Branding for Everything in Between

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Greg Andersen is CEO at Bailey Lauerman. Fifty years ago, before Greg’s time, Bailey Lauerman published a lifestyle magazine promoting activities around Lincoln and Omaha and created ads in the publication for companies in exchange for their financial support. When these companies asked Bailey Lauerman to create ads to use in other venues, the publisher pivoted to start the journey to become the agency it is today—focused on authentic brand connection with people outside America’s 10 largest cities.

Why that target market? Greg feels that too much of marketing’s focus has been on the people who live in the 10 largest cities in the US, when 92% of the population lives elsewhere, in what Greg refers to the “Everything In Between.” He thinks that metropolitan agencies have a hard time understanding these “overlooked segments,” but Bailey Lauerman, located in the middle of the “Everything in Between,” Omaha, Nebraska, is positioned by geography and philosophy to understand these diverse people.

Greg believes that social media has made influencer marketing too slick, too formulaic, and mainstream. In response, Bailey Lehman launched the Everything in Between Influencer Network. The company partners with hundreds of bloggers, influencers, and tastemakers “across a range of geographies, verticals and platforms” who will share their pride, values, attitudes, and opinions about the communities where they live. Marketers will have access to small/mid-sized influencer communities from people living “Everywhere in Between.” Expect increased engagement, lower cost, and reduced follower fraud as people from these less populous areas share their pride, values, attitudes, and opinions.

A native of Nebraska, Greg spent 23 years in New York advertising agencies and 3 years leading RAPP’s LA offices. Omaha, Nebraska is not a hotbed of high-profile advertising agencies, but Greg had been aware of nationally-recognized Bailey Lauerman for years. When he got the call that the agency was looking for new leadership, he knew it was time to return home. The first challenge—how could he take what would be considered a competitive disadvantage (geography) and turn it into an advantage?

By being what it was . . . just as so many years ago, Greg had learned to succeed by being himself—the boy from Nebraska.

When Greg started working in New York, he tried to play it as he expected a big-time New York agent would . . . until he realized that people valued his midwestern background. He had a different perspective and could tell them how things would be perceived in places other than New York. Creating brands that resonate with highly populated metropolitan areas does not guarantee that those same messages will work for the 92 percent of the population who don’t live in those super-cities. That, Greg says, is the strength of his company . . . Bailey Lauerman has a long history of “connecting brands to a part of the country” that companies need to reach in order to scale their businesses. Greg is leveraging that history to continue his company’s legacy of excellence.

Greg can be reached on his company’s website at baileylauerman.com.

ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined today by Greg Andersen, CEO at Bailey Lauerman based in Omaha, Nebraska. Welcome, Greg.

GREG: How you doing, Rob? Thanks for having me.

ROB: Fantastic to have you. I’m doing great, how are you?

GREG: Enjoying a nice fall day here in the heartland.

ROB: Brilliant. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about Bailey Lauerman and what makes Bailey Lauerman great?

GREG: Bailey Lauerman is a 50-year-old agency that actually started as a publishing company. The founders of the agency launched a magazine that would give readers ideas on what to do around Lincoln and Omaha. People started buying advertising space in that lifestyle guide, and then they started asking if the agency would do the ads. It turned out the agency was pretty good at making those ads, and 50 years later, here we are.

We’re an agency that has taken a great deal of pride in where we’re from and our ability to connect brands authentically with America outside of its 10 largest cities.

ROB: Got it. Have you always been, then, in the Omaha area? Or have you also spent some time elsewhere, yourself personally?

GREG: I’m a Nebraska guy, born and raised. Finished second in the Nebraska State Duck Calling Championship when I was 14 years old. [laughs] Sometimes I put that in my bio just to make people question.

ROB: Do people ask you to do a duck call, or is that something you need tools for?

GREG: Yes, I’ve been asked many times, particularly when I worked in New York. It’s not something you do with your mouth. A duck call is – I very colorfully describe it as a reeded instrument. So yeah, you need a tool to make that happen. Maybe on the next show, Rob.

ROB: You can pretend you don’t have one right by you.

GREG: [laughs] Exactly. Put that duck call away.

So yeah, born and raised here. Knew pretty early on that I wanted to get into advertising. Some of my parents’ friends were in advertising, and this one guy had a TV commercial that was on air for a chainsaw brand called McCulloch. The spot was these talking beavers that were lamenting the fact that this chainsaw was better at cutting down trees than they were.

First of all, I loved that. Talking animals when you’re 14 years old, how can you go wrong? But I just thought it was really cool that I knew the person that created that ad. From that point forward, I knew I wanted to get into the advertising business.

I graduated from the University of Nebraska with a major in Advertising and minors in Psychology in Marketing and English, and looked around the Omaha agency scene at that point and thought maybe I should give it a go in a bigger city. So, I moved to New York. Told my parents, “If I don’t get a job in advertising in New York in a month, I’ll move back home.”

