Meet The Team
Bryant WhelanManaging Director
Ask Bryant Whelan what she likes best about the ad business, and she’ll start telling stories. Because for her, that’s what this business is all about – telling brand stories in a compelling way that engages and prompts action, and she’s been telling stories in the advertising business for over 25 years. Joining The Focus Group in 2016, Bryant was tapped to lead the agency’s strategic growth plans.
Prior to joining The Focus Group Whelan held positions with renowned global agencies like McCann-Erickson Worldwide in Edinburgh, Scotland and Ogilvy Mather in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s also worked with agencies in Savannah, Georgia; Hilton Head, South Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee and in Mobile, Alabama, where she served as vice president of business development with Red Square Agency. Bryant’s marketing category experience includes casino gaming, hospitality, financial and investment services, health insurance, economic development, building products and more, earning her numerous awards for creative and strategic work in multiple markets. Her offices have been a Georgian castle overlooking a Scottish firth, a historic school building with a towering angel sculpture in the rotunda, the 1906 landmark marble Coca-Cola building, a 52-story office tower and an agency with 2 balconies on the Mardi Gras parade route. But that’s another story…
Bryant made the Mississippi Gulf Coast her home in 2011 with her husband Patrick, who is employed with NASA at Stennis Space Center. They reside in Ocean Springs. Whelan has served as executive director of The Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center and is active in the arts community. When she’s not spinning yarns about building brands, Whelan enjoys painting, sailing, walking her dog Queenie on the beach and diving for treasures in antiquarian bookshops.
CECELIA SHABAZZCreative Director
Take a peek into this award-winning creative director’s repertoire and you’ll find a wealth of experience with building memorable brands and crafting strategic campaigns. Cecelia Shabazz (fondly known as Cece) has been wielding her formidable powers for creative good for more than 15 years. Consistently pushing for innovation, Cece’s goal is to see beyond the average solution to focused results. CeCe considers every creative challenge a strategic opportunity, motivating and inspiring teams to deliver superb work for every client.
Cece graduated top of her class from The University of Southern Mississippi with a B.F.A. in Graphic Communications. She also completed courses in art education at William Carey University and has served as adjunct instructor at both USM and Tulane University, teaching courses in media arts.
Cece’s work has been honored with numerous awards by the Gulf Coast Advertising Federation, Mississippi Press Association and more. She is a member of the Gulf Coast Advertising Federation and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce. She currently serves as Vice President for the Mental Health Association of South Mississippi board of directors and is on the Leadership Gulf Coast board of directors. Cece was nominated for “Top 40 Business Leaders Under 40” and is a member of the 2012 class of Leadership Gulf Coast. She also serves as commissioner on the Gulf Coast Regional Tourism Partnership representing Harrison County District 4. Named Art Director of the Year two years in a row by the Gulf Coast Advertising Federation, CeCe lives in Gulfport with her sweetheart of a hubby, Gabriel, and their two dogs, Sasha and Paco.
Ben HunterDirector of Sales & Marketing
Ben Hunter is a dedicated, client-focused marketer on a mission to achieve maximum results for all clients of The Focus Group. Ben joined the team in 2010 after working for several years on the Gulf Coast in radio, broadcast, television and print advertising. He now leads business development for the agency. Ben serves as the strategic leader at the agency for financial, business-to-business and economic development accounts including Mississippi Power, Mississippi State Port Authority and The Gulfport –Biloxi International Airport.
Born and raised in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Ben studied marketing at The University of Southern Mississippi while working in the restaurant business to pay his way through school. It was in the hospitality industry that Ben learned the importance of customer service, leading to sales roles with a network integration company in Hattiesburg and later with WLOX-TV. In 2009, he joined Sun Herald Multimedia and worked in marketing for the Sun Herald and BeachBlvd magazine.
Since moving to the Coast, Ben has become very involved with local non-profits and community organizations. Ben is an active member and supporter of Coast Young Professionals, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, the Gulfport Chamber of Commerce, the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. He is currently the president of the Humane Society of South Mississippi and actively supports the United Way of South Mississippi and the Red Cross of South Mississippi. Ben is a 2010 graduate of Leadership Jackson County and is a graduate of the 2012 class of Leadership Gulf Coast.
