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  Tom Bedecarré '81

Alumni Profile: Tom Bedecarré '81

Virtual playground

Kellogg School graduate makes marketing interactive

By Adrienne Murrill

As the CEO and founder of interactive marketing company AKQA Inc., Tom Bedecarré '81 has built a successful career in advertising, but that wasn't always his plan.

As a Kellogg marketing student, Bedecarré says he expected to go into brand management. It wasn't until after he received five offers from top brand management companies that he heeded the advice of a recruiter and began to interview in advertising. He says he felt a different energy in the ad agency setting, and he was attracted to working in a downtown environment with other creative minds.

"I didn't really have any exposure to advertising except watching [the 1960s sitcom] 'Bewitched' and seeing what Darrin Stephens did," he says. "It wasn't really a career I had spent a lot of time thinking about."

Nonetheless, Bedecarré earned offers from Ogilvy & Mather, Leo Burnett and Needham Harper & Steers. He chose Ogilvy & Mather in New York City, then later moved to the San Francisco office, which had been bought out and renamed Hal Riney & Partners. After nine years in advertising, Bedecarré left the firm to form Citron Haligman Bedecarré with two other colleagues. "We got the entrepreneurial bug and launched our own agency in 1990," he says, one that soon became the top independent advertising agency in San Francisco.

The company was approached by many dot-com and technology startups. "We shifted our business to be more focused on both advertising and online marketing," he says. With Adweek naming Citron Haligman Bedecarré the West Coast Agency of the Year in 1996, the company proved its strong reputation, which it had built working with national clients such as Sony, Dreyfus Corporation and PowerBar.

In 2000 the company received an investment from private equity firm Francisco Partners and from Accenture to build a bigger global interactive marketing company. Bedecarré bought three other Web design and interactive marketing companies and renamed the new conglomerate AKQA, which was the name of the London-based company in the merger.

"We went through sort of a transformation and have been focused for the last seven years on Web design, online advertising and mobile marketing," he says. AKQA has become the largest privately held interactive agency in world, with offices in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C, London and Shanghai.

AKQA opened its Shanghai operation in 2006. With clients including McDonald's, Visa and Coca-Cola, Bedecarré says it was important to open a China office to support global customers, especially those who are sponsors for the 2008 Olympics, which will be held in Beijing. 

This is an exciting time for the industry, Bedecarré says, as people are multitasking and spending more time online.  Almost all media are becoming digital, he says, and a lot of dollars are shifting from traditional media toward online and digital marketing. Internet advertising revenues are reaching new records: According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, ad revenues were up 33 percent in 2006 over the previous year's Q3 numbers.

AKQA has expanded its online presence recently by opening an office on Second Life, a virtual world that is "inhabited" by more than 5 million users worldwide. "Our goal was to create a place where we could recruit people in Second Life and create a venue for virtual presentations or seminars," he says, adding that it also provides the opportunity for AKQA's creative staff to experience developing virtual worlds like Second Life.

At least one person has been hired through Second Life already, although Bedecarré notes that most of his firm's focus is on real-world expansion.

"We've built the company up to more than 500 employees, serving global clients and with revenues of $100 million," he says. It's a large business and requires a lot to stay on top of the industry, but Bedecarré says earning an MBA has proven to be an invaluable tool in reaching success. "I certainly have felt that everything that I'd learned at Kellogg was critical in my being able to not just be a good marketer, but to be a good business manager as well."

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