I didn’t know anyone in advertising in New York, so, needless to say, I did not get a job in advertising in a month. I had a typing test at Grey to enter into their administrative pool – but I’m dating myself by telling you that this typing test was on a typewriter. [laughs] And I failed miserably at it. I was distraught that perhaps that was my one chance to get into the business.

But, I fell in love with New York City and decided to wait tables until I got a job. My first gig in New York was at a really excellent creative boutique called DeVito/Verdi. It was the best experience I could’ve possibly had because it was a five-person shop, with me being the fifth staff member.

I learned every aspect of the agency business from that position because I had to wear so many hats, and also, because of the nature of that agency and its focus on creativity, I really appreciated and understood what the product was of an agency and what it took to get to great work. I will be forever grateful to that agency for the experience that it gave me and the perspective that it gave me.

That was the start of 23 years in New York for me. I spent 11 of those years in account management and then made the switch to strategic planning, and then eventually management.

ROB: Looking at such an established agency with Bailey Lauerman – oftentimes we are talking to the founders of the agencies; you, with your 23 years of industry experience and a 50-year agency, are clearly not the founder. So, coming from Nebraska, being in New York, having experience in the industry, and now you’re the CEO of this established agency, had you been looking to get back? Or was there some perfect storm of experiences and timing that made it all come together?

GREG: My last job in New York was at an agency called BBH, and I was the U.S. CEO of BBH. The 4A’s, which is the agency industry body, they organize tours for different agency principals. I was in my office one day at BBH and someone came in and said, “Hey, we’re presenting to this group of agency principals and there’s someone from Nebraska in there. Maybe you know them.”

(When you live in Nebraska, you get the joke of “Oh, hey, you’re from Nebraska? Do you know (blah blah blah)?” As if we’re going to run into them in the town square, waiting in line to use the one telephone we have here.)

So that’s where I met Jim and Meg Lauerman, in the conference room of BBH in New York. I kept in touch with them, and I’d obviously been aware of the agency and been cheering it on from afar, because it is an agency, though it is from Nebraska, that has national profile.

I was on the Global Board of the Effies for a number of years – so many, in fact, that they had to introduce term limits to remove me – but I had always seen Bailey Lauerman winning Effies in New York at the Effies Gala, and seeing work that the agency was doing, getting national recognition. And then they won AdAge Small Agency of the Year, and I thought that was really fantastic.

I had always thought about at some point coming back home. This is where home is for me, and it’s an agency that I have a lot of respect for, just purely as a practitioner.

But it was a roundabout way for me to get back. I spent 3 years in LA leading the Los Angeles office of RAPP and then became the U.S. President of RAPP. I wanted to learn more about the breadth and depth of data and technology and its application in marketing today, which I didn’t really have. It was my open flank, if you will, of experience.

And then I would call it, from LA, a perfect storm of a number of things that transpired that made me look back home – one being a terminal diagnosis of an older brother, so I wanted to come back to Nebraska and spend his last few months with him. At that time, Jim Lauerman had called me as well and said, “Hey, I think we’re looking for new leadership.” So, it just seemed like the right time to come home.

ROB: Wow, that’s quite a set of circumstances. Coming in from the outside with a good bit of experience, but into this established and it sounds like locally iconic agency, how do you as the CEO figure out which things needed to stay the same and which things needed to change, and when?

GREG: That’s a really good question, Rob. I think that my experience as an account planner really helped there, because what I’m managing here is not just a business, but a brand.

In thinking about the Bailey Lauerman brand, you do think about the things that have made it successful, the things that are lore inside the agency and in the minds of people that the agency have dealt with over the years. Then you also look forward and think about what the future is going to be and the context that you’re going to need to operate in to be successful.

I think that for this agency, one of its great strengths is its people. Maybe I say that as a biased Midwesterner, but the quality of the people just as people at Bailey Lauerman is a competitive advantage for us. I’m not going to go into the litany of Midwestern personality characteristics, but needless to say they’re there.

The agency also, for its 50 years, has been really respectful of people and businesses in this part of the country and has done work that is interesting, creative, innovative, but at the same time respectful and simple. Not in a “Hey, we need to make this simple so people can understand it,” but simple in that it’s smart and reductionist.

This agency has had a lot through the years that has defined what it’s all about, and when I got here, part of the challenge was thinking about, how do I turn what it seen as a competitive disadvantage – which is our geography – into a competitive advantage?

So, I started thinking back to my own story, when I left Omaha for New York, I thought the fastest way for me to be successful in advertising in New York was to try to be a cool NEW York advertising kid – which, Rob, I think I failed miserably at.

