Trever Ackerman has been one of our Hall of Fame clients - we’ve had the opportunity to work with him across several companies, and we were delighted when he agreed to join our Spotlight Series. He is currently the CMO of Wellbiz Brands and has previously led marketing teams at Les Mills and 24 Hour Fitness. His expertise in the fitness category is deep, but it’s his level head and innate ability to bring out the best in his team that makes him so great to work with.

We’ve joked that we should hire him as a “How to be a great client” consultant, and the following Q&A might be the closest we get… enjoy!

What are the top 3 trends you’re seeing in social/digital media right now, and are there any trends you see emerging that will be big in 2018?

Everyone seems to be jumping on the video bandwagon, which also means there are a lot of bad video ad campaigns in the market right now. More broadly, most businesses have also figured out that a good content marketing strategy is critical to engaging their target consumers so I’d expect to see that investment continue. Brands are also increasingly using social media influencers to deliver this message to targeted segments of customers.

In terms of emerging trends, I believe we’ll start seeing more B2B messaging in channels traditionally reserved for consumer marketing. Primarily, this is because B2B marketers have realized that the purchase decision-making process doesn’t stop once we leave the office.

From your perspective, what is the role of content marketing in building a brand?

Increasingly, consumers are rejecting traditional ad strategies where they feel like they are being “talked at” vs. engaged in a conversation. Content that is personalized and aligned with the brand is received more authentically and helps build brand credibility.

What other health/fitness brands do you think are "doing it right", and why?

The fitness and wellness industry is highly fragmented. In my opinion, we have a health crisis on our hands, so anyone that is motivating somebody to get off the couch and into a fitness activity is doing it right. I appreciate the brands that clearly understand who their target audience is and don’t dilute their message to try to broaden their reach. The top brands that come to mind in this category include Equinox (USA), 1 Rebel (UK) and S1K (South Africa).

Have you seen any trends in the health/fitness industry here in the US?

Fitness trends are constantly evolving, but the US consumer is still very much engaged with HIIT training, functional movement patterns, expert guidance (eg. personal training) and overall wellness, including mind-body classes and the integration of massage therapy into their routine.

What is your single favorite advertising campaign of all time?

The anti-smoking “Truth” campaign is the first that comes to mind. It continues to break boundaries and accepted norms. Over the years it’s ranged from guerilla-style, anti-establishment messaging to inspirational messages that have tapped into young people’s hearts and minds. They’ve made us all believe that a smoke-free generation is possible.

Who are some of your major brand inspirations and thought leaders?

I believe great brands are supported by great teams, which in turn are built by great leaders. In the marketing space, I think Marc Pritchard is doing an amazing job as the Chief Brand Officer at Procter & Gamble. I also like to keep an eye on innovative founders that have challenged traditional norms to build cult-like followings. A few leaders in this category include Alli Webb (Drybar), Neil Parikh (Casper) and Eileen Fisher, of the eponymous women’s clothing retailer. And finally, I’m lucky to call Carl Liebert (Chief Operating Officer of USAA) a good friend and mentor. He’s done more to shape my leadership beliefs than I probably even realize.

How would you rate the effectiveness of Facebook / Instagram / Twitter in terms of digital marketing and execution against other methods of reaching consumers/clients?

In general, I think they are effective channels when used properly. This means there is the right content targeted to the right audience at the right time. These tools all provide efficient methods for achieving those objectives. However, they’ll also take any ad dollars you want to give them, so there is an abundance of bad advertising in social channels as well. This runs the risk of creating a disengaged audience, or worse yet, one that abandons those networks due to the “noise” in their social feeds.

What do you look for in an agency partner? Do you have a top 3 (or 5) criteria list?

First, I need an agency partner that understands my customer and has relevant industry experience. This allows them to understand the context of our decision-making process and provide value-added perspective.

Second, I look at agency relationships as long-term commitments, so I expect to have a stable and professional account team. If there is excessive churn on an agency relationship, it makes me wonder where I am in terms of their priorities, or question their effectiveness to build high-performing teams.  

And last, but not least, I need partners that have the confidence and willingness to challenge my thinking and equally important, say they don’t know. The most valuable thing an agency partner can tell me is that my request is outside their wheelhouse and we need to get someone else to the table to help us be successful.

In your experience, what makes for a great client-agency relationship?

Transparency. I try to focus on explaining the business issue I’m trying to solve, rather than prescribe the solution I want them to build. This really allows me to maximize the value I get from outside partners and gives me back time to focus on the business strategy I’m charged with managing.  

At what point do you decide to work with an agency as opposed to keeping work "in house"?

As a general rule, I try to work with agency partners when a specialized skill set is required and/or when the capabilities within that function change at a fast rate. For capabilities that help create a source of competitive advantage or differentiation, I may use agency partners to help build or refine the process, but I prefer to keep those skill sets in house if possible.

You've worked with the team at Harlo for a long time, even before the SF office opened up. What are your primary reasons for your continued partnership?

The Harlo team has consistently proven their ability to adjust their thinking in response to changing business conditions. I also appreciate Harlo’s ability to push-back on the plan when they believe there is a better solution.

What has been your favorite project that you've worked on together?

My favorite campaign was when we tackled the challenge of executing a consumer-focused campaign for several specific B2B brands in support of the global launch of Les Mills BODYPUMP 100. It allowed us to use digital tactics in a new way to engage targeted consumers in a very specific manner.

What is your favorite piece of Harlo's work that was for another client?

I’m a bit of a videophile, so I loved the “Sounds of Craft” campaign Harlo developed for Fetzer. It was a great way to use audio within social media content to cut through the clutter and reach the coveted Millennial audience.

Has the work Harlo has produced for you helped to shape any new directions in terms of your branding/content/and client outreach?

Not everything we’ve done has been a smash hit. But that’s okay. When we launch a campaign or initiative that doesn’t hit our targets, we take the time to debrief and understand where we might have made inaccurate assumptions. These takeaways have allowed us to continually learn and make each next work effort more successful. So in that way, yes, together we’ve refined our approach over the years and in doing so, have tilted the succeed/fail ratio in our favor.

What makes Harlo's work and your relationship with them different from that of other agencies you've worked with in the past?

In short, I think it’s the transparency and candid dialogue both sides bring to the table. We’ve had a healthy debate over the years, but because there is a history of results, I have the trust in the team to know they have my Company's best interests at the center of their actions. They also have taken a metered approach in building the business. Each conversation isn’t about getting a bigger piece of the pie – it’s about understanding how they can make the biggest impact.

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