2006.03.06: March 6, 2006: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Marketing: Business: Marketing Magazine: Kenya RPCV Trish Wheaton has transformed Wunderman Canada into a CRM and direct marketing powerhouse

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kenya: The Peace Corps in Kenya: 2006.03.06: March 6, 2006: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Marketing: Business: Marketing Magazine: Kenya RPCV Trish Wheaton has transformed Wunderman Canada into a CRM and direct marketing powerhouse

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Kenya RPCV Trish Wheaton has transformed Wunderman Canada into a CRM and direct marketing powerhouse

Kenya RPCV Trish Wheaton has transformed Wunderman Canada into a CRM and direct marketing powerhouse

Wheaton is certainly known in the industry for her business savvy. Lesser known is the fact she can drive a grain truck and speaks Swahili. Wheaton grew up on a grain farm in Mahnomen, Minn., with six older brothers and an older sister. "We all learned how to work together as a team-the team being the family-and I think that was great training for all of us." Her first job was driving grain trucks during harvest. "Probably not something people associate with me right off the bat," she says.

Kenya RPCV Trish Wheaton has transformed Wunderman Canada into a CRM and direct marketing powerhouse

Wunder Woman

Trish Wheaton has transformed Wunderman Canada into a CRM and direct marketing powerhouse

Caption: Trish Wheaton, president, Wunderman Canada Photo: Jean Héguy

It's Thursday morning and a group of young professionals sip coffee in Trish Wheaton's 7th-floor corner office overlooking Bloor Street in Toronto.

Trish Wheaton, president, Wunderman Canada
Photo: Jean Héguy

"Hi, my name is Allen and I'm a creative group head... I'm also a Pisces and I like long walks..." They share their vital stats: job, background and interests. Wheaton, president of Wunderman Canada, leads the discussion, taking a keen interest in talk of hockey, skiing and golf. At an earlier session, a group member talked so enthusiastically about yoga, Wheaton took up the practice.

The meeting is what Wheaton calls "Dish with Trish," where new employees get to know one another and their new boss. It's a leisurely session, but given the agency's brisk business, Wheaton may have to introduce a format like speed dating to move things along. "We're in hiring mode," says Wheaton. "It's putting quite a strain on our human resources department right now. But it's a good sign."

The strain (and buzz around the office) has much to do with the towering Rogers headquarters just down the street. Wunderman was recently awarded the communication giant's direct and interactive business. While Wheaton won't reveal what the account is worth, she says it's now one of the agency's largest, alongside Microsoft, Kraft and Canada Post. (At press time, Rogers hadn't officially announced the win, and declined to comment.)

The Rogers win followed on the heels of another big win, the Royal Canadian Mint, valued at $10 million. Wunderman had worked on the account on a project basis, and brought in its sister companies Young & Rubicam, MediaEdge: CIA and Hill & Knowlton for the pitch last summer. Wunderman beat rival agencies Cossette and MacLaren McCann for the five-year assignment.

"The result of all that," says Wheaton, in a perfectly measured voice, "is that we will be growing this year, quite significantly... by about 35%." She won't disclose Wunderman's revenue, but estimates the 145-person agency has tripled in size since she took the reins in 1998.

Wunderman's roots in direct marketing run deep. Lester Wunderman, who founded the company in 1958 in New York, is often called the "father of direct marketing," but today it's fair to say that Wheaton is the queen of CRM. A 20-year Wunderman veteran, Wheaton has transformed the agency from a traditional direct marketing shop into a CRM powerhouse.

"If you think of the evolution of direct marketing, right now it really is database marketing," says Wheaton. A key aspect of its customer relationship management offering is linking clients' IT and marketing departments. Wunderman staff are located at both Kraft and Microsoft to "use those data assets to deliver targeted, relevant communication."

"Many people missed that turn from the old world to the new world," says Yves Blain, vice-president of relationship marketing at Taxi Montreal, who worked with Wheaton at Wunderman in the 1980s. "(Trish) had the smarts and awareness to bring DM into the contemporary new world."

Wheaton shrugs off such praise, calling it "dumb luck." "It was pretty much a response to the marketplace," she says. In the '90s, the Wunderman model of direct marketing went something like this: "You basically went out and carpet-bombed Canada with various inserts and waited for a response to come in." If the agency had followed that model, "we wouldn't be in business today," says Wheaton. "We needed to get more targeted."

Another thing happened on the way to turning Wunderman into what it is today: The digital revolution. "There was a lot of excitement about the pure-play digital shops. Many of them grew instantly and rapidly, and then they were no more." Wheaton and her team decided using the digital channel as a complement to the direct channel was the way to go. "It was not to build a separate interactive shop but to bake it into everything we did."