It wasn’t too long before senior client and agency people said, “Hey, you’re from out there somewhere, aren’t you?” I’m like, “Yes, out there somewhere – Nebraska. That’s a specific place, it’s got a name. It’s not just that giant blob of flyover land between New York and LA.” “Will you come look at this brief? Will you look at this campaign? How will it work? How will that play?”

That didn’t just happen once. It happened again and again and again, and because that happened so frequently, that’s why I started to put that I finished second in the Nebraska State Duck Calling Championship on my bio, just because there would be people like, “Oh, you’re from Nebraska? Interesting.” I guess a bit of a novelty in the big city.

And then when I came to the agency and I talked to clients both in and out of the region and I said, “Why did you hire this agency called Bailey Lauerman?”, they said, “Two reasons, both born out of where you’re from. Number one is the quality of your people” – which I just talked about a minute ago – “and the second is that for decades, you guys have been connecting brands to a part of the country that we need in order to scale our business.”

Because 92% of America lives outside of the 10 largest cities. I’m not very good at math, but last time I checked that’s a lot of people. I thought to my 26 years in advertising in New York and LA, about the biased thinking that happens inside agencies and with clients. The fallacies about, “If we create brands that appeal to the big metro areas, everyone else will follow.” It’s not necessarily true. The motivation to do work that they and their peers think is cool on the whizzy new platform du jour that has all of 23 people on it, but doesn’t have scale into the country that real people are actually using.

And then no matter where you stand on the political spectrum, the election of 2016 I think made a lot of institutions of all kinds go, “We don’t understand America as well as we probably should or as well as we thought we did.”

All of those things coming together at that moment really crystallized, to me, what this agency brand has always been about and should always be about, which is to have a really strong purpose of properly representing what America really is. That’s our expertise. That’s what we bring to our clients: an understanding of the complex, nuanced, surprising, innovative America that exists outside of the 10 largest cities.

Because it represents so many people, because it represents such buying power, we are hanging our hat on that. What we say in our agency propaganda is that we represent “the everything in between,” which is the America outside of its 10 largest cities or between its 10 largest cities,” and that our thinking is rooted in the middle and goes out as opposed to from the coast in.

That doesn’t mean that we’re an anti-big city agency. That’s not it at all. We’re just saying that our thinking and our insights start at a different place, and the stories that we’re going to tell about America or about a business in America or an individual are going to be inspiring and interesting, but authentic to what it’s really like here.

ROB: I think a lot of creatives outside of the top 10 cities might look at clients that they want to work with who are in those top 10 cities, who you work with among your many clients and many places – I think they might feel like they struggle to cut through the noise and to be relevant to that sort of client.

What is the equalizer there? Is it really excellence and proving excellence over time that helps you cut through that noise and be relevant to them?

GREG: To clients in those cities?

ROB: Yes. To clients that may seem unattainable to someone who’s creative and excellent in the middle of the country.

GREG: A couple things on that. First, any good brand in any category, including advertising, including advertising agencies – any good brand defines who that company is for and who it isn’t. If we are defining our brand as representing “the everything in between” and our thing is “made for America,” we may never get an opportunity to work on the cool kids brand – that is, marketing to the trendsetters in Silver Lake and Brooklyn.

And that’s okay. We need our brand to appeal to a segment of the client population, and if that’s 30% or 40% of the client population and we’re able to get 1/10th, 1% of that market share, we’re golden. We’re fully aware that our brand positioning is going to make us a nonstarter for some types of clients or some types of categories.

But at the end of the day, we have to do great work, and that work and the reputation that that work builds and the other ways that we build reputation for the agency – our mentality is we have to be a destination brand. We have to be a place that clients are willing to have to make a connection on their flight to come see us or that talent would go, “Yeah man, that place is good enough that I would be willing to go give Omaha a try” – which is a super cool city now, by the way.

But all of that said, we go up against everybody. We pitch against all the big well-known agencies in the big cities, and we win. We compete against the big brand names in most everything that we’re pitching. We’re not afraid to go toe-to-toe with any agency anywhere – and in fact, oddly enough, we are now an international agency, having bested four European agencies for some work for a client of ours in the U.S. Who knew?

I think what it comes down to is having an interesting point of view that’s fresh in the marketplace, that would be seen as fresh by talent and clients alike, and then doing the work that gives clients and talent the confidence that that’s stuff that they want, that they want to be associated with.

ROB: Solid. Greg, what are a couple of things you’ve learned from your experience leading Bailey Lauerman that you would do differently if you were taking the job over today?

GREG: I’ve learned a lot in my career, and I’m not sure that there’s a lot that I would do differently from the time that I was at Bailey Lauerman.

