For the best part of the past decade, Brodeur Worldwide has focused almost exclusively on the technology sector, serving clients such as IBM and Philips. But over the past couple of years the agency has recognized the need to diversify in order to continue its impressive rate of growth, and has started to add clients in other sectors—from financial services to healthcare—that depend on technology to differentiate themselves from their competitors. New business wins in the U.S. included Mail.com, Corning, MasterCard International, Yankelovich Partners, the Center for Health Information Management, and iLumin.com, and Brodeur will end the year with $90 million in fees, up about 25 percent over 1999.
Brodeur is one of the dominant firms in its headquarters market of Boston, where it ranks second only to Weber Shandwick, and has been building an impressive national network of offices, with its greatest strength in Silicon Valley—where it is close to cracking the top 10—and Washington, D.C., where its public affairs operation really hit the ground running. Brodeur also has a presence in several smaller markets, including Phoenix and Salt Lake City. The obvious gaps are in New York (Brodeur has an office in Stamford, but did not get into the Silicon Alley feeding frenzy) and the Pacific Northwest.
Brodeur is well on the way to becoming the first truly global technology public relations firm. Three of the agency’s partners (in the U.K., Netherlands, and Australia) adopted the Brodeur name in 2000, and the agency added six new partners in the Asia-Pacific region and also took an equity position in French affiliate SRRP. Brodeur also launched a new global account management model, for multinational clients such as Cable & Wireless, Genesys, and Software AG (Europe), and Adobe, Cisco, Compaq, Ericsson, Intel, and IBM (Asia-Pacific).
Everything Brodeur Worldwide does is anchored by its core competency in technology public relations, but that still leaves plenty of room for expansion. The agency has diversified its client base, adding blue-chip names in consumer electronics (Philips, Palm); e-commerce (Yahoo, Amazon); financial services (Fidelity, MasterCard); healthcare (DiscoveryHealth.com); and media (CNNi, WSJ.com) to a technology base that includes IBM, Novell, Cable & Wireless, Nortel, ON Semiconductors, and Ericsson. The agency has also expanded beyond business-to-business marketing to offer consumer expertise, as well as a first-rate investor relations capability and a growing public affairs operation.
There were new roles for agency veterans such as Andy Carney (named chief executive), Janet Swaysland (president of the firm’s U.S. operations), and Andy Beaupre (chief marketing officer) as Brodeur sought to solidify a management structure that will enable it to continue to grow. The firm also added counseling depth in developing market segments. Probably the most significant new hire was Kelley MacDonald, former VP of corporate communications for Unitrode Corporation, who heads Brodeur’s new IR practice. The agency also added Ilene Merdinger, formerly of MWW, as account leader on the IBM software business, and Powell Tate veteran Tom McMahon as VP in the Washington office. The only significant losses were Barbara Cohn, a senior VP in the San Jose office, who left for Middleberg and Mike Sockol, one of the leaders of the interactive practice, who joined Makovsky & Company in New York.
Brodeur has developed a reputation as one of the best places to work in the PR industry, offering both top-notch benefits (including a 401k and generous profit-sharing) and an exceptional professional development program, launched in 1994 and tailored specifically to the challenges facing high-tech PR professionals. The result is that Brodeur has a far lower ratio of what cynical journalists call “PR bunnies”—young and inexperienced entry-level employees—than most of its competitors. Turnover at the vice president level and above was below 5 percent last year, which pays off for clients who receive more senior level counseling from Brodeur than from most of its competitors.
Not surprisingly, Brodeur’s leadership products involve harnessing the power of technology to deliver information more powerfully. The firm has focused a good deal of attention on the idea of “news consumership,” and the changes in new distribution wrought by new technologies and new distribution channels. Offerings include permission marketing campaigns, custom newsletters and e-zines, as well as Internet strategy and website development services. Brodeur is also a leader in developing a broader technology offering, expanding beyond marketing tech products to include investor relations, public affairs, and through a partnership with Omnicom-owned sister company Smythe Dorward Lambert, employee communications and change management.
In the past 12 months, Brodeur has handled brand-building assignments for IBM’s software and personal systems groups, helped Corning introduce a new identity, launched new products for Philips and Palm, and publicity surrounding the 20th anniversary of the Post-It Note for 3M. In addition, the firm has handled pre-IPO and post-IPO investor relations for a handful of clients, including ON Semiconductor, one of the most high profile market launches of the past 12 months, and has handled employee communications programs for clients Corning and Novell.
With the appointment of Andy Beaupre, president of subsidiary Beaupre & Company, as vice president of marketing, Brodeur signaled its intention to build a brand that is strongly differentiated from its tech competitors and that resonates beyond the tech sector. In its core market, the Brodeur name is synonymous with excellence in client service, and John Brodeur wants to make sure that clients understand what they can expect from the “Brodeur experience,” he wants Brodeur to be an agency that consistently surprises and delights its customers
With revenues closing in on $100 million, Brodeur is clearly too large to be a boutique agency, but not yet large enough to be counted among the top tier of multinational, multi-disciplinary agencies. John Brodeur believes he can build a $200 million international, technology-focused public relations agency over the next three years, by focusing on quality and by making a handful of strategic domestic and overseas acquisitions. He’ll get the support he needs from parent Omnicom, but whether he can broaden his client base without diluting what makes his agency different is the biggest question.