Her journey began when, inspired by her fictional childhood idol Angela Bower of “Who’s the Boss?” she applied for and won a year-long bivouac in NYC with Ogilvy & Mather after majoring in advertising at Western Michigan University’s Haworth College of Business.
However, fate (in the form of a college friend named Holly) convinced her to redirect herself from Queens to Chicago and a futuristic digital media agency called Giant Step.
Co-founded in 1991 by Eric and Adam Heneghan in an apartment in Iowa City, Iowa, the agency originally focused on the sizzling-hot CD-ROM market. Moving to Chicago in 1994 and acquired by Leo Burnett two years later, Giant Step was a successful web creation shop by the time Blagica joined in the late ’90s. Clients included Motorola, Kellogg’s and Oldsmobile.
Blagica was a self-proclaimed “appliance queen” for two years, managing the transfer of Maytag product detail to a brand website. She recalls a reticent-but-brilliant president, Rishad Tobaccowala, whose thoughtful pronouncements foreshadowed his later career as Publicis’ oracle-in-chief and bestselling author.
Like many of her cohort, Blagica was a victim of the dot-com bomb, getting laid off in 2001. “I was devastated,” she tells Jill and Marty in this candid but up-beat look back. “But I’m proudly part of the dot-com crash.”
A contact at Giant Step tipped her off to a pre-launch startup named Orbitz, founded by five major airlines as an aggregated travel search and booking portal. She joined in 2001 as eMarketing Manager and was there through the company’s IPO two years later.
Orbitz is celebrated and/or reviled in advertising history for its prolific use of pop-under and pop-up ad units that were highly interactive, even addictive. One fan favorite featured a mini-golf game that in some versions yielded nothing but satisfaction for par and in others a $50 fare discount. Acolytes were known to visit ESPN.com simply to play the game, and some spent hours when they could presumably have been improving the world stalking the ads and devising diabolical strategems to win.
In this episode, Blagica describes the thrilling, adventurous and very stressful milieu that was Orbitz at that time, competing with Travelocity and Expedia in the cutthroat race for bookings. Overwork drove Blagica close to burnout, and she left in 2004 to regroup in France, returning on the Queen Mary to embrace more self-determination. One of her projects was the startup Gals’ Guide, a community chronicle of post-collegiate experience.
From 2009-10, Blagica was at Edelman in Chicago as VP Digital Strategy, where she worked with #PaleoAdTech co-host Jill Royce and served clients such as Quaker, Chevy and Kraft. Later she focused on social media and social business channels at Motorola Mobility (Google) and Target.
Returning just last year to the affiliate space at JEB Commerce, Blagica says, she found it “going gangbusters.” Data deprecation and the rising premium on first-party and lower-funnel attribution favor affiliate tactics, where a click leads to an outcome in a way that can be counted without cookies, fingerprinting or indirect techniques.
Blagica and Jill round out the episode by addressing the historic lack of women in ad tech (as reflected in the #PaleoAdTech ‘Episode List‘) and the opportunities to redress this imbalance through mentorship, opening opportunities, and a commitment to reject assumptions. Read more of Blagica’s POV on this important topic here.