Kristina Lutz started her career in the same organization she now leads. A stint for several years on the sales side for iHeartMedia gave her both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective on her new role “back home” as Starcom USA’s President of Investment. In a recent interview Kristina reflected on the changing media landscape, offered some tips for media sellers calling on her organization and shared thoughts on creating a life/work balance.
Kathy Newberger: How does it feel to be back at Starcom?
Kristina Lutz: After five years away, there have been many changes in the organization and the business. It feels the same but very different at the same time. When I left, for example, PMX [Publicis Media Exchange – specializing in cross-channel investment and innovation] didn’t exist; now it’s one of the most important parts of our business. After working for the company 21 years, and now being back for just weeks, I’ve been asking a ton of questions to learn what’s working and what’s not, and I’ve been blown away by what I’m seeing. There’s an entrepreneurial and supportive feeling that fits with my vision of what I’m hoping to accomplish — and a lot of media clout. Those conversations are putting an exclamation point on my decision to come back!
Kathy: How did your recent role in sales management at iHeartMedia affect your approach to your current role?
Kristina: When you’re on the media sales side, you’re one partner of many — but often you’re bringing the ideas that clients need. That’s particularly important nowadays. I was on the sales side for a significant period of time and had the opportunity to work with some of the best marketing executives across every category, and it taught me a lot — and probably it will make me more empathetic to the challenges on that side of the business. I also credit the leadership team at iHeartMedia with teaching me a lot about the importance of training and coaching — and about truly integrating life and work.
Kathy: Many of our readers are on the media sales side of the business. What advice do you have for media sellers?
Kristina: The most productive meetings, for both sides, are ones with a clear purpose, where the sellers understand what buyers need from the meeting. In a world where every 60-minute meeting seems to end up forced to be only 20 minutes, non-specific conversations are hard to justify and may do more harm than good. Still, people on the investment side need to know about what’s new in order to develop the ideas that are so critical to our business today. Have a pre-call if necessary — and identify what the key metrics are for the team you’re meeting with — and focus on that when you’re in the room.
I want to encourage my team to find the time for those necessary conversations. Clients are more focused on innovation, and how that innovation drives their business, than ever before. Media buying strategy can be very transactional; we’ve had to focus on things like pricing and supply and demand and data. The question is how do we balance all of that and still create human interactions that drive our clients’ businesses. It’s something we’re uniquely good at.
Kathy: Can you share an example or two?
Kristina: One of the things that Starcom did years ago that prepared us for the media world we’re in today has been to minimize silos — groups that focus only on one area — and replace them with centers of excellence, where expertise in a specific area exists and can support client-focused teams. That helps us create experiences that can resonate in our client’s businesses and across the industry. I’m proud to have been part of Starcom’s GM Planworks team years ago that pulled partners together for a common goal, and not only worked for the client (including the very first addressable television campaigns) but shaped how media organizations work with clients to this day.
My most memorable Starcom project was on behalf of Bank of America some years ago — a partnership with History [Channel] focused on the history of the bank. So smart, creative and on target — and it really moved brand metrics.
Kathy: What innovations excite you today?
Kristina: I’m shocked at the power of voice-enabled technology. I was an early adopter of that technology because of my work at iHeartMedia and I’ve heard that 50% of all purchases will be by voice by 2020. And I’m excited by neuro-research. When it comes to how media campaigns affect consumers you can’t fake brain waves!
Kathy: You’re once again working for Kathy Ring, Starcom’s U.S. CEO, to whom you reported when you first joined Starcom in the Nineties. Can you tell us a bit about the role mentorship has played in your career?
Kristina: I’m thrilled and honored — there’s not a strong enough word — to be working with Kathy again. My only formal mentorship experience was a “reverse” mentorship from someone a generation behind me, from whom I learned a lot about technology and how that generation wants to work. I wish I’d done more formal mentorship. Perhaps there’s an opportunity to do that now.
Kathy: You mentioned integrating life and work. Can you tell us about your own work/life balance?
Kristina: I gave up on that long ago. In today’s world — with cellphones and laptops — work and life are intertwined. If one part of your life isn’t working well, it crosses over into the other part, so it’s in companies’ best interests for their employees to be content in both areas. With three teenage boys, I have to do what everyone else does — create my own boundaries and set my own priorities. I’ve done every type of work strategy; at one point, while working part-time, I spent two days a week in New York, one in Detroit and one in Chicago. And I live in Chicago!
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