A Game-Changing Risk-Taker
by Abby Trexler
Laura Desmond was one of the youngest-ever CEOs when appointed to lead Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG) globally in 2008, but that was only the first of many marks she has made on the agency and communications business. She is regarded throughout the industry as a game-changer, a true innovator and the lead architect in building the media agency of the future.
According to Laura, her success comes from knowing that big risks deliver big success. “I have had a remarkable career in the sense that there are so many moments that have defined my professional path,” Laura says “Starting at Leo Burnett, then working on GM business, taking over Latin America and moving to New York to take the reins of MediaVest and transforming it into a powerhouse. All of this has allowed me to step into a global role.”
But such skills are meaningless without clients for whom to create innovative work. Laura’s prowess as a client collaborator is unparalleled. She ushered in and increased partnerships with some of the biggest and most successful marketers worldwide. Blue-chip brands such as Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Mars/Wrigley, Samsung, Walmart and Microsoft have invested more in spending through SMG because of Laura’s visionary leadership and creative mindset.
Laura credits her clients for contributing to her success. “My career is punctuated by brilliant thinkers, friends, family and colleagues. I can list remarkable bosses, industry luminaries and provocateurs. Right now, I am profoundly influenced by my clients,” she points out. “They teach me a new lesson every day and challenge me and my team. As we navigate the evolving consumer landscape, I am inspired to think new and think big. I am perpetually focused on what’s next and making sure Starcom MediaVest Group gets there first.”
Prior to leading the global network, Laura was CEO of SMG-The Americas where she grew Starcom, MediaVest and Spark business across the U.S., Canada and Latin America. Additionally, she reinvented the big-agency approach to understanding the multicultural consumer by setting up multicultural media agencies MV42 and Tapestry.
On a personal level, Laura has been awarded multiple times already for her leadership, mentorship and huge contribution to the marketing world. She was named “Ad Woman of the Year” in 2009, recognized in The Wall Street Journal's Creative Leadership Series in 2007 and its "Women to Watch" issue in 2006. Laura was also awarded Advertising Age’s “Media Maven” honor in 2005 and inducted into the American Advertising Federation's Advertising Hall of Achievement in 2005. To top off her recognition as a woman changing the business world, Laura was named one of the world’s most powerful women by Forbes.
As if those accolades weren’t enough, Laura admits her greatest achievement is still in front of her and that on a personal note she hopes one day to sail around the world. “This is a personal goal and a metaphor for my professional aspirations as well,” she explains. “Life is a journey. There are challenges. Storms. Episodes of smooth sailing. Then there are the ports and the people you meet along the way. Every interaction and development enriches the journey. My quest is to expand and evolve my creative capacity to succeed and to never stay still for too long.”
That’s advice she shares with young women just starting their careers as well: “Take chances early on. Take on global assignments. Take on growth or new innovation assignments. Embrace risk. Do not be afraid of failure because without failure there is no advancement. Build your own experiences by working in unusual areas in your company that grant you exposure to senior people you can learn from and be inspired. Do not for a minute change anything about yourself. Be who you are. Be bold.”
Abby Trexler is senior public relations manager for Jack Morton Worldwide, a leading brand experience agency that is part of the Interpublic Group of companies.