Stewart Takes Charge at O2 Ideas

ATLANTA When African American entrepreneur Shelley Stewart took over the reins as chairman and chief executive officer of O2 Ideas this week, the move gave the $80 million shop advantages it never had before.

Formerly vice chairman and chief consulting officer, Stewart, 69, now owns 51 percent of the Birmingham, Ala., shop. He replaces John Zimmerman, who steps away from the chairman’s office to become president and continue as chief creative officer. The shop’s former CEO, Ray Donnelly, is now executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

If it all sounds like a meaningful shuffle of titles and business cards, it is. The shop is now positioned as a minority-owned business.

“To be a diverse supplier offers you the opportunity to do government work and projects with corporations that you wouldn’t be able to do if you were the same business but majority owned,” said one industry observer.

The 35-year-old agency, which has grown to 91 staffers from 50 in three years, specializes in retail accounts that include Parisians, Proffitt’s and McRae’s department stores, all subsidiaries of The Saks Group. O2 Ideas also handles work for Expo Design Center, a division of Home Depot.

While it lists Honda Manufacturing of Alabama on its roster, the agency’s largest account is Verizon Wireless. O2 Ideas has retained the telecom’s Midwestern business through a series of consolidations and agency changes affecting other regions.

“Minority status will enhance their relationship with Verizon, which is a world-class diversity supplier company,” said consultant Ralph Moore of RGMA in Chicago. “Obviously, they already have an excellent relationship [with the company], but this will strengthen it.”

Beyond the shift in operational responsibilities, the restructuring is about a philosophy shared by Stewart and longtime friend and partner Zimmerman. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that 40 percent of Americans come from other cultures,” said Zimmerman. “The world of advertising needs to reflect the world at large. We need to mirror the U.S.”

Currently, the shop is a finalist for Alabama’s $4 million tourism account and Ahold USA’s Bi-Lo and Bruno’s combined supermarket business.