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Episode 51

Riding The Marketing Roller Coaster Into 2023

Lisa Colantuono
President of AAR Partners

All the ups and downs have made the last few years a wild ride for marketers. What impact do these challenges have on brands? And what’s next for 2023?

Lisa Colantuono joins Tessa Burg on the Leader Generation podcast. During their conversation, they hit on a wide spectrum of topics.

This episode of the Leader Generation Podcast is hosted by Tessa Burg, Chief Technology Officer at Mod Op

Highlights From This Episode:

  • What’s keeping CMOs up at night
  • Agency/client relationships
  • Brand vs Demand
  • Personalization
  • Where to spend marketing budget in 2023

Watch the Live Recording

Full Episode Transcripts

Tessa Burg: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Leader Generation, brought to you by Mod Op. I’m your host, Tessa Burg, and today I am joined by Lisa Colantuono, who is the president at AAR Partners. We’re going to dive deep into what is keeping CMOs up at night, and what changes can we expect, what trends are we going to see in the agency client market as we move into 2023. Lisa, thank you for joining us.

Lisa Colantuono: Hey, Tessa, thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here, and we’ll try and dig deep, as deep as we can.

Tessa Burg: And how did I do on the last name?

Lisa Colantuono: Not bad, not bad. You did a good job there. It’s not an easy name.

Tessa Burg: No, it’s beautiful though. I love it. So, tell us a little bit about your role in AAR Partners.

Lisa Colantuono: Sure. So, I’ve been at AAR Partners now, it is hard to believe, but I’ve been here for a little over 21 years, and I can see all the gray hair right there, staring at me in this video. So, I think I’ve earned some stripes, to say the least. But yeah, I’ve been at a AAR Partners for a little over 21 years now, been managing reviews, and working with agencies of all sorts, clients of all kinds, oh my goodness, from financial, to travel and tourism, to CPG, to healthcare. We don’t specialize in anything, but we definitely dive deep when we do reviews to help marketers, not just find another agency, it’s really to find a perfect partnership, or as perfect as we can get, in terms of marketing challenges that they’re looking to resolve, and of course, segment, or sector, I should say, expertise, understanding the target audience. So, these are things that we look at much more than the size of the agency, and where they’re located. And I mean, those are important points, but it’s really about compatibility, understanding marketing challenges, where the brand is going, innovation, salient, creative. I mean, there’s a lot that they’re looking for, and sometimes they don’t even realize what they’re looking for. But it is a two-way street, and that’s another big, big, big point to get across, that it is a two-way street. Yes, the client calls the review, but the agency also should be given the opportunity, or a couple of opportunities, to really evaluate the client and their brand, and self-eliminate. That’s the best way to go about this. And especially in the market and the environment we’re in now, people need to be very cautious about saying yes or saying no, right? As I say to all agencies, you need to know when to say no. And marketers need to know how to evaluate properly in a full picture, rather than just certain criteria. Everything counts. Everything.

Tessa Burg: I totally agree, and I’m glad you brought up that point of, agencies also need that discipline to say no.

Lisa Colantuono: Yes.

Tessa Burg: And I feel like in 2022, that criteria may have shifted, because so much of the way we work, where we work, how we execute, has changed. What have you seen evolve, maybe for better or worse, from Q1 in 2022 to Q4?

Lisa Colantuono: Well, okay. So, it’s much easier to say no when things are flying in the door, right? When opportunities just keep pouring in, sure. “Well, I’m sorry, I’m too busy.” “Can’t do it. Sorry.” You know, I have a list a mile long behind me, and I can have my pick of the litter, well, right now, it’s easy to say no. But to your point, being disciplined, it’s much harder to be disciplined when there’s less coming in, and, you know, when you’re starving, you kind of eat anything. Right? That’s really what it boils down to. At the beginning of 2022, it was the wildest first quarter I ever witnessed in all my years at AAR. By far, the busiest first quarter ever. And I’ll give you an example, I was speaking to, I think, Digiday, one of the trades, and I had given the example of, we, at AAR, pitched 14 accounts that were looking to go into review between, I think it was, late December and late February. So, over the course of two solid months, 14 accounts we talked to. That’s unheard of.

Tessa Burg: What is the normal? What’s the baseline?

