I met Michelle LeWinter for fancy coffee drinks (I had a lavender latte) at Bibble & Sip, a new coffee shop near Times Square (well, it’s off of 8th Avenue on 51st, so not actually that near). In any event, it’s definitely a cool place, and Michelle is equally as cool, if not more so. She’s currently an SVP at Women’s Marketing, where she provides media strategy, planning and buying solutions to brands primarily marketed to women. Not surprisingly, she’s a treasure trove of information about the integrated marketing scene. She says, “Our job as an agency is goal-setting up front, saying, if these are your benchmarks, this is what you have to do.” For more of Michelle’s thoughts on marketing and media, read on!
I’ve been told a little bit about what you do, but I’d like to hear you describe it in your own language.
Women’s Marketing has been around for 30 years, and we do media strategy, planning and buying. In my current role, I’m working with clients we like to describe as “ambitious” – often they’re emerging brands that are growing rapidly. Sometimes they’re ready to advertise for the first time, and other times they’ve done some advertising of scale but not as strategically as they might have. Some of the clients we work with buy media in-house or with an agency, but they feel like they’re not being given the love they need. We have a full strategic media team, and most of them have worked for large agencies. They have integrated marketing backgrounds with a huge emphasis on innovative digital, which is essential given that digital moves so quickly and is often confusing. We need a team that’s really educated across all dedicated digital tactics, and how to use them in different ways. We need to be aware of what’s new and now. One of the things that is also nice about us is that we’re located in Westport, so we get a lot of high-level talent that’s more settled, and who would like to work closer to home. Last but not least, as an agency, any product we work with, no matter how small or large the buy, interfaces with a senior-level executive.
So in that sense, the agency is sort of boutique agency. It’s experienced enough to compete with larger agencies in the space, but small enough to be able to offer personal attention.
Exactly. We have about 90 people on staff. Another advantage for our clients – in addition to access to senior management – is our aggregated buying model. What’s great for smaller brands is they’re able to get access to marketing vehicles they typically wouldn’t have access to. We’re actually the second largest buyer of print in the entire country, right behind L’Oreal, and we’ve applied a similar model to the digital landscape, forming a lot of unique partnerships, specifically in the categories we generally play in, which are beauty, health and wellness, fashion and food and beverage.
Are those really hot categories right now?
Health and wellness is extremely hot. So much so that it pervades all the categories including beauty – with so many natural products—as well as food/beverage and fashion – the athleisure trend is here to stay. You can see how health and wellness is a common theme in all of these areas.
How did you start specializing in these particular areas?
We started in beauty, and we actually work with a lot of indie beauty brands that are advertising right now. We work with a lot of family-owned brands and some private equity-owned brands, such as StriVectin. Others include First Aid Beauty, Physicians Formula, Jane Iredale…
So is a brand like Tata Harper too small for you?
No. Tata Harper is definitely on our radar!
In today’s marketplace, I think there’s been a shift in terms of content production, in the sense that all content needs to be editorial in nature. It’s selling without seeming like it’s selling. There’s a value-add for the consumer. What’s your approach to that?
Our approach is to educate and inform. We don’t want to overtly sell someone if they’re not ready to start advertising. Our goal is to attract clients who will stay with us and grow with us. We want advise them about when it’s the right time to invest in various advertising vehicles, and educate them on the marketplace to help grow their brands. A lot of our companies aren’t quite there yet, but we can help them get there. Content is excellent for SEO. It’s essential for any company, including Women’s Marketing, looking to increase their search results and tell their brand story. We have an internal team of performance-based digital experts called Flying Point Digital, which focuses on search and social.
So it’s like blogs and stuff like that?
Yes. It’s blogs, pay-per-click ads, social, newsletters and more, all with strong SEO tactics in mind to help brands rise in search. In fact, I have been to so many meetings where people have said, “I love your content.” Now our clients are asking us to produce content for them. It’s exciting for us.
Speaking of content, it seems like there’s been a shift in terms of what’s valued in terms of content. It seems like images used to be the thing that was most important, but I’ve noticed a movement back toward valuing strong writing.
Well, beauty and fashion remain very image-driven. Instagram is a huge medium right now – it’s a great place for brands to get started. To them, that’s often considered content. That was a huge surprise to me, since, coming from a content marketing background, I think of writing as editorial. From a B2B perspective, I’d say that written content’s obviously still very important. Having a great Instagram feed is not necessarily going to help you to the same degree as having valuable written content, or doing both together, in terms of being found online.
I definitely consider Instagram editorial content. It’s super-important. I’ve noticed blogs springing up on Instagram. In fact, fewer people are using Web platforms – they’re choosing to focus on Instagram instead. But I have noticed that even on Instagram, people are writing longer captions that are instructional or educational or entertaining, and I still see that as a movement toward valuing writing.
You know what my hunch is? Instagram started as more of a Millennial thing, and now it’s gaining more mainstream attention, and you have Gen X-ers moving over to it. Maybe that’s where you need a little bit more explanation and brand positioning. It’s also a constantly evolving landscape, so I’m sure that brands are playing with different ways of communicating on Instagram. I’ve also noticed that there’s a lot more content on Instagram, so maybe these are the posts that are gaining more traction.
Snapchat is also huge. It’s kind of crazy.
It is. I’m Gen X, and many of the people in my office are Gen Y. The main reason I’m on Snapchat is to study media. But a lot of my friends are Gen Y, and it’s fascinating to see how they use Snapchat compared to the way I use it. They’re using it to share videos, and my reaction is, “Why not post it on Facebook, where people can see it?” I don’t want my videos and images to disappear. I’ve also noticed that a lot of people have a social channel of choice. For me, that’s Facebook, for the main reason that it’s become my newsfeed. I’m a busy mom who’s always running around, so it’s nice for me to have an aggregated newsfeed every day, to know what’s going on in the world. And then scattered throughout are pictures of my friends’ kids, which is great, but it’s really the way I’m keeping up with the world. But it will be fascinating to watch Snapchat as its audience grows up!
If you were approached by a small brand that feels like it needs to get out there more, one that doesn’t have a lot of money, what are the three most important things that company should know and why (or the three most important steps to developing a media plan)?
- Do your research and figure out the most important goal. Before we do any planning with a client we sit down and do a deep dive. We ask, “Who is your consumer? How does your consumer interact with media? What is going on with your competitive set? What is going on with the industry? Where are you distributed? What are the goals for the campaign?” We look at all of those factors, and we do a lot of research up front, before we even come with a strategic recommendation.
- No matter what the budget, look for a strategic recommendation that offers the most impact for every dollar spent.
- Once the strategy is in place, ensure the tactical plan supports that recommendation. The tactics come last! Strategy might be a brand awareness play with endemic partners, or it could be what we call a data-driven solution, where you’re doing a lot of scale and reach to get things out there.