New CEO of Spark Discusses Plans to Grow the Agency Into a Highly Competitive Third Brand in the SMG Family
Chris Boothe was recently elevated to the newly-created position of chief executive officer of Spark, one of the full-service media agencies under the Starcom MediaVest umbrella. Boothe moved over from Starcom, where he
was president and COO of Starcom USA. There, he was responsible for leading the
agency's business development activities. Prior to that he was president and
chief activation officer at Starcom and before that was a group client leader
for numerous high-profile accounts.
Coinciding with Boothe's transition to Spark was the
announcement by SMG global CEO Laura Desmond that the goal will be to grow
Spark into a top 10 media agency, joining its larger siblings Starcom
and MediaVest in that regard. Right now, Spark manages over $1 billion in
client media investments.
MBPT spent some time talking with Boothe about his new role
and what the future holds for Spark.
What is the background of the move to spin off Spark, i.e., who made
the decision, when and why?
Laura Desmond, our global CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group, made the
decision. It was something she had been contemplating for a while.
Spark has been experiencing client growth and it was decided to take
an agency that was working well to the next level. The original idea for Spark was
to be a media department for creative shops that didn't have media
capabilities. So it's grown from that. Right now, Spark operates only from its
office in Chicago but we will be opening a New York office.
What will your duties be as CEO of Spark, which is a new position, and
what role will Ken Zasky, the long-time president, play?
Spark never had a CEO and given its growing size and where we want to
take it, it really does need one. Ken has been doing an excellent job running
the agency which is clearly validated by his team winning the Avis account. And
he has brought in other major accounts over the years like E*TRADE and Dairy
Queen. We each bring excellent resources to the table. I am going to drive new
business growth and product development and raise the brand awareness of Spark.
I'm going to look to bring in more talent as we expand our client list. Ken
will oversee all the current business so that nothing is disrupted in the
transition. There aren't a lot of big egos in the room. I've known Ken for 25
years. I worked on creating the plan that launched Starlink, which morphed into
Spark, 13 years ago and I've known the team there for years. Ken's been
away from Starcom for 13 years. And I have been there. So I will bring what
I've experienced at Starcom like business development and media investment and
activation. And we will blend the best of each of our worlds.
Some clients are moving from Starcom to Spark. Who are they, what was
the reasoning behind their moving and were they given an option to
stay with Starcom?
The clients moving to Spark are Sara Lee, Hanes Brand, Stanley Steamer
and Bass Pro Shops. Everything was vetted with the clients before we finalized
the decision to move them. All of the clients moving to Spark were under my
purview at Starcom so I will be bringing them over with me. And the teams that
managed each account will be moving to Spark too. And they will get more senior
executive attention at Spark. So the move will be seamless and the same
consistency will be there in managing the accounts at Spark.
What types of clients are you going to look to bring in to Spark and how
will they be similar or different to clients that Starcom and MediaVest target?
This move will allow us to go after all clients of any size. Of course
we won't compete with each other. But as we look at client opportunities we'll
see what clients' needs are and make decisions as to where a client might be
the best fit. But Spark will go after any client or brand regardless of its
size. Spark does have some smaller clients, but so do Starcom and
In addition to yourself and the account teams of the clients shifting
to Spark, will any other executives be moving over from Starcom? And what is
your plan to expand the workforce?
We are always looking to bring in the right talent, not only for Spark,
but for all of SMG. As we grow Spark's client list and business, we will need
to be adding more people to service those accounts. A lot of who we hire, and
for what roles, will depend on the clients we bring in and what they will ask
us to do. But since the announcement about growing Spark was made, several
advertisers and media executives have contacted me about opportunities.
Spark operates solely out of Chicago right now, but you plan to open a
New York office?
Yes, our goal is to do that sometime later this year. Spark already has
clients headquartered in the New York area like E*TRADE, Avis, Morgan Stanley.
I will spend a lot of my time in New York and rotating between there and
Chicago, but I won't be relocating there full time.
Did the timing of the announcement have anything to do with Spark
winning the Avis account?
That was a coincidence. The Spark team and Leo Burnett had pitched Avis,
and Spark was selected as the full-service media agency to handle planning and
buying and Leo Burnett was chosen to do creative. We were going to make the
Spark announcement first but the Avis win was leaked to the press so they both
came out at about the same time.
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