Lisa Colantuono: Okay, so now I’m going to launch forward a little bit into mid-August to mid-October, same two-month timeframe, we spoke with seven or eight, I believe it was seven. It was half the amount. And that’s more reasonable, that’s a bit more typical. You know, 5, 6, 7 over the course of a couple of months. But 14 was insane. And so, as I said, I never, in all these years, saw that much frenzy going on in the first quarter of any year. Now, why did that happen? Because, go back in time, 2020, year of the pandemic, I mean, obviously it’s still trickling around, but with that said, the height of it was 2020. March, 2020, we were all deer in a headlight, we didn’t know what was going on. You had this sort of up, down, up, down, up, down kind of feeling of, “Okay, we’re good.” “Nope, we’re not good.” “Yep, we’re good.” “Nope, we’re not good.” And it was stop and go, stop and go, stop and go. And that’s how it felt for the rest of the 2020. I noticed that by, I think it was around September, it started to just sort of breakthrough, right? Meaning, okay, we’re ready to combust here, so we need to start moving forward. And we started, and the opportunities started to climb in terms of reviews and marketers looking for new agencies. Brands couldn’t hold back any longer, they needed to move forward. So, there was a lot more activity starting to bubble up in September of 2020. And it was going through, and I knew, okay, 2021’s going to be a busy year, I just get this feeling. And everybody was seeing it, we were all starting to see. You know, there’s a nervous tension that is breaking here. Right? 2021 was definitely a busy year, and it was a steady flow busy, but by the end of it, it was through the roof. The last quarter was crazy busy, and then it just poured into 2022. And there were a lot of marketers at that point that finally had money that wasn’t spent, right, brands that had to move, yes, we’re still dealing with post-pandemic issues, but how do we be innovative about getting our brand out there and staying in the market? And that’s very important. So, there was a tremendous push at the beginning of this year that was a spillover from 2021. Then there was a quiet moment in 2022. I would say May-ish, I started to feel that nervous tension again of, “Oh boy.” You know, we went from this, like straight up, we plateaued, and now we’re starting to dip. And I was at Merin, and I was on a panel, and I think I was the only consultant to say, “Take out your umbrellas. It’s been raining. And not the good rain, right? Not the good rain. We’re going through another little storm here, be prepared.” And sure enough, it sort of quieted down and dried up for a few months. Now, it was summer, and I find myself often saying, August is the longest three months of the summer now. Right? It is. It just takes over, right? Everybody, not shuts down, but they really do slow down. And that’s obvious. Obvious reasons for that, right? So, August is a long, three months, there’s still a revolving door, we’re still dealing with supply chain issues and interruption. We are dealing with, what am I trying to say? Inflation and recession. Right so, a lot of things that’s coming at us, right? So, there was a bit of a slowdown. And then, mid-August, it started again. It just felt like, “Okay, we’re not dead.” You know, we’re back, we’re breathing. Which was good, and again, we pitched 7, but 7 versus 14 in the same two-month span, that’s a big difference.

Tessa Burg: So, where do you see that we are today? The things that were driving that tension in August, do they still exist? What’s the confidence of CMOs heading into 2024, and what are they worried about, what’s keeping them up at night?

Lisa Colantuono: Yeah, well, as we go into 2023 and —

Tessa Burg: 2023, ’24.

Lisa Colantuono: I know, you said 2024, I was like —

Tessa Burg: I jumped a couple years.

Lisa Colantuono: Oh my gosh, am I losing it?

Tessa Burg: No, that’s just how long 2022 felt. To me.

