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Creating a Shortcut

Beth LaBreche, CLA alumna and entrepreneur
January 5, 2015

Portrait: Beth LaBreche

Portrait: Beth LaBreche
CLA alumna Beth LaBreche
The company:
LaBreche, joined Gage in
2013

The mission:
Providing high quality,
effective communication
strategy

If you start at the corner of Nicollet Avenue and 11th Street in downtown Minneapolis, it will take only a few minutes to walk to Fourth Avenue and Second Street. But when Beth LaBreche walked those few blocks on an April day in 1990, the psychological distance was more like the space between planets. That morning, she had been an employee at the first address. By afternoon, she was in charge of her own company.

She and colleague Sally Rivard were only in their early 20s as they trekked to their new place and the business they were calling Rivard & LaBreche Public Relations. It was a risky but exhilarating venture.

“In some ways, it’s actually easier when you’re younger,” says LaBreche, who continued to run her own public relations company for 23 years. “You have less to lose. The older you get, the harder it can be.”

“Most importantly, [entrepreneurs]
want to get at their craft more
deeply, more quickly than they
could by working for a large
company. Entrepreneurship
can be an immediate shortcut
to getting to do what you love.”

It’s possible that entrepreneurial seeds were already sprouting for LaBreche when she started a newspaper at her elementary school in Buffalo, Minnesota. She didn’t see it that way at the time; she just wanted to write. That’s why majoring in journalism was an easy choice when she went to the University of Minnesota.

“I wasn’t thinking about being an entrepreneur. I just wanted to be a writer and to earn a living at it,” she says. “And I wanted to go to the U because it was a big place. I couldn’t wait to get to a big place.”

What she found was not just a big place, but a nurturing one as well, with what she calls “influential” professors and a community of like-minded students. Along the way, she realized that her affection for writing didn’t necessarily mean she wanted to be a reporter.

“I didn’t want to report the news, I wanted to be a part of shaping it,” she says of her decision to concentrate on public relations rather than reporting. “I liked the business part of journalism and that’s public relations. I loved the idea of influencing people with content. You’re not just reporting; you’re trying to shape opinion.”

College degree in hand, she was hired at a public relations agency where she met Rivard. Between them, they had only a handful of career years before they decided to strike out on their own.

More than two decades later, LaBreche has been one of the most successful public relations professionals in an industry that has gone through dramatic change. In a field once—and often still—focused almost solely on public awareness and promotion, she sees public relations as integrated into a “multi-touch, multi-channel environment designed to move people from awareness to advocacy.”

“You have to speak to your audiences no matter where they are,” she says. “If they’re not aware of your product, you’ve got to tell them one thing. If they’re aware and they’re deciding, you tell them something else. And if they love your product and couldn’t go a day without it, you tell them something different. Communications and marketing are about engaging people along that entire spectrum.

“You’re listening to everything that’s happening with your brand—traditional media, online media, everything—and you measure results in real time and make adjustments.”

This kind of vision encouraged LaBreche last year to combine her company with Gage, a marketing agency that shares her own awareness-to-advocacy vision, and where she now serves as vice president of strategic development. It’s another step on the path that began with that short walk in Minneapolis.

“The best entrepreneurs don’t say, ‘I want to own something,’ or ‘I want to work for myself,’” she says. “Most importantly, they want to get at their craft more deeply, more quickly than they could by working for a large company. Entrepreneurship can be an immediate shortcut to getting to do what you love.”

What she says:

“What keeps me employed and a leader in my field is the ability to listen and do enough research, then summarize and encapsulate that and move toward a solution. That’s not a class; it’s the ability to communicate in a concise and impactful way. For that, I don’t know what degree would be better than liberal arts.”