Andrea “Andy” Coville: CEO, Brodeur Partners

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When Andrea Coville was appointed CEO at Brodeur Partners, she was one of the few woman CEOs at Omnicom Group. She led and diversified Brodeur from its core technology platform into a midsize global agency serving technology, healthcare, financial services, nonprofit and business-to-business clients. She has published several research studies and a book on the topic of “Relevance,” her communications model. Andrea has worked for leading brands including Fidelity Investments, Mastercard, Phillips, Corning, Avnet, FM Global and the American Cancer Society.

How did you get into the communications industry?

Words, writing and the news were always my interests and they form the foundation of professional communications. I was a Journalism and English Literature major and had the wonderful opportunity to be mentored by great writers. One told me, “Andy, there will always people you think might be more talented than you. Whether you’re wrong or right isn’t the point. Just work hard and keep practicing, and it will take you far because sticking with it is the real magic answer.” That was Don Murray, Pulitzer Prize winner.

After college, I went to work as a staff writer for a technical publication under demanding conditions, which taught me I could tough it out. I clung to what I loved, the writing, and persevered. Each job built on the one before. Writing ultimately brought me to agency life, which I love.

Any emerging industry trends?

As digital technology changes everything, as brands proliferate, as information overwhelms us, and as our attention spreads terribly thin, companies need new, smarter ways to connect with customers and prospects. To that end, marketers devour information on customers’ needs, wants, demographics and purchasing journeys. They continuously adjust marketing, advertising and sales to target carefully conceived customer personas. Yet somehow these traditional strategies aren’t working as well as they used to. So there’s a constant seeking for something else, something better.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

We’re exploring a new lens for helping our clients break through the clutter and form stronger relationships with target audiences. We’re seeing consumers forming tribes around shared experiences and interests – including products, services, brands, candidates and causes. Author Seth Godin established the term tribes in his 2008 bestseller on leadership, “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.” “A tribe,” he wrote, “is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea.... A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” Social networking is a powerful way to do that.

There are obvious “tribal behaviors” to point to – say, yoga practitioners gravitating to certain active clothing brands. There are also less obvious, tangential tribal behaviors: Why might veterans buy one car brand over another? Why might rock climbers drink one beverage brand over another? Why might fashionistas tend to choose the same types of restaurants? The unifying principle is tribes.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

From the start three decades ago, we wanted to be a different kind of agency. Rather than handing work to clients, we wanted them to join us on a journey. The journey would start with their challenge and proceed through the adventures of creative ideation, execution and results.

We value smarts and creativity among our team, and we wanted to involve clients in the joy of creation as we achieve business objectives together. This approach is steeped in innovation, which is why you would never guess we are a 30-year-old company.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

We’re building expertise in carefully selected new industries, starting with infrastructure (e.g., roads, bridges, water, power) and space exploration. Improving the nation’s aging infrastructure appears to be a bipartisan priority, and we are working to understand it deeply so we can help clients be part of the national rebuilding movement. On the space exploration side, there are two main threads: private commercial activity in low earth orbit (think private satellites) and the exploration of deep space, potentially including manned missions to Mars. We are embarking on primary market and communications research in these areas, some of which we will reveal publicly. But our technology roots are key to both initiatives.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

All of our clients – in fact, any business, product, nonprofit or candidate – needs to be relevant. So we’ve built our business around that imperative, and I’ve written a book on it. Relevance is paramount in a cacophonous world brimming with advertising, sales pitches, social media messages and other signals competing for your attention. Clients need to break through, and the only way to do that is to create a meaningful emotional connection. If you do it right, you can change behavior. There’s a lot to relevance, but the first principle is to appeal not only to your audience’s rational thinking brain, but to invoke their sensations, values and community impulses.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

The biggest risk I’ve taken was buying our company back, especially since we loved our parent company. We invested in what we believed in, our product and our people and some new platforms and branding methodologies we were eager to explore. Another risk I took was writing a book about relevance. I asserted that the relevance of a brand, product, candidate or cause can be analyzed, measured and improved, and you can link relevance to behavioral change.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

Our clients love Relevance Labs, and so do we. They’re creative crucibles where together we combine research, customer voices, analysis, brainstorming, games and performance to reposition a client’s offering in way that’s more relevant, and measurably so. We design them like a real lab, complete with lab coats, clip boards, beakers and petri dishes for inspiration.

How do you motivate others?

We believe motivation starts with self-motivation. If you are self-motivated, all you really need is an environment where it’s safe to try new things. We encourage our employees to stretch, to take on new challenges, and to grow into roles they might have expected to have to wait for. There is a lot of opportunity here, and I’m proud of that.

Once they’re on the team, Brodeur employees say they enjoy a culture that is supportive, family-like and absent of office politics. We’re committed to professional development and supporting several non-profits in health and education.

Career advice to those in your industry?

It’s okay to make mistakes. Really. You’ve failed only if you don’t grow from them.