Brynn JoachimDirector of Account Service
Known for her bubbly personality and drive, Brynn Joachim works closely with each team to make sure our clients’ needs are clearly communicated, expectations are exceeded and goals are accomplished within budget. Brynn’s clients include National Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute, Stone County Hospital, City of Pascagoula, City of Diamondhead, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and Mississippi Power Economic Development.
Brynn brings over 20 years of marketing experience in fields ranging from tourism to healthcare both in her home state of Mississippi and the New England region. A former client of The Focus Group, Brynn was vice president of sales and marketing for Tradition Properties Inc., developers of Mississippi’s largest master-planned residential community, where she oversaw all advertising, public relations, events, social media and online activities for the 4,800-acre development.
Brynn has also served Harrison County as the marketing and commercial development manager for the Economic Development Commission marketing promoting the Mississippi Coast region to site selectors and businesses. A certified economic developer, Brynn was a featured columnist and speaker on regional economic trends and served on numerous trade association boards. She has created and implemented numerous marketing campaigns for convention and visitors bureaus, airports and attractions. Additionally, Brynn was director of marketing services for O’Neal & Prelle, one of the top 25 advertising agencies in New England, based in Hartford, Connecticut.
Brynn has recieved recognition as a member of the Sun Herald’s “Top 40 Under 40,” Outstanding Young Careerist by Mississippi Business & Professional Women’s Association, Outstanding Regional Chairman by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Outstanding Board Member by the Boys & Girls Club of the Gulf Coast. She is also a graduate of Leadership Gulf Coast, serves on the board of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art and is active in Coast Young Professionals and area chambers of commerce.
A graduate of Louisiana State University and an avid Tiger football fan, Brynn resides Biloxi with her husband, Robert, and their two “four-legged” children, Scout and Beau.
Thomas BroadusDirector of Interactive & New Media
Thomas Broadus oversees all online media initiatives on behalf of The Focus Group clients. A highly regarded public speaker on social media and digital media marketing and technologies, Thomas has been a featured speaker for the Mississippi Economic Development Council, the Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, the Metro Jackson Attractions Association, the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi and PRAM chapters all across Mississippi. At The Focus Group, Thomas has created and implemented award-winning digital advertising and social media strategies for the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, American Shrimp Processors Association and many other clients.
Before joining The Focus Group, Thomas was a member of the Mississippi Public Broadcasing public relations and communications department where he implemented initiatives across mpbonline.org that resulted in significant traffic gains and increased MPB’s online brand. Thomas accomplished this by being adept with current and emerging social platforms including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine and more. From 2011 to 2012, Thomas hosted a weekly radio segment on MPB’s statewide network titled “Everyday Technology,” where every Monday he would discuss technology’s latest trends and breaking news on air with Kevin Farrell
Thomas earned his Master of Arts in Mass Communications at The University of Southern Mississippi. His thesis, The Viral Fingerprint: A Content Analysis Of Popular Viral Advertisements, is currently being published, and Thomas was asked to present his research at the 2012 Southern States Communication Association’s annual meeting in San Antonio.
Thomas was elected chair of the prestigious PBS Station Advisory Council in 2012, and was on the Mobile Working Group that helped inform the PBS mobile strategy across PBS Kids, PBS national productions and the PBS iPad and iPhone apps. Thomas keeps an active speaking schedule throughout the region on digital and social media trends, and in his spare time, enjoys life with his wife, Sharon, and four children who keep his youthful outlook in check.
Elizabeth AdamsSenior Account Executive
Elizabeth Adams joined The Focus Group in 2016. Originally from the heart of the Delta, Elizabeth relocated to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2007. Passionate about marketing and the creativity of advertising, becoming a team member of The Focus Group had been a goal of hers since first hosting the 2015 ADDY Awards. After seeing the agency pick up the majority of that year’s awards, she aspired to become a part of the team.
