Rebecca Keller joined the accounting department of Martin Williams Advertising in 1977. “We were keeping books in the old days before computers, writing in journals, using 10-key adding machines. When they went to computerized accounting, I decided I didn’t like that. It was basically just inputting data,” she recalled.
When one of the two members of the Broadcast department was leaving the company, “I went and asked if I could have her job instead.”
Keller acknowledged that nowadays, such a career move would be difficult, but “back then it wasn’t odd”. She started doing traffic, moved to producing radio, then became a TV producer before switching into business management. “I guess it depends where you are in your life,” Keller said. “TV producing is glamorous if you’re young and single, but at that point I had small children. They were just creating this business management position. I said I would take that position if I could have flexible hours to get kids on and off the bus. It worked out great for me, and I think for the company as well.”
In her business management role, Keller said, “What I do is I basically take care — here anyway — of everything talent-related. I estimate, negotiate and pay talent. I also negotiate and license music. At this point we have an in-house editing suite called Chop Shop. I’m keeping track of their internal billings. We just hired a new traffic manager, so I’m training her in.”
When Keller started at Martin Williams, “I think there were about 50 people. It was known as a little boutique shop back then. At one point we were 35 people here. Now I think it’s about 160.”
Keller’s notable hires include Joe Montana for Mervyn’s, John Cusack for Cellular South, and Kevin Bacon for E-Trade. She licensed about 100 different pieces of original music for Payless TV spots, as well as famous tracks like “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by the The Mamas & The Papas.“I still get a little thrill out of hearing a commercial or radio spot that I worked on or helped facilitate,” she said.
How does the licensing process work?
People think you just make a phone call and you get this track. It’s more convoluted than that. You have to figure out who owns the publishing rights. There could be three or four companies involved, and you have to contact all of them. If you want the actual artist, you have to contact the record label.
What’s the best part of the job?
It’s a fun environment. Before I came here, I was in banking. Believe me, advertising is way better than banking. I’m always amazed that it seems like nobody is interested in this position.
Is it a challenge to be a business person among creative people?
I don’t consider myself creative but I do like being around creative people. They’re fun and outgoing — sometimes crazy and maddening. I like being on their coattails and helping them get the product they want and the outcome they want.
Are there benefits to being the person who hires talent?
Because of the music licensing part of my job, publishers and labels are constantly sending me new CDs and an e-mail saying “so-and-so is having a show in town.” That’s a nice perk. I took one daughter to see Lady Gaga, another daughter to see Beyoncé. I was the cool mom then. □