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EP.1 Show Runner – Michele Marlo

EP.1 Show Runner – Michele Marlo

•The Latest Marketing Innovations•

Michele has over 20 years of experience in brand and retail advertising. She started her career working for the national agencies of McCann Erickson and Donner. Michele then relocated to Southern California where she brought refreshing creativity and rock-solid strategy to one of San Diego’s biggest ad agencies, Advanced Marketing Strategies. Michele has crafted creative campaigns for clients such as Nissan, Toyota, Blockbuster, General Motors, Minute Maid, HGTV, IKEA, and Bekins Moving and Storage, just to name a few. Moreover, she’s worked with talent like Tiger Woods, Carmen Elektra, James Earl Jones, Jeff Bridges, and the animators of The Rug Rats cartoon series.

Michele Marlo, Executive Creative Director at Advanced Marketing Strategies, Inc.

Lessons you will learn from this podcast:

  • How to harness relationship building to gain loyalty for your brand
  • Using emotional connections in advertising to get noticed
  • Creative innovation
  • Why the role of brand ambassadors is so essential and how to use them
  • How organization, processes, and open communication can lead to great ideas
  • What Michele learned early on in her career as the only women in the room
  • From storyboards to Photoshop, the evolution of the tools of creative
  • Goal setting and preparing for change
  • How to land a job in a top creative agency

Listen to Next Episode:


Kathy: It’s Kathy and today, you and I are networking with Michele Marlo. She’s the executive creative director for Advanced Marketing Strategies, Michele welcome.

Michele: Hi

Kathy: Great to have you on the show.

Michele: Thank you and thank you for inviting me.

Kathy: Let me tell the listeners a little bit about your background Michele. You have been in the marketing and advertising world for over twenty years, and you have experience with clients like Minute Maid, H.D.T.V., Ikea, Nissan, Toyota, and General Motors, just to name a few. You also worked with some great talent like Tiger Woods, Carmen Electra, James Earl Jones, and Jeff Bridges. Also, I know you’ve work with the animators of the Rug Rat cartoon series too. You know it’s great. You bring such a refreshing, creative, and rock solid strategy to Advanced Marketing Strategies as our executive creative director. So I’m so excited to talk to you today.

Michele: Well thank you!

Kathy: Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about your background Michele and your journey.

Michele: Well, my journey is an interesting one. I started out as a journalism major at Michigan State, and I loved journalism. I was the editor of my newspaper and my yearbook. I was very much into running those. I thought I was going to go into journalism. Well, once I got to school, I kind of floated around in what I thought I wanted to do. I decided I wanted to go to art school. So, I ended up leaving Michigan State and I got a scholarship to Center of Creative study in photography of all things. Photography was my hobby, but I got a scholarship to this prestigious art school. So I started there in photography. It was there that I found my love, which was advertising. I decided that I was going to double major in photography and advertising. So, I did it. I had two and a half years at Michigan State, and then I did another three years to finish my double major at Center for Creative study. In my last year I was hired at McCann Erickson, which at the time was the largest ad agency in the world. In my senior year I actually got to work as a junior art director at McCann Erickson. I worked there for about eight years and I learned so much. I think the first year there I learned more than what I learned in school all together. It was Mad Men all over, for sure. After about eight years I left and went to the largest privately owned ad agency in the world, which is Donor. And then the West Coast called. AM strategies brought me here to San Diego. I’ve been here for about thirteen years.

Kathy: Wonderful, thanks for telling us a little bit about your journey. I’d like to hear about what kind of things do you do as the executive creative director. What are your responsibilities, and how does that fit into the agency as a whole?

Michele: Well AM Strategies is different than any company I’ve ever worked for. Honestly, every person here has so much skill, they’re multi-talented. For example, I’m the executive creative director, but I act as a key strategist, an art director, a writer, a producer, and even a photographer and videographer. The way that we work together is very planned. The way that we have production that works through our agency is like a well-oiled machine. We are all cogs in an amazing machine here.

Kathy: That’s crazy.

Michele: It is. Yes, it is.

Kathy: So working in this machine that you have as a cog, how do you come up with creative ideas? Do you have a process, and can you share with us?

Michele: I definitely do. Everything we do here seems to have a process. It’s a really well thought out process. It all starts with strategy. We build our strategy in creative… based on the research that the team compiles at AM strategies. Each campaign, each piece of marketing is rooted in knowledge. Its who we’re targeting, what the takeaway is, what the call to action should be, and it’s really important  that it is strategy driven here.

Kathy: So strategy drives the creative process?

Michele: Yes.

Kathy: How about a marketing challenge that you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome it? Can you share with us some stories about that?

