Episode 30 Transcript

The Evolution and Redesign of Modern Marketing and Advertising Needs w/ Lindsey Slaby

    Brent Trimble: Welcome again to the Professional Services Pursuit, a podcast featuring expert advice and insights on the professional services industry. Again, I'm one of the hosts Brent Trimble, and today I'm joined by a fascinating, compelling guest who's helped many of the world's largest brands and agencies redesign the way they support their modern marketing needs. She is the founder of Sunday Dinner, a brand strategy consultancy. She's an ad age 40 under 40 recipient in a true fault leader in the space. So Lindsey Slaby, it's great to see you again, get reacquainted and thank you so much for joining us today and having you on the show.

    Lindsey Slaby: Thank you for having me. I have fond memories. I was thinking back, Brent, of when we first spent a lot of time together, I believe in Costa Rica maybe 10 years ago.

    Brent Trimble: Yes. And what's great about having the privilege of just being able to travel the world in pursuit of marketing? Whether that's on the consulting side or advertising side and brand side, you get to go to great regions and interact with fantastic people. A lot of the folks we interacted with down there are still working on some cool stuff with Accenture now doing like metaverse stuff, real futuristic things. But the country is, as you know, remarkable because I think you'd spend a lot of time there. If my memory serves me, we had a colleague who had an unfortunate toothache that resulted in oral surgery. Do you remember this? I think he was like the head of project management and of course our enterprising colleagues down there. I mean for our listeners, if you've never been to Costa Rica, it's a delightful, wonderful country. It's small so everyone knows each other. Someone's cousin was like the leading oral surgeon in Costa Rica. They picked up your colleague from the JW Marriott in a nice black car, took him to the facility, and gave him great care. He came back and said, I've never experienced healthcare like that. There was a concierge, he's like I was looking around for something else to break so that they could take care of me while I was there. So he's got a great story. I wonder where he's at, we should look him up, but yeah, it was a great time. So you've got a fascinating career. It's always evolving and dynamic and I've always really admired the way you've been able to stay on that leading edge of how marketing, both organization, talent, modalities, methods, platforms are always evolving. I'm not probably a voluminous tweeter or I use the platform certainly, you know, skim LinkedIn here and there, but your content I always stop and read because it always gives me something of value. But years ago you sort of took that in those great facets and aspects of your career, your ability to connect people and platform and you formed Sunday Dinner. So for the benefit of our listeners, tell us a little bit about how that started and then it's always evolving and we’ll talk a little bit about your more recent pivots.

    Lindsey Slaby: Thank you. I think one of the things you said about marketing is important as personally my career has evolved from advertising to marketing, which are very different things. And learning that through a privileged position as a consultant is priceless and evolving Sunday Dinner. I mean it evolves every day, which is the amazing gift of being an entrepreneur and a consultant, you never know who might knock on your door or what one text or conversation might lead to. Which I think is also a part of the services, business, advertising, et cetera. What fuels us and is so exciting. Sunday Dinner definitely started as a place for me to figure out, as you well said, my passions of putting the right people together on projects and towards making great creative work and just not seeing the right people get together as often as needed to solve challenges figuratively and actually literally. And literally now in my role, which really is consulting to marketing leaders, CMOs advising and within their teams, you might see me walking the halls of a client office and physically bringing people together and trying to be that orchestration layer of this is happening over here and this is happening over here and if we come together. Which seems like such an easy thing and I know a lot of agencies get frustrated, why can't that happen? Why aren't you talking? But when you're on the inside you understand how challenging that is. It's not an easy solve. And I would say evolving my business over the past nine or so years, I've really honed my skills more as an advisor to be able to consult at the level I do. I have to be voracious about learning, curious about everything and have learned the art of how to make things happen in highly matrixed corporate organizations where you just have to pick your battles and prioritize. Over those years, my number one focus has actually been expanding my skillset in media and com-strategy, which is invaluable and became fragmented from the world of creative advertising and still is. We're noticing it coming back because that's where the money is but it's coming back and it needs to. And the past three years, especially during the pandemic and I hate saying that because it's kind of like, is it over? It's just this new era we're in. It's been a lot about organizational design and building not just new ways to move boxes around on a page. You know, a lot of companies, oh we're reorging, but how do you change ways of working and fluidity to even retain people in that process and build learning paths for them in how we design org models. So a lot there, but my world is helping to make my leaders be able to accomplish some of the things they're trying to do, which happens from outside support in a variety of different people that you're able to bring into your arsenal. And I work with the best.

