Ad Exec Grows Business with Science and Human Connection

The business alumna from Riverdale has built an illustrious career in advertising upon two prevailing principles: client relationships and data-driven results.

Purely by coincidence, the upcoming two-year anniversary of a global marketing agency with both a literal and figurative heart for the business is Feb. 14, 2018 — Valentine’s Day. Kathleen Brookbanks headshot

“That’s the day we got the IPO!” proclaims Kathleen Brookbanks ’80, ’84 (MBA), the chief operating officer of Hearts and Science, an already lauded data-driven firm whose retained clients include AT&T and Proctor and Gamble — two of the biggest media accounts in the world.

For its early success and twofold approach, which combines qualitative and quantitative data to connect with consumers and cultivate strong relationships with the clients themselves, AdWeek named the company its Breakthrough Agency of the Year in 2017. Brookbanks was also included in the industry publication’s list of top 50 most indispensable executives in marketing, media and technology.

This praise for the Manhattan alumna, a former marketing major at the College, is reflective of achievements that span nearly 40 years, since she landed her first job out of college, at Young & Rubicam. The Riverdale native fondly recalls that she landed that initial job interview through a classmate from Manhattan. Brookbanks went on to work at the agency for 13 years, where she continued to rise in the ranks. After becoming media director, she eventually moved on to a large role: managing director of the international advertising, marketing and public relations agency, Ogilvy & Mather. 

From there, Brookbanks went to OMD Worldwide, where she served in numerous capacities: first as managing director of its Midwest office, to president of OMD East, which is headquartered in New York City and at the time, included clients such as Apple, Dell, Hershey, Nissan, and FedEx. Eventually, she became chief operating officer of OMD USA. 

Brookbanks built her career at a transitional time for the industry. Previously, advertising agencies housed both creative and media planning and buying assets, but in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were beginning to split off into separate organizations — a shift that was caused largely by the Internet, when people began to consume media digitally, rather than simply through television and radio. As an executive, Brookbanks was responsible for helping to navigate the new media and how it related to her business.

“[Both media and creative] were fighting for their fair share of the revenue, so it was a complex situation, but I’ve always thrived in that kind of environment,” she says.

Currently, Brookbanks is the chief operations officer at Hearts and Science, an Omnicom Media Group agency, where she is not only navigating new technologies but is also leveraging them to grow the still-young company. That’s the science component of its business model. But data analytics mean nothing without heart — it’s a blend that allowed the company to secure AT&T as an account within its first six months of business, and net $119 million in its first year, as well as hire 800 employees and set up offices in Australia, the United Kingdom, Chile, Mexico, and other countries.

To put the business model for Hearts and Science into perspective, Brookbanks references a campaign involving one of its clients, a certain multinational manufacturer of family, personal, and household care products. In order to best accomplish its advertising goals, Hearts and Science launched a partnership between the company and one of their major retailers. The relationship built between the manufacturer, the retailer, and the ad agency produced a “beauty box” of the company’s products, which, utilizing social media, helped glean information on who purchased the item, and what their buying behaviors were. As a result, the three parties were able to strategize how best to target this audience in the future. But the beauty box itself wasn’t a novel concept, Brookbanks stresses. It largely resembled the popular Birchbox, a monthly shipment of makeup and other beauty products that are tailor-selected for the consumer. The idea wasn’t what mattered, however. It was the execution.

“To be innovative, you don’t necessarily need to be original,” says Brookbanks, who regularly employs a “data tells us this, what do we do with it?” mindset. 

Of all the career accomplishments that have peppered her career thus far, perhaps the most significant has been Brookbanks’ ability to achieve success through business acumen and genuine humility — two important keystones of the Hearts and Science business model. 

“We’re grounded in science, data and technology, but also rooted in the intuition that staying connected to consumers and creativity is what makes brands great,” she says.  

By Christine Loughran