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Fitzco’s Matt Woehrmann: “More Powerful Ideas Come From a Diverse Mix of People

Posted February 20, 2017

With major clients like Coca-Cola, Navy Federal, Checkers & Rally, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and more, Fitzgerald and Co has been recognized frequently for its creative work.

In June, CEO Matt Woehrmann succeeded Dave Fitzgerald, the agency founder now serving as chairman.

DIVERGE spoke to Matt Woehrmann, Fitzco’s CEO to find out more about the agency’s initiatives, client work, and future plans:

Can you tell us a little about your career/background? How did you get in to advertising? 

I was a Detroiter at birth, but grew up in a small resort town of about 1600 people in Northern Michigan.  Growing up, I always had an interest in advertising and politics, so I intended to make political ads and run campaigns, but I graduated in a non-election year and there were no job.  True story.   So, being in Michigan, I started out as a car guy, working at Detroit agencies on big car accounts, eventually ending up at McCann.  Our widespread global business with GM gave me an opportunity that was maybe the biggest turning point in my career so far, and that was to move to Mexico City to lead the Chevrolet account there.  That led to a client service director role there, working with many of our multinationals in the agency.  The whole experience in Mexico, not only doing business in another culture but getting immersed in life there, really gave me an itch for global business and working across different markets.

An opportunity came up to lead the global relationship with Coca-Cola at McCann Worldgroup, working across all the group’s agencies, and 50 or so markets where we work with Coke.  I had an amazing experience working with one of the world’s best marketers, at the biggest agency network, leading a relationship that is iconic and historic.  As if that wasn’t enough, I got to see the world and make friends in nearly every corner of the planet at the same time.   It also was one of the most significant things in my career that instilled in me the importance and value of diversity, working on global creative ideas that were just made richer by working with cross-cultural teams.

My Coca-Cola job first brought me to Atlanta and then New York.   While doing that, I got to know Fitzco, who is a part of McCann and a long standing Coke US agency, and the talented guy who is now my creative partner, our CCO Noel Cottrell.  I helped to attract him to Fitzco from Grey NY, in the interest of growing the Coke business here.  A few years of success working together, and I was asked to come back to Atlanta and take over as the second CEO in the 34 year history of the agency, joining Noel to lead Fitzco into its next chapter.   That was the middle of 2015, and I’m as excited now as I was then.

Can you tell us  about your clients? 

We have a wide range of client partners across many categories, from financial services to soft drinks to instant concrete.  And newer and very long standing relationships.   We work with Navy Federal Credit Union, which is the largest credit union in the world.  An Atlanta company you may have heard of — Coca-Cola — across a range of their products.  Quickrete is our longest client relationship at 28 years, a track record we’re very proud of in an industry where relationships don’t usually last that long.  A couple of great restaurant brands, Checkers & Rally’s and Carrabba’s Italian Grill.  We just joined forces with Southern Company, another Atlanta company, late last year. Synovus Banks, Clios, Pergo, Floor & Décor and MedExpress round out our roster.

What are some of your favorite projects that you have worked on?

I’ve been really lucky not only to work with some of the world’s best brands, but do some pretty fun things.   Aside from traveling the world for my Coca-Cola job, I’ve had a lot of other experiences that also made me sit back and ask myself, “do I really get paid for this?”  I worked closely with Tiger Woods while managing golf marketing for Buick.  I led motorsports advertising for Chevy for a few years, watching races from pit road and was in the winner’s circle when Dale Earnhardt won the Daytona 500. As I said, leading one of the most iconic agency-client relationships in advertising history between Coke and McCann was a huge honor.  Now, here at Fitzco, on a slightly unconventional note, a particularly fun “project” is that we’re working on designing and building a new space and home for the agency.  We’re moving into a historic building in West Midtown, one of the most culturally vibrant, up and coming areas of the city.  It’s an old slaughter house sitting on the train tracks.  I imagine where cows came in as cows and left as steaks.  It was important to us to be in a place that rich with Atlanta history.  And yes, it’s in the 5th District!   Design and architecture is a personal passion of mine, so to have this as part of my real job is pretty fun.  I’m a very lucky person.