    Brent Trimble: No and I know your client list and we won't ask you to divulge any, but the client list is extremely enviable. It's always the big blue chip consumer- facing brands who put communications and artifacts and products in the marketplace that we all recognize. I'm curious, I remember when you started Sunday Dinner and how a lot of folks had encouraged you because of your skill with connecting that right bespoke set of partners to a team of maybe creatives and then ultimately clients who are trying to achieve a certain outcome. A decade ago, many of the things we take for granted now, the technology was very nascent so so much of it was about can you do this bleeding edge, interesting thing to connect us to consumers and you could put those together. Consequently, you'd always been a great host and in your wonderful home and brought people together for dinners and there was a lot of creativity and a kind of a salon aspect. I presume you probably still do a little bit of that. But from there to now being this connector, breaking down organizational inertia in big brands, we've all experienced that. What have you retained about your original charter and what's remained I guess, and what's really now much different?

    Lindsey Slaby: I think that the putting people together to solve the problems, I believe there's an art to that to be honest. When people call me and say I need someone to build a website, I'm like okay, can you send me names ? No, it's gonna take a long time to figure out what you really need and how to recommend the right person. There's a lot of care in that. But I do think that putting people together is something that isn't solving the core problem that marketing organizations have. And that was a huge unlock to me maybe two years in. And I've always been a strategist, I felt like when I worked on the agency side for a hot minute, I felt super siloed and that I could only do one thing. And it actually discouraged that talent and skill I had to be a great writer, a strategist, a marketer in general and I had to find that strength again. And when I did, I'm like boom, okay, this is where I wanna be, which is more upstream in making more impact. And I've always believed in the power of great work and I think quality and profitability go hand in hand. Whether that's how you are thinking about agencies and how you use them or building your team internally. And there is a mutual desire in this industry to not just get stuff done with anyone at the lowest cost but to make meaningful things. I fear as we enter this 2023, that the word creative is dropping. If you've read all the earnings reports like I do as a complete nerd, the word creative is not even used in most of them except for WPP and I feel like they're moving into a place where they're chasing the money versus the quality piece. And in terms of different themes, if you've been at an agency for a little while or been around people who work in creative agencies, there is a lot of conversation and there's a lot of stress of the problems and the this and the that. And as you get away from that and see other types of things through the forest, you learn to let go of all the baggage. They're not the center of the world. In fact, creative agency spend is less than 1% sometimes of the full marketing spend, production not included. I guess what I've learned from all of this is you have to get the foundation fixed to set these talented shops up for success. And I think that's what I do all day long and even when I am casting and you come into a pitch process, I speak for it because I know it. If you're an agency there you have basically a free opportunity as a top rate consultant working for the company for free to make sure you walk in as successful as possible and you're set up for success and you should take full advantage of that.

    Brent Trimble: That's really fascinating of that evolution. And you said something in a couple of points that I think would be relevant, particularly for our audience, most of whom are service consulting, some are in a very specific vertical, some are more creative comms agencies and everything in between. But that notion of advertising and marketing and what's really been fascinating over the past few years, even decade, right ? I mean there's so much ink that's been spilled around the demise of the marketing services firms and agencies and creative and consultancies, however you dimensionalize that. It's really been more about evolution, alright, their business models had to change. We've had Tim Williams on a few episodes ago talking about changing that economic model and pivoting more value, but there's always that need for folks in those practices to deliver to your point, great work. But the ratio of that to an organization's actual marketing pie, which consists of many other things other than that point of contact with the consumer is much smaller. I mean now that you've got this wealth of experience going back a decade plus of being on both sides of that aisle, how would you conceptualize that for a services firm? The sliver there is actually much smaller than that entire element and then we'll talk a little bit more about leading into that.

