Greg Keating is Agency Operations Manager and Business Development Lead at Hangar12, a fully remote, digital marketing agency that has been in Greg’s family in one form or another for 3 generations, and transitioned from brick-and-mortar to fully remote in 2015.
After a college internship his father arranged at what is today Hangar12 (No, thank you!), Greg started his career in production supply chain management, doing supply chain and marketing analytics, and “proving himself” in massive companies (Coca-Cola and Ecolab). His father, Kevin, again tapped him a few years ago. What to do?
Greg’s father, Kevin, whose original career choice had been to work in Parks and Recreation in Irvine, California, likewise, had been tapped by his father in 1988 (Greg’s grandfather had joined the agency in 1981). Greg’s father joined the agency and worked there for 12 years before he purchased it in 2000.
Granddad worked there, Dad owned it . . . Greg took a second look, and, amazed at how far the agency had come – from the in-store shopper marketing cardboard cutouts he saw when he was growing up to today’s digital and social media marketing – and fell in love.
Hangar12, renamed 1n 2012 in honor of his grandfather’s WWII Air Force service, is somewhat Chicago-centric, but staff are located throughout the Midwest. The agency provides consumer packaged goods clients in the food and beverage space with a consumer-first approach, in-house creative teams, omnichannel activations, and a focus on measurement.
What makes Hangar12 great? Greg believes the remote business model enables his team to deliver “quality marketing campaigns faster than anyone else,” utilizing digital, social media, consumer promotions, and shopper marketing. And LOTS of video. Remote employees work when they feel they can be most productive (which improves efficiency) and log their time on daily timesheets, “meeting,” as needed, by phone or email. Getting campaigns running fast makes for happy clients and reduces the delay in marketing effort revenue recognition.
Greg notes that ecommerce and the rise of Amazon have challenged brick-and-mortar retailers to stock new brands and unknown products, even before a full marketing plan is in place. Why would stores do this? Brick-and-mortar businesses, especially grocery stores, having been stagnant area for so long, are now scrambling to find the next “hot item,” to get on the “front end” of a trend, to stock a product before the competition does, or, even, to become an exclusive vendor for a “unicorn” product. Once a start-up’s product is “on the shelves,” stores are demanding that these brands “prove” that they are putting in the marketing effort that justifies the placement . . . which is when the startup brand goes looking for what Hangar12 can do.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. My guest today is Greg Keating. He’s the Agency Operations Manager and Business Development Lead at Hangar12. Hangar12 is a fully remote agency. They have staff all over the Midwest and possibly beyond, but Greg’s based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Welcome to the podcast, Greg.
GREG: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
ROB: Great to have you here. Why don’t you start off by telling us about Hangar12 and what makes Hangar12 great?
GREG: We’re a digital marketing agency. Again, as you mentioned, we’re based remotely, but we have a lot of people in the Chicagoland area. We work primarily with consumer packaged goods clients, but we’ve been all over the CPG industry. We work a lot in the food and beverage space, doing some omnichannel activations for those clients. We, again, work in digital, social media, consumer promotions, shopper marketing.
We’ve been around for a long time. It’s actually an agency that’s been in my family for a number of years. We’re working on the third generation now, which is kind of exciting to have that type of continuity.
Again, we’ve really focused on shifting from being that brick-and-mortar type of agency to now flexing and being in the remote space and how that has enabled us to work a little bit differently than some more traditional agencies and how that’s allowed us to provide some differentiating value.
ROB: Perfect. With that focus into consumer packaged goods, into stuff we might see at the store or we might buy online, what do you think it is about the team capabilities that really makes that type of client a strong suit for you?
GREG: That’s a great question. For us, I feel like we check all the boxes for what a typical CPG brand looks for in an agency. We have the in-house creative teams, multichannel activations, focus on measurement, consumer-first approach, etc., all those things. But beyond that, we really deliver quality marketing campaigns faster that anyone else, and that’s primarily due to our remote model.
I would say our ability to work in that flexible environment allows us to get some of those quality campaigns up and running quicker than a traditional setup, and that really reduces any delay in revenue recognition from marketing efforts – which a lot of times is what those brands are looking for. How do we get this new brand or product line extension up and running quickly so we can demonstrate success? That’s really our bread and butter.
