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August 2008

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The Past, The Present, The Future

An interview with Cathey Finlon and Paul Leroue

It all started in a little yellow house in Boulder and now, 26 years later, CATHEY FINLON is going to step down as CEO and Owner of one of Denver's largest and most successful advertising agencies. McClain Finlon. Taking her place as CEO and Owner is PAUL LEROUE, who has been serving as President of the agency. Finlon will stay on as Chair of the Board. Advertising & Marketing Review met with Finlon and Leroue in late June to talk about the advertising business, past and present.

A&M Review - What are the changes you have seen over the past 26 years?
Finlon - The biggest change is in the way people work. We used to work in a creative environment where the idea was always the driver. There is a requirement for an awful lot of precise work now as put to imprecise ideation and requires a technical skill-set that is quite different from a creative or ideation skill-set. So now you have to put people together in a communications environment in order to serve clients and that is a whole different left brain, right brain collaboration from where it was more driven by a right brain intensity. It's a work change that relates to how the digital world has affected everybody. As to ROI, I think it has always been there it's just that now the measurement has become far more precise.
Leroue - I think if you look at marketing as a discipline, it used to be highly emotional and a lot less rational. It is still an emotional media that is driven by emotion but now it has to be measured and quantified. Marketers used to hide behind the fact that marketing takes time to catch on. You don't have that luxury now as it needs to catch on day one and deliver day one. Today agencies have to be a business partner and deliver both the emotional and rational end of the business.

A&M Review - McClain Finlon is adding a new service for clients?
Finlon -We feel the world is now ready for a marketing consultant relationship.
Leroue - We are not just an ad agency, we are marketing experts and understand the discipline of marketing. Because of that, we can offer consulting to client and a chance for us to come in and take a look under the hood. You may have a solid marketing staff but they need some core expertise to help them. We will use a combination of people who have worked on both the client and agency side to do a quick diagnostic. Ad agencies could not have done that 10 years ago.

A&M Review - So what is in the future of this business?
Leroue - Different than today - offering expertise in marketing that involves digital, visual communications, strategy, insight, research, intellectual property development. It is not yet defined, but will be substantially different. We need to get ahead of it.
Finlon - When I started I wanted a locally based business with a long life. We have a clear shot at that opportunity. It still evolves into going to market and making something happen for a client.

A&M Review - Where is media going?
Finlon - Really interesting. It is the place to play.
Leroue - Media is not even a big enough word for it right now. It is communications touch points, where you touch the consumer most frequently with the message that's most relevant.
Finlon - Media is the creative driver now. It's where you start.
Leroue - Figure out where to reach them then figure out how to creatively reach them. It's no longer develop the creative and figure out where to reach them. Now you develop where to reach them then develop and integrate the creative.

A&M Review - What do you look for when hiring people today?
Finlon - Values are the first connection. They just have to want to be on your planet. Smart, creative, high service, good work ethic, competitive not arrogant.
Leroue - As to the new generation, do you love the business, have the right value set and passion? We must keep the business exciting and give them a chance to learn.

A&M Review - What training is needed for those coming into the business today?
Finlon - Liberal arts but not advertising. Interior training. Layer one is how to do your job. Second layer is what is the new stuff you want to know to do your job better. Third, stuff that can really differentiate our business, planning, marketing, aware of outside the market.

A&M Review - Looking back, what was the most fun you had in the business?
Finlon - Growing management. I grew because I had to and get more well rounded. The most fun was being able to move Qwest to a turn around position. Where they are now is where they are but we did that and I have an enormous sense of accomplishment because I know how tough it was. I like winning big awards like the Globe Awards, introducing Xcel to the market place. Loved being part of the Ad Fed, top ad club in the US beating out LA, Chicago, etc.

A&M Review - And your best memory?
Finlon - Being the in the little yellow house. When we started out and being sort of naïve as to not understand where we were headed but having a sense of constancy about it. We were going somewhere but not really knowing. We didn't know we had to be profitable and grow was a nasty word.

A&M Review - Has there been a change in gender in the business?
Finlon - Lots of women have come up in the business and the business is more diverse and accepting more people. More balanced in independent, more than multi-national.

A&M Review - Final thoughts
Finlon - The next couple of years will be very challenging. Not just for our business but the country. I'm encouraged for our business because of the changes. Media ideation as opposed the creative ideation is a new layer and it remains to be seen how people really do that.
Leroue - If we do this interview ten years from now it will be very different. Those who stay ahead of the trend will do very well. Those who don't are in trouble.



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