Sunni Boot,

Sunni Boot

"She is a leader in the field and always open to new ideas"
by samantha yaffe

With a name like Sunni Boot, it's hard to get lost in the clutter. The name sticks in your mind like a catch phrase or a clever jingle - it's an X factor among many for the ever-friendly and unabashedly committed president and CEO of Toronto-based ZenithOptimedia.

And while everyone who's anyone within the media and advertising industry has undoubtedly heard of Sunni Boot, most are unaware that her real name is actually Sonja.

The genealogy is as simple as this: "I had a boyfriend who hated my name," she says, looking back more than 25 years, to around the time when she made her initial foray into the advertising business.

Having never strayed beyond the world of media planning and buying to dabble in the creative side, she says with no uncertainty, "media is the creative!"

Her first job was a summer gig at Ronalds-Reynolds where she started out working on car accounts. "I had to keep changing dealer listings and getting insertion orders at the last minute... I'd call the Vancouver Sun's composing room directly, because it would be late at night, and I'd hear the pressman saying, 'Is that Sunni Boot?'" she recalls. "Can you imagine? A hundred days into the business and they knew me by name."

Now one of the most distinguished names in the business, Boot, who was born and raised in Toronto, says her love affair with the media has only grown throughout her tenure.

"Look at the changes we've seen in the last 20 years," she says, her eyes lighting up to match the bright yellow sweat shirt she dons on this day off work. "Look at the proliferation of media, the design of magazines, the birth of cable, digital, satellite.... Is there another industry as exciting as broadcasting is today?"

Her wholehearted enthusiasm is reflected in both her work and the impression she continues to make on her colleagues.

Likewise, media suppliers who voted her in as Strategy's 2003 Best Media Director had the following to say: "Sunni is always proactive. She is a leader in the field and always open to new ideas." And "Sunni has the ability to meet with all levels within the agency industry. In doing so she is open to ideas that would best serve her clients' needs."

Strong praise, but Boot is quick to point out that she is only as good as her team. "Without them there would be no career and no award." One of the nominating media sellers agrees, writing that "Sunni has developed the best team of media people in the city of Toronto."

Need proof? Just look at some of that team's accomplishments this year alone: they seamlessly brought the Zenith and Optimedia names together, forged new ground on Canadian soil with the Canadian Idol/L'Oréal partnership, and picked up two mammoth accounts in Priszm Brandz and Pfizer Consumer Healthcare.

"2003 has been our most successful year to date," says Boot, who relishes the increased clout Optimedia has gained since she took the helm in February 1998.

In addition to bringing the Zenith and Optimedia forces together worldwide, "being under the Publicis umbrella with MediaVest and Starcom allows us to compete and also work together for leverage where it makes sense, which we do, for example, in sourcing research," she adds.

Clout aside, she says she loves being part of a European operation whose motto is to think globally and act locally. This philosophy lets Boot access the tools, talent, systems and proprietary research of her multinational parent company, while retaining the flexibility to draw on the character and ever-changing landscape of the Canadian marketplace - her demonstrated specialty.

So where does this industry veteran see the Canadian media and advertising community heading?

"To the empowered consumer," she says, definitively. "They will inevitably have total choice over how they watch TV - via Internet, cable - what they watch and when they watch it. There will have to be some privacy laws worked out, but we'll know far more about the end consumer, which will allow us to provide messages that are of interest to them."

On the recently rejected proposal by Kevin Shea's 49th Media to sell Canadian ads on the nominal avails of U.S. cable channels, Boot is divided.

"As a media buyer, I want to have unfettered access to everything," she says. "On the other hand, it's not a level playing field. These stations are not subject to the same regulations as our Canadian broadcasters, which could lead to a depletion of Canadian broadcasters' revenue."

And while the proposal states that 25% of this new-found ad revenue would go to Canadian production, Boot says it's a net/net game when you consider that the Canadian broadcasters' lost revenue would mean a proportionately lower contribution to Canadian production.

As for bringing in more American cable channels to Canada, as the Canadian Cable Television Association unsuccessfully proposed to the CRTC, Boot says: "If consumers want it, they'll get it." Copyright issues will, however, remain the biggest stumbling block, and she worries about losing access to hit U.S. cable shows.

If, for example, HBO, which is a subscription-based channel, were to enter the Canadian marketplace and reclaim such big-draw shows as The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, it would be taking away domestic advertising opportunities and further fragmenting the market. "This would not be great for media buyers," says Boot.

Nonetheless, this year's Best Media Director remains optimistic that the Canadian media marketplace is ripe and ready to forge ahead as a competitive, multifaceted, intermeshed and highly targeted engine for Canadian advertisers and consumers alike.

"It's all very exciting," she reports.

Copyright © 2003 Brunico Communications Inc. All rights reserved.