Exponent, the public relations division of Midwestern advertising agency Colle+McVoy, began life as a specialist in the agribusiness and business-to-business arenas, but in recent years has broadened its expertise to focus on a broad cross-section of food industry clients (from pasture to plate, farm to fork) as well as other health and wellness companies. It has also expanded the scope of its services, moving beyond the kind of product publicity expertise that is to be expected from the PR division of an advertising agency and toward a full-service approach—including strong digital capabilities and an emphasis on measuring business results—befitting a strong, independent PR firm.

Exponent is known for campaigns that draw on big creative ideas and a strategic influencer approach to create and sustain belief in its clients’ brands. So Exponent reintroduced the nation’s second-largest coffeehouse, Caribou Coffee, with a “seize the day” tagline: Life is short. Stay awake for it. The increased visibility and consumer engagement has helped increase year-over-year sales and traffic and stock price. The firm also introduced the Love the Pie campaign to promote Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts, which generated a New York Times headline warning, “Cupcake, Your Time is Up.” Project: Pet Slim Down, meanwhile, helped Purina address the pet obesity epidemic, while the HeartRescue Project earned critical acclaim for its efforts to increase sudden cardiac arrest survival rates for the Medtronic Foundation.

The Exponent “team is awesome,” says the firm’s Medtronic client. “They have exhausted every angle in working towards building national awareness of sudden cardiac arrest and the HeartRescue Project. And I am certain that we have a strong foundation for future success. I am just so very impressed with every team member’s work…. Superb client service. A notch above the rest.”

The firm is led by Tom Lindell, a veteran of Washington DC and senior roles with Fleishman-Hillard and Twin Cities powerhouse Carmichael Lynch Spong, who was named as managing director in 2009. He is supported by Bernice Neumann, who oversees the burgeoning food and nutrition practice; Carol Anderson, recent president of the National Agri-Marketing Association who joined as a senior strategist from Fleishman-Hillard in Kansas City; and Bob Gagne, strategic and crisis management director, who also leads Exponent’s public affairs discipline.

That new management team presided over 50 percent growth in 2010, and looks to be carrying the momentum into 2011. There has been new business in the food and wellness categories from Muir Glen, Fiber One, Medtronic Foundation, American Heartworm Society and the International Olive Council, and strong organic growth from Nestlé Purina, DuPont and Land O’Lakes clients. At the same, there were no major losses, with continuing work from General Mills, among others.

Exponent is primarily focused on the US and Canada, although its work for DuPont and Novartis extends to global markets.