Rauxa’s First CMO Shares Why She Left a Holding Company for an Indie Agency

Laurel Rossi says she likes the diversity efforts, 'progressive culture'

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Rauxa, the California-based agency that is the largest such organization in this country currently owned by a woman, hired agency veteran and entrepreneur Laurel Rossi to serve as its chief marketing officer in New York. She is the first person to hold that position at the agency, which currently employs more than 200 across six U.S. offices.

In the new role, Rossi will work to help Rauxa develop its consulting, experiential and social media services while also expanding its Los Angeles production unit, Cats on the Roof, and furthering its commitment to developing an inclusive approach to talent recruitment and retention efforts.

"We're resolute in our commitment to growing our digital offerings, to advancing diversity in our industry, and to tapping data first and foremost to drive our work every day," says Rauxa CEO Gina Alshuler in a statement. "What we saw in Laurel is a true industry leader who can adeptly bring these pieces, and more, together for us in order to build our brand and our solutions as we pursue the next wave of growth."

Before joining Rauxa, Rossi co-founded New York-based boutique agency Strategy Farm, which launched in 2008. Havas acquired the company in early 2011 for an undisclosed sum after several months of negotiations, and Rossi went on to serve as president of the resulting Havas Strat Farm organization as well as healthcare unit Havas Life & Wellness. When asked why she chose to move from a holding company to a far smaller independent agency, Rossi cited Rauxa's marketing technology work, its "devotion to good creative" and its diverse leadership.

"Diversity is a passion point for me," she says, "and Rauxa is devoted to it. This goes well beyond what everyone is talking about in the marketplace. My bugaboo is a lot of platitudes but not enough action." Specifically, Rossi notes Rauxa's "aggressive, progressive culture" while noting that 75 percent of its C-suite leadership team is female: "I see my job as CMO to make sure that culture is pervasive and that clients know about it, too."

Rossi tells Adweek that efforts to make the agency more inclusive go beyond race and gender. "We often have a very narrow definition of diversity," she says, citing her work on a project called Creative Spirit that began in Australia and aims to get companies in creative fields like advertising, film, architecture and music production to hire individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities such as those on the Asperger Syndrome spectrum. Rossi says she has been working on the Australian project for two years, that she plans to bring a similar effort to the states soon, and that Rauxa will ask certain partner organizations to agree to "hire someone of a different ability" as part of the larger initiative.

She says the flexibility of the independent agency model also played into her decision to leave Havas. "Independence gets you a lot of things [like] an uninhibited ability to see what the client needs and deliver it and the ability to make decisions on how to invest in clients' businesses without a lot of handcuffs," she says. "This lets us experiment with clients, which is what they're asking for."

In July, Rauxa hired Kate Daggett, veteran of agencies like Tenthwave and TBWA\Chiat\Day, as its first-ever chief creative officer. Rossi sees Daggett's hire as an opportunity to renew the agency's focus on creative work as it attempts to build a larger, more visible profile within the industry.

"It is a rare opportunity that you find an organization with the entrepreneurial culture of a startup, the innovation of the best tech firms, and the consistent endorsement of its blue-chip clients—all in one package," says Rossi.

Rauxa's client roster currently includes Verizon Wireless, The Gap, Alaska Airlines and Delta Dental, among others.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.