Go Bold

by | Nov 17, 2016

Last week was a big week.

Shelton Group celebrated its 25th year in business, we pulled together a small group of clients for two days of deep discussion around sustainability-related marketing at our annual Inner Circle Symposium, and then, of course, there was the presidential election with the result that left many of us stunned and searching for answers.

There’s a common thread – and a piece of advice – I can see between all three of those events that’s worth digging into: go bold, even if it’s hard.

At Shelton Group’s 25th anniversary party, I attempted to answer the question, “How the hell have we managed to stay in business – and thrive – for 25 years?” Well, we haven’t always thrived. For the first half of our existence, we were a generalist marketing agency, like most, without any real point of distinction between other generalist agencies, except a commitment to doing creative grounded in research and strategy (and that wasn’t really all that differentiating). It wasn’t until we made the bold move to only focus in the sustainability arena – with an emphasis on energy and the environment – that we began to grow in a meaningful way and do our best work with tangible results.

That wasn’t an easy decision. Most people who own marketing and advertising agencies are creative folks who like the intellectual stimulation of being a Jack/Jill of all trades, and we tend to be pleasers. So specializing in one area, which means saying “no” to a whole bunch of potential clients and the opportunity to learn new industries, is excruciating. That’s why most firms are still slogging it out as generalists. Making a bold commitment to being the best at one thing is absolutely a way to drive business success … but it’s really, really hard to make the decision to do it and then stick with it.

At our annual Inner Circle Symposium, we covered the trends we’re tracking in the marketplace related to sustainability; Scripps Networks Interactive came in and shared some of the mindset shifts they’re seeing; we reviewed some of the sustainability and CSR-related advertising we’ve seen over the last year; EDF talked about their work with business; and we held a live focus group with Millennials to dig into their expectations of companies and products related to people and the planet. Again, the theme of “going bold” emerged:

  • Want to earn loyalty with consumers? Make bold commitments to the environment and society and live up to them.
  • Want to get a tremendous amount of PR and social media coverage? Make a bold move aligned with your brand values, like REI closing on Black Friday (see the case study to understand the power of this move).
  • Want to get Americans to actually make their homes greener? Make the bold move of doing it for them and helping them have less to worry about. My favorite quote from the Scripps presentation: “Less is about shifting from my burden to my choice.”
  • Want to drive real business outcomes related to sustainability? As EDF will tell you, make bold, public commitments and then make sure you have a good coach to help you through the “middle miles” of the marathon.
  • Want to attract the best and brightest Millennials to come work for you? Make a bold move, like paying off their student loans.

And then there’s the election. For years at sustainability conferences I’ve heard, “Government’s not going to lead on the environment; business must.” That’s certainly true now. As I wrote last week, I don’t see any reason to believe the new administration will do anything positive for the environment and many reasons to believe they’ll take steps backwards on this front (Mr. Trump declared in his campaign rhetoric that he’ll kill the clean power plan and back away from the Paris accord).

At one of the aforementioned sustainability conferences this year, I heard someone say, “There’s no business case for a 2-degree increase in global temperatures,” and I agree. I believe savvier business leaders can absolutely see the supply chain and human capital disruptions that would result from letting our climate problems continue, and they’ll step up to do what they can to change those outcomes. My advice to them? Go bold, even if it’s hard. And it most likely will be very, very hard.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and GreenBiz.com.

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insight

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Penny Kemp

VP Account Management & Strategy

Penny leads our client engagement process, overseeing activities from both a strategic and a tactical level to ensure our work generates desired results. She works closely with Suzanne, President & CEO, to develop strategic marketing plans and with Matt, VP Creative, to foster creative campaign ideas. Before joining Shelton Group, Penny had developed expertise in brand management and marketing while working with award-winning agencies and shepherding programs for the likes of Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Russell Athletic and James Hardie Building Products.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Glen L. Vesser III

VP Finance and Administration

Glen manages Shelton Group’s finances and administration, ensuring our internal systems run smoothly so we can provide exceptional client service in a seamless and timely manner. Glen’s financial and administrative expertise has been shaped by decades of experience in a variety of industries, including public accounting, media distribution and health care.

Mike Beamer

VP Business Development

Mike joined our team to help provide strategic vision and foster our agency’s growth by overseeing new business leads and managing agency marketing and website content. He arrived in Knoxville steeped in energy efficiency and renewables – he previously led client service for an agency division in Boston dedicated to marketing communications strategy and branding for B2B and B2C clients in that space.