    Lindsey Slaby: Your pie to me is a real pie chart that I visualize and I think I was at a conference in Chicago early fall, late summer where I actually showed a real budget to a room full of small agencies where I showed the actual slivers and where things were going. And you still often see three quarters of that going to media. Media is a challenge, media needs to change, digital's not working so there's a great opportunity for creatives to come into that. But I would say yes, media's a huge focus and within that is now also sorting out how we get better at full 360 customer loyalty, CRM. connected experiences. We'll be seeing retention methods dialing up in the coming year. And I think on the client side it's so challenging. You might have a brief that we really need to get more downloads of our app, right? We're a restaurant group or something like that and we need people to be downloading the app, using it, getting points, loyalty, who do we call ? And that's a complicated question right now. And on the service side, you need to think about what those mindsets and questions are and how you position yourself for that. Because client side, they might think, oh I need a digital agency and I might say, well maybe we need a media firm. You might say, well I really admire the way that Burger King got all of the app downloads. That was a great creative idea and when it can, do we need a creative agency, you kind of need all of these things but they don't know where to start and they don't know how to put the teams together. And I think that is the job, the agency side of saying, we know you're shopping, let us direct you to the right aisles. And also let us come in as the quarterback and bring in the right partners to fully round out that team for you. I don't hear that a lot and it would be amazing because just that example, it needs more people at the table and instead of just going to one place, clients are trying to figure out how do I bring those people together. I'm not sure if that answered your question.

    Brent Trimble: No, it does and it leads into an interesting question around, and I think really relevant to our listeners because they span everything from a management consultancy that's got a creative arm or an experiential arm. Or design all the way through extremely bespoke creative shops doing the best TVC work in the industry and then everything in between. But through the years we see from the client's side the demand pendulum swings back and forth every couple of years. One it's we want to fragment and decentralize and go with nimble independence, then it swings back to we need a global footprint, we need a one sort of ring to rule them all. Who's the best holding company that has the complexion of services we need ? First I'd love to hear where you think that pendulum is right now and I think our listeners would as well. But if you were helping craft and counsel a principal, someone who's in an ascendant firm, doing some good work, how would you tell them to begin to model their shop, their practices to be those essential partners in the future ? What's the demand gonna be, and importantly lasting demand?

    Lindsey Slaby: This is no small question Brent. How do you fix all the things and tell someone how to do it ? One ring to rule them all was not lost on me though, I am a big fan, it is swinging again and it's swinging because we can't hire headcount internally. So the impact, I put myself in that bucket. I also become we with all my clients too, which is very natural 'wee wee,' but there's no head count. So all of a sudden you were building these big teams to take in a lot of, maybe not as much the conceptual work but the 360, then take a big campaign from X company and sort of thread that through all of the different places and resizes. And that makes sense to do internally, but that's not happening right now because we can't hire. Then that creates an opening for solutions to do that, but it doesn't mean that the marketing teams are willing to rewind the clock and go back to paying $25, 000 for an email design or having a huge shoot in only getting six social assets and no resizes for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The agencies have to figure out what they're gonna deliver and how they're gonna fill in those gaps based on this freezing of hiring that's happening. And that's not going away. I'm doing 2024 planning because 2023 was a pretty easy plan to make. It was called keep it the same and reduce here, here and here. Almost all my clients started doing 2024 this summer, which is why I saw no one all summer. But I think that the pendulum is moving around. But one thing that's so important, and I said this to a firm maybe yesterday on a call as they were taking me through their creds, I just said imagine drawing a horizontal line and you're starting it conceptual to production. Whatever you do at whatever core category, show me the different areas where work gets handed off generally in different phases and color in really darkly what you kick ass at. Then shade things that maybe you know you can do but you don't always do. Other things, just say we don't do that or we can quarterback it. That's what I wanna see in your deck. It doesn't mean I'm not going to ask you to oversee that or grow your services to do it because I trust you so much as my partner. Anyone can figure out anything in our industry. I wanna know what you are awesome at and what your core focus is. When you tell a brand how to market through performance ads, you talk about the hero products. That's it, that's all anyone cares about, market, your hero products. Market your hero products is the same thing I would say to agencies and know that your hero products sometimes are the things you do, but also some soft things. Your relationships, not your relationship with talent and people you can bring in and assemble, but your relationships. Hey we were the ex heads of this forever and you need us to pick up a call into Hollywood, no problem. Great. Like those things that you come to the table with that you think are just part of you and are not that exciting are sometimes your most powerful tools in your toolkit. And I think people are sometimes scared to do it. They're scared to sell. Especially if you're a creative agency and you're run by a bunch of creatives. I'm like, this is what you sell, sell this. And they're like, 'I don't want to,' I'm like, 'You have to, you run an agency now. ' I could go on and on, but it's the confidence, it's the confidence in understanding where you shine and just saying that so simply and it's really hard for us all to do that. You know, it's hard for clients, it's hard for everyone to figure out how to present something that's so close and personal to them the right way.

