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Brand Builder

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  • | 6:00 p.m. February 22, 2008
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Brand Builder

marketing by Dave Szymanski | Tampa Bay Editor

Colleen Chappell, the new CEO of Roberts Communications in Tampa, aims to strengthen companies through strategic partnerships.

On day one after joining Roberts Communications as executive vice president five years ago, telecommunications executive Colleen Chappell was running staff meetings.

Now Chappell, 41, is running the company. This year, she became president and CEO of Roberts in Ybor City.

Chappell, a Syracuse, N.Y. native, mother and wife, attended the University of South Florida and studied mass communication. She is widely known for her work as a Florida marketing executive for Verizon Wireless and helping build PrimeCo Communications, a wireless telephone service provider, which won marketing awards for innovative advertising campaigns.

Now she is leading Roberts in its mission to strategically partner with clients and offer all turnkey communications services, including marketing, advertising, public relations and branding. 2007 was the best year in the history of the 30-year-old firm.

The Gulf Coast Business Review spoke with the new CEO. Here is an edited version of the interview.

GCBR: Now that you're CEO, what are your goals and vision going forward?

Chappell: "I think the most important thing we want to do is give clients even more strategic ideas and creative solutions. We've spent a great deal of time over the past five years building a real talented team to deliver more to clients. So moving forward, we want to help clients not just meet business plans but exceed them."

What do you mean by strategic partnering?

"We're not the type of agency that just takes assignments. We want to understand the business plan and deliver strategic approaches in branding, marketing, advertising and public relations to really push their business plan and company forward."

So the company doesn't do work in just one discipline for a client?

"We don't take on a client just to do public relations. We're not giving him the value of the team. If public relations is part of the value added, then it could work. If someone calls us for a one-time event, it's not our model. We have expertise in all the marketing disciplines. A client will need them all. If someone calls to give us a PR project, we'll find someone for them. We are a full-service marketing and branding agency. If the client is simply PR, we are not the right agency for them."

Wasn't advertising added recently as a service at Roberts?

"A lot of people don't know. Deanne (Roberts, chairman and founder) brought advertising in in 1984. Back then, when she made the transition, it was a new concept. Integration. Now it's a buzzword. When the agency first entered into advertising and public relations, it was a combined service model. It was very innovative. We were ahead of our time."

How has your prior experience, starting PrimeCo and working in marketing for Verizon, prepared you for Roberts?

"My background with large companies and startups was a plus. With PrimeCo, we had to build a brand, sales channels and a pricing model. Everything was built from the ground up. That was invaluable to me. I learned how companies work and operate."

With so many media sources today, what is the company's approach to breakthrough advertising?

"We do not create ads to win awards. We create them to move a business forward. We don't measure ourselves by awards. We measure ourselves by our clients' success. We're very focused on our clients' business plans and goals. It's unique for this industry."

How do you interact with clients?

"We spend a lot of time talking about their operation. You shouldn't spend one dollar externally if you aren't operating well internally. Aligning the operations side with the promotions creates success."

Have you ever told a client it wasn't the right time to advertise?

"We've told clients not to advertise. Some are operationally at risk. Clients appreciate that candor. I believe all of that instinct and experience for me came from working at the startup, PrimeCo. The Verizon experience also helped. A company needs to grow consistently. We provide a team focus and bring real business solutions."

How involved is Deanne Roberts, chairman, in the business?

"Deanne is very involved with clients. We have different strengths and passions. She is passionate about public relations and issues management. I am passionate about branding, advertising, marketing, sales and distribution. Sometimes we work together, sometimes separately."

Was it a difficult decision to leave a good position as director of business sales at Verizon to join Roberts?

"My boss, who I respected, said people don't leave these jobs. They are very hard to come by. I said I had the opportunity to build something and call it my own. I had to sign away all of my stock. It was a great leap of faith. And I would do it over and over again. I think the reason why is so easy. Deanne and I have the same values and principals. If you have a strong foundation, you can build something as high as you want."

Is it challenging replacing a Tampa business icon like Deanne Roberts?

"It was very clear to me I was stepping into a legacy. But I believe my job was not to protect her legacy, but to grow it. She didn't bring me on to maintain the status quo. She wanted us to make the legacy stronger. We have clients say to us that they can't believe the thinking I'm getting from an agency in Ybor City. It rivals one from New York or Atlanta."

How do you balance work and family?

"I've been married 18 years. We have two sons, a 16-year-old at Tampa Catholic and a 7th grader at St. Stephen's. We live in Riverview. I love being the mom of two boys. We just got back from skiing in Utah. We are very active, water skiing, knee boarding. We work hard and play even harder. My husband is a firefighter and a paramedic. He is a great balancer. No matter how crazy my job is, in his job, someone could lose a life. We're very grounded. I believe I'm a better mom because of what I do."

What is the favorite part of your job?

"Trying to peel away at a problem and creatively apply a solution and watch the results. That is really exciting stuff. At the end of the day, it's a huge high to watch the needle move. I met with a client last week and he said if he could have his dream job, he would be a professor. I said I was living my dream job. I really am. To get ahead, you have to work really hard in life. You need to work hard every day at something you are passionate about. I'm very fortunate to go to work and do something I'm very passionate about."

Has moving the firm from Westshore to Ybor City in 2005 made a difference?

"It was one of our best decisions. It is truly a creative environment that inspires our team every day. Our team loves it. In the old days, we went to our clients all the time. Now, our clients ask if they can work from here. It's phenomenal. We are an extension of their team and staff."

What's the main emerging trend in marketing?

"We're not as fast-paced as other industries. Over the past five years, the change I've seen is that clients want more than an ad. They want highly creative campaigns that result in moving their business forward. Clients demand results and impact. We're confident in that arena. It's harder today to break through to have a share of mind with their customers and a distinct voice. There's more competition for a share of mind, voice and wallet. You have to break through and have an impact. You have to have a style that's creative and more strategic delivery."


Company: Roberts Communications in Ybor City

Industry: Marketing, advertising and branding

Key: Becoming a strategic business partner with clients.


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