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Experiential Experts: An Interview with Chris Clegg

Entrusted in the hands of experts working collaboratively across multiple disciplines, experiential marketing delivers extraordinary value to brands and their audiences.


Broad Cove’s Experiential Experts series shines a light on some of the industry’s leading experts and allows them to share insight about their discipline and the space they inhabit in the experiential ecosystem.

This week, I had a chance to sit down with Chris Clegg, President and Research Director for Portland Marketing Analytics, a full-service marketing research firm that specializes in the measurement of experiential campaigns.

Brad: It’s always great to speak with you, Chris. We’ve known each other since our days together at Pierce and I'm a big fan of your work. Can you tell me how you got involved in experiential marketing?

Chris: Great to be talking with you, Brad. Absolutely. I’d been working in market research project management on the agency side for 10 years or so. I met a guy at a dinner party who worked for Pierce, an experiential agency in Portland, Maine. I was getting ready for a change from the work I was doing, and he convinced me to interview at his firm. They had just landed a large account and were looking for someone to head up the analytics work. I interviewed, got the job, and the rest was history. After five years there, I left and started PortMA, a full-service marketing research firm specializing in the measurement of experiential. That was 10 years ago.

Brad: Where does PortMA sit in the experiential ecosystem and what sets you guys apart?

Chris: We use traditional market research methods and a keen understanding of marketing to figure out what works. We typically work with an account team on the agency side to serve as the analytics and reporting arm of the team. But over the last couple years, we have seen ourselves working more and more for brand managers directly. If there was one area that sets us apart it would be our economic modeling and benchmarking database. We have been modeling the ROI of experiential marketing campaigns since 2010 and have developed a robust data warehouse of consumer insights. That gives us a bit of an unfair advantage when dissecting campaigns to see what is driving revenue, when, and why.

Brad: In all the work that you perform for brands and agencies, where is it crucial that the work be performed by subject matter experts?

Chris: I am going to go with the data collection, analysis, and reporting. There are a lot of account managers who just are not data people. And they are spending way too much time trying to count impression and add up samples with not a lot of upside. When they go to the industry suppliers for help, they’re met with a slew of software engineers who found some creative way to count things and call it ROI. Brands are getting more and more sophisticated and see through the fancy sizzle reels or flashy dashboard. Account managers need real, actionable consumer insights. A roadmap on how to make sure the campaign will drive incremental revenue. You need professionally trained data scientists and market researchers to get that.

Brad: Why is that expertise so important? What is the risk if the work is done by amateurs?

Chris: Good statistical analysis and market research is not easy. There are a lot of ways to mess things up. There are some folks who think they can get a $14 a month SurveyMonkey subscription and take care of the analysis needs of their program. That’s like going to buy a hammer because you need a house. Maybe you’re a carpenter and can build a house with a hammer. I’m not. I’d need a professionally trained carpenter.

Brands are often making multi-million dollar decisions based on the information agencies give them in status updates and recap reports. That’s got to be real data, collected correctly, in sufficient volume, analyzed with proper statistical techniques.

Brad: Can you share some examples of how PortMA’s expertise has moved the needle for your clients?

Chris: We’ve done hundreds of studies for hundreds of brands over the years. If every single one of them didn’t provide a clear, actionable benefit that made my clients more money I’d be failing (and probably wouldn’t be in business). That said, I have a few favorites.

We joined an agency team to measure and report on the performance of a pilot retail sampling program. The brand team was nervous and skeptical that things would work. Overtime, we were able to deconstruct in-store performance by daypart to improve consumer targeting and then guide activation teams to rework their schedules. This alone moved ROI out of the negative up over 160%. The program was extended into seven markets and we continued to measure, monitor, and report on the opportunities. Over time, we saw markets range from 137% to 685% ROI as we identified and communicated best practices. The original four-month program extended multiple years and reached 18 markets. The analysis and reporting provided by PortMA was credited as the key driver of this ongoing business for the agency and the success for the brand.