Michele: There’s been so many along the way. One of the biggest marketing challenges I face on a day to day basis is how to get the best in the shortest amount of time. It’s a balancing act between you have to get this done yesterday and it has to be amazing creative. I think we do a really good job here of making sure that even though we are on super tight deadlines and super tight turnarounds, that we still pay attention to what that message is. We’re not on autopilot. We’re constantly trying to make sure that the work is the best that it can be.

Kathy: So, working in retail, the deadlines are tight and the turnaround is really fast. So, your job’s not only to get it out fast, but to make sure that you’re following a strategy and the creative is the best execution that you can deliver.

Michele: Yes.

Kathy: Well thanks Michelle. Let’s talk about the role of branding in marketing. I know that branding is something that people talk about, but tell us what you think branding means.

Michele: Well I worked for General Motors when I worked at McCann, and General Motors was one of the companies that honed the term branding. Branding hasn’t been here forever, and General Motors was very keen on creating their brand. So, I kind of cut my teeth on branding and understanding the importance of branding. Your brand is a precious asset, and it’s vital that you strategically consider everything that you do, and how that affects your brand. From what the ads are to what your showroom floor looks like to how your employees act. It’s the feeling that you’re creating. When people think about your company… what do they think about? Your brand is vital, your brand is the most vital piece of who your company is.

Kathy: Who do you think is doing a good job of branding right now?

Michele: Well I don’t know about right now, but my favorite story of all time is one that we all learned about in school, and that is the story of diamonds. The De Beer company turned a simple very common gemstone, and turned it into a billion billion dollar business. Every new bride needs a diamond.

Kathy: Why is that?

Michele: It’s because of an ad campaign. It’s because De Beers found a way to make it so that every new bride had to have a diamond, or their husband wasn’t up to par. The bigger the diamond meant the more you love somebody. I mean how brilliant is that? And they made probably one of the biggest brands of all time.

Kathy: Well De Beers is a great brand story. Thanks for sharing that Michele. Can you describe for our listeners what your personal brand is?

Michele: My personal brand… I would say driven, strategic…  strategic definitely has to be at the top of the list, and probably the three F’s: fast, furious, and fun.

Kathy: I like that. I know working with you, I’ve got to tell you are not only are the most talented creative director I’ve ever worked with, but you are very strategic. I think that that combination is just so fantastic for retail because you do have to be fast, furious, and fun, but the strategy really has to drive everything. I think that’s great. How about talking about a personal learning experience or a situation in your career. You’ve had a long career and you’ve been to many different places. Tell us about how you faced a professional obstacle and how you overcame it?

Michele: Well, I started out about twenty two years ago in advertising. Back then advertising was a boys’ club. It literally was Mad Men, and McCann Erickson is actually what Mad Men is based off of. It’s one of the big agencies. I was thrown right into the lion’s den of the boys’ club. Oftentimes I would be the only woman in a briefing, and on top of it, I had just come out of school. People were just starting to use computers for advertising. So, I learned on the first Photoshop, and back then it was Quirk Express. So, I was working, creating these digital boards. Everyone else on the staff, the old school men, were having their boards drawn. So, when you compare a digital photo board to a drawn board, my stuff looked better. I was a threat to them. Here I was, this young woman, and they actually fought to downgrade my work, and I had to fight back. I won of course because the clients loved it. The clients love seeing the photo realistic boards. Often times you have a struggle with clients, they’re not as creative as you, so they can’t picture things as well in their head. So, the photo boards really helped to give clients a closer idea to what the concept was.

Kathy: Well that’s interesting. So, the struggle is you were the only woman amongst all the men and it sounds like what you did was you stood out by taking advantage of the new technology. In taking the storyboards to the next level, the clients respond to it in a way that sort of catapults you in your career.

Michele: Yes, when the clients are on board you can’t turn away.

Kathy: Let’s talk a little bit about marketing innovation. Since we were talking about you, it sounds like you were right there on the forefront of a lot of that. Right now there’s so much going on in marketing. Let’s talk a little bit about your favorite marketing innovation and how you’re using it.

Michele: Well, every month at Advanced Marketing Strategies I host innovation meetings. There’s so much innovation going on in advertising right now. Meeting once a month is probably not enough. But this month, I’m talking about direct mail and the innovations in direct mail. Direct mail is a very old medium, but there’s so much going on with direct mail. There is near field communication which basically embeds a little chip into a direct mail piece so that you can take your phone and interact with the direct mail piece. You have near field communication reader that will read directly from the direct mail piece and make that direct mail piece come to life. Q.R. codes also do that as well, and augmented reality. There are some amazing augmented reality pieces. I just did a webinar on augmented reality and virtual reality. If viewers are interested they can go to the AM site and we have links to that there.  That’s huge, virtual reality and augmented reality are going to be taking over in the market.

Kathy: How have you used virtual reality?

