A creative collaborator

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July 19, 2010
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
// Colle+McVoy CEO Christine Fruechte is a rising star in the advertising world //

Colle+McVoy appears to be a workplace wonderland.

Employees can schedule Shiatsu massages during the workday. There’s rooftop yoga on Thursday mornings and a great view of Target Field from the agency tucked on the seventh floor of the Wyman Building.

The workspace is so inviting that the agency’s CEO Christine Fruechte urged an employee to hold a wedding there recently.

The environment is reflective of Fruechte’s overall management style, said Stacy Janicki, the agency’s account director.

“This isn’t just a job for her. I think she really feels that every person in the agency is part of her family,” she said. “She knows that the more you have an environment that’s collaborative, you’re going to have a better creative product and happier employees.”

It’s a formula that appears to be paying off. Fruechte, 42, has been raising a lot of eyebrows in the advertising industry. She was recently recognized in the annual “Women to Watch” report in Advertising Age and will be honored at an awards ceremony in New York on Aug. 11.

Despite the attention, she remains a humble, approachable leader, colleagues say. She sits in a cubicle that’s basically the same size that interns occupy at the agency.

“She wants to be accessible. She doesn’t want to be on an ivory tower,” Janicki said.

Colle+McVoy, a 160-employee firm, is celebrating 75 years in business. It has been experiencing growth the past five years and that is expected to continue this year, said Jen Stack, a Colle+McVoy spokeswoman.

The firm moved to the Warehouse District from Bloomington six years ago. The move was a major undertaking and one of Fruechte’s first big projects when she joined the agency.

“There are no offices at all in our environment except one and that goes to the HR manager,” she said. “Because I felt it was very important that everyone felt that they were equals and on the same team; that all of the work and ideas were shared and out in the open — open for feedback, open for evolution and open really to inspire other people. So you’re constantly exposed to new and different thinking.”

The agency recently won the Explore Minnesota Tourism account — the state agency that promotes travel in Minnesota. It also recently completed a new branding campaign for Caribou Coffee. A few other major clients include Aveda, ESPN, General Mills, Land O’Lakes and Novartis.

Despite the challenging economic times, Fruechte is a self-described fearless optimist. One of the personal mottos she lives by is “you can predict the future by creating it.” It’s a philosophy that was drilled into her by her father, who was a management-training consultant, psychic entertainer and the author of books on 360-degree feedback.

“Since I was a little girl, every night at dinner was a feedback session,” she said. “It was always about how can we be better — how can you be your best. Having that mindset and being approachable to new ways of doing things, or to receiving feedback to create a better future has always been part of my DNA.”

Phil Johnson, the agency’s chief operating officer, called Fruechte a self-aware leader — a trait that can be rare among top executives.

“She always wants to grow. I would not for one moment say she’s wishy washy, but she’s very open,” he said. “She’s willing to change if you make a good case for it. It’s not like ‘it’s my way or the highway.’”

Before she joined Colle+McVoy in 2004 as director of client services, she was the founder and general manager of Campbell Mithun’s Youth Marketing Division, a principal at EVP at Kerker and director of client services at MVNP in Hawaii where at 28 she became that agency’s first female and youngest director of client services in the company’s history.

She’s earned praise for ramping up Colle+McVoy’s interactive work. The agency created Yearbook Yourself, which has become an Internet sensation, and developed Squawq, a Twitter tool that allows users to track popular brands.

Janicki had Fruechte as a mentor while she interned at Campbell Mithun.

“I learned [from Christine] how to be a strong female leader without feeling like you have to compromise your values or be someone who you weren’t — being true to yourself, yet having a strong voice,” she said.