    Brent Trimble: Would you say, I mean, and this is tactical, but you see a lot of different firms, you see and evaluate a lot of different creds. You've probably, because you're on the client side and you're enmeshed with them, you're, I presume, sitting through some pitches. Is it valuable for some principal to go through some fundamentals of sales training or pitch training ?

    Lindsey Slaby: I was so excited of a friend of mine who runs an experiential agency, they bombed on a pitch recently and they're awesome and their ideas are awesome, but how you communicate is so important because the clients are saying, can I put these people in front of the board? How much work am I gonna have to do to get them ready? This presentation looks like those things are important. It's not pitch theater, it's just doing a great job at it. So she had called me and said, you know, we're going to this pitch training thing, check it out, what do you think ? I was like, it doesn't matter what I think, that is great, investment in that for your team. It's important.

    Brent Trimble: It's storytelling, crisp, clear communications. I know from my vantage point and I've counseled different colleagues and ascendant points to their career, some of my most effective toolkit packets I guess that I was able to accumulate particular time spent in management consulting is basic stuff that just seems so fundamental. But if you have good numbers, lead with numbers. McKenzie famously leads with the solution and then spends the rest of the time explaining how to get there. I mean those types of things you can take to whether you are in the management consultancy space, IT services and doing big implementations all the way up through beautiful experiential creative, those are really fundamentals. That's a great takeaway.

    Lindsey Slaby: I had a media agency once pitch and say, 'We figured out how to build exponential power of your brand itself this way and we think with your current budget we can save you x million as the first slide. ' Everybody was so glued to the screen to hear what they were gonna say; they won. Amazing. Do that, especially in these pitches, it's like a James Bond approach, you start off with this massive lift of excitement and then you have like little ripples throughout. Don't leave it to the end when there's like five minutes left and everybody's on screen, especially when it's on screen and you've lost their attention. There is an entertainment piece to it. You might have the most amazing content in the world, but if it's been monotonous and at all the same throughout, I'd probably change the channel.

    Brent Trimble: That's great feedback and good to hear that things haven't become so transactional on the client's side that those things still matter. Good crafting of ideas, making it cogent still matters. So we've gone through kind of that evolution and certainly the swings in client preferences between types of firms. We are coming now to where I think you've always had a great vantage point. The big emerging platforms, investments and or trends. I mean you think of, of course we're a wash in a sea of metaverse content that it's the next great thing. Personally I sort of refuse to put on goggles and much prefer real life but appreciate the technology and where it's gone and now there's no more latency and all those types of things. But we've not humorously because we had to kind of live through the pandemic, and remember the QR code. I mean how many marketers pitch those as call to actions for years. And finally there was a need and it's had its moments so in a latent emerging technology. But beyond that, when you look at experiential things that move the needle, you mentioned the value of good work is still so preeminent. What are you seeing coming in 2023, 24 where that's going to be less of a trend or a femerade or more of a necessity ?