ROB: That’s actually good for you and for them. They’re trying to get a product out the door, and you as an agency are taking out some sort of contract to launch that product. The way these contracts lay out, sometimes you’re getting paid at the beginning and then at the end, and then there’s this, for you, a revenue recognition middle where nothing’s coming in for them. They’re ready to birth this product into the world, and they can’t.
Given that you are the operations manager for the agency, I imagine you know some things about what it takes to get quality content out at speed. How do you think about doing that?
GREG: Again, a lot of that just comes back to – I give credit to my dad, who’s the president of the agency and made the call in 2015 to shutter the doors on the office space we had in the West Loop of Chicago for 20 years. He closed that up and then moved everything remote, which, especially at the time, I think was a really bold move.
That has given our people a ton of freedom in how they operate from a time management perspective and standpoint of the time windows that they can work to get things done during the day that allow them to be most productive.
For us, we log daily timesheets. We’re tracking those types of things. But the reality is that our people have that type of freedom to move around throughout the day, do the things they need to do, and be productive when it best suits their lifestyle.
Because they have that type of freedom, they’re able to work a little bit more efficiently. They collaborate, I would say, sometimes even more so than in a typical brick-and-mortar setting because we’re so digitally connected via phone and email and all that stuff. If we need to find something out or have a conversation, we do that, and it happens immediately. Everyone makes themselves available. We’ve even looked into and utilized shared workspaces to make sure we have the face time when necessary, but that flexible environment is really what allows us to be a speedy shop in that sense.
ROB: Right. I think that makes sense that people can work when they need to, they can focus and get things done. I imagine there are some processes in place to let people know, “tag, you’re it,” when it’s their turn.
I’d imagine in CPG, you probably are doing a reasonable amount of video. Are you doing much video?
GREG: We do a good amount of video, yeah.
ROB: That seems like a tricky one to do remotely. It seems like people typically want to be more collaborative and will put a significant portion of their team on a shoot.
GREG: Yeah, that’s a great point.
ROB: Do you have a different way that makes that work better?
GREG: For us, again, I mentioned we had that office in the West Loop of Chicago for a long time, so we do retain a lot of our account people that are in the Chicagoland area, as well as a good amount of our creatives as well. So, it’s still pretty easy for those people to get together – and frankly, we have some clients in Chicago as well, so that type of collaboration is still pretty accessible from just a geographical setup.
But it is something that we frankly do a lot more traveling, because we’re remote. If we need to be onsite for a shoot, we’ll do what it takes to get the right people in place to go there. We recognize that video continues to be this huge, engaging unit for marketing that is a core pillar of what we do, so we’ll do what we need to do make sure we’re resourcing accordingly and putting the right people in place to make those shoots successful.
ROB: Right on. You mentioned that this is now a business in its third generation. What can you tell us about the origin story of Hangar12?
GREG: It’s an interesting one, for sure. My dad, who’s the current president of the agency, started out in parks & recreation. He was actually out in the city of Irvine in California.
ROB: Not the TV show.
GREG: You can think of him as the Ron Swanson of the city of Irvine. [laughs] But he got the call from his dad, my grandpa, back in I think 1990, to come back to Chicago, which is where he’s from, and work alongside him as account executives at this creative ad agency.
My grandpa had been planning to retire in a couple years, and instead, they ended up working together for like 12 years and really building up the agency. Then in 2000, my dad purchased it and grew the service offerings and created a package design arm to what we do as well. So, he really made it into his own agency.
Then a few years ago, there was the opportunity for me to come aboard. I have been in more of the supply chain space prior to that and doing some supply chain and marketing analytics. The timing was right for me to come aboard and see what Hangar12 was all about, and it’s been an awesome experience. Just seeing a new side, certainly of my dad personally, and how he treats his agency like a family. Being brought into the fold has been a really cool experience.
ROB: Having seen this business at some length while you were growing up, even, was it sort of inevitable that you were going to join the business? Or did you think you were going to go down the supply chain path and never come back?
GREG: That’s a great question. I did an internship with him in college, and I was like, “Yep, not for me. I’m going to go do supply chain and do my own thing.” [laughs] I enjoyed it; I’m really just a problem-solver at heart. I think at the time, I viewed “I’ll go do the corporate thing, and if this happens, it happens.”
That was actually really great, because it gave me an opportunity – I was with Coca-Cola and a company called Ecolab, and to see how some of those really massive organizations work – and obviously there’s a lot of pros and cons with that, but to have some outside experience was super valuable. Proved myself a little bit.
