The Chicagoland Conversation with Marshall