I think that one of the things that I certainly wish I would’ve done differently here is just my patience. You come in as the new guy and you want to drive things forward as quickly as you can, but recognizing that a culture change and a different way of doing things and the way that you set higher standards takes more than a speech in front of the agency. It takes you being a practitioner in there with the teams, working alongside them to let them see what it’s like and what it takes to get to great.

I think I was hoping for a little bit of a quicker pace on our evolution, but I think we’re really getting there now. So, I’m really proud of where we’re at as an agency, the composition of our staff and the quality of work that we’re doing right now. I think it’s the best it’s been since I’ve been here, so that’s great.

Just looking back across my career, things I wish I would’ve done differently, I think early on I was really infatuated with the work that I was doing for the agency, but my infatuation stopped at the end of the work that we were doing. I should’ve been more infatuated with my clients’ businesses and how the work we were doing helped them achieve their commercial ambitions.

I think when you’re a young person in advertising, you think your job is making great work – and that’s part of it, and that’s what the talk is inside the walls of any agency: how cool this work is, how good this work is.

But going one step further and applying that passion to, “Yeah, this is great work, but I want to be equally passionate, to understand how it fits into the client’s business to drive it forward in a meaningful way” – I think when you’re able to do that, you build really strong client relationships and you do great work that works.

It’s interesting now – I don’t think you can not have that mentality today because so much of what great marketing is, is a blur between product, marketing, and service. You really have to understand how that all fits neatly together in today’s media, technology, and data landscape.

ROB: Indeed. I think that’s a great thought for anybody in any role, to think more deeply beyond just the instructions they’re given and the job they’re given and the task they’re given to understand the deeper context – and in your case, to understand that deeper context to understand how to solve the client’s problems more deeply beyond just what’s been said, what’s been captured, what’s been planned. I think that’s tremendous for all of us to think about.

Greg, what are you excited about that is coming up for Bailey Lauerman, or perhaps more broadly in marketing?

GREG: Beyond just the trajectory of the agency, I’m really excited about how we’re starting to activate our brand positioning. Again, as a planner, this is how I think. This is our brand platform; how do we extend it? How do we use it to inform everything that we do?

One of the things that we are very, very close to launching – in fact, this is the first time that I’m going to be talking about it publicly – is what we’re calling The Everything in Between Influencer Network. It is an influencer network populated by people from “the everything in between.”

The reason that we’re doing that is because we see that the evolution of influencer marketing has gone so far and grown so significantly that it’s lost its authenticity. There used to be a thing called word of mouth, right? Everyone was like, word of mouth marketing, that’s the best marketing because it’s when two people that know each other talk about something and one person makes a recommendation to another.

That thing called word of mouth got supercharged when all of these social platforms got introduced, and then that became a really powerful channel of marketing – which then gave rise to influencers, and these influencers started to get paid, and then these influencers turned into celebrities and started to put out their perfectly manicured lives for all to see.

They’ve got millions and millions of followers, and guess what? They live in places like New York and LA, and they are now just a different form of celebrity. It’s our view that there’s a break there in credibility and authenticity with the mega-influencers that exist today.

So our network is designed to identify and accumulate mid-tier and micro influencers that are from places outside of the 10 largest cities in the country, but are still really interesting people doing interesting things and having interesting points of view in their particular area – but they just happen to be more like people you might know, in towns more like your town.

We think that that is a really authentic connection to our brand and our belief about what marketing needs to be to market to the everything in between. It’s a real differentiator for the agency and something that, as far as we know, is pretty fresh in the industry itself.

ROB: Where should we go to find that?

GREG: Well, you should go to the agency’s website, but not yet because it isn’t launched yet. [laughs] But in the next couple of weeks we’ll have that up. It’s operating; we’re working through the network for a number of our clients, but we just haven’t hung out the shingle on that yet.

ROB: That’s good. The timing should work out well. It’s the day after Election Day today, but we’re probably a few weeks out from release on this, so probably by the time this goes live, people can go to your site and see this.

GREG: Right on.

ROB: That’s very good stuff. Where should people find you, when they want to find you, Greg, and find Bailey Lauerman?

GREG: Well, baileylauerman.com, or you can find me on LinkedIn. I guess that’s the easiest way to go. All my contact information is on the website, and I’d be happy to talk to anyone about the agency or how we see the evolution of America.

It’s a really interesting time. For us, we think that while media channels and technology in marketing change all the time, an important constant is understanding people, and that’s what we’re defining our agency around: understanding people, and more specifically, understanding the people and cultures and businesses and all the interesting things that are happening in America.

ROB: Fantastic. I think we can all learn a lot from you about understanding, respecting, and marketing to the middle of America. Thank you for sharing your experience and sharing your time, Greg. Congrats on everything so far in your tenure at Bailey Lauerman.

GREG: Thank you very much, Rob. Appreciate it.

ROB: All right, have a great one.

GREG: Thank you.

ROB: Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email info@convergehq.com, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.

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