Michele: We did a wonderful virtual reality piece for Soboba Casino. They are building a new big casino resort, so before they even broke ground, we went and filmed the actual location. Then we took the artist’s renderings of the new casino, and we made that come to life in a virtual reality setting right on the actual property. So when they broke ground, they actually gave away  virtual reality headsets and people were able to see what the vision was for the future of Soboba Casino.

Kathy: Wow staying at the forefront of innovation. It’s so interesting how you’re applying the newest innovations to one of the oldest tactics with this direct mail. But then on the other hand, taking that virtual reality and presenting it to the public in a way that they’ve never seen, they’ve never been able to view a casino that’s not built yet. Yet, we delivered them.

Michele: Yes they basically could step inside of this new casino and see the gaming floor, the hotel, and the convention center. It was pretty impressive.

Kathy: That’s fantastic. Michelle, tell us what is the best way for brands to get noticed these days.

Michele: I can’t stress this enough, and I talk about this constantly. Probably every single client meeting that I have… relationship building is vital. Advertising is changing. You can’t talk to your customers anymore, you can’t yell a sale. Just yelling, “Hey we’re having a sale” doesn’t work anymore. Research shows that storytelling is one of the ways to a customer’s heart and into their pocket book. I’ve been studying. They’ve been doing neuroscience research, which is amazingly interesting. I’ve been reading study after study after study, and they actually hook people up, they hook electrodes up to people’s brains and they show them advertising. They look at how that advertising, and all the different messages and how it affects different parts of the brain. So, we know, scientifically now. The old school days of asking people what they think is over because that wasn’t really reliable. Honestly, people can’t really tell you what they’re thinking or how their brain is working. We now know scientifically that different types of communication affect the brain differently. We know what affects them more strongly and that is storytelling, that is connecting them to things that trigger emotion, which is not just a price point. A price point affects the front part of your brain, the frontal lobe of your brain, and that’s an instant yes or no. If you’re in the market for a car for example, and you give someone a price point, they’re going to say, “yes I’m looking for a car” or “no I’m not.” It’s either yes that price looks good or no it’s not. That doesn’t connect them in any emotional way. If they’re looking for a car, then great, yes that’s going to drive them. Give them a story, for example, Subaru does a love campaign. They’ve connected Subaru and love. There is no stronger emotion than love. You know the commercial with the dad and the daughter, and how she’s grown up over the years. They really tug at your heartstrings, and that connects people. That’s memorable. When people go to think about that brand, Subaru, they have an emotional connection to that, and it’s a strong positive emotional connection.

Kathy: Wow, that’s crazy. So, if I think back on your career, and you started telling us about working at General Motors where I would imagine you did a lot of focus groups. Where you talk to people with the reverse mirror, and they couldn’t see you and you’d ask them questions… but now it sounds like what you’re saying is a neuroscience has just taken leaps and bounds in marketing, advertising, and branding by allowing us to know exactly what people are really thinking. And now that we know how to tap into it, and it’s through the emotion and through the storytelling

Michele: Yes

LEFT OFF at 17:06_________________________________________________________________

Kathy: Wow yeah. It’s get it’s given is the key is it’s one of the things that I have throughout my career. Because I know and see what works and what doesn’t work and you know a bit of that as a twenty two years and what campaigns drive but now we have science to back it up which is awesome. I love it. Michelle let’s talk a little bit about you and how how you run your your life and I’m very curious to know your successful businesswomen Tell us Do you have a daily habit or two that contributes to your success.

Michele: The biggest habit that I can recommend is organization.  Being organized will save you so much time! having a process and being organized – those are my two number one habits and probably also taking mental breathers throughout the day. Your brain can’t go for eight hours straight. You need to take just a little you know little five minutes here little two minutes there and just take a mental break. Stand up look away, think of something else, go take a walk around. You know it’s really really important because there’s so much brain work that goes into what we do here, that you’ve got to take a little mental break.

Kathy:  Is there something you do that helps you keep organized that you can share with us?

Michele:  We have a very precise way that jobs flow through our agency and it makes so much easier because we know how to track them, where they are, when they’re due. It makes it easier for everyone, because you can find where the job is at any time and there’s multiple people that are looking to make sure that that job is working its way through.

Kathy:  So the job organization process keeps everything in alignment?

Michele:  Yes

Kathy:  everyone on the team! and I and I like what you are saying about mental breaks too I think that’s that’s great advice, you know, because sometimes we just grind it out. We’re working hard and the mind is going a million miles an hour!

Michele:   I can’t I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been thinking about a project – thinking about a campaign idea, new creative and thinking, thinking, thinking, and then you know and then you’re like “All right I’m done for the day!” and you get your car and then in the car you’re like “YES”!!! And why is that? Because you’ve given your brain a little bit of a rest for it to think about other things and it’s amazing how stuff will just pop in when you just give it a little rest.The shower another place! Another place to come up with great ideas. Cliched I know but giving your brain that little rest that lets other things in.