    Lindsey Slaby: So I might not answer this the way you want, but it's what I believe. It's hard, right ? Like thinking about innovation is very important and how we can do that. But I still have clients trying to figure out how to templatize emails.

    Brent Trimble: And we should pause there. The clients you work with are the Fortune 50.

    Lindsey Slaby: We're still figuring out the basic stuff sometimes, and a lot of that is because of external reliance and not casting the right partners to do the right things. We might have huge holding companies doing work for us who we haven't pushed enough to evolve and so they haven't. But I will say that if you were to ask me what I think is priority number one is creative production tools. So Celtra, Vidma, Canva, these alleviate the costs on the work that feels routine and they do it in a creative way and the agencies need to let it go. Again, a small agency in Chicago, I spoke of it and I was told afterwards people were scared of the conversation I had on two slides saying, 'Hey you need to deliver this kind of work. ' Brands are already using these tools and they're so valuable to not have to manually create one ad 400 different ways for creative testing. That's what we were doing in Costa Rica 10 years ago. We need to solve for video production and costs. Video is not a skill set that even agencies have as much. You know, it's always like on the production budget, which makes no sense to me. It should be a given on every fee. And you can do that in these tools very simply. So I think many firms are yet to use automation or these tools. I think there's just not enough education around it. And tying in with media and data to explain this is how the algorithms work with creative, you give it bad creative, not enough creative, and you get relegated to a certain place where they don't actually show those ads to your customers. The preciousness of algorithm - controlled ads needs to change from a creative perspective and that is education I think. And it's happening client side massively. So it has to happen with the agencies because let's just say, I don't care if you're a media agency, creative agency, or social, someone is spending a million dollars with you. If you are not delivering well on the tail end of just the smaller assets, it actually hurts all the other high value work that you did and you'll lose the account. So it's the little small things sometimes that matter and these tools fix it.

    Brent Trimble: That's really fascinating and I remember not too long ago, but more than a couple of years now where Facebook took that last step to monetize and so there was no organic reach anymore. And conveying that simply to clients that when we deploy an asset, it's going to be seen by very few people. In fact, the amount of people that are seeing it is gonna be minuscule because now it's turned into an advertising platform. So what you're saying is matching where the sophistication of the platforms have gone. They've turned into utilities, everyone consumes them, whether it's TikTok or folks on Meta, which still has sheer tonnage of views and seen by boomers and exers, right ? Because utility, everybody uses it.

    Lindsey Slaby: The funny thing is it's all about great creatives and relevantly. And you moved it over to these media processing things that just took all of that out and it didn't work. And then the creative teams are still doing shoots that get precious assets for it and making one set of assets a quarter. I'm like, oh my gosh. So that's gonna fix and I think it's on its way, hopefully. And if you're not on that train, get on it.

    Brent Trimble: It's adapting your firm's offering to understand the sophistication of the platforms and then probably scaling sophistication price by medium. But understanding that you've kind of produce sheer tonnage of these assets that really match to these platforms and now, there are great tools to help you complete that.

    Lindsey Slaby: And really just takes away everyone's headache and releases money to go back. It's not taking money out of the budget. I mean for some clients, maybe, but to be honest, not mine. And maybe that's why I work with the amazing marketing leaders I do. They move the money somewhere else and they open up the money and say awesome, let's do an experiential event. Awesome, let's do offsite with our team and bring them together in different ways. They are moving the money to better things. It's not about taking it away. It's about feeling like you're not wasting it, which gives your heart some pain to know that you're manually producing these things all the time. So see it as an investment opportunity.

    Brent Trimble: This has been great so far. We've talked a lot about organization, we've talked a lot about the client side, work types, methods, positioning, little bit of pricing in there, value. Let's wrap up with the individual. Someone who's maybe in the consulting side has a great set of skills in the creative agency side. They're planners, they're creative, they're technologists. These businesses, we contend, these are all talent businesses. And you mentioned earlier it's a great term and we hear this more and more from our agency clients in particular, even management consulting, talking about casting or casting a team of talent for your work. So for a cast member, for a colleague who's maybe mid-career or ascendent or even in their formative years, where are the skills that of course are fundamental but then maybe even in some, pick a niche area, where can they go to upskill? If the firm isn't providing that from a career path perspective, what are you seeing, contain it to marketing certainly ? What types of skills are in demand ? And then I know in some of the content you've published before, just a rich array of platforms and resources where you can go to upskill. But for that individual, what are you seeing?

