Cullen Burke came to Maine eight years ago after trying, unsuccessfully, to make it as an actor in New York.

Now, the 32-year-old Bath resident and Old Port fishmonger is on TV, as spokesman for a new canned tuna brand, thanks to a Portland advertising firm that plans to use local authenticity as a big part of its pitch.

The firm, formerly Garrand and now Garrand Moehlenkamp, took a look at Burke’s nice full beard and called on his fish expertise to pitch the brand, Blue Harbor, as a sustainable, fresher version of the venerable mainstay of brown bag lunches everywhere. Garrard Moehlenkamp felt he was a perfect fit, said Kevin Moehlenkamp, the chief executive officer and a partner with the firm.

Cullen Burke pitches Blue Harbor tuna in an ad produced by Garrand Moehlenkamp. The firm, under new management, is trying to capitalize on Portland’s foodie reputation as it seeks more clients in the food and beverage industry. Burke is a fishmonger by day. Still image from video; courtesy Garrand Moehlenkamp

Burke set out for harbor towns, performing taste tests with the new tuna, which were filmed and edited into a TV commercial.

Market research shows that a Maine connection can be a valuable thing, Moehlenkamp said, explaining why the tuna firm went with a Mainer as the face of its new product.

“People are actually willing to pay more for a product from Maine,” Moehlenkamp said.

The firm expects to play up its Maine roots as the leadership of the 30-year-old advertising and marketing company changes. Its founder, Brenda Garrand, is stepping down, but will maintain part ownership and stay on as chairwoman of the board. She has applied to law schools as she pursues an interest in helping to protect the North Atlantic in a time of climate change and trade disputes.

Garrand said it will be difficult to give up “my life’s work,” but the 61-year-old said she’s eager for new challenges, although taking exams “for the first time since the Reagan administration” is daunting.

She said she thinks the firm is in good hands. She recruited Moehlenkamp about five years ago with the agreement he would become a partner. Anthony DeBery, hired in 2016, was director of talent and operations and named COO last week. The firm’s new president, Matt Stiker, joined last fall.

Brenda Garrand, founder of the Garrand advertising firm, is stepping down from day-to-day responsibilities of the company now called Garrand Moehlenkamp. She is maintaining an ownership stake in the firm and will retain the title chairwoman. Courtesy of Garrand Moehlenkamp

Stiker grew up in Maine and Garrand said his father was one of her mentors when she started in the business. Stiker’s brother, John, is chief executive officer of York-based Stonewall Kitchen.

Even as he left to pursue opportunities elsewhere, Stiker said “there was always a thought, ‘You’ll be back here.’ ”

NOURISHING ACCOUNTS

Garrand Moehlenkamp has a fair number of national accounts – Bailey’s coffee creamers, Hood milk, Heluva Good dips and Dunkin’ – and competes with far bigger firms in New York and Los Angeles. Managers declined to discuss revenues.

Moehlenkamp and Stiker said they use Portland’s reputation as a foodie city to lure those bigger accounts.

For example, in helping Dunkin’ roll out its new espresso drinks, they set up a fake coffee shop named “S!p” in the Old Port.

They wanted to test the idea that Dunkin’s espresso could compete with “hand-crafted” brews from national, independent coffeeshops. The ad pointed out that Portland was named restaurant city of the year by Bon Appetit magazine. It concludes that Dunkin’s espresso must be good if the knowledgeable foodies of Portland liked it.


The television spot was one of five Broderson awards Garrand Moehlenkamp took home at the annual Maine Ad + Design awards this month.

Moehlenkamp said the firm builds a lot of its ads around the concept of nourishment, suggesting that food and beverage companies, in particular, are businesses founded on that basic concept. Although the company’s clients are wide-ranging, including Maine Health and New Balance shoes, a lot of its work is for companies selling food and beverages, an industry valued at about $700 billion last year.

“We nourish the brands that nourish people’s lives,” he said. “Nourishing is really a brand concept in the food and beverage industry and it’s been our philosophy in the way we approach the work.”

EXPANDING FACILITIES

Moehlenkamp and Stiker said the firm is building out its on-site production facilities to be able to turn around ads and online content quickly. Speed is more important than ever, they said, with the desire to rush ads online and into social media. Having their own facilities means changes can be made and final versions produced much faster than relying solely on outside contractors for some of the production work, Stiker said.

They also said their Maine connection extends beyond their ads and marketing work. Many of the 27 full-timers are native Mainers who went away for parts of their careers, but were eager to return as Garrand Moehlenkamp has ramped up.

Both said they’ve been surprised by how many people with ties to the state responded when they were looking for more workers.

“There is an amazing talent pool that comes from Maine and goes out and they’re all just looking for a reason to come home,” Moehlenkamp said. “If all we did was have Mainers come back home, that would be amazing.”

Burke said he’s happy for the work he’s gotten pitching tuna, but he isn’t giving up his day job cutting and selling fish and other seafood at Free Range Fish and Lobster on Commercial Street.

“Fishmongering is my day job that pays the bills, but there have been weirder ways that people have become full-time actors,” he said, although he’s still a little puzzled about how he got the Blue Harbor gig.

“They didn’t really say anything,” he said. “They said, ‘We like your beard.’ I guess it’s more of a presence thing.”


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