Lisa Colantuono: Which, I definitely can be losing it. But anyway, yes, it does feel like a long year. These years are much longer than what they used to be. But anyway, in terms of 2023 and moving forward into it, look, we are certainly navigating a tremendous amount of uncertainty, and that is on the minds of everybody. Forget about marketer agency, just a human being, right? We’re all living in this crazy world right now where it’s a lot of uncertainty, and we’re trying to navigate that. Now put on the marketer hat, put on the agency hat. Well, how does this affect your brand? Whether it’s a brand of, I dunno, chapstick, or an agency brand, either way. Right? So, I just said it, recession, are we in it? Most of us think we are. It’s not officially been called, but are we going to call it, and how’s that going to affect us? And how long is it going to last? Is it going to be deep? Is it going to be long? Is it going to be shallow? What’s going on with that? There’s a lot of nervous tension around that. Right, and I think you said it earlier, none of us can see more than two to three months out now. We used to plan for six months, even a year at one point, right? Somebody would look at you like you had 10 heads if you said something like that. You can’t. Now it’s, I’m planning for a month out, or two months out, or maybe we’ve finally gotten to three months out. If we go a little further than that, and you’re in a good spot, maybe a half a year. But it’s really not a lot of time in terms of planning. And that’s a result of recessionary times, right? It’s also, again, nothing that you don’t know, it’s going on, inflation through the roof. Are we raising again? Is the Fed going to raise again? We’re reading that they’re going to raise points in December again. These are big issues, right? They’re crippling issues. Supply chain is still interrupted two years later, we have an ongoing war overseas that, okay, maybe we don’t see it every day, but it’s certainly affecting us. Now, the underlying current, thankfully, there’s some good news there, we are still strong in terms of employment and market. Right? So, we’re still strong there. In terms of the market itself, we’re up, down, up, down, up, down. But we have an underlying current that is strong, and that’s a good sign, and that’s a good thing, of course. So, thankful for that. But we are moving into territory of a lot of uncertainty. Nobody really knows, right? We’re in a different kind of a recession on top of it. This isn’t your normal recession either. So, we’re coming out of a pandemic, we have super inflation going on, we have, again, the supply chain issues. We have all of these things, it’s almost like the perfect storm. And so I’m not sure any of us has been in a recession of this nature, and how do we navigate it? Getting away from that, it’s also personalization. You know, how do we personalize our messages in 2023? Now, that’s also critical, and I think necessary as a result of being in a recession as well. Because, look, when it comes to these tough economic times, what do we all do? What do you do? Do you pull back? Do you pull back on spending?

Tessa Burg: Yeah. Oh, a lot of, you know, let’s wait and see. Definitely try and be cautious and pragmatic.

Lisa Colantuono: Exactly. So, if you personalize messages, well then what happens? Hopefully what happens is that you are building a stronger relationship with that consumer. Right? And you’re treating them, hopefully, not like a consumer. In fact, if I go back years ago, oh gosh, this has to be 12, 15 years ago, when Jim Stengel was at Procter, and he was the CMO. And I remember him doing a very intriguing talk with the ANA, I think it was the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference. And he talked about, do you, not do you, he said, “Stop targeting consumers.” You know, stop, how did he say it? I’m trying to think. Stop targeting consumers. Stop treating them like a consumer. Stop talking to them like a shopper. Talk to them as a person, as a human being. And he was right. He was right then, and he’s certainly right now. Right? Because, again, in recessionary times, or even in tough economic times, when we pull back, and we hold back on spending, and we think twice, well, where do we put our money? We put our money where we feel safest, or we trust more. And one of the ways to building that trust and making people feel a little more comfortable is to be personal, and to personalize, personalize, let me try that again. Personalazize. I can’t say it! Personal, personalazize

Tessa Burg: Personalize.

Lisa Colantuono: I can’t say the word.

Lisa Colantuono: I like personal, I can’t say it.

Lisa Colantuono: Yeah, I can’t say the word. You need to do that “p” thing, but I can’t say it. So, custom messaging versus using data analytics and insights, all of that is absolutely critical. But you need to have some custom messaging. And I think that also ties into brand versus demand. Okay? So, tighter budgets, again, going back, tighter budgets cause all of us to pull back. Right? But we need to focus on the short term. And that’s what we were saying before, you can’t really look out much further than two, three months. So, focusing on the shorter term and capturing the demands by focusing on the brand is going to be critical. Absolutely critical. Because I have no doubt, I hope, I hope, I hope, I hope and pray I’m wrong. I’m not the type to like to be wrong, but I hope I’m wrong, but I think this is going to be one hell of a wild ride, certainly for the first quarter of 2023.

Tessa Burg: So, that was a lot. So, if we go back to, for agencies, they need to be flexible, they need to really focus on, “Hey, here’s something we can do for the next two to three months that creates an emotional connection in a one-to-one way.” And I agree, I think Q1’s going to be kind of wild. I feel like there’s this unspoken stress at just, the table.

