BBR Creative: Cheers to twenty years!
Jul 06, 2017 03:00PM
● By Caitlin Marshall
CHEERS TO TWENTY YEARS Of BBR CREATIVE
It’s 8:34 a.m., and Cathi Pavy is dancing. Her audience—part live, part live-stream—is an excitable, fashionable gradient of fresh-faced college grads, mixed-media millennials and long-timers with a soft spot for card stock. She’s in woo-hoo mode because she’s got news, and she wants everyone on her team to be the first to hear.
Flanking Cathi, as they are every Monday morning, are her business partners, Cherie Hebert and Sara Ashy. The hot topic of this week’s come-together is take two of the Louisiana Economic Development (LED) account, a hard-won point of pride for the Lafayette, Louisiana-based advertising agency.
Backslapping begins, or resumes, depending on when you joined the team. Overlooking the partners are the dozens upon dozens of crystal awards that dot the art department, shining reminders of the 20-year tale of how they got here. Standing before them is their greatest asset: the talented cast of creative characters they cultivated themselves. The foundation built on the dreams of one blonde, one brunette and one redhead.
Applause gives way to laughter. Laughter gives way to clock watching. Excitement subsides, and everyone gets on with their day because everyone has a deadline.
It’s Monday at BBR Creative.
AN AGENCY IS BORN
It’s 1997. Cathi, Cherie and Sara, all University of Louisiana at Lafayette graduates, found themselves working together at another local advertising agency that has since closed. It was here that their friendship began and the trio realized after a few years that they shared a similar work ethic, a passion to produce really good work and a desire to build a different–and better–kind of advertising agency. It was from this desire, and the interest from BBR’s original fourth business partner Karla Meche, that they soon realized they had the skill, drive and belief in themselves to take the risk and open the design firm.
“I remember when we had the first inkling that maybe this was something we could, and should, do we decided to have a Saturday afternoon chat about it on Karla’s back porch to really weigh out all of the pros and cons. The discussion of whether we should start our own business was, at most, 15 minutes,” says BBR Chief Financial Officer Sara Ashy. “We were all on board. Trying to decide on what to name the company is what took many more hours and quite a few cocktails.”
Facing no deadline, they worked like they had one. Over a very short period of time, the four would pen a business plan, complete with financial projections. It would help them secure a small loan from the bank to purchase computers and desks and four or more walls. The business opened on July 23, 1997, in a small office (a converted house, really) and the four original BBR’ers got right to work building what is today considered one of the most respected and influential advertising voices in the area.
As for a name, ultimately they decided on BBR. It stands for Blondes, Brunettes and Redheads.
GETTING TO WORK
ARMED WITH THE TOOLS of the trade, and a physical address, the women got to work. After making a splash in the local design community, BBR hired its first full-time employee in October of 1997. But, if they wanted to grow, they needed to think beyond the constraints of a design shop.
Cherie laughs as she recalls the story of how she became head of account service for the emerging firm: “Cathi and Sara said I talked the most, so I should do all the talking.”
At the time, wrangling new business in south Louisiana typically meant getting one’s hands dirty. The oilfield itself spawned an entire industry of third-party service providers—parts, additives, logistics, labor—and it was fertile ground for business development.
“Gut and intuition and a portfolio don’t win over CEOs,” says BBR Chief Executive Officer Cherie Hebert. “If you’re going to kick the door in, you’d better have one hell of a follow-up.”
BBR’s first major client—and first major step toward offshore industry cred—was Aggreko, a global supplier of temporary power generation and temperature control equipment. What started as a trade show booth design, pocket guide and direct mail piece for Aggreko would lead to further opportunities in the oilfield and ancillary industries over the next two decades, including branding work for DEVIN International, Frank’s International and Dupré Logistics.
But, BBR also thought beyond the oilfield and, in September of 1999, the agency won its first million-dollar project for Procrit, a pharmaceutical product of Johnson & Johnson. The task, designing and producing consumer-care kits for chemotherapy patients, would provide an opportunity to showcase the diversity of thinking behind the creative firm. This paved the way to producing pieces for numerous industries, including food service, nonprofits, medical and more.
A MORE DIVERSE client roster meant more demand for a variety of services. And for BBR, one of its largest growth areas came in response to a request by M&D Industries, a Lafayette-based drilling fluid additives company.
“They needed a media buy, so we built a media department,” says Sara.
It would mark a massive milestone for the agency. BBR ended 2003 equipped with a media buyer, website manager, two art directors, one designer and two brand managers, solidifying BBR's evolution from a small design shop to a full-service advertising and marketing agency.
Steady growth would continue over the next decade, with each year more profitable than the last, and new work meaning new demands for its multidisciplinary team. That team has steadily grown and diversified, and BBR has been home to account planners, project managers, creative directors, designers, writers, public relations experts, media strategists and online strategists.
Twenty years, five office addresses and a shelf full of glittering, gleaming awards later, the business has matured into a full-service branding and creative communications agency.
Over the past two decades, BBR has had a part in handling creative marketing and advertising for companies such as TABASCO®, Cox® Communications, Louisiana Hospital Trust Funds, U.S. State Department-Iraq Embassies, and BELFOR USA. Today, at 34 employees strong, BBR has three physical addresses—its main office in Lafayette, an annex located just down the road and BBR Baton Rouge.“Our expanding client base pretty much solidified our need for a presence in the capital,” Sara says. “It’s enabled us to expand our talent base, and better meet the needs of clients as well as employees who would otherwise have to commute.”