Prior to joining The Focus Group, Elizabeth served as advertising consultant for the Sun Herald newspaper. In this role she assisted local businesses with news print placements and digital advertising strategy to include programmatic, mobile and behavioral targeting media buys. Elizabeth worked closely with her clients to review campaign success and integrate different strategies to achieve better results. Elizabeth was previously “the voice” of two coast casinos, where for seven years she planned player development events from car giveaways to extravagant New Year’s Eve galas, announcing thousands of lucky winner’s names and coordinating events both large and small.
A graduate of Mississippi University for Women Elizabeth earned her degree in Communications with a minor in Theatre. A participant in numerous campus and local community theater stage productions, she was a member of BlackList Honorary Social Club, Mam’selle Social Club, and graduated as a member of the Mississippi University for Women Hall of Fame. Elizabeth enjoys participating in community theatre, singing, browsing fashion and beauty blogs for the latest trends and taking her sheltie, Maddie, for walks on the beach.
Tara GeraldLead Graphic Designer
Tara Gerald has taken over The Focus Group’s graphic design department, and after leading the looks on our biggest multi-award winning AND nationally recognized campaigns, it’s safe to say she’s more than up for the job.
While her passions include media arts and animation as well as behavioral psychology and all things written word, Tara ultimately received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from The University of Southern Mississippi, along with a minor in Psychology. The scholarships, Student Show awards and President’s Lists she earned while there were only the beginning of the slew of accolades she would pick up once out in the field.
After joining The Focus Group, Tara has accumulated countless Gold and Silver awards from the Gulf Coast Advertising Federation and Regionals for her work on top-level client branding. She well recognized for her exceptional abilities in digital, print, and illustration, which she uses to great effect in her work.
A self-professed video game junkie and “dedicated doodler,” Tara enjoys both traditional and digital painting, creative writing, world-building, engaging in the over-analysis of fictional characters and whole bean coffee.
Brenna AplinLead Multimedia Designer
Brenna Aplin brings wildly creative skills to The Focus Group’s graphic design team. Our resident punk rocker, Brenna is a firm believer that design can be functional as well as beautiful and is passionate about her chosen field. Her portfolio has received accolades from professors to corporate executives who have engaged her for various projects. An award-winning designer, she is the winner of both a Gold and Silver ADDY award from the Gulf Coast Advertising Federation.
In 2016 Brenna moved to North Carolina with her husband, but we kept her on The Focus Group Team as a full-fledged member not-in-residence – an arrangement that’s working out just swimmingly.
Before joining The Focus Group, Brenna worked as a designer in the fast-paced world of casino marketing. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from The University of Southern Mississippi. While at Southern Miss, she was the associate organizer of the school’s museum shows and events. She also organized the university’s digital collection and received a first place award in the Southern Miss Annual Student Show in the typographic design category.
Like most creatives, she loves chocolate and does her best work with a gallon of coffee by her side.
Tyler JohnsonLead Website/Interactive Developer
Tyler Johnson is one of The Focus Group’s accomplished web developers. Joining the agency as an intern in November 2012, Tyler quickly proved himself to be a talented and agile learner and a valuable addition to the team, earning dozens of awards and the accolades of clients. We quickly secured Tyler as a full member of the team.
Following in the footsteps of his parents, Tyler is a second-generation developer to whom coding comes quickly and naturally. Tyler recently received his Associate of Arts and his Associate of Applied Science in Web Development Technology from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where he graduated with special honors (the highest honors awarded) and a 4.0 GPA.
While in college, Tyler earned six President’s List awards and served as a proud member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He was inducted into the MGCCC Hall of Fame for his academic achievements and community service, and earned his Associate of Applied Science degree in Graphic Design Technology. He was an officer in Phi Beta Lambda (Future Business Leaders of America) and was the Mississippi state president of SkillsUSA.
In the summer of 2012, he won first place in the state level web development competitions for PBL and SkillsUSA and finished seventh place at SkillsUSA nationals. In 2013, he finished first in the nation at SkillsUSA and took third in the nation for PBL.
Kimberly Hess is one of the key members of our web development team. She is a national award-winning web designer and developer with over eight years of professional IT experience.