Lisa Colantuono: Oh, it’s spoken. You can see it all over everybody’s faces.

Tessa Burg: Well, sometimes I feel like we’re still planning, we have some, I don’t know if it’s blind, but you know, we’re still optimistic.

Lisa Colantuono: Yeah, we are. We are, there is some optimism there. And like I said, I think part of that is the underlying current, that there’s still strength in our workforce, thankfully.

Tessa Burg: Yeah, and you mentioned something about these strong waves. So, if it’s emotional connection and personalization, what are the kinds of things you’re seeing CMOs and clients ask their team to focus on or prioritize to ride a strong wave, or maximize where they’re spending even just their brain capacity?

Lisa Colantuono: Yes, and I wrote a note here that I actually don’t want to forget to read, and I think this is the perfect time to say it. When we get into this kind of situation, right, and where are we spending, and okay, how do we navigate these waters, is really the question, right? When we’re shortsighted, too shortsighted, we hurt ourselves. Look, there’s always tough times in life, and there’s always tough times in the economy, and we always get through it in some way, shape, or form. But those that are too shortsighted, and they completely pull back, and they just sort of stick their head in the sand and say, “Okay, we have to wait until the storm is over, and don’t spend a dime.” Well, I’m going to read this, this was a recent study that was done, and I apologize, I think it was IAG, I’m going to forget who did it, but it was overseas. This was done, I believe, in London. During a recession, brands that cut all advertising don’t recover sales for three to six years. Think about that.

Tessa Burg: Wow.

Lisa Colantuono: Okay. Three to six years by cutting all spending during a recession. Now, most don’t cut all session, so they went to, okay, what if you cut 50%? How long do you think it took for them to recover?

Tessa Burg: A year and a half? Half of three?

Lisa Colantuono: Two to three years.

Tessa Burg: Oh, so still longer than the amount cut.

Lisa Colantuono: Still longer than the amount cut. Right. And then that did not cut, they more or less maintained sales, and the kicker is, they came back stronger, right? So, they recovered immediately. And I’ll go to a second study that was done from Harvard Business Review, and Harvard, it was a much longer study, and it was all about recessionary times, and they went back in time to all the recessionary times that we’ve gone through, and what did brands do, and how did they recover, and so on and so forth. Well, I’ll just cut to the chase. Only 9% of companies came out of a recession stronger than ever. Okay, so what does that tell you? That tells you most of us freak out, pull back, you know, wrap our arms around everything we have and run. Right? And Bob Levy said at the ANA this year, he said it best, he’s like, “Hey, this is the time to define your brand and defend your brand, not pull back and run.” Right so, if there’s one message to marketers, it is not to pull back, it is not to hunker down, it is not to just freak out over, “Okay, what’s happening?” And “I need to just sit still and not do anything.” No, okay? Nobody’s saying spend, you know, what’s the word I’m looking for, in a wild manner, right?

Tessa Burg: Yeah.

Lisa Colantuono: Nobody’s saying just to be ridiculous over your spending. But proceed with caution, of course, but proceed, right? It’s almost, go into your own finances for a minute. Well, maybe we shouldn’t, we all shouldn’t look at our finances at this point in time.

Tessa Burg: Right.

Lisa Colantuono: But if you talk to a financial analyst, or advisor, or what have you, what do they typically say during these times? Invest, invest, invest. Right? If I go listen to Charles Mizrahi, this man is all over the place saying, pour your money in, pour your money in, pour your money in, this is the time to do it. Right now. In over a hundred years, we have never seen something like this. When we come out of it, those that do will skyrocket their wealth. Well, it’s the same analogy. It’s the same idea, right? So, it is time to define and differentiate, and not cuddle your budgets and freak out.

Tessa Burg: So, when we say it’s time to define and differentiate and not cut back spending, the spending though, is it evolving? Is it coming out of less personalized, maybe blasting media messages, tactics, and going towards brand, and what does investing in brand look like?