And then to come back into the fold was so interesting, because, as you mentioned, when I was growing up, they were doing a lot of in-store shopper marketing with cardboard cutouts. It was just very old school. To see the amount of change and adaptability that they’ve experienced in the last 10 years is just wild in terms of how much digital and social media expertise we’ve brought in and focused on. It’s been really impressive.
ROB: If you don’t mind me asking, Hangar12 sounds like a more contemporary name. Was that always the name and they were just way ahead of the curve, or was there a rebrand somewhere in the history of the firm?
GREG: It’s funny, it started out as I think UVG&N back in the day, and my dad Kevin has rebranded it a couple times. Hangar12 has ended up being a nod to my grandpa, who was a bombardier in the U.S. Air Force in World War II and flew like 35 missions in the European theatre. He rebranded it in 2012. The Hangar element was a nod to him being in the Air Force. So, it was just this cool, passionate, innovative idea that sparked my dad and led to that rebrand.
ROB: Very cool. Obviously, we’re always learning new things as we run businesses. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot more on this topic, but what have you learned so far and taken to heart when it comes to running a family business with family involved?
GREG: That’s a great question. Again, as I mentioned, it’s funny to see this different side of my dad. Not really one I knew growing up, because he would just move in to Dad mode when he came home, and that’s the guy I knew. So now, to see him really in his professional element and the way he leads people is awesome, because I just feel encouraged to foster some of those leadership abilities in myself and really model it after the way he’s continued to grow and build his agency.
And I’m excited because I get to bring in a little bit of an outside perspective and be somewhat insulated in how I can provide him feedback and identify opportunities about how we can continue to adapt, to grow and diversify.
It’s really interesting for me because I can look at him and say, “You have all this experience that I feel like is transferrable outside of food and beverage or even CPG to other industries, and we should probably start taking advantage of that in how we scope and identify those types of new client opportunities.” For him, I’m challenging him a little bit on that front, but it’s been really fun to grow in our relationship. We’re not even in the same city, but it’s for sure the most we’ve talked probably ever on a regular cadence. It’s just been a really fun experience.
ROB: I can imagine. It’s probably even advantageous with you in Minneapolis, and you’re in a business development lead role. That gives a new vector to grow the business in interesting ways.
As business development lead and coming from supply chain, what are things you’re seeing, learning, and how do you do this business development role that I think can be very challenging within agencies?
GREG: It’s funny; I’ve been doing all these sales bootcamps and trainings in the last 3 months, and it’s like, man, for my first sales role, I picked a pretty challenging industry to be in, in terms of selling agency services to a lot of brands who either have very competent teams in-house or are in the growth stage and may not have the resources to really invest quite yet.
It’s all about finding that sweet spot. It’s interesting being in Minneapolis. General Mills is up here, 3M is up here, Land O’ Lakes. It’s kind of a hotbed for CPG manufacturing and brand management. That’s been really interesting for me to flex my local geography and understand that I’m in a unique position to really reach out and have some of those relationships face-to-face. Certainly trying to leverage that.
But really, beyond that, it’s funny – we’ve started exploring as many different sales channels as possible. Obviously, referrals continue to be important in this business. But we’ve had a ton of leads from organic search and SEO. So we’ve really focused a lot on our own internal content. How can we utilize inbound marketing to bring people in once they seek us out and view our website?
And then a new one, that I think for my dad was popular maybe a decade ago and is resurging, is going to a lot of expos, getting face time with people and talking to them on the floor and having those 10-15 minute interactions where we can really connect with the right people and talk about our value prop – and in some instances, capitalize on speaking engagements at those expos to highlight some of the case studies that we’ve worked on that we feel are really applicable across the industry.
ROB: The types of prospects that find you via SEO, are those some of the fledgling upstart brands? Are those some of the big folks, too? Is there any trend? Who’s still searching for someone to help them market a brand or product?
GREG: Most of those do tend to be startup brands. Frankly, a lot of it has been brands who have experienced early success, they’ve gotten distribution in key retail environments, but they really don’t have a holistic marketing plan or a marketing plan that’s looking at omnichannel or shopper marketing growth.
They might have had some early success due to that type of momentum they’re experiencing being a new product, and now a lot of those buyers in big box retailers or grocery chains are looking to them and saying, “What are you doing to support your placement now that I’ve put you on-shelf?” and they don’t have an answer. That’s really where they start to seek us out to say, “Hey, can you help us solve for this and put together some marketing campaigns that are really going to demonstrate sales lift in-store at this specific chain?” Those are the types of tailormade solutions that we excel at.