Another was in the insurance industry where we’ve enjoyed working on a program for 11 consecutive years now. Over time we‘ve uncovered a variety of consumer insights that drove lead performance and conversion but the one I found most fascinating was how high-performing consumer messaging varied by region. In hindsight it made perfect sense, but it wasn’t all that obvious before we did the data work. The insights were things like, you can’t bundle homeowner’s insurance in Washington DC because everyone rents. Or Floridians fully expect to file an insurance claim, so you need to focus on customer service and efficient claims processes. Meanwhile in the Midwest they’re ultra-focused on price and a little sensitive to regulatory mandates. As we uncovered these regional variations the field teams could true-up their messaging and we saw a greater impact on the volume and quality of leads generated.

And there was our work with a division of the U.S. Armed Services with multiple assets in the field to drive recruitment. For years we looked at their agency partner activations (hundreds of events per year) and were able to identify the venues that were generating the greatest number of qualified referrals. More importantly, we could identify the variables that made one venue better than another so they could do more of what was working well with new locations and less of what wasn’t delivering.

Brad: How about examples of a project being harmed by a lack of that expertise? What’s the risk if a brand or an agency relies on amateurs?

Chris: There are too many occasions when mistakes are made, or recap deck numbers are fudged (with the best intentions) by agency staff forced to go it alone. The little white lies turn into big ones when the account team suddenly finds themselves accountable for something like an impression count or venue selection rationale and they have bad data. I’ve seen expensive decisions made by unsuspecting brand-side stakeholders based on data people knew was shaky.

There are so many things an account team needs to get right. It’s not fair to expect them to be survey data experts or know how to craft a report that is truly business guiding as well. Most account managers are not hired because of their data skills. They’re hired because they are creatively awesome and know how to get 250,000 refrigerated samples out to market by next Thursday without breaking the law or hurting someone.

It’s not uncommon for PortMA to get called in to fix the data and reporting aspects of a program. Or we are brought in during year two or three to gently transition the team to solid data practices whilst minimizing the egg on anyone’s face. We do that well because we do it a lot.

Brad: For our friends out there that are reading this interview and saying, “That Chris sounds pretty smart and I would like to be more like him,” where should they start their journey to expertise?

Chris: For me it was graduate work in Sociology and Statistics followed by a 20-year grind in the agency world. But when we’re looking for entry level people on the PortMA team we’re hiring folks who have a 4-year degree in the social sciences or a BA with a focus in marketing. The data and statistical requirements for the work we do are relatively simple. There isn’t too much call for the higher end methods most of the time so there is a learning curve but not an unsurmountable one. But a good academic foundation in data analysis, research methods, and marketing theory is critical.

Brad: So, if I am a brand or an agency that is evaluating a potential provider of data collection, analysis and reporting services, what should I be critically assessing? What questions should I be asking?

Chris: When looking for the right measurement solution for your next campaign make sure your partner has a reason why the data collected will generate the learnings you need.

There must be substance. Why are you counting impressions? What are you going to do with that question about the weather? When will you use the information about consumer purchase intent? What is the return-on-investment model and does your CFO agree? You need to have a plan for how the data will help you make better decisions before you start collecting it. If you don’t, expect your data partner to fill in the gaps with a foundation in good marketing theory and case studies. If they don’t have that, keep looking.

Brad: BCA’s foundational philosophy is that truly meaningful and impactful experiential campaigns are borne out of strong collaboration between brands, agencies and their suppliers. I know you’ve worked with some great agency partners over the years. Are there any ones in particular that seem to truly understand the value of PortMA’s expertise and leverage it to maximum impact for their campaigns and clients?

Chris: We’ve had a long history with some truly amazing agency partners. These are groups that are fully committed to doing data right and delivering to their clients only the highest performing campaigns because they leverage the best insights. These are groups who aren’t afraid to show when they are doing poorly (be it rarely so) because they know that failure leads to learning that leads, in turn, to success and the only way to deliver truly great experiential marketing is to know where the opportunities reside.

So, when I think about these types of people, I think about Matt Sincaglia at RedPeg Marketing. I think about Carter Thorson at Inspira Marketing, and I think about Brad Wirz at Encore Worldwide. And each of these folks would rightly correct me to say it’s their co-workers and teams that are the ones who make it work. These are truly great marketers working for solid experiential agencies. It’s an honor to call them our clients.

Brad: Wonderful, Chris. Thank you again for sharing your insights with us. Where can people find you and put your expertise to work?

Chris: My pleasure, Brad. Thanks for the opportunity to talk about what I love. Folks can find me at cclegg@portma.com or feel free to message me on LinkedIn. You can read more about the company at portma.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.