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Consultancy, Creativity and Cooking with Sunday Dinner


Lindsey Slaby, founder of creative brand consultancy Sunday Dinner, on her role in adland and why it's relevant now

Consultancy, Creativity and Cooking with Sunday Dinner

As Founder of Sunday Dinner, brand consultant Lindsey Slaby is known as the go-to for helping top marketers rethink how they approach marketing briefs and tap agencies at the right moments along the way. 

She tells us about her role in advertising, why it’s relevant now and more.

Q> You’ve been described as rejecting the generic and ineffective RFP process in favour of cultivating strong relationships between brands and agencies. Do you agree with that? Tell us about your role in advertising and why it’s relevant now.

Lindsey Slaby> One of the agencies I worked at had someone in charge of new business. She would hand out sets of questions to the department heads to fill out in an excel form. I received questions like “Does your agency do digital?” “How do you approach digital marketing?” “How do you measure effectiveness of rich media campaigns?” I mean, what?  These were RFI / RFP questions from search consultants. A total waste of time - valued time from senior management which means the questions are offloaded to interns or low-level talent in an effort to just get an answer on paper. I noticed the broad generic quality of questions was leading to an immediate lack of respect from the agencies for the consultants inherent knowledge of what a modern agency does. I respect the process of chemistry, dating, and getting to understand if a partnership will make sense. But just like dating has evolved with different tools, I think the agency selection process needs a bit of a shakeup in how you go about it.

Q> How does your position differ from that of a search consultant? And how is your professional role informed by your previous work experiences?

LS> All agencies outsource. Yes, Pepsi’s agency outsourced the Kendall commercial. It’s how work gets done. If you are in charge of getting things done, you have to know the marketplace, who is experimenting, who is delivering solid work, and who is acting as a great partner. You also have to know who is over-hyping themselves, who overcharges, and who is, frankly, terrible to work with. That has been my career - knowing the intricacies of talent and the right way to activate them.

Casting is an art. And yes, search consultants do that with their documented processes. You can’t put casting into a single lane process that works the same way every time. Each client need is different - the composition of their team, the risks they are willing to take, their motivations for the work. And in a world with more agencies and talent than ever, navigating how to activate the right players at the right time has become more of an art than a science. I come at it from a different approach. For one, I work to build relationships with the talent. I’ve always been talent-first, supporting growth of many great minds and agencies. I’m an ally to talent. But, that means I can call you on your stuff - FTEs set just to hit a number, inflated production budgets, capabilities you don’t have (yet) or deficits you are looking to fill with this account. And all of that is natural. I try to help make it feel safe to be honest about what agencies can do, and, once you work with the brand, how that can evolve with their investment.  

When I am working with my marketing clients, they value this kind of relationship and ability to get people to the table with all the cards out - brand side and agency side - it’s honest and transparent, meaning we have a good potential success rate at a long term relationship.

Q> How would you describe the marketing landscape today.  What do CMOs want and need that ad pros don’t understand?

LS> I’m not sure that advertising agencies don’t understand what a CMO needs. That seems a bit of a discredit to many talented people who know the game, but perhaps some are entrenched too much in their own world that they’ve lost sight of how to adapt to be the right partner. Younger agencies can get frustrated fast, as they don’t always understand the ins and outs of the marketing organisation. Those who have been around the block a bit understand that this is not just about communications, it’s about business. The CMO job is still a fairly new industry construct, and its evolution is moving it closer to business results. The budgets are being tested in new ways to  boost performance or build the brand. Agencies could benefit by slowing down and thinking about how they allocate staff and spend time learning the current or future clients business and needs. 

Q> You have a massive following on Linkedin. What are the reasons for that?

LS> I write a lot. My writing is honest and rarely filtered (much like any meeting with me for better or worse). Linkedin was a place I started posting thought pieces that were truly just a place of therapy for me. I would wake up with something tugging on my mind, grab a coffee and bang out a perspective on my roof in Dumbo. Hitting publish was therapeutic. A few of the articles I wrote picked up attention, one about agency positioning in the current market landscape (about 50K views) and another about payments issues to small agencies (280K views in one week). Those seem to be hot topics that struck a chord with the industry and provoked a lot of commentary and engagement. I try to make a lot of my writing solution-oriented and often I receive messages or emails asking for further tips or advice. I love that because it means people are super engaged and proactive in putting some of the suggestions to use. It’s been one of the most rewarding legs of my career.

Q> In terms of agency positioning, what are some of the distinct difficulties companies are facing?

LS> Letting go. No one is an everything agency. I ask every agency: “What is the one thing I am going to tell someone at a cocktail party about you when I introduce you?” Meet Joe, he runs the Agency, they _________. Find the best thing everyone would say about you and go with that. Yes, you do hundreds of things - and perhaps “VR” is one of them or your emerging cost reduction studio. Those are just shiny pennies. Great to have, but not the forerunner. What makes your clients glow about you? That can be culture, a way of doing things, a service offering, speed or lack thereof, your client service model - a host of unique qualities with one that really makes you shine.

If you can find an outside source that you trust, bring them in to help you real talk through what you do best and how that matches to what the market is looking for. Take this advice and adapt quickly. 

Q> Without giving away any trade secrets, what are some of the ways larger brands work with small specialist agencies?

LS> It’s no secret. There are two things I think are important for these relationships: 

Money. The brand needs to set up unique payment terms. If an agency is under $5M in revenue, chances are its cash flow is not the same as some of the bigger guys. You want its top talent and unique capabilities. So find a way to make it easy for the agency to work with you financially. If you have a procurement process that takes 2-3 months, try to get a commitment agreement in place with a purchase order for an advance. Find ways to make your payment terms 60 days or less from the day of starting the work, not the day they get through procurement. Committing financially shows respect to the agencies you are excited to partner with, and allows them to focus on your work versus pitching other business to make up for slow payment terms.

Service. Demand agencies offer dedicated account service and project management. 7 out of 10 relationships that I see go sour are due to poor communication and management on the agency side. Often specialist shops can not afford the “overhead” of client services. They claim to be a bit more ‘nimble’ but in reality they are a bit more chaotic. If you don’t have this staff, be open about it to the client, and note that you are hiring specifically for this. Marketers at larger brands have a lot of people they need to report up to and they need clear site lines to the work, progress and deliverables. Agencies- help them help you by staffing with proper support in this area. I am the last one to want five levels of account services, but taking the time to service your client goes a long way.

Q> Where did the name Sunday Dinner come from? 

LS> I love to cook. It’s such a meaningful way to express creativity and build connection. In NYC, we’re constantly moving and spending a night in cooking is a cherished occasion. I’ve always been having dinners in Dumbo. My first loft in Dumbo had a guest room that was a revolving door of small agency leaders and creatives finding a free home in expensive NYC, a place to work from, and evenings filled with fun dinners & new connections. They only requirement would be they needed to sit for my two cats, Max and Little Foot. That generally went well… 

Many a project started at my dining table that led to a Cannes Lion or sparks to a start-up agency. I’ve always been proud of offering a table where friends could find welcome advice and sharing, perhaps even meet up with others they admire for the first time. What better way to do that over good food, wine, and the occasional bottle of Patron, an offering always brought by the legend, Tom Sacchi. We need more people having real talk and working together in the small agency sector. In this way the partnerships I have with talent have felt like family. And I wanted to continue that in this new chapter.

When I was starting Sunday Dinner we had a dinner to think about what to name the company. I believe Graham Douglas, who was instrumental in my brand development, asked me - “So, are you still going to have dinners?” My friend Todd Sawicki seconded. And about $7,000 later for the URL, the name was ours. The name told my story and it was clear that it drove forward the vision of how I wanted to continue to bring together people over dinner and beyond.

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