And then, frankly, we have a really strong in-house creative team that creates super engaging elements to those components that they feel confident taking back to those buyers or VCs or whoever they’re sharing that with to say, “Here’s the work we’re doing. Here’s the type of support we’re putting behind our brand for this specific channel, and that’s the growth that we’re looking to stir up.”
ROB: It is really interesting looking at some of these geographical trends. One of our previous guests on the podcast was Adrian Ho, CEO of Zeus Jones, which is also in Minneapolis area. They work with brands to actually develop the product. They were talking about a particular type of pizza they were helping do market research and then create and then sell through.
So there really is a lot going on. It’s interesting you mentioned some of the investors with some of these upstart brands. It seems like for a while, the grocery store was kind of stagnant, and now it’s a free-for-all. What is going on with this proliferation of new brands? What’s enabling that and making it really viable for these upstarts?
GREG: That’s a great question. Obviously ecommerce and the rise of Amazon has, in my opinion, led a lot of these retailers to start trying to seek out those homeruns and find the next brand that they can maybe have some early entry or exclusivity with that’s going to take off and really start to drive sales in-store for them.
They’re getting that less and less from some of the big boys out there like General Mills – and frankly, even the General Mills of the world are trying to invest a lot more into new product innovation and line extensions that have that startup feel – but I think retailers are really interested in finding those kind of unicorn products that are going to stand out and keep growing, and they’re going to be able to attach their name to it.
I’ve been shocked with the amount of startup brands that have come to us that already have distribution in some of those retailers like Wal-Mart or Kroger, despite really not having a ton of marketing help, or frankly even early sales that you might expect. But those retailers are willing to take risks and put those guys on-shelf in hopes that they’re going to explode and take off because they’re on the front end of whatever trend it may be, whether that’s wellness or some sort of added functional benefit that competitors don’t have. They’re just consistently looking for that edge.
ROB: That’s interesting you mentioned the line extension. You definitely do see, “Here’s a new special kind of Pop-Tart, here’s this, there’s that,” the familiar brands. But it also does seem like some of the brands have taken a bit of a back seat when it comes to completely new, innovative things. Whereas Coca-Cola might used to invent some new brands, they’re more likely to sit back and wait for a new category to emerge and then acquire something that’s de-risked a little bit.
ROB: One thing that’s interesting you mentioned earlier was about getting brand lift in a particular store. I think a challenge, and probably an expertise of yours, is a little bit of “How do you prove that?” Because not only when you’re dealing in the physical store – the physical stores are not always giving you all of the sales data that you want – it’s also true if you’re going to Amazon. Amazon’s not going to give you all of the attribution that you want. So how are you thinking about measurement and showing lift to these clients?
GREG: That’s the million dollar question, right? How to keep up with that type of, like you said, attribution that you see very easily on the ecommerce side of things. How do you apply that in the brick-and-mortar space? Certainly there’s the couponing efforts that allow you to track who’s clicking through and getting that coupon and redeeming accordingly.
I think one element of that that’s shifted is the rise of Ibotta and Checkout 51 and those types of more rebate apps. But again, they’re able to show you that incremental sales lift that you’re getting from it, but you’re certainly taking a hit on the price reduction there.
Outside of those types of things, what we really enjoy doing now is programmatic ad flights that incorporate a sales lift study. You see this with a lot of some of the bigger digital shops now, where they’ll do this – could be digital banner ads or whatever it may be. They’re able to geotarget those ads to specific stores, and you can even A/B test certain creative elements in that flight as well. But the reality is, they’re using a test vs. control over the life of the campaign to come out with sales lift for that ad flight.
Obviously, your lift’s going to be bigger if you have some sort of click-through incentive, like a coupon or a rebate or whatever. But we’ve even seen close to double-digit sales lift on some of our flights with simply a store locator at the end of it. So we know that we’re geotargeting and, with the advent of programmatic marketing, not only geotargeting, but serving it to the right consumer at the right time, who’s exhibited behaviors of seeking out this type of product or shopping or looking for information on this type of good. That’s who we’re able to serve that ad to.