NURTURING THE NEXT GENERATION OF TALENT
SINCE DAY ONE, the partners have remained heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the business, often serving as account leads for a handful of the agency’s clients. But grooming the next generation of talent is a parallel priority as the agency progresses.
“They’re always accessible and always eager to share their experience with a new generation of creative thinkers,” says Senior Account Executive Emily Burke. “Young talent in particular benefits from three distinct perspectives. It makes for more well-rounded employees.”
At BBR, accessibility to C-level and senior leadership is considered a non-negotiable. It’s not uncommon to find, say, the chief financial officer and a junior designer sharing a cup of coffee at a local coffee house. These friendly meetings serve as valuable opportunities to discuss big-picture ideas, like new initiatives or even career trajectories.
Every branding challenge is unique, demanding the collective brainpower of a staff that loves a challenge.
MORE THAN WORK
ENTHUSIASM AT BBR is reliably infectious and, at times, raucous. Any given weekday, between researching, brainstorming, pitching and closing, you’ll find celebrating. And with a gaggle of like-minded artists, writers and doers packed under one roof, friendships that blur into the weekend often are forged here. BBR employees are true fans of each other’s work off the clock. Small victories are never too small, and the same goes for signs of appreciation.
Bravehearts, collectable tokens that function as attaboys and you-go-girls, were integrated
into the agency a few years back. It’s a simple, tangible way for staff to recognize each other’s accomplishments. It’s made for a friendlier, energized work environment. And once enough are accumulated, they’re exchangeable for things like car washes, swag and even the occasional afternoon off.
“It encourages people to be brave, to take chances,” says BBR Production Director Lauren Bourgeois. “And it presents an opportunity for their colleagues to respond with, ‘Yes, please! More of this!’”
But all that goodwill extends well beyond their walls. BBR’s Service Grants program, for instance, pairs eligible non-profit, 501(c)(3) organizations in the Acadiana area with BBR’s internship program for up to $20,000 of in-kind work per year. The partnership grants nonprofits access to BBR’s marketing team, opening doors to organizations that might not otherwise have the budget to make a true impact. And, as a bonus, it gives interns real-world experience working for reputable clients whose missions align with those of the agency.
“I love working at BBR for a multitude of reasons, but knowing I have a chance to help others just by working here is what causes me to show up to the office with a smile every morning,” says Cali Mitchell, project manager and initiator of many of the agency’s charitable initiatives. “Being able to step in and assist community organizations, ranging from shelters for women and children to arts and culture fundraisers to animal rescue foundations, allows the staff multiple opportunities to see our work directly make a difference in the world around them.”
Through the program, BBR has been crucial in creating brands that draw attention from new potential donors, enhancing websites with better photos and user-friendly navigation, and coordinating fundraising events that have both enabled the organization’s ability to help others and put it at the forefront of the community’s attention.
“There is no greater joy than pulling up to a shelter bearing hygiene items and necessities and hearing the words: ‘you’ve just stocked our supply for at least the next six months,’” Cali says, referring to Hygiene For Humanity, a BBR initiative that benefitted Stella Maris, a facility that provides a place for homeless individuals to take a shower, use the restroom, do laundry and take care of other basic needs. “Knowing that we can make the lives of others a little easier and allow them to worry about one less thing—it doesn’t get better than that.”
LEAVING A LEGACY
WINNING AWARDS AT BBR is often handled with grace and sincere appreciation of working amongst a team of boundary-pushers and thoughtful creatives. The agency has been honored with countless awards for their work and, to-date, have won over 300 national, regional and local awards, including the Better Business Bureau’s Integrity Award and The Independent’s Women Who Mean Business Award. BBR was named the 1647th Fastest Growing Company by Inc. 5000 in 2016. And while these awards certainly mean quite a bit to the team, the partners hold dear other accolades not directly related to the creative released into the world. Any success won is always directly aligned with the agency’s core purpose: to make an impact on their clients, business and community.
Since its inception, BBR has committed to helping organizations specific to women, children and the arts. Over the years, they have served many local organizations and have always had a huge interest in giving back to the community in various ways. Some of these initiatives include company-wide donation drives, such as the aforementioned Hygiene for Humanity, providing snacks and provisions for field trips to the children of Faith House and, recently, assisting residents of the area after the recent flooding in south Louisiana. Other organizations assisted include United Way of Acadiana, Women for Women International, Habitat for Humanity, Tools for Schools and Cox® Connect2Compete.
In the end, while winning awards is, of course, fun, and building relationships with clients and their brands is wonderful, what matters most to the partners of BBR is leaving behind a loving legacy: That every client was treated respectfully and fairly, all work was done to the best of the team’s abilities, and, most of all, that the agency has become a home to anyone wanting to make a difference and striving to make more than just a career out of their time within its walls. It’s safe to say the partners have lead by example when it comes to giving back whenever possible and to counting success as being much larger than any award or financial rewards. With a dynamic team behind them–and a bright future ahead–BBR is ready for the next twenty years of making an impact.
By: Tim Landry and Cali Mitchell
Photos by: Moore Photography
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Print Issue ~ Vol. 10 No. 1 ~ July 2017