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SNAPSHOT: Michael Coldwell, co-founder of BrainTrust

Michael Coldwell, co-founder of marketing firm BrainTrust, hails from the small Nova Scotia town of Bridgewater. Coldwell attended university in Toronto where he received a degree in broadcasting. He worked as a producer for an all-hits radio station at night after attending classes during the day.

Coldwell started to work on his writing craft after university. He also worked as a professional stand-up comedian touring across Canada and opening for headliners.

Coldwell landed a position in the publicity and promotions department at Columbia TriStar Films – Sony Pictures. That position brought him to Planet Hollywood restaurant group, which brought him to Las Vegas.

Coldwell came to the United States in 1999 to work with Planet Hollywood at the Forum Shops with Caesars. At age 27, Coldwell became the PR director for Caesars Palace and from there he was promoted to a regional position as executive director of corporate communications for Caesars Entertainment.

He left Caesars in 2006 and partnered with Kurt Ouchida, formerly the vice president of communications for Las Vegas Sands Corp., to start their own agency, BrainTrust, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Q. When and how did BrainTrust form?

A. We formally started June 20, 2006. This was a period of great media convergence. Prior to that, you could be just a PR agency or you could be just an advertising agency. But in 2006 you had the advent of social media; you had a lot of brand integration programs; you had a lot of interesting things happening on the technology front that really gave us the opportunity to create an integrated agency before that term was in vogue.

We were built literally as a brain trust. We had experts in all five/six major marketing channels; marketing, creative design, media buying, etc. That allowed us to really form a foundation of a company that has expanded quite rapidly because we had the right model at the right time.

Q. When and how did the recession affect Brain Trust?

A. We opened about six months before the financial crisis. We have had a lot of experience doing more with less. And by that I mean budgets and the demands for results throughout our entire agency history have been a very prominent and very crucial portion of demonstrating results for our clients.

Those financial pressures that were on the economy definitely made us more nimble, more dynamic, more creative, and really fostered — even though it was an adversarial economic climate — creatively. And being able to navigate those waters where budgets were tight, where people were scaling back, where visitation was down, that helped make us be a better agency in the long run.

Q. How did the agency change in light of the business trends in technology and other developments over the last decade?

A. In the very early stages, social media, it’s a shiny new toy. I think that because we were, at the time, a small agency. It gave us a lot of freedom and flexibility because social media really was the wild, wild West. You could try new and creative things. You could use technology to leverage new technologies. Writing little programs and helping scripts, things like that helped you build an audience quickly. As the social media platform solidified, they became a more traditional pillar in your marketing.

Social media is not a silver bullet to cure every marketing challenge. It’s taken much more seriously today than it was 10 years ago. That is reflected in a sense that 2006–2007 we had one person as our social media person. Today, we have almost 10 people that focus solely on delivering analytics, demonstrating the success of online campaigns. And because the social world is so trackable, it’s an invaluable channel to excel in because it’s very easy to go back and demonstrate results, positive results, and you can evolve and adapt because you have that intelligence through the technology.

Q. What are some of the new things in the industry you’re offering clients today?

A. I think that today’s marketers, our responsibility is to forge a positive engagement and a positive relationship with consumers. It’s much less a hard sell and much more building brand. Instead of convincing the consumer to buy something, it’s much more about convincing the consumer to be the friend of your brand. That type of storytelling, you’re starting to see be much more prevalent in the tools, tactics and techniques of modern marketing. So that could be things such as viral videos, sharable content, infographics — by sharing things of genuine value when it comes to content and information.

Q. What do you see as the future of BrainTrust?

A. I think that we have evolved from a very small agency that had Kurt and I very involved on a day-to-day basis. As we’ve evolved to be one of the larger advertising agencies in the state, it’s really about creating an environment that allows the almost 40 people that we have here, that are incredibly talented, that are incredibly dedicated, and really do spectacular work, to create an environment that allows everyone to excel.

And I think that as we move forward, we do our best work as an agency when we have a true partnership with clients. When we have the opportunity to engage with a client to operate on a wide array of services; so brand management, public relations, digital marketing, media buying and really become an extension of their marketing teams. When we do that, that’s a good healthy relationship that can support clients in a very holistic 360-degree fashion and demonstrate some true growth and positive results for our partners.

Q. What are you doing to celebrate your 10-year anniversary?

A. This agency has been in state of perpetual motion since we founded it. You look at 10 years and you look at the body of work and as much as you want to take a breath and have a sense of pride as to what has been accomplished, this industry and this agency move so quickly that we’re really looking toward the future. And that could include regional diversification that includes adding different services and products, and really looking at how we continue to be a modern agency that is designed with the current marketing landscape in mind.

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