Your agency has been serious about attracting the best creative talent to the South. What advice would you give to emerging minority creatives (CDs, copywriters, art directors, etc.)?

Be persistent with your goals but be humble and listen and learn from others. Have a point of view about the work and focus on client business issues vs. just wanting to make cool ads for the sake of making ads.

I know that a lot of multicultural creatives trying to get into the industry face really tough challenges.  While great schools like The Creative Circus are awesome to get a work-ready portfolio together, if you don’t have the resources to do that, there are other avenues. My advice if you can’t do a portfolio school: get into the industry by any means necessary. Once you’re in you can start to show what you can do and you can work your way into the position you want.  Richard Kirshenbaum (of KBS+P), one of our industry’s most successful creative leaders, started as Donny Deutsch’s personal assistant. Steve Stoute (of Translation) started at 19 in real estate, then he got into music and eventually advertising through joining Arnell Design.

Looking for more non-traditional ways in? Attend multicultural conferences, send well-crafted emails to the company you’re interested in.   Try avenues that already exist through events such as  The One Club’s Creative Bootcamp (that we’ll be hosting this year in Atlanta) – that’s where you can get a foot in the door and network with decision makers.

If you’re already in the ad business and you’re just looking to advance, it’s about finding what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about. Find someone to mentor you who you trust and admire. Work your ass off to prove yourself.  Do killer work.  Prove your greatness. Then, you can leverage your portfolio to get the opportunity to work on whatever you want to work on.

I know there are a lot of obstacles for multicultural individuals in our industry, and those obstacles are very real. But right now the industry needs to diversify.  Talent, hard work and hustle win out. Get in and get great. We need you.

How important is diversity to your company?

Diversity is especially crucial in today’s global marketplace as we interact with different cultures and audiences. Our focus is to recruit the best talent from all walks of life and bring them together to ignite the best ideas and solutions for our business and our clients business. Being an Atlanta born and bred agency, at Fitzco we encourage and embrace diversity of thought that naturally translates into better creativity, innovation, and perspective for the work we put out in the world. It’s not only the right thing to do, but better, truer, more powerful ideas come from a diverse mix of people.

Any special benefits for employees (pto, diversity initiatives, extended maternity leave, etc?)

We are a growing creative agency here in Atlanta but with the resources of a global network. We allow for mobility within our network and provide a culture of inclusion through various D&I initiatives such as cultural cognizance events and speaker panels, participation in key industry programs and conferences like MAIP, 3% Conference and Here Are All the Black People.  We’re working with a group of other agencies in the in Atlanta to promote diversity across the board, and as I mentioned, we’re hosting a multicultural-focused Creative Bootcamp with the One Club drawing students from diverse colleges in the area.   We we’re always looking for opportunities to promote diversity and inclusion within our agency, Atlanta, and the industry.

What do you hope to accomplish with your agency in the next year or so?

We’re in a continuous state of evolution, just like our entire industry.   One of the things that’s special about where we are with Fitzco, is we have an agency with a great client list and a strong foundation, and we have an exciting mix of people — new people from other great places, and people who have built this agency for literally decades —  who are eager to take it to its next phase.    I’ve described it as a startup opportunity…. with a really strong base of business and a global network of 24,000 talented people all ready and willing to chip in.   Everyone here is here to do something and shape something, and we’re all aligned.  We want big creative ideas that drive our clients’ business.   We’ll grow with a bigger presence on the national stage.  We’ll continue our drive for diversity in our talent in the interest of a dynamic culture and better, richer thinking.   We’ll move into our new home and even further embrace our Atlanta roots.  We’ll draw on the infectious creative energy of our new neighborhood.

Can you share what others can look forward to from your agency in 2017? 

Look forward to great big work for great big brands.  More daring creative ideas, beyond advertising, that tap into culture.  And, continuing with the intent of Live the 5th, we will — through our work and the success of our clients — show the advertising world the power of the diverse creative energy of Atlanta.  And hopefully, also like Live the 5th, that creativity can solve any problem, big or small, business or otherwise.