It’s expensive, and it’s not a 2:1 return on ad spend, but what you walk away with from that is this very tangible sales lift report that, frankly, we’ve used to go in to buyer meetings and say, “Look, here’s the type of activation that we’re working on, and here’s the lift we’re seeing because of that.”
Frankly, in our experience, buyers have been very pleased with what they’re seeing there because they know, okay, you’re showing me proof that not only are you resourcing this, but it’s moving the needle. Even if it’s just a little bit, you’re doing something to help drive that sales lift. And it could be for specific chains, like Wal-Mart, Meijer, etc. You can really get hyper-specific with that targeting.
ROB: Wow. You’re saying where people used to try and prove the effectiveness of TV ads by showing TV ads to one entire city, one entire market, and then not another, and measuring per market lift, you’re saying we can actually get down to per store targeting now.
ROB: “I know where this grocery store is, I know where that one is. We’re going to show ads here, but not here.” And that applies to – what? Is that display ads, video, interstitials, all that?
GREG: Yep. It’s variable. You can do different ad units, you can do a few different things. But really, that programmatic targeting, the geotargeting – just with mobile phones now, that’s where you can get to that type of specificity.
ROB: Perfect. Greg, what are some things you’ve learned in your time building Hangar12 that you might do differently if you were coming right back in the door from the supply chain world?
GREG: That’s a really interesting question for me. I think my outside experiences were very valuable, but I do personally wish I had gotten involved a little bit sooner. Just being a new business developer – and obviously, I’m relatively new to the role, and currently I have this mindset of long-term investment and ownership interest. I think that makes this role a little bit of a unique role in the agency world.
Most of the time you see owners who are going out and doing the new business, or owners find a new business developer, but they don’t feel like they have skin in the game and it’s not working out. So I feel like I’m in a really unique position to make the most of this opportunity and build and sell alongside my dad, that probably 99% of people don’t get.
So for me, I’m really happy where I’m at now. I do wish I had recognized the value of that opportunity sooner, just to have spent even more time with him, learning how he built this, what he does to learn and grow and adapt on a daily basis, and learn from each other what type of new business development strategies work and don’t work. We’re kind of doing it on the fly right now.
But that said, it’s the type of thing that I’m going to look back on for the rest of my life and be super grateful to have had these days with him and to be in conversation with him every day and just picking his brain. Frankly, we’re just exploring things at the moment and seeing what works and what doesn’t, and throwing things against the wall till they stick. It’s been really exciting.
ROB: Do you have any other family members who are going to jump into the business?
GREG: I have an older brother and an older sister. My brother’s a teacher, so I think he’s content where he’s at. My sister actually did work for the agency for a little over a year before moving over to Dublin, Ireland. She married an Irish potato farmer, so she’s living the Irish life now.
But she actually works for HubSpot. She’s their global voice of the customer, which is a new role they created, and she has really unique perspectives. I really enjoy talking to her too, because she’s more on the inbound marketing provider side and understanding why it works, how it works. She has obviously a very intricate knowledge of the HubSpot platform.
But it’s been really cool to have conversations with her as well, because she has that unique perspective on the other side of it, having worked in the agency world as well.
ROB: So when you do all actually get together for a holiday, your teacher brother is like, “Can you guys stop talking about marketing technology?”
GREG: That’s right. Yeah, my mom, I think she’s outlawed the business talk at the table in recent years because of that.
ROB: [laughs] That’s probably a good plan. Keep him feeling involved in the conversation. Greg, when people want to find you and Hangar12, how should they go track you down?
GREG: I think our website is probably the easiest way. It’s Hangar-12.com. I love our website right now. I think it does a great job of communicating who we are, and there’s a lot of great featured case studies on there for people to get a sense for what we do, who we work with.
There’s some background on the team and the agency itself. In the top right on the home page, there’s a big button for “Request a free consultation.” That comes right to me, so I will reach out to people as soon as I see those types of requests come through.
They can certainly reach out to me personally as well. I’m just a good conversation, so I love chatting with people. It’s email@example.com. I’d love to meet up, get coffee, have a conversation, whatever it may be. I’m getting used to this sales role now, so it’s a lot of conversations and having some good chats.
ROB: That’s perfect. And yes, if people do go to the site, they’ll see a heck of a portfolio of brands there on the site. So congratulations on this third generation business and everything you’re learning in building it.
GREG: Thanks, Rob. I really appreciate that.
ROB: Thanks so much, Greg. Be well.
GREG: You too.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.