Target appoints Catherine Kelly as president

Founder Noel O’Dea will shift to a “bigger picture” role in what is described as a “seamless” and long-planned transition.

By Justin Crann, May 26 2023

Noel O’Dea is stepping back from the helm at Target – the independent agency he founded nearly 45 years ago in St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador – and passing the reins to chief operating officer Catherine Kelly.

As part of the transition, O’Dea will be stepping into a new role as founder and chief storyteller, where he will focus more on “big picture business oversight,” while still being involved with certain key clients.

Kelly has been with the agency for 25 years and played an instrumental role in developing successful work for many of its clients. including the celebrated “Find Yourself” platform for Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism that continues to be iterated upon. She sees the promotion to president as a formalization of what she calls “the next step in a natural agency succession plan.”

“When we announced the change to our existing client base, they asked what took so long to get the new business card,” Kelly quips. “It’ll be a very seamless transition.”

In fact, Kelly has been preparing to take her new role at the company over her past five years as COO, according to O’Dea, who says she “would’ve been named president years ago.” Kelly has played an instrumental role in shaping the vision for the agency, which she describes as a “commitment to work our buns off to make our clients famous and their cash registers ring, doing it from right here in Newfoundland.”

“Those are the key ingredients that won’t change,” she tells strategy. “This is a new chapter in the story of Target, but it’s not a revolution.”

Along with O’Dea, Kelly will be supported by a multidisciplinary senior leadership team, “the bulk of which are women,” she points out. The agency will not take any immediate steps to replace her in the role of COO.

The agency’s headcount is small – currently 37 – and it has no plans to grow past 40, she notes. “Once you get to a certain size, you become a manager, and you’re in the business of running a business instead of the business of the craft. But our senior people are craftspeople and we like to do the work. A lot of independent agencies are structured this way, and it’s how we like to work.”

That work will focus primarily on bringing Target’s unique perspective into an industry and world that “needs more Newfoundland,” Kelly says.

“What makes Target special is we look at the world through a unique lens from a place that doesn’t conform,” she elaborates. “When we look at what clients want today and are going to want in the future, they increasingly are establishing in-house agencies where they focus on getting their work executed, and they want [external] agencies for thought leadership, differentiation, visibility and memorability. We come from a place that’s different, with a cultural ethos that’s very creative.”