Ad vet scrambles to meet deadlines

BBDO’s Regina Ebel oversees pricey Super Bowl spots


The game clock is ticking for Regina Ebel, the veteran television-production chief at BBDO New York, an advertising agency owned by Omnicom Group.

MS. EBEL IS OVERSEEING a dozen commercials airing during Super Bowl XXXV, including three minutes for PepsiCo’s Pepsi brand. The agency’s other Super Bowl clients include FedEx, M&M/Mars, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay, Visa International, Cingular Wireless, Charles Schwab and Tricon Global Restaurants’ Pizza Hut.

Ms. Ebel, 52 years old, is shuttling between the coasts. Last week, she was in Los Angeles shooting her Pepsi commercials. During the weekend, she returned to New York to oversee the editing at Manhattan’s Crew Cuts. On Tuesday evening, she hopped back to Los Angeles for more Pepsi shooting. She is expected to return by the weekend, when she will present the final cuts to the top brass of BBDO and Pepsi.

This is a woman who likes the Super Bowl so much she named one of her three cats Stormy Montana after Joe Montana, the retired quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. In her ad career, the soft-spoken producer has overseen almost 50 TV commercials for the big game.

With the Jan. 28 game-day deadline approaching, Ms. Ebel says she is getting as many as five phone calls a minute. No, she doesn’t answer them all. She figures if it is really that important, her callers will find a way to track her down. Otherwise, they are out of luck.

As head of BBDO’s production department, Ms. Ebel supervises about 50 employees, and is directly responsible for an estimated 500 TV commercials every year. She handles the administrative end of the business, but also shapes the spots creatively through her involvement with editors and music houses. She also works with directors, including Joe Pytka, who directed Warner Bros.’s “Space Jam” and Paramount Pictures’ “Let It Ride.” “She ought to work for FedEx because of her logistics expertise,” says Steve Pacheco, FedEx’s advertising manager.

As producer, Ms. Ebel has to watch every dollar. If a commercial shoot is delayed, it can cost a client big money. In 1999, the average 30-second commercial cost an estimated $343,000 to produce, up 30 percent from 1995, according to a survey done by the American Association of Advertising Agencies. Super Bowl ads, however, can cost as much as several million dollars, depending on star power and location. Her advice for novice producers at this time of the year: “Have a little suitcase packed at all times.”

Some of her memorable Super Bowl commercials include 1999’s “Bolivia” spot for FedEx, which showed 20,000 hockey fans screaming, “We want the Cup! We want the Cup!” In the commercial, somebody uses a different overnight service and delivered a bag of coffee beans to the arena. The National Hockey League’s championship Stanley Cup ends up in South America where it is used as a fruit stand. In 1995 she worked on a Super Bowl commercial for Frito-Lay starring former Democratic governors Mario Cuomo of New York and Ann Richards of Texas.

Ms. Ebel started her career at Grey Advertising (now Grey Global Group’s Grey Worldwide), where she worked as an assistant to a creative director. Eventually she landed in production, working on accounts such as Procter & Gamble and General Foods. She joined BBDO in 1986 and took over the top job in the TV-production area in 1998. “What stands out is that she doesn’t want to stand out,” says Dawn Hudson, senior vice president of strategy and marketing for Pepsi-Cola North America. “Unlike a lot of other producers who say, ‘I am in charge now,’ she doesn’t let her ego get in the way.”

When her work is finished, Ms. Ebel, a New York Giants fan, says she likely will be so stressed that she won’t watch the team square off for the National Football League championship against the Baltimore Ravens. A week later, a colleague will begin calling BBDO clients and asking their plans for Super Bowl XXXVI.