Cowdell Sees Challenge In R2C, Shop Gets Big-League Expertise

Given the changing nature of its client base, R2C Group, the Portland, Ore.-based direct-response agency, decided early last year to hire an agency veteran with big league credentials, but without the runaway ego that often accompanies that pedigree.

The firm’s founders -- Tim O’Leary and wife Michelle Cardinal -- then spent most of the rest of the year looking for the right person to fill the new post.  More than 50 candidates and four months later, they landed Mindshare Chairman Phil Cowdell.

O’Leary said the long search was “sometimes painful,” but once Cowdell appeared on the company’s radar, “he was our No. 1 choice.”

A key challenge, O’Leary said, was finding someone with the right skills and background who would fit well within the company’s culture. “We call it a no-weasels culture here. He has a great personality and seemed to get along very well with the management team.”

Of particular interest was Cowdell’s previous work with big clients like Ford, Unilever and Kimberly Clark, as well as Procter & Gamble, a current R2C client. Cowdell managed the P&G European account for MediaVest before he joined GroupM more than a decade ago.

According to O’Leary, R2C -- founded 13 years ago -- has recently been working with bigger brands, including about 24 Fortune 500 companies that want what he called “hybrid media plans,” which combine the acquisition-focused nature of direct-response with the brand reinforcement of the traditional advertising approach. 

“We thought we needed to bolster the team with someone that had brand experience and could teach us something about dealing with bigger brands,” said O’Leary.  “It requires a different kind of skill set.”

In his new role as president, Cowdell will oversee the operations of the entire R2C Group, with billings estimated annually at $350 million -- versus about $9 billion for Mindshare’s U.S. operation -- in addition to the flagship DR agency, which includes a media planning and buying shop, a production company, a multimedia lead-generation unit, and an interactive operation.

But Cowdell will also be an asset on the new business front. He led a turnaround at Mindshare that included winning more than $2 billion in new business."The company averages about 20 new clients a year, although only a small portion are won in formal reviews," says O'Leary. Many clients come via word of mouth, he said.

Part of the shop's appeal to Cowdell is R2C is heavily focused on analytics and ROI. “We’re really a combination of agency and technology company, and I think Phil saw that and it excited him.”

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