They say nice guys finish last, but John Brodeur is one of those nice guys who gets ahead. Ask him why his agency is so successful, and he rattles off the names of his senior management team. Talk about the strategy that has taken his agency from zero employees and no revenue in 1985 to close to 700 employees and dollars 75 million in worldwide revenue today, and he says he is merely responding to client needs.
They say nice guys finish last, but John Brodeur is one of those
nice guys who gets ahead. Ask him why his agency is so successful, and
he rattles off the names of his senior management team. Talk about the
strategy that has taken his agency from zero employees and no revenue in
1985 to close to 700 employees and dollars 75 million in worldwide
revenue today, and he says he is merely responding to client needs.
Coming from most PR pros, this may smack of false modesty. But past and
present colleagues insist that this man is for real.
’His modesty is legendary, and it’s one of the reasons I and everyone
else respect him,’ says Rollie Wussow, chairman and CEO of Wussow
Consulting Group and a friend of Brodeur’s since the early 1970s. ’He
contributes with style and substance without yelling and screaming and
calling attention to himself.’
’He’s one of the best and the smartest public relations professionals I
know,’ adds John Graham, chairman and CEO of sister firm
Brodeur, 49, admits that he is, at times, uncomfortable with having his
name on the door, but it is a name that carries a lot of weight. The
agency currently has 40 offices in 30 countries and works with big-name
clients like Philips Electronics, 3M and IBM.
But Brodeur has not been content to let his agency become just another
PR firm, and this is evident in its structure. The agency has 11 profit
& loss centers run by managers who operate them and view them as their
own. These are organized by geography, disciplines such as consumer tech
and interactive, and by client. The agency also has strategic resource
groups that act as service organizations for account teams, including
editorial, speaker’s bureau, research and special events.
’What works best in an organization that scales from 40 people to 750
very quickly is that layers of management and bureaucracy cannot be
tolerated,’ says Brodeur.
The most surprising news from Brodeur last year was when it split off
from Porter Novelli. At the mention of this, Brodeur rolls his eyes and
subtly attempts to change the subject. When pressed, however, his
statements echo those made by PN CEO Bob Druckenmiller several weeks
’With the market changing, it was very difficult to determine what was a
consumer versus a technology account,’ Brodeur says. ’It worked great
for five years, and then what we predicted came true - that these two
major disciplines were going to come together. They did, and the
blurriness caused a line of demarcation between the two
Despite this, Brodeur insists that there is no bad blood between the two
agencies. And while there are some risks associated with this move, he
claims that he is not worried: ’I don’t at all worry at night whether
Brodeur’s going to succeed.’
But there certainly were sleepless nights in the beginning. A journalist
and press secretary during the 1970s, he founded his agency in 1981,
which focused on PR and public affairs. Two years later, he teamed with
Bill Martin, and the agency quickly became one of the largest firms on
the west coast, handling numerous political campaigns as well as PR for
Harrah’s Hotel & Casino.
Looking for a ’larger sandbox’ and a better place to raise his sons,
Brodeur sold the agency and moved to Boston in 1984. But he wasn’t happy
working for someone else, so he, along with Andy Carney and Peter
Connell, bought out his associates and formed Brodeur & Partners.
’There’s a big difference between renting and owning, and I like to
own,’ says Brodeur.
Wanting to fill a niche, and being regional at best, Brodeur decided to
focus on hi-tech clients. However, he says it took five years before
they had enough momentum and confidence to know that they were going to
be long-term, substantial players. The pivotal moment came in 1990, when
the 25-person agency won a small project from IBM. From there, the
agency added larger accounts like Computer Associates and
Then, in 1993, Brodeur & Partners sold to Omnicom and became the lead
technology firm for Porter Novelli. The move to expand beyond Boston
came that year, when the agency won the IBM PC and Software Group
contracts, tripling the company’s size almost overnight. Offices sprang
up wherever tech firms needed PR help, from Santa Clara to Boca
The agency also made a number of minority investments through Omnicom in
key European technology corridors, including London, Spain, Germany, the
Netherlands and Italy. ’The technology revolution opened up more
opportunities than we ever imagined, and if there’s one thing that we
did right, it’s that, when there were opportunities, we drove our truck
in and grabbed them.’
So what opportunities will the agency be grabbing next?
Brodeur says that there will be a substantial e-business push for the
agency in the very near future, based on the idea that there are other
services necessary in this realm beyond product PR, such as corporate
communications and IR. This influx of e-commerce work is one of the
reasons why Brodeur projects worldwide revenues of dollars 100 million
by the end of this year, which could very well place Brodeur atop the
hi-tech PR pyramid.
The agency also hopes to expand into France early this year, and is
eyeing Asia-Pacific and Latin America as well.Yet, despite the jetlag,
Brodeur manages to escape to Cape Cod nearly every weekend with his
wife. He also has two sons, and compares watching his company grow to
watching his children grow.
’When an organization that you have invested in and put in a lot of your
time turns out like this, it’s remarkable,’ says Brodeur. ’But I don’t
have too much time to think about the past because guess what - there’s
something out there called the technology revolution, there’s something
out there called the client and there’s something out there called tough
competitors. If we spend too much time patting ourselves on the back,
we’re going to lose.’
Based on how little Brodeur pats himself on the back, it doesn’t look
like he has much to worry about.
Chairman and CEO
197 - Press secretary to Sen. Howard Cannon
1981 - Founds Brodeur
1983 - Forms the Brodeur/Martin Company
1985 - Forms Brodeur & Partners
1999 - Formally establishes Brodeur Worldwide