Lisa Colantuono: Yeah so, yes, I think it is all about that. It’s investing in the brand, right? So building brand advocates, building brand equity, building the brand DNA. Because, well, think about it this way, you have a lot less competition. Which is even better, right? We’re all struggling with cracking through the clutter, and trying to break through, and you know, what’s my competitor doing, and share of spend? And they have a bigger budget than me. Well, here’s your opportunity. Stop complaining, and move forward. Invest in the brand. To your point, invest in the brand itself. Brand versus demand, right now it is about building that brand, building the DNA, building the advocacy, building the equity. And then, yes, the demand will come when the time is right. And quite frankly, there are some sectors that are recession-proof, more or less. Healthcare, financial, well, you know, not restaurants per se, but QSR is somewhat, gotta be careful there, but somewhat bulletproof. What happens in the restaurant sector is you have, you know, the premium dining dropping to CDR, and the CDR dropping to QSR, so everybody drops down a rung, right?

Tessa Burg: Yeah.

Lisa Colantuono: But there are certain sectors that are somewhat recessionary-proof. Now, we’re still traveling more than ever. Which is interesting. So, we’re still spending, right? Which is why the inflation keeps going up, right? We’re trying to stop the spend. We’re still spending, and that, well, we all know, that’s part and parcel to being locked up for a while. Right, so now everybody’s just, “I just got to get out. I just got to get out. I got to go.” And so, yeah, it’s critical to invest in the brands, and to build that advocacy, and to build those relationships and make them stronger than ever. And part of that is innovation. Okay, what do marketers want from agencies? Yes, they want salient, creative, we know that. And it’s funny, after all these years of doing reviews, and thinking about, well, what do marketers want? And, you know, putting it under a microscope, and trying to overanalyze, “Well, do they want this kind of thing? They want these KPIs. Do they want this kind of thinking? Do they want this kind of an agency?” You know what they want? Creative that works.

Tessa Burg: Yep.

Lisa Colantuono: I mean that’s really what it boils down to. Let’s just cut to the chase, cut the crap, and get to the point. They want creative that works. Now, with that said, they need innovative thinking, and innovation has been beaten to a pulp. What does innovation mean? Well, innovation in terms of, yes, creative, right, and reaching consumers in new ways when it comes, especially to the fragmented media world, and how do we use evolving data, and pull it in, and mix it in with the fragmented media. Media is just getting more, and more, and more, and more, and more, as we know, right? Creating consumer experiences in digital channels. That is innovation. How do you create those experiences for consumers so that they do feel like they’re engaged, and they do feel like they’re part of that brand, and they do feel like they’re making an impact, and they do feel like they’re part of the brand purpose. Right? Again, this is all part and parcel to the times we’re living in also. Right?

Tessa Burg: Yeah.

Lisa Colantuono: E-commerce post pandemic, e-commerce has just exploded, as we know. Right? Well, how are we to be more innovative with that? And most of all, how are we to be more innovative with revenue? Right? Driving revenue is what it’s all about in the end. As one of my past clients in healthcare once said, I don’t know, a year or two ago, “I need help with figuring out new revenue streams.” Oh, hello. You know, it’s not just about the creative and brand messaging, it’s also about helping them with operations. And that’s another key point, marketers are looking for agencies quite often, and they should look for agencies, that not only have a solid, solid understanding of the category, and their marketing challenges, and their consumer, and so on and so forth, but also the operations of the business. Right? I’ll go back, oh gosh, I don’t know a while back, I can’t remember how long ago it was now, but we did a review for American Airlines, and American Airlines was airing their hair out of their head in terms of the two final agencies, and they didn’t know which direction to go. Somebody on the team, in fact, the agency that ended up not prevailing, originally won, and then over the weekend they lost. And it was this constant battle back and forth between these two, and it came down to a couple of team members saying, “We need the agency that not only has great creative, and strategy, of course, but understands the operations of the business, of the airline business.” And that’s very true. And I’ve seen that pattern sustain over the years. And so, agencies, or marketers that are selecting agencies, those that typically have a great, or a greater relationship with a greater return on the investment, are those agencies that have all of the things that they’re looking for from an agency, of course, but also take it a step further and are solving business problems. They understand their business, they understand the operations. And we all seem to forget quite often, marketing is just one sliver of the pie. There’s a whole lot of, or I should say, a lot of other pieces to the pie. Right? And the agencies that understand more of those pieces are the agencies that really do very, very well and have very successful relationships with marketers, and vice versa.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. I like the examples that you gave translate, whether you’re a marketer at an agency, or a marketer on the client side, it’s all about, how are you building authentic relationships today that are a deeper understanding of how your customer works, whether your customer is a consumer, or your customer is a client, or you’re in B2B, and that customer is another business? And the more our brand can reflect that in an authentic manner, and we do what our brand says it’s going to do, because I think that sometimes, when things are going really well, we get very caught up in the data, “Hey, this tactic is working.” “Hey, I’m getting a lot of results here.” And now, to your point, if you look at who are your advocates, how can you look at your existing customer data and say, “How do I better serve them?” Because we’re in this uncertain time, and what else? How do we operationalize, operate, now I’m going to mess up.

