Kodak. Zippo. Bausch + Lomb. Recognize those brands? I know why – Butler/Till.
Sue Butler and Tracy Till are co-CEOs of Butler/Till – the media agency with the power to connect brands and consumers. But this powerhouse media team didn’t start at the top -no one ever does- their journey began 13 years ago with a great idea and a lot of heart. From looking to leaping, maintaining a healthy partnership and staying ahead of the curve in a fiercely competitive industry – this dynamic duo shines a light on their path to success to illuminate yours.
Looking to Leaping
Butler/Till was born in your living room – inspirational! I hear from many women that have a great idea, but nothing ever comes of it. What 3 steps did you take to bring your great idea to life?
I (Sue) started Butler Marketing & Media (the precursor to Butler/Till) in 1992 in my living room. I had just left my previous employment and was debating between going off on my own or accepting a position with either an advertising agency or media outlet. The decision was made more challenging by the fact that I was the primary wage-earner for my family. Three steps I took at this time, when I did “take the leap” were:
1. Used existing resources for the start up. Some savings I had covered my initial capital investment needs and by working out of my home I kept my start up costs low. This allowed me to start the business without borrowing money.
2. Developed a business plan that included projected revenue and a timeline to hit key financial goals. I was prepared, if the business did not hit key milestones, to revert to “plan B” – close the business and accept a position with another firm. It is important to note that my financial goals were modest and I did spend quite a few years making much less than I did prior to starting the business before things really kicked in (which required sacrifice from me and my family). But what I made was enough to allow me to keep going and growing, and the business progress gave me confidence that I could achieve my desired financial goals with time and continued hard work.
3. Gave it my “all” – worked long hours, lived and breathed the business. Thankfully I had wonderful support from my family which helped make this possible.
What’s the secret ingredient to making a partnership work? What lessons have you learned about what “not to do” in partnerships?
It’s important to be honest with yourself and with your partner about your strengths and weaknesses, what interests you and what doesn’t. We made good partners right from the start because our strengths and skills are complementary and we kind of “fill in the gaps” for each other. We each played to our strengths and broke down roles and responsibilities accordingly. This approach, combined with a tremendous degree of respect and trust between us, has made our partnership very successful and enjoyable.
The Butler/Till approach is tailored to each client’s product, goals and consumers. When creating a start-up, what comes first, defining the product, goal or consumer-base?
When creating a start up you have to define the consumer need first. Who is your target audience and what products/services do they potentially need or want from you? Once you understand that you can ensure that your product/service meets those needs/wants, and then establish your goals and action plans for developing awareness, interest, consideration, and ultimately purchase.
How should a start-up approach media? Speaking from experience, it can be overwhelming! Are there communication channels that should NOT be missed?
All media plans should begin with an in-depth understanding of the target consumer. Who are they? What’s important to them? How do they spend their day? How, when, and where do they consume media? These are all critical to developing a media strategy that will be relevant, effective and efficient. Given this, desired communication channels can vary dramatically. The “must have” communication channel for a “C-suite executive” for a B2B product/service is much different than the “must have” communication channel for the 20-something, single guy fresh out of college and just starting his first job.
Ahead of the Curve
After many years in business and countless big-name clients, how do you continue to stay innovative with each client that walks through the door?
One of our guiding principles is that “we drive the media bus, routes and schedules change daily”. What this means is that our industry is evolving constantly, and it is up to us to be at the forefront of those changes. We do this in a number of ways, starting with hiring the right people. We seek energetic individuals who are insatiable about knowledge, want to be trend setters, and are never willing to accept the status quo. We invest heavily in training and development, both internally and by sending team members to conferences, seminars and other learning opportunities. When they attend they are charged with sharing the learnings with the agency as a whole so all employees – and clients – can benefit.
With so much success behind you, is professional fear and self-doubt a thing of the past? If not, how do you deal with it when it arises?
There is nothing wrong with having a “healthy level of anxiety”. We run a fairly good size company and many individuals and their families rely on Butler/Till for their livelihood. Regardless of our past success, we are always vulnerable to competition and business loss. Knowing this, we believe in constantly “keeping our foot on the gas” – pursuing new clients, developing new service offerings that will benefit our existing and prospective clients, and generally recognizing that “yesterday is no guarantee of tomorrow”. Fear and self-doubt are normal human emotions and we are certainly not immune to them, but recognizing how self-defeating they can be – and pushing your way through them when they do arise – is key.
Please finish the statement: If I could, I would tell my 20-year old self…
Everything you are doing now will contribute to the person you will become and the business you will create. It’s all good – keep going.