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Updated: November 13, 2023 On the record

On the Record: Ad maven Burgess talks growth, 'geofencing' and standing out in digital world

Photo / Jim Neuger Meredith Strang Burgess, president and CEO of Burgess Advertising & Marketing, at the agency’s new office at 75 West Commercial St. in Portland.

At Burgess Advertising & Marketing, President and CEO Meredith Strang Burgess leads a seven-person team out of a new, 2,350- square-foot office at 75 West Commercial St. in Portland. The space marks a return to the city where the agency was founded in December 1986. Mainebiz caught up with Burgess to find out more about the business and her involvement in the Maine Cancer Foundation’s annual Tri for a Cure fundraiser.

Mainebiz: How did a UMaine natural resource management major/soil sciences minor get into advertising?

Meredith Strang Burgess: Everything I did for extracurricular activities in college involved communication, PR and promotion. I kept taking science classes with some political science thrown in — no one ever mentioned there was actually a major in communication.

MB: To what extent was advertising a man’s world at the start of your career, and what impact did that have on your own trajectory?

MSB: I got to see the remnants of advertising as a ‘man’s world’ but women were entering the field and excelling by the late ’70s. I never felt that I was held back, even early on. In fact, being a female was an advantage — we are naturally good communicators and organized. The whole multitasking thing is a real asset in the marketing sector.

MB: Any advice you would give to your younger self when you started out?

MSB: Take more business and writing classes! Maybe a typing class, too — I refused at the time.

MB: Was it always your intention to become a sole owner of the business?

MSB: Not at all. I had been encouraged to step out on my own earlier, but never thought I was smart enough or could do it by myself. I actually looked for a business partner and happened to find three.

MB: When you became sole owner in 1991, what was the biggest change for you?

MSB: It was freeing but scary. I learned how to be a better leader and listen to my intuition along the way.

MB: In today’s crowded digital world, how do you make brands stand out?

MSB: We use digital storytelling to create a connection with the audience — just like with any other type of advertising. People remember emotions and how something makes them feel. The key to digital is knowing how people use the platforms, learning what content resonates and optimizing the storytelling based on that. For longtime client New England Cancer Specialists, we use digital to enhance the personal connection cancer patients have with their medical team and to convey genuine warmth and care in the messaging.

MB: You mentioned the use of ‘geofencing’ in your Veranda Plan campaign for the Maine Department of Transportation. How did that work?

MSB: The closure of I-295 for 60 hours was unprecedented and a huge communications challenge. Thanks to ever-evolving digital technology, geofencing played a key role. We were able to put a virtual fence around the Veranda Street bridge [in Portland] and key exits — allowing us and Maine DOT to identify frequent commuters in the area and alert them of the upcoming closure. This was just part of our overall campaign targeting, but it was effective in reaching those folks.

MB: When will you start fundraising — and training — for next year’s Tri for a Cure, and what personal goals do you set?

MSB: We’re already looking ahead to it. The Maine Cancer Foundation’s 17th Annual Tri for a Cure is set for July 14, 2024. It’s incredible when you consider the Tri’s 16-year history and $22 million raised to date — all staying right here in Maine. As an almost 25-year breast cancer survivor, it’s personal for me. I’m blessed to have many wonderful friends who support my personal fundraising efforts each year. I always set my goal to match the year of the Tri, so my 2024 goal will be $17,000. But really I will be pushing for over $21,000 to beat my total from last year.

MB: What is your business succession plan?

MSB: I am still working on that, but right now we are 100% in growth mode. I have an amazing team, and maybe talent from within will carry the day when the time is right.

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