Lisa Colantuono: Operationalize, I can say that word. I can’t say personalization or whatever.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. But I really like that, because, look, this is a unique situation, and it’s the time to have some bigger thinking, and not be so production, and just like, what’s right in front of me?

Lisa Colantuono: Well, absolutely. And then I just, I’m looking at my phone for a second, because I’m reminding myself of a post that I did on LinkedIn a couple of days ago, whatever it was. But again, over the decades, see what happens when you get old, oh my gosh, over the decades, geez, I think it’s time for me to end, end and go sit on a beach somewhere. But we’ve gone from this brand forward messaging, to then we coin the term tradigital at some point, then we shifted into performance first, and performance, “I need a performance-based agency.”

Tessa Burg: Oh yeah.

Lisa Colantuono: If I had a nickel every time I heard that one, I would’ve been done. You know, “I need a performance-based agency.” I would always joke with marketers going, well, if they don’t perform, you usually fire them, and so I’m not sure what you mean by that. Obviously, I got it. But, you know, performance first agency. Then it got into this past year, the light switch flipped. I think it was January 1st, literally, and I heard nothing but, well, I need a performance forward agency that understands digital, or digital forward agency. But, but, but, but, but, but they must understand brands. It’s like, oh, that brand thing is coming back. Right so, we went from that just conversion at the bottom of the funnel, back up to that mid, and even maybe to the top, it’s all about the brand now, or I should say brand was coming back at full force. And now, you want to know what I’m hearing recently? Most recently in the past two weeks, Tessa? I almost fell over. Right, I’m talking to two new prospective clients, and both of them said, almost word for word, “So I’m looking for an AOR, but I need an agency that’s brand first, performance second.” Wow. We just came full circle in the past 15 years or so. Right? 20 years, whatever it is, right? I just started laughing. He goes, “What are you laughing at?” I go, “Nothing.” I said “Nothing.” We just came full circle.

Tessa Burg: Yeah, the one thing I like about that, it’s the recognition that there is not a silver bullet. Sometimes, you know, it’s hard when people get down, “Like, I just need this thing.” And I think, you know, with all the data we have now, one thing we’re very certain of, there are no silver bullets, there’s no one thing.

Lisa Colantuono: Nope, nope, nope.

Tessa Burg: It is that combination, and are you serving the customer where they’re at? ‘Cause, again, I’m just thinking back to this last year, of when people really want to focus on just conversion, just bottom the funnel. But the people who are early in the journey, the people who are in the middle of the journey, are they at the bottom of the funnel, or are you just marketing to people who are going to buy as they’re walking in the door?

Lisa Colantuono: Right? Well, that’s just transactional, okay, versus what we were saying at the beginning, building brand relationships. Okay, brand versus demand. Are we just worried about the transaction, and cha-ching, and then out the door they go, and there’s no relationship? See, we’ve been there for a while.

Tessa Burg: Yep.

Lisa Colantuono: And yes, look at the times that we were in, the economy was booming, the market was crazy, we almost felt invincible. Now somebody let the air out of the tire, and here we are again. Right? It’s like, “Oh crap, now I got to build relationships again.” Right? Well, you always should have been building relationships. It’s so brutally important. Because it really is about trust and commitment. It really is about making safe decisions, but making safe decisions built on trust. Right? Built on a relationship. And think about ourselves, think about yourself in the world. Do you go ask some stranger? No. I mean, you might, but typically you have your circle of trust. I feel like that movie, what was that movie? You know, you have your circle, the Falkers, “Meet the Falkers.”

Tessa Burg: You’re in the trust tree.