In addition to her web development talents, Kimberly’s specialties include local and organic search engine optimization (SEO), as well as marketing and analysis of digital campaigns and a client’s competitive landscape. She is also experienced in database design and development, reputation and citation management and web usability, accessibility and 508 compliance standards.
Kimberly is a Certified Website Development Associate (CIW). She graduated with a 4.0 average and a degree in Web Development Technology from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. She lives in Gulfport with her husband, Jacob.
Pauline OrrJunior Web Developer
Pauline Orr joined The Focus Group team in 2016. She is a recent graduate from Tulane University earning a Bachelor of Science in Website Development and with double minors in Applied Computing and Graphic Design. She graduated cum laude and was awarded a membership with Alpha Sigma Lambda.
Homeschooled growing up, Pauline learned the values of being self-motivated and resourceful. She brought those values to her college experience by taking advantage of opportunities to learn outside the classroom. Her program at Tulane required internships along with classes, and these experiences provided a solid foundation to begin her path in the world of advertising.
Pauline knows her way around Adobe design software and is a self-proclaimed unicorn: a term for developers who also design. With an eye for the details of design, she’s excited when code and design work harmoniously together. Determined and enthusiastic, Pauline believes any job worth doing should be done with quality and effectiveness of purpose. Her passion inspires her daily to continue learning the latest developments in the field. When she’s not coding, Pauline spends her time playing video games, training her dog in the competitive sport, agility, or writing. She lives with her recently wedded husband and dogs.
Brittany BrightAccount Coordinator
Recently joining the agency, Brittany E. Bright is a 2016 graduate of the University of Mississippi where she earned her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing and Corporate Relations. As a student, Brittany completed numerous internships that helped develop her professional skills. She served as an intern reporter for the Mississippi Press. She also interned with the University of Mississippi communications department, Mitchell Communication Group in Fayetteville, Arkansas and various fashion boutiques in Oxford, Mississippi. Her experience ranges from content creation to social media marketing, journalism and public relations.
Brittany is a life-long resident of Gautier, Mississippi and a 2011 graduate of Gautier High School. During her years at GHS, Brittany served a multitude of roles including student body president, cheer captain, homecoming queen, senior class vice president, and Beta club secretary. She has volunteered as a mentor for the Shae-Kiernan Foundation in Vancleave, Mississippi and the Bacot-McCarty Boys and Girls Club. When she’s not channeling her inner-Beyonce, Brittany enjoys shopping, reading and spending time with her family.
Mikel HenryAdvertising Operations Manager
You might say that Mikel Henry runs the place. If Mikel hasn’t touched your project, well, it probably won’t happen. The Focus Group is thankful that Texas-born-and-bred Mikel Henry chose to move Biloxi, and has called the Gulf Coast her home for the past 25 years. She joined The Focus Group team in 2015 with over 22 years of accounting, office operations and compliance experience. Mikel’s mad organizational skills enabled her to be promoted to advertising operations manager for the agency.
When she is not serving as the thread and glue of The Focus Group, she is spending time with her family and serves double duty as a baseball and soccer mom on the weekends. Mikel loves her job, enjoys being surrounded by her higly creative team members and would not want to work anywhere else.
William Colgin is an accomplished photographer who brings over 20 years of professional photography experience to The Focus Group. His photographic repertoire covers a wide spectrum of styles and techniques, from traditional photojournalism and portraiture to advanced lighting and high dynamic range photography. His creative ability as a photographer, using innovative lighting and camera angles, combined with his extensive skills in Photoshop, create a wow factor more times than not. He is a rare talent.
Bill graduated from the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale’s commercial photography program with a focus on photojournalism. He’s one of the few photographers around who is able to blend the eye of a modern commercial arts photographer with the sensibilities of a traditional photojournalist to bring a unique look to his photography.
A master in the realm of digital photography, Bill spends just as much time in front of the computer as he does behind the camera. His passion is learning emerging techniques and styles to bring new looks to his images. He has spent a large part of his career as an award-winning photojournalist, as well as a magazine photographer. You are likely to be familiar with his work even if you have never noticed his name under a photo.
Bill grew up in Louisiana, Hawaii and Mississippi, graduated from Ocean Springs High School and currently still lives in his hometown of Ocean Springs.