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Kim McConnell, CEO of AdFarm, re-enters full-time agnecy life through the merger of three Canadian agencies.
One wonders why a successful businessman enjoying semi-retirement at a young age might want to re-enter the fray. By 40, Kim McConnell had built and sold Fieldstone, an ad agency based in Calgary. He was working in a strategic and creative capacity for the past few years and enjoying board assignments for a wide array of companies. Now, however, his shirtsleeves are rolled up again, and he is managing the day-to-day operations of AdFarm - one of the five largest agricultural ad agencies. So why is he back at it? "The joy is in the chase," McConnell grins.

As CEO of AdFarm, McConnell and a team of agency executives coordinated the merger of three agencies - Fieldstone, Kahntact and AdFarm - in August 2002 to form the present-day AdFarm. He and the partners, including Roger Reierson, president, have built an agency with offices in Kansas City, Mo., Fargo, N.D., Calgary, Alberta, and Guelph, Ontario. The chase that they have undertaken is creating a successful agency focused on North America and beyond. "We want to do something on a larger playing field where we can have the greatest impact," he reports.

When McConnell says big, he means it too. Not only is AdFarm eyeing clients in North America but also the entire globe from Brazil to Eastern Europe. The specialization in agriculture has also allowed the team to look at the whole picture in food and fiber production - from inputs through to end-use products. "We're helping pull product through the value chain, sometimes even linking clients to other parts of the agri-food industry," McConnell says.

For example, he explains that AdFarm is retained by Dow AgroSciences Canada, which has been focusing on the seed business and the creation of Nexera - a specialty oil derived from canola. In the next tier of the chain is Canbra Foods, a client who processes the canola oil, making non-hydrogenated margarine specifically for California markets. Having clients who operate in every aspect of this value chain is an asset, and McConnell notes that those clients are getting broader, merging, and finding synergies that allow them to be engaged in all aspects of production and in virtually every corner of the world.

AdFarm is growing into an agency that echoes this reality, thanks in part to McConnell's broad thinking. From a family farm in Hamiota, Manitoba, McConnell may have started in a small town but is now counting on his reputation for seeing the bigger picture. He and his team are driving this broader vision of the value the agency can bring to clients - understanding their business from start to finish - hemisphere to hemisphere. One of the advantages McConnell cites to AdFarm's merger is that bigger size means an increase in resources, which allows him and the partners time to "look out the window a little more." Out that window they see a wide, wide world, but they are also sensitive to the need to bring both an understanding of global forces and regional flavor to the jobs they do.

Building the team to achieve this grand goal is no easy feat. "The model of the new agency is not your traditional shop," McConnell explains. "We don't have a head office - we have four offices. We are not a group of similarly named agencies. We are one company." To prove it, they have built teams that work across all offices. On any given project, the creative may come out of one office, the PR team out of another, and the account manager out of yet another. In this system, the account managers have a mandate to bring a regional understanding to the work that allows the big picture to be applied properly to specific markets.

The vision is large, and the AdFarm team is certainly engaged in a chase to achieve it, both at an operational level and in adding value to the agriculture industry. The thing that gives them the most optimism about it all coming together is that their vision models the experience of the clients themselves, who are working in teams built around the globe to find creative solutions to improving agricultural output. As a result, McConnell reports the clients are more than willing to have that same big picture approach at their agency. AM

Robynne M. Anderson is president of Issues Ink, Winnipeg, Manitoba, which publishes Germination, Pulse and CAAR Communicator.

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