Lisa Colantuono: Right, you have your circle of trust, and that’s what you go with, right? So, it’s the same thing here when it comes to brand building. You know, brand’s purpose, in fact, I have a podcast called “On Purpose,” and it’s all about what are agencies doing on purpose in order to create purposeful, meaningful brand relationships. That’s what it’s all about in the end.

Tessa Burg: Yep.

Lisa Colantuono: And if you don’t have that, well, you’re going to be kind of on the outside looking in.

Tessa Burg: Yep. So, I feel like this podcast episode would be perfect for any marketers who are thinking of doing like an end of the year retreat to inspire their team and get them thinking. Because 2022 has been hard, and it’s been a rollercoaster.

Lisa Colantuono: It has been.

Tessa Burg: And I think that right now, we might all just be feeling the stress and tension. And this conversation has been really refreshing, that you can take a step back. And I think building relationships is motivating. It’s beautiful, it’s authentic, it’s you taking what you do every day at work and sharing it with those who need it, and where they need it. So, I’ve been refreshed by this conversation.

Lisa Colantuono: Well, I’m glad, I’m glad. I mean, look, it really is about building your relationships. And sharing, okay? That’s part of building your relationships. Sharing, sharing your vision. You know, I also hear from the agency side, who’s griping about the marketers, and, well, they’re not the greatest business partners. And I go, “Well, why not?” Now, actually, what makes a better client? What makes a better marketer, when they’re working with an agency, so that everybody’s pushing forward for the betterment of the brand? Well, it is about shared visions. It is about, you know, giving back, not giving back, giving feedback, and giving proper feedback, offering solutions as part of that feedback. Being simple. Simplicity, right? When you do all of those things, and being dedicated, right? Because that’s one of the things that worries agencies that I know of, when it comes to working with marketers is, are they dedicated? Are they really going to move forward? Are they going to give me the feedback? Are they going to give me the rope to do what we need to do? Are they going to be involved, and not just, “Okay, good luck.” I don’t know, most marketers don’t do that. But at the same time, there needs to be constant communication and commitment. Constant. And I’ll give you an example right now. Right now, we’re finishing off a review. I won’t name names, I won’t name categories, I can’t let this cat out of the bag, but the agency called yesterday. So, we sent three emails, and they hadn’t responded, they just went dark. I go, “Okay, take a breath.” I can tell you that they are in hell right now with certain regulations that they have to cover off, they said they can’t even see straight, there’s only a few guys on the team, give them a break. You know, keep following up, gently, just keep bubbling it to the top. I know you’re crazy, I get it, but I’m just bringing this to the top. Let’s find 15 minutes so that I can just touch base with you so we can just keep the ball moving forward. Yes, you know, a relationship is giving, and taking, and understanding, and putting yourself in their shoes, and trying to figure out what’s going on in their world when they can’t communicate. Right? So, that does happen. I mean, communications is certainly vital and important, but sometimes it really is impossible to answer the overflow of the inbox, right?

Tessa Burg: Oh, yeah.

Lisa Colantuono: It gets absolutely insane. You know, and I hear from agencies who say, “Well, I send, you know, 82 cadence emails and I never get anything back.” I go, why would you? Why would you? I love when I get agencies that say, “Well, I need to bring in a new account, so we’re doing all these emails, and cadence emails, and sending out information.” I go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on. You and, let’s see, 98,000 other agencies are doing the same thing.” In fact, for a long time I would ask marketers, so, how many unsolicited emails a month do you think you get? Wanna take a guess?

Tessa Burg: Well, when I was on the client side, I mean, a month? It was in the hundreds.

Lisa Colantuono: Try over 1,000 emails a month. Unsolicited. Okay, that was the average number I was getting. Some were a little higher, some were up to 1,500. So, I was having dinner with a client that I did a review for who I never met, I mean, we just talked on the phone, and this was pre-pandemic, so we weren’t even on Zoom, right? Heaven forbid we got on Zoom, we would melt, right? It was all about the phone at that point. Okay, so we had a phone relationship. I turned around a review very quickly from AAR Partners, we helped them out. It was in the fitness category. I think it was February I had said, “We live in the same city. Could I at least take you out to dinner?” He says, “Oh, okay.” You know, so we went to dinner, and gal that was on his team, him, me, and I bring up the question of, “So how many unsolicited emails a month do you think you get?” And his answer was, “Oh, hundreds.” No, no, sorry. His answer was, “Oh, at least two, three hundred.” I said, “Nah.” And he looks at me, he goes, “Oh yeah, definitely, Lisa. At least 300, at least 300.” I said, “No.” Now he’s like getting a little annoyed, goes, “Of course I do.” I said, “No, you don’t.” I said, “You easily get a thousand emails a month. Unsolicited.” He looked at me and he goes, “You’re on.” Oh, Tessa, I wish I bet him money that night, right? So, to the day, 30 days later, he emailed me, and in my inbox, all it said was, “936. You win.”

