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Minneapolis ad agency Preston Kelly gets refresh with new name, new digs

Agency News | July 15, 2021 | 4 min read

This article originally appeared in The Star Tribune. Written by Dee DePass; Photos by Brian Peterson

To reflect Jennifer Spire’s leadership, the agency has changed the name to Preston Spire, and employees will come back to new offices at the Crown Roller Mill building.

Longtime Minneapolis ad firm Preston Kelly is embracing change with a new name, a headquarters move to the Mill City District and a fresh mission that puts a premium on female leadership.

The 71-year-old Twin Cities ad agency with clients such as Paisley Park, Medtronic and UCare will become Preston Spire on Thursday, reflecting the leadership of Jennifer Spire, who became CEO and partner four years ago following the retirement of Chuck Kelly.

“I don’t think people know how excited I am,” Spire said.

Michael Fanuele, the former chief creative officer at General Mills and current president of the New York-based Media Assembly & Gale said he can’t think of another agency that has gotten the last name of a woman in the agency name.

“I think it’s great,. It’s about damn time,” he said.

Spire, a Syracuse, N.Y., native, has dreamed of running her own agency since she was 9 years old.

“My grandfather was on Madison Avenue at the world’s largest advertising firm at the time with Lucky Strike and Pall Mall as clients,” she said. When she was old enough, “he took me under his wing and taught me advertising. … “So I am incredibly proud.”

The Preston Spire name change, new logo and website coincide with the agency’s move from northeast Minneapolis into larger offices at the historic 141-year old Crown Roller Mill building that sits at the foot of the Stone Arch Bridge at 5th Avenue S. and West River Road.

Spire’s grandfather’s “Spire Advertising Inc.” sign from the 1970s now hangs in her new sunny office.

The relocation bucks the national trend of office downsizing and marks a “purposeful” recommitment to struggling downtown Minneapolis, Spire said. This week’s move also welcomes back 48 employees to the office for the first time since the pandemic forced most to work remotely in March 2020.

“We really believe in the heart of Minneapolis. Minneapolis is going to make a turn and rise from the ashes,” said partner and Chief Creative Officer Chris Preston.

The agency, with more than $5 million in annual revenue, contributed $420,000 in time, ad work and money to help the city recover after last year’s riots following the police killing of George Floyd. Its new 12-year lease covers 12,200 square feet of space with options to expand.

The company’s new light-filled space features the old mill’s original terrazzo floors and scarred brick walls. It also boasts open workspaces, seven conference rooms (each named after a historic Minnesota mill that exploded), and giant windows that overlook the Mississippi River and the Stone Arch and Third Avenue bridges.

The larger office space was badly needed. “Since Jennifer came here, we’ve actually grown (revenue) 22% in two years and 40% in the last four years,” said Preston. At the old offices, “we were pushing the boundaries of the two floors. … So the new location is fantastic.”

Architects from Minneapolis-based Shea Inc. created open workspaces and tripled Preston Spire’s “collaboration spaces.” It installed several large Bluetooth screens for digital work and built the agency’s first film and voice-over studios so it could produce more work in-house.

The property has a 2,000-square-foot outdoor terrace overlooking the river. The tangible changes in name and place reflect a larger shift within the firm.

For four years, Preston Spire intentionally hired and promoted more women. Today, five of the firm’s seven top leaders are women, which Preston and Spire say is notable.

Women now make up 56% of leaders in the U.S. advertising and marketing industries, according to the Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing. But the share of women in the highly coveted role of “creative director” in the $33 billion ad sector is 11%, according to industry tracking firm 3% Conference.

“We are proud to change that,” Preston said.

The agency’s revenue should grow 10% this year, Preston said.

During the pandemic, the company gained clients Western National Insurance, Medicare Advantage Plans in Vermont and North Dakota, and the senior citizen care firm LifeSprk.

They join longtime clients such as UCare, Wings Financial Credit Union, Ameriprise Financial, Medtronic, Common Spirit Health, YMCA and the relative newcomer Paisley Park.

Paisley Park turned to the agency in December 2019 to reach more Twin Cities museum-goers and to help the former studio prepare for events tied to the five-year anniversary of music star Prince’s death.

But soon after winning the job, COVID struck and the museum was forced to close.

“Nobody wanted to shut down and not have tours of the museum,” Spire said. “But it gave us a chance to get their house in order and build anew website, a new brand,” and to engage with Prince fans via virtual events with musicians and artists.

Now that Paisley Park reopened, the agency is working on new marketing efforts.

This year, the agency is also focused on increasing diversity beyond women. It is working with The BrandLab, hosting anti-bias training for employees, and is slowly hiring more people of color. The agency newly requires at least two people of color to be interviewed for every job opening.

It’s important to reach out to woman and people of color and “getting them to understand that they could get into advertising” and get creative, satisfying and well-paying jobs, Spire said.