Kathy:   Great creative mind right there! Give it a rest and you’ll be amazed at what things you can think of!

Michele:   yes!

Kathy:  Let’s talk about the future. Two thousand and eighteen – are there any marketing challenges that you see as being significant to what’s on the horizon for us next year?

Michele:  Let’s see – well we have Auto makers as one of our main clients and so for auto makers there are huge challenges coming up.  It’s not just for automakers, but for everyone. People are shopping differently than they’ve ever shopped before. This Black Friday just passed and it’s the first time ever the online sales beat out brick and mortar stores. So everything is shifting dramatically. People aren’t walking into the stores anymore and I think for automakers they’re going to have to really pay attention to that. People eventually are probably going to buy cars online. A lot of times – yeah people still want to take a test drive or you know check cars out – but I think a lot of people would love to not have the hassle of having to go to a car dealership and would buy a car online.I know I want a Rogue. Why do I have to go into a dealership? . I know what I want. I know what it is. Why can’t I just go online and purchase that Rogue?  So I think people have to start planning for that. Companies have to start planning for the future of advertising and selling.

Kathy:  The new retail. We have got to get ready for that. Retail has a has a totally different face and as marketers we have to be prepared on how to lead our clients down that path.

Michele:  Yes –  it’s a scary path people are used to brick and mortar and they’ve got their whole you know their whole process of how that works now you have to create a whole new one.

Kathy:  Can you share with us your thoughts on mentoring. How about that? Are there any lessons that you’ve learned applied that helped you become the success that you are today?

Michele:  One of my mantras in life is “pay it forward”. I was really really lucky to have amazing mentors when I started out at McCann Erikson, Dan Davis and Gene Ruzzin! They were a power team, Art Director and Writer and they were my mentors and to this day I still look up to them! They really taught me so much about the creative process, and dealing with clients, and dealing with rejection, and how to keep pushing forward. So I am always really really open to talking to people about their interest in our business and sharing my knowledge. We have a really robust internship program here at AMS and we’ve hired actually a lot of our interns that we have mentored here. So I’m really proud of that. And again I love doing things like this, that I can share some of the knowledge that I’ve gained in the in the twenty two years.

Kathy:  Yes well you’ve been such a great mentor to our listeners today. So I want to thank you so much for that – and along that lines do you have any advice for women that want to get into marketing?

Michele:  I do – and not just for women but for women and men! Before you decide what road you want to take in school, in college, go and sit down with the people that you think, “that’s the job I want”. Because you might not realize that, that’s not really the job you want. I cannot tell you how many times that I have come across people that went to marketing school that really wanted to be creatives. They thought marketing school was the creative path and it’s not. It’s totally different. So my advice is to -before you take a path – and spend four years, six years in college – go and sit down, spend a couple hours even. Just go to the place that you want to work and see what they do and see if you like that and see if that’s something that you want to do with your life. Because it will save you a lot of time and effort of switching careers midway in life.

Kathy:  But you know I think that’s good advice –  especially working in an advertising agency – there’s so many different ways to go about marketing. Even within an agency you know there’s media and research, there’s creative, there’s account service, and strategy and the thing about that is –it’s all creative thinking. So I think your advice is solid because it’s – decide were you want to be inside all of that, because under the marketing umbrella there are so many different ways to go. So take a look at where you want to be and then focus on that.

Michele:  Yes.

Kathy:  That makes a lot of sense. Michele, before we leave, do you have any marketing resources – any books or podcasts or anything that you would recommend? Something you’ve read lately that people that want to learn more about marketing should take a look at?

Michele:  I am going to give you the best tip that you’ll hear this year. And I feel confident in that! My recommendation to listeners is to keep learning – always keep learning! Because if you don’t you’re going to fall behind! The world changes so quickly. New technology changes so quickly! My number one place to learn is It is an amazing tutorial site that can teach you to do almost anything involved in business. I mean really- I am shocked at the quantity and quality of the tutorials that they have. There that’s my tip for you!

Kathy:   Great continued learning! Well that’s one thing that this podcast is all about and I hope today everybody learns something and not only learned through listening but actually take some action on something that you heard today and go out and do it! Because that’s the thing you really gotta do – you have to learn and you have to apply!

Michele:  Yes! Exactly!

Kathy:   So Michele before we leave, anything else that you want to add to our conversation?

Michele:  No, just want to thank you! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to listeners. And I think that this is a great thing that you’re doing in mentoring and giving people an opportunity.

Kathy:   Well thanks, Michele, thanks for being such a great guest.

Michele:  Thank you!

Kathy:  All right everybody, if you have any questions about anything we talked about, give me a call! Thanks.

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