Marc Brownstein is the president and CEO of the Brownstein Group. Headquartered in Philadelphia, the Brownstein Group is a marketing brand communication agency that specializes in brand strategy, digital marketing, advertising, public relations & social media. The company was founded in 1964 by Marc’s father, Berny, with Marc joining the firm in 1989 as executive creative director. BG’s clients include IKEA, eBay, United Healthcare, and Comcast, as well as local organizations such as Beneficial Bank, Cozen O’Connor, Philadelphia Auto Show, and Campus Apartments. Marc serves on the boards of directors for the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Philadelphia Ad Club, Young Presidents’ Organization, Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, Mural Arts Program, and many more. He’s also a frequent industry speaker, and his writing regularly appears in Advertising Age.
Marc spoke with Jeff Mack of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank for this interview.
JEFF MACK: Can you give us an overview of BG’s history?
MARC BROWNSTEIN: We’re a family-run branding and brand communication company that was started in 1964 by my father, Berny, as a traditional advertising agency. My father was a fine artist who came out of University of the Arts. He painted canvasses but then he also had three kids and he had to feed them, so he turned it from fine art to commercial art, which was advertising. Today, the Brownstein Group is a fully integrated brand communication company, digitally led. We’re a modern company that’s constantly evolved over the years serving clients nationally like IKEA, United Healthcare, Comcast, and others.
Q. You didn’t immediately join the company out of college. What was your plan?
A. Yeah, well I had to go to New York—that was the plan. I was not allowed right into the business right out of college. I learned standards. I learned even higher standards, and I learned from the very best folks. I also learned that an idea is an idea, and the process of coming up with an idea really fundamentally doesn’t change, whether you’re working at the world’s largest advertising agency or at one based in Philadelphia and it’s more local and regional. What does change is the platform and the pipeline to put it out there. So, if you’re coming up with an advertising campaign, for example, the process doesn’t change whether you’re at Ogilvy & Mather or at Brownstein Group. It’s whether that campaign has $50 million behind it and going into homes all across America, or maybe staying local or regional.
Q. How would you describe your professional relationship with your father?
A. I’m fortunate. We have a very functional relationship. I know there are a lot of dysfunctional family businesses out there, but we like each other, and we have a very clear division of roles and responsibilities so that we don’t step on each others’ toes. Over the years, he’s really given me the baton—he said, “Go for it”—and he serves in an advisory role to me. We have lunch at least once a week where I just rattle off a bunch of things that are going on and just bounce it off him and he’s been doing this for 50 plus years, so he doesn’t have to think too long about advice on what you would do in each particular situation.
Q. What drew you to this industry?
A. I mean, when you’re talking about concepts and ideas and photo shoots, it’s a fun time. If you think about it, people like advertising. They love to render their opinions on Super Bowl commercials—“Which ones did you like?”—so it’s something that everybody likes to render an opinion on. When you’re a kid, it just sounds like your dad’s doing a cool thing. I have an older brother and younger sister; I’m the only one who had creative talent. I’m a writer, so my strengths lent themselves to the business, so I was fortunate in that respect.
Q. How does your leadership style differ from your father’s?
A. My father’s a pure creative and so he just focused on the product more. He was very hands-on with the product. I’ve hired a great management team. I have a great executive creative director, head of PR and social media et cetra—all my leadership team—which allows me to get outside of the agency and really travel around the country, around the globe and see where the world is going and to bring it back to our shop.