Tessa Burg: Isn’t that crazy? You know, and every agency reaches out thinking they know their pain point.

Lisa Colantuono: Right.

Lisa Colantuono: And the marketers that are listening, the brand marketers that are listening to this are probably shaking their heads right now, saying, oh yeah, I get every agent, “I know your pain points, I know your pain points.” And I’ll leave you with this fantastic story. Right? So, I was at a Forbes CMO conference, this was a little while back, and I happened to sit down with three or four CMOs after a dinner, we were just chitchatting. And again, I brought up, how many emails do you get a month? Right, I just was always intrigued by this answer for this question. And all of them were hundreds and hundreds. And somebody brought up the fact of, “Oh yeah, I love when they know my pain point.” And I giggled, and I said, “Well, what do you mean?” So, it was Arby’s who says, “Oh yeah, they all know my pain point.” They don’t know my pain point, my pain point is clean bathrooms.” I said, wow. Right? I said, “Yeah, no agency’s going to talk about that.” Right? Then it was Louisville Slugger who says, you know, the baseball bats, who says, “Yeah, my pain point? There’s this bug eating the tree that I need for the wood to make the baseball bats.” I started cracking up, I said, “You gotta be kidding me.” And then it was, if you know Mark Hans Richter, who doesn’t exactly filter his words, and he’s fantastic, I love him, he, at the time, was at Harley Davidson, and it was a brutally snowy winter, right? He turns to me, looks at me, I’ll clean it up a little, He goes, “My biggest pain problem? The f-in snow.” Right? And I just cracked up. I was like, there’s not an agency that would talk about clean bathrooms, bugs on a tree, or the f-in snow, right?

Tessa Burg: Yeah.

Lisa Colantuono: You wouldn’t. You just wouldn’t do it. Yet that brings us full circle back to the beginning of this conversation, which is knowing the full business, knowing the operations, right? So, for agency marketers listening to this, it’s not just about the MarCom solution, right? Or the branding solution. It’s the whole kit and caboodle. And for the marketers listening to this, the brand marketers, yeah, it’s about working with an agency that truly understands the brand from the inside out, the purpose of the brand, how to build brand purpose, understanding your business operations, understanding certainly through branding through recessionary times of course, but being innovative, and developing relationships with people, not just consumers.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. I think that is a great way to end the episode. Lisa, thank you so much for being our guest. This is awesome, awesome material to think about and reflect on as we head into 2023. And if people want to reach out to you and learn more about AAR Partners or this conversation, where can they find you?

Lisa Colantuono: Sure, sure. So, you can find me, I’m a big email fan, believe it or not, as much as we were all inundated, but [email protected]. Notice that we just use my first name and not my last name, because nobody could spell it, including myself. Or you can reach me on LinkedIn. Those are the two easiest places.

Tessa Burg: Perfect. Thank you so much. And if you want to hear more episodes of Leader Generation, you can find us also on LinkedIn. We have a Leader Generation showcase page. Or you can direct message me, it’s Tessa Burg. Burg is B-U-R-G. Not as hard as your last name. I get some E’s in there. And we will catch up again soon. Thank you.

Lisa Colantuono: All right, thanks, Tessa.

Lisa Colantuono

President of AAR Partners

Lisa has been immersed in advertising and marketing for more than two decades. Since June 2001, she’s worked directly with a myriad of marketers on agency reviews and has counseled numerous clients on finding the best communications partners for their needs. Caught in a unique position between clients who want a clean, smooth review process and agencies who want every possible advantage, Lisa is adept at remaining unruffled and gets the job done in a fair and positive manner for everyone involved. She not only believes in “enduring partnerships that matter,” but also is enthusiastic about creating them.