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Ashlee Clarke Makes an Empower Play

The serial entrepreneur and ad agency veteran plans to build on Empower Media’s successful woman-owned legacy.

by Sarah M. Mullins

Ashlee Clarke, whose resume runs deep in the advertising and entrepreneurial world, has taken the reins of Empower Media to continue its legacy. As the largest woman-owned U.S. media agency. She is founder, CEO, and chief creative officer of NitroC, a New York City-based media agency with offices in Houston and Palm Beach, Florida. She’s both a successful business leader and a Tony Award-winning producer and both a fast-paced New Yorker and a Georgia native with proud Southern roots.

Clarke and her husband Chris acquired Empower from Jim Price, who will remain on board as non-executive chairman for a year. Ashlee is Empower’s new CEO and Chris is executive chairman. Price’s mother, Mary Beth, launched the agency in 1985, and Price had served as CEO since 2009.

Ashlee Clarke has solidified her career as a self-proclaimed nontraditional advertising leader with a healthy dose of heart, passion, and guts. “I am tenacious and not afraid to go about things a different way,” she says. “It’s definitely how I’ve managed to infiltrate the advertising boys club industry.”

She supports a client’s business through the eyes of the “heartlander” consumer—understanding what matters most to those of us living in the middle of the country as opposed to consultants who view us through the lens of Madison Avenue. “Empower has been on my radar for years,” she says. “I’ve seen the business transform from being this local juggernaut to becoming a national phenomenon. I saw the opportunity to build on the legacy of female empowerment and marry Empower’s media expertise with my vision for creating meaningful cultural-consumer connections.”

Nearly 70 percent of the company’s staff are women, and Clarke plans to build on the agency’s mantra #LiveEmpowered that encourages employees and clients to advocate for women, diversity, and inclusion. “I’ve always respected Mary Beth Price’s founding story of Empower and appreciate its strong female presence throughout the years.”

Empower has an average client tenure of eight years, Clarke says, which is three times the industry average. Its client portfolio includes Wendy’s, Bush’s Best, Newell Brands, and Zaxby’s. “Our clients come to Empower for sustainable growth,” she says. “Our Media Innovation Group has invented new ways to make client media dollars work smarter and harder, measured by our sophisticated in- house data and analytics team, while focusing on our clients’ ROI.”

As for what’s next, Clarke says the company will maintain its Chicago and Atlanta offices as well as its Over-the-Rhine headquarters. The timing of this acquisition, she says, will set up Empower for success. “We are in a recession, and brands that are geared for growth are going to want to invest in their media to take up market share. We are seeing a sense of urgency and excitement flooding these offices, because now is the time for us to grow. Empower Media is locked in, excited, and expecting significant growth.”