A turning point occurred in 2004, when Wunderman won the Microsoft business, following a seven-nation global pitch. Wunderman Canada was not part of the pitch, as it had the IBM account at the time. "We had no clue it was going on," recalls Wheaton. The day the deal was announced, she received a call from headquarters in New York, telling her "we were moving out IBM and moving in Microsoft."

The win, which Wheaton calls "transformational," firmly planted Wunderman at the forefront of digital marketing. And Wunderman Canada's work for Microsoft has been recognized on a global scale. Its "XBox Gamer ID" campaign won best affinity/loyalty program for 2005 from Microsoft's global team, and its "Q6" work won best consumer campaign. "She is outstanding in developing strategic, ongoing client relationships, and has gained our highest trust and respect," says Ruth D'Souza, marketing director at MSN Canada, of Wheaton.

Wheaton is certainly known in the industry for her business savvy. Lesser known is the fact she can drive a grain truck and speaks Swahili. Wheaton grew up on a grain farm in Mahnomen, Minn., with six older brothers and an older sister. "We all learned how to work together as a team-the team being the family-and I think that was great training for all of us." Her first job was driving grain trucks during harvest. "Probably not something people associate with me right off the bat," she says.

This "farm girl at heart" left her small Northwestern town to attend Gustavus Adolphus, a private liberal arts college in St. Peter, Minn., then spent two years teaching English as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya. She received her MA in American Studies at the University of Minnesota and did graduate work at Yale. Then she began a six-year stint at Yale University Press, starting out as a copy editor. "I thought I was going to be a great editor," says Wheaton. But when a job in the marketing department came up, Wheaton bounced. "I got bit because it was this wonderful right-brain/left-brain discipline, where it's qualitative, it's quantitative" After two years, she was heading up the direct marketing department.

In 1985, her Toronto-born husband, a Yale professor, was offered a position at McGill, so they packed up and moved to Montreal. As an American who didn't speak French, Wheaton struggled at first. "It was probably not the best time," but adds she "wouldn't have changed the experience for anything."

"I think it would have been impossible for me coming from the States to understand Canada and Canadian marketing if I hadn't lived in Montreal." It allowed her to understand Quebec and what it means to Canada. "Canadians know this but as an American you don't know it until you experience it."

Things turned around for Wheaton when someone in her French class mentioned a direct marketing agency in Montreal. Wheaton applied for a job "and that's how I started my 20-year career at Wunderman."

Ironically, the struggling French student's first piece of business was on a French-language book account, but Wheaton took it in stride. "I had a few French phrases but it was really quite a hoot. I became very good at proofing French coupon copy," she says with a laugh. She later moved on to English-language accounts like Columbia House and Book of the Month Club. In 1989, Wunderman relocated its headquarters to Toronto, and Wheaton "came down the 401 with everybody else," husband and young son in tow.

Her son is now studying aerospace engineering at Princeton, so Wheaton and her husband have become empty nesters-or as she calls it "liberated boomers." That means getting serious about golf. "I'm a pretty lousy but passionate golfer and hope to get better." The couple recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. "That is a great accomplishment," says Wheaton. "I've always tried to maintain a really good work/life balance and amazingly I've been able to keep that."

"That was one of the things from the moment I interviewed with Trish, that I was so impressed by," says Susan Moore, executive vice-president and director of account management at Wunderman, who's worked with Wheaton for nine years. "I think she's a wonderful example of that and she makes that possible for every Wunderman employee."

Wheaton is also an avid skier, gardener and cook, and has always made a point of cooking family dinners. "For me, cooking has always been a great transition into another head space. "I think there is often a myth, particularly of women in senior executive positions, that there must be some system at home of ordering pizza or whatever, but I really stay connected to that part of life."

She also stays connected to the marketing community, as past chair of the board of the Canadian Marketing Association and as co-emcee of its annual marketing awards for the past 10 years, alongside Taxi's Blain. "She's great to work with," says John Gustavson, CEO of the CMA. "She can be challenging in a nice way. She questions very thoroughly, (and) is very encouraging."

Where does the fiftysomething Wheaton see herself now? "I'm not looking back. I am really looking forward. Even at 20 years with a company, I think there is still a lot to do... I have visions about what this company can be. I think it can continue to evolve and grow as much as in the past four to five years."

As the Dish with Trish session ends, attention turns to a wooden Mountie on the window ledge. Joseph D'Urzo, a new account manager and former professional hockey player in Italy, had mentioned a bonus of working at Wunderman is the opportunity to work at its offices around the globe. Wheaton says whenever someone from Wunderman Canada moves to another office, they have to bring a Mountie. And there are a lot of Mounties at various Wunderman offices worldwide, because the Canadian talent pool is so strong. But, looking at this current crop of talent, it's clear Wheaton hopes to keep them in Canada for as long as she can.

When this story was posted in March 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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