Alex Rhodes

Merit Launches Midwest Operations with Key Hires

Milwaukee agency powerhouses Denise Kohnke, Steve Drifka and Susan Hoeft join Merit.

Merit is pleased to announce it’s expansion with the launch of Merit Midwest and the growth of its team in the region with three notable hires based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Denise Kohnke joins Merit’s executive leadership team as the Chief Strategy and Growth Officer. In her role, Kohnke will be responsible for leading the research and strategy department and spearheading the company’s growth and strategic plan for continued awareness and adoption of Merit’s category-defining discipline of Market Invention. Kohnke joins Merit with an expansive resume and distinguished pedigree in Milwaukee’s marketing and advertising community, harkening back to her roles as EVP of Strategy and Business Development at Laughlin Constable and as a founding partner of Kohnke Hanneken.

Susan Hoeft joins Merit as an Account Director. In this role, she will bring her robust industry experience and management skills to lead several key client accounts and support the expansion and continued optimization of the agency’s client experience team. Hoeft served previously as VP of Account Management at Laughlin Constable, where she led several high-profile agency accounts, including the El Camino Health, ThedaCare, and Buell/Harley-Davidson.

Steve Drifka also joins Merit’s executive leadership team as the Chief Creative Officer. Drifka brings a long list of industry accolades and creative awards to his role at Merit where he will be responsible for leading and growing the creative department and discipline while providing creative oversight over the agency’s diverse client roster. Drifka most recently served as the Executive Creative Director at Traction Factory and brings an expansive portfolio of world-renowned creative experience including Gatorade, Porsche, Champion Sportswear, Celebrity Cruises, Lowes Home Improvement, Wisconsin Department of Tourism and Snap-on Tools.

“Establishing Merit Midwest marks an operational shift by our company to continue adapting to the ever-changing landscape created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Alexandra Rhodes, Chief Operations Officer, Merit. “While other companies may be scaling back, we’re focused on targeted growth in new markets that provide broader access to top, senior-level talent like Denise, Steve and Susan that can guide our global clients and their businesses.”

Merit Midwest will join Merit’s existing locations, newly branded as Merit East which is comprised of employees based in key US cities like Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. Merit Midwest will also serve the company’s active clients located in the Pacific Northwest.

“Merit has known for some time that the industry of marketing and advertising as we know it today is broken. Coupled with the economic and cultural turbulence we’re all living in, our clients are seeking a company that thinks beyond marketing tactics and media channels to drive real transformation within their businesses,” said Adam Vasquez, Founder and Chief Economics Officer, Merit. “Denise, Susan and Steve all have proven track records of being industry trailblazers and I’m grateful they have chosen to join us at Merit to bring their experience and brainpower to our company and clients.”

Interested in working with Merit or learning more about Market Invention? Please contact Denise Kohnke, Chief Strategy & Growth Officer, directly at