Periscope advertising agency has attracted an industry heavyweight as its new president and CEO.
Elizabeth Ross, 43, is an American Advertising Federation board member who has held top positions at IPG and Publicis Groupe. With more than 20 years of experience, she has worked with companies from Visa and Delta to General Motors and General Electric.
“I think her relationship-building is the biggest strength she’s bringing to the job. It’s pretty cool she’s got the experience with executives, in c-suites, with big companies,” said current Periscope CEO Greg Kurowski. “That was earned.”
Kurowski, 53, on Monday will step into a part-time position as vice chairman and board member, working with key clients, after steering the agency through the recession and since 2010 increasing sales more than $20 million and capitalized billings by more than $250 million. The decision was personal, he said, allowing him to spend more time taking care of his parents and with his wife and teenage daughter while still having a hand in the agency’s management.
Periscope — the largest independent agency in the Twin Cities with 520 employees — had $69.5 million in revenue in 2014. The goal for Ross is by 2020 to increase sales to $100 million and employment to more than 700, Kurowski said.
In order to reach the goal, the agency must continue its record of retaining the clients it has — and increase the amount of work from those accounts — while competing for more national accounts, he said.
Ross is “very, very connected in the industry,” said Periscope founder and Chairman Bill Simpson. “All of that we believe will open doors of opportunity.”
Ross, who left her last job as IPG chief marketing officer in May after a wide management shake-up at the firm, believes Periscope can create the “magic” needed to become bigger.
“I loved that it was a dog-friendly workplace. It felt very welcoming,” Ross said. “I liked that it’s a company with a really strong Midwestern sensibility but a lot of forward thinking around modern technology and digital.”
Ross, who is known for adopting and developing digital ideas and campaigns, also believes that because Periscope has a “broad base of capabilities,” it can recommend more creative and thoughtful solutions for clients.
“Companies that are limited in their capabilities tend to recommend limited solutions,” she said. “Periscope has an unbelievable set of capabilities across shopper, advertising, experiential and media. It is an organization poised for more growth, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
Over the last decade, Kurowski and Simpson maintained and added fields of expertise at Periscope while many agencies became specialized. The agency also remained locally owned, while several big names in Minneapolis such as Fallon became part of the large multinational advertising firms.
The only other local agency that rivals Periscope in size is Olson, which has more local employees but is now part of ICF International, a tech firm. Olson also is under new leadership. CEO John Partilla is leaving at the end of the year. He has gradually handed off day-to-day duties to agency President Margaret Murphy and will not be replaced.
Periscope has opened offices in Hong Kong and Delhi, mainly to do back office and production work such as photographing new products coming off lines in Asian factories. It also has full retail services and has added digital capabilities such as building customized apps and an experiential group to help companies plan events and for trade shows.
All those have helped Periscope in the past few years, Kurowski said, as marketing staffs at companies have tightened and clients are looking for full-service agencies again instead of splitting work among boutique firms.
As Ross transitions into her role as CEO, she will have a restructured executive staff. Periscope, for the most part, still had a structure meant for a much smaller firm. As a result, three people were promoted to executive vice president and an executive creative director was named.
The group helped pick Ross as CEO.
Annalee Ulsrud, executive vice president and director of the retail and experiential groups, said people felt some “trepidation” over the search for a new CEO because Kurowski had been in place since 1999, “a long tenure for the agency world.”
“But she was so energized, I thought about it all weekend,” Ulsrud said of Ross’ interviews. “We need to hit the ground running when she starts,” and she’s a good fit for Periscope’s work culture.