NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For Christine Fruechte, "starting in the mailroom" isn't a euphemism -- it's how the agency CEO, 42, got her first break in the advertising business.
While she poured over her marketing and advertising textbooks while pursuing her undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, Ms. Fruechte earned pocket cash by sorting mail at local ad shop Martin Williams. After graduation, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell-Mithun hired her to work on consumer package goods accounts such as Land O' Lakes and General Mills, giving her the grounding she needed for her future ad posts. She spent time at Preston Kelly in Minneapolis, helping transform it from a business-to-business shop into a consumer-oriented shop, and enjoyed a two-year stint at an affiliate agency of Omnicom Group's DDB in Honolulu. There she was the first female and youngest director of client services in the agency's history at the age of 28, and helped create integrated campaigns for McDonald's, Revlon and Coca-Cola.
She landed at MDC Partners' Colle & McVoy in 2004 as director of client services, before being promoted to president and then CEO. "We spent about four years trying to hire Christine," Chuck Porter, MDC's chief strategist (and the Porter in Crispin Porter & Bogusky), told Ad Age. "She's smart, ambitious, she works crazy hard even for this business, and she takes no grief from anyone."
Despite her hectic schedule, Ms. Fruechte has mastered balancing her job with family and her work in the community. She serves on the board of local arts and educational organizations such as Free Arts Minnesota and Concord Elementary School.
Colle & McVoy is now in its sixth consecutive year of year-over-year growth, and while much of the industry was fretting about holding on to clients during the downturn, under Ms. Fruechte's leadership the shop grew existing relationships with Purina and Novartis and added a host of hot brands such as Aveda, Caribou Coffee, Kiehl's and Yahoo to its roster. The Minneapolis-based agency is also increasingly finding itself in pitches against bigger national competitors, partly due to Ms. Fruechte's focus on investing in the agency's digital offerings. Colle & McVoy's interactive billings have doubled since 2007 and now make up 40% of the agency's work.
In late 2009, Colle & McVoy developed a proprietary Twitter analytics tool called Squawq to track the popularity of brands, and the shop's digital work in recent times has netted Webby awards and been featured on CNN, "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" and ESPN.
Asked if she has any recommendations for other shops out there that are trying to step up their digital, Ms. Fruechte said: "Experiment. Take some calculated risks in new places. If you play it too safe, it'll be too boring. If you always do the same things, you'll always get the same results."