so you are ready for the future. Linear TV is still a driver and not going away, but streaming full-episode content is growing and certainly here to stay.

Borrero: The fastest-growing channels for paid media continue to be in the digital space, including social media and search, but we’ve seen a drastic m