Truth Teller

Truth Teller

Ava Jordhamo found herself in a terrible fix about 20 years ago, and the lesson is still fresh in her mind today.

She was running spots on a late-night talk show at the time, to promote the sales event of an esteemed advertiser client. She was supposed to have moved units out of one week’s schedule into the next, but she completely forgot to do so.

Resolving the problem, Jordhamo said, involved dealing with a salesperson at the network who had a reputation for being very tough. “Everybody was afraid of her.”

But, surprisingly, when she admitted she’d screwed up, the salesperson sprang into action and called every client on the roster to find someone to switch out of the time slots Jordhamo needed.

Jordhamo said she has related the lesson to her employees many times. “If you tell people you’ve messed something up, they are much more likely to help you fix the mistake and forgive it than if you try to cover it up,” she said. “It seems like such a small, simple thing, but it’s huge. Trust is such an important foundation to any relationship.”


Her truthfulness is one of the reasons Jordhamo has been at Zenith for 18 years — rising to president of the media buying and planning firm’s New York operations.

“Ava is a very honest person,” said Tim Jones, the CEO, North America, of ZenithOptimedia, the corporate parent of Zenith (and itself a subsidiary of Publicis Groupe). “She doesn’t seek the spotlight.”

Added Dave Penski, CEO of Zenith USA: “The thing I really respect about Ava is her ability to gain clients’ trust and deliver for them. She’s one of the few employees I have that is really strong internally, in terms of operations, and externally, with clients. She has the confidence and swagger to say [a given assignment] is going to get done. And it always is.”

Given the praise, there’s little wonder why Penski last year promoted Jordhamo to her current position.

Jordhamo oversees about 600 staff ers and some $10.7 billion in media billings, according to the research firm RECMA.

She has oversight of a client roster that includes H&M, Toyota, Sonic and Nestlé, among many others. In fact, under her leadership, Zenith raked in some $500 million in business last year from new clients and those it retained.

Previously, she was Zenith’s president of execution, which involved negotiating deals with media companies, calling on the strengths of a 100-person staff . As part of that, she oversaw Zenith’s upfront deals.

While she’s now one step removed from the media negotiating table, her challenges ahead are substantial.

“Ava has always embraced the new, whether that’s been digital media or development of cross-platform video,” Jones said. “And there’s more of that to come.”

He said Ava was tasked with not only understanding the digital marketplace as it deepens in complexity but “working with clients to help navigate them through that. She has exceptional client-service skills.”

Said Penski: “We need to broaden ourselves across digital analytics and data, and she’s going to be having conversations about that with clients.”

Another one of her significant tasks at hand involves managing the New York staff so they’re working at their highest levels of performance, particularly the younger employees. “She’s really good at managing difficult personalities, different age groups and backgrounds — leading them and inspiring them,” Penksi said. He notes that Jordhamo’s direct reports have all been with her for years.

While Jordhamo concurs with Penski and Jones, she sees her challenges in larger terms: “Everybody talks about work/life balance, and I hate saying that, but it’s tough — trying to be good to yourself while you do everything you want to do at work.”

The “life” part of the equation involves her daughter, Jolene, who’s nearly six, and her husband, Jason, who works at ABC in marketing.


While she has represented many advertisers, Jordhamo’s work on behalf of Toyota is one of the signatures of her career. She was responsible for negotiating Scion’s sponsorship of MTV’s Pimp My Ride series; and Toyota’s exclusive sponsorships of NBC’s Sunday Night Football halftime report and the Toyota concert series within the Today show.

“She was there at the launch of Lexus in the 1980s, and she was there when we launched Scion,” Jones said. “When we launched Lexus, they said there was no way an Asian import could create a luxury-car brand, and Lexus is now No. 1 in the category. And they said there was no way we could produce a Gen Y brand for Toyota, and we did so with Scion.”

Jordhamo points to two key mentors: Peggy Green, who left her job as vice chairman of Zenith- Optimedia a few years ago, and Bill Sheehan, who was senior vice president, manager of sports negotiations at Zenith, before he passed away.

“Peggy taught me so much about negotiating; it’s unbelievable,” Jordhamo said. As for what she learned from Sheehan: “It was about being good to people. There wasn’t a person who called him or walked in the door that he didn’t make time for in some way or another.”

Jordhamo sees ways for sales folk to make themselves more attractive to Zenith’s buyers. “The range of knowledge varies so dramatically,” she said. “I’ve had experiences where the sales people have not even watched what they’re selling. It’s challenging. It goes back to trust. How can you have trust in someone if you feel they don’t know what they’re talking about?”


TITLE: President, Zenith Media New York

AGE: 47

CAREER: Joined the advertising business as a trainee at Blair more than two decades ago; rose to become president of execution at Zenith, overseeing media negotiations, before taking on current role

QUOTABLE: “She’s very good at gett ing people to do things they don’t want to do, and make them happy about it.” —Dave Penski, CEO of Zenith USA