    Lindsey Slaby: I see this coming up a lot at the end of the year, in the beginning of the year, people asking where can we go. I think Reforge, it's a little bit more on the pricey side. It's a great place to go if you're talking about mid-marketer or client side. And I would really get to understand how the platforms work. If you don't understand how the places that we're deploying things work, like a retail store, an environment, how that works is very hard to make work work for it. It should be an essential skill set. So I've had a lot of clients who come outta big brand marketing roles at huge corporations. Before they can go somewhere else, they've taken these courses to say, all right, I can pop into a DTC brand now because they kind of want me for my brand awareness side, but I don't know this other side and now I do. And it's invaluable I think. I would also just say, I think often, most people's soft skill is being curious and they have ideas and they're excited. Bring those proactively all the time, so that's more talking to the agency side to clients because that's what consultants do and that's how we create relationships and excitement to be together. That is a hallmark to my personality. If you work with me, you probably get a text every other day. Even if I'm not on retainer at that time, that's like, oh my god, I saw this video, you need to watch it minute three, this is what your team needs to do. And that is the value that I think inherently so much of us have. But you get nervous to open the door and do that thing and you should. And I think that you definitely should find more ways to create those connections and bring your ideas versus getting stuck in the world of our client never listens to us, they never this, they never that. They're people and they're awesome creative leaders and I think there's just new ways to think about building relationships. And a lot of that comes from the curiosity and the ideas that are sitting on the outside partners side. That's why we hire you. So go off scope, if that makes sense, as much as you can.

    Brent Trimble: That's great insight. So build that contextual knowledge of the technology, the platform, but on the relationship and really moving the ball forward, continue to hone that curiosity, relationship skills. It reminds me of a colleague I had who was a principal at a firm I was at and he was talking about his time on the client side and he had a big shot role at a big FinTech firm. And he said 'The McKinsey guy was in my office every other day just sitting chatting. ' He goes, 'I had no idea he was selling to me the entire time. I just thought, you know, he wanted to be a friend. ' But just that real soft, relational, low wattage but good investment in time to move the needle forward. This has been outstanding and we covered a wide array of topics, which I knew we would. It's been great to reconnect and I think our listeners are going to appreciate this 30 minutes or so packed with some very practical knowledge. Where are you publishing ? What's a great place for listeners to go just to follow you and see some of the insights.

    Lindsey Slaby: I publish on LinkedIn, not as much as I'd like to. It's a busy summer into fall. I have a private Slack group, it's awesome, it's small, it caps at 300 people and you gotta leave to open a seat. But I'm always open to people applying. The community sort of selects the type of capabilities they wanna have in there. Again, just sort of balance out this table and I share in there on a regular basis. But definitely LinkedIn, it's under my name Lindsey Slaby, Sunday Dinner. And thank you so much for having me, I'm happy to give practical knowledge as much as I can. And it seems like Brent, you make sense of me, so maybe we should do more things like this together.

    Brent Trimble: Well thank you so much and for our listeners, thank you for listening. As always, feel free to reach out to us at podcast @kantata. com with any follow up questions for us. You can find Lindsay on LinkedIn. I can attest to the fact that she is very responsive and we always love to hear from our listeners with ideas, insights, certainly topical ideas that you'd like us to cover. So thanks again and this has been great. If you enjoyed this podcast, let us know by giving the show a five-star review on your favorite podcast platform and leaving a comment. If you haven't already subscribed to the show, you can do so anywhere you get podcasts on any podcast app. And to learn more about the power of Kantata’s purpose built technology, go to Kantata. com. Thanks again for listening!