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Melissa Harrison is a strategic marketing professional with more than a decade of experience of delivering creative marketing solutions to nonprofits, member-based organizations and small businesses. Her areas of expertise include branding, graphic design, PR, content strategy and social media. Melissa integrates traditional marketing strategies with new media tools and concepts. She has a passion for driving results and creating meaningful messages.
Her company, Allée, is a boutique marketing and creative services company. They provide successful planning and implementation in areas of marketing, branding and public relations.
MO: When you first founded the company it was named Harrison Communications, what inspired you to change the name?
Melissa: When I started, I was the sole employee of my company—it was easy to put it under my name and slap on “communications” as a way to indicate the services I offered. But I always knew that my business would grow and I wanted additional people to be a part of that process—a part of my team. As services morphed from mainly content management and writing to full-blown marketing strategies, branding and PR services, I knew I needed a name that accurately reflected the packaged-deal. Allée is French for a path lined with trees. I chose it because it reflects the path that we guide clients down—lined with experience, expertise and creative ideas. The company name is now something that everyone on the team can feel they are a part of—rather than be a reflection of my name alone. I wanted to create a sense of creativity, comfort and belonging to not just the clients we serve, but to our staff. And, we’re a creative services company—we needed an updated, creative look.
MO: What are the main challenges of integrating traditional marketing strategies with new media tools and concepts?
Melissa: What is good for print and TV is not necessarily great for the Web—and vice versa. One of the biggest challenges is knowing who your audience is and what kind of messaging they want, where they want it, when they want it. There are times when print media is a viable way to spread a message and other times when it’s not. The main challenge we face with clients is the change. A change in something they’ve been doing for years. A change that pushes them out of their comfort zone. We are careful to tell clients they have to choose one or the other—traditional vs. new media—they don’t. The best practice is a mix that works for your brand and messaging and most importantly, the audiences you’re trying to reach. And sometimes, that means getting uncomfortable, losing a little bit of control, and trying something new. A quote from Charles Darwin I came across the other day (thanks to Brian Solis) speaks right to this and I love it:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
Our main challenge is this change. Opening up to the idea that it can’t be all traditional anymore than it can be all new media. Your audience will give you the clues you need to know where you need to be; we need to listen.
MO: How has Allée evolved over the past 6 years?
Melissa: I came from the nonprofit side of marketing and communications and so, when I started out, my focus was on nonprofit clients. Allée continues to work with nonprofit organizations and even provides a pro bono project each year, but we have evolved to expand our client reach to include small and mid-sized businesses. Our services have evolved as well. Six years ago, clients’ needs really didn’t move outside of traditional marketing and branding. We were handling a lot of print publications, advisements and standard branding projects. Now, organizations are beginning to realize the importance of things like content marketing and mobile reach. Where we used to come across clients with no website to speak of, we are now finding clients who are looking for ways to expand their reach—SEO, online content curration and content marketing were not things we were doing much of 6 years ago. Now we are.
And of course, our staff. From a one-woman shop to a small staff of interns, content specialists, a marketing specialist and various guest bloggers and contractors, we have seen exciting growth over the years. We’ve also seen a change in client needs from per-project to retainer basis. Clients are starting to think more long-term when it comes to their marketing and branding strategies. Six years ago, we were signing on for a project here and there with individual clients. Now, we’re working with clients on contracts that span 6-months, 12-months or longer to really focus on great strategy and implementation. Clients are beginning to understand that it takes time to build customer relationships and strategies for engaging with their key audiences. A one-off brochure isn’t going to cut it anymore.
MO: What are some guidelines for successfully using social media for marketing purposes?
Melissa: I think that biggest key is to focus less time on the “marketing” aspect of social media and more time on the “engagement” factor. The fact is, consumers are smart and they can see through marketing-speak. They want something interesting to talk about, to be a part of. In the past, we were able to control the timing of our messages—we knew when a brochure or direct mail piece would drop—now, there is less control. Who knows when a YouTube video will go viral or someone will post a nasty comment on your company’s Facebook wall. Establish your own criteria for everything from basic conversations and posts to social media crisis management.
Also, it’s important for companies to understand that they don’t always have control and to embrace that. It’s about creating meaningful conversations and content for listeners. Pay attention to what they’re saying about you as well. Here are some rules I think are a great start (and really, it’s basic etiquette):
• Be a good listener
• Be relevant and ask questions (how else do you get to know people?)
• Watch the “me” factor (no one hangs out with the guy at the party who interrupts with random comments all about himself)
• Respond (again, if you asked a question or made a comment, you’d want someone to show they’re listening, right?)
• Respect and know your presence (how you look online is just as important, if not more, than how you come across offline—doesn’t matter if you have social media accounts or not, others are talking about you)
MO: How do you balance a thriving and demanding career with being a mother to four children? Do you have any advice aside from good time management?
Melissa: And also besides cloning? I’m not going to lie, at first it was really hard—and can still be hard at times. I like to think I’ve developed some pretty good systems for keeping myself organized at home and at the office. The biggest challenge is relating that to my kids (who, at ages 7, 4, 3 and 16 months, really don’t care if I say I have to work, they’d rather play). It may sound hypocritical, but I make a conscious effort to unplug. A lot. I use my smart phone for everything—scheduling bill payments, kids’ school activities, doctor appointments, work meetings—but I try as hard as I can to keep that thing as far away as possible when it comes to the weekends. I carve out face-to-face time with friends months in advance, schedule mini-dates with my kids individually and even block-off time on my work to-do list for one thing, every day, that has to do with Allée as a company rather than a client project. I take meetings on the road (blue tooth is essential in any car for me), keep a HUGE whiteboard next to my desk in my office for jotting down ideas, and I’m always working off some sort of to-do list, whether programmed in my phone or on a good ol’ fashioned piece of paper.
My best advice is to take time for yourself and be honest with others—your family, staff or clients—when things are becoming overbearing or you need a break. And choose your “person.” As cheesy and cornball as it sounds, I married a wonderful, supportive husband that hangs out with our kids during the day while I manage the business. No matter if it’s your spouse, a good friend or a parent—someone who is supportive of your needs and helps cheer you on does wonders to keep it all in perspective.
MO: What’s your favorite part of the creative process? How do you bring ideas to life?
Melissa: No one ever tells you how fun it is, once you have kids, to watch their faces as they open presents for their birthday or a holiday. It’s amazing. The same is true when it comes to showing clients a creative idea or finalized product. Serious. I got a high-five from a client the other day and it made my week. My favorite part of the creative process is definitely clients’ reactions. I also love being able to collaborate with so many talented people, whether it’s a client, my staff or someone I met through a networking event. Everyone has such great talent out there. One of my favorite things about the new ways we’re communicating online is that we’re able to tap in to those talents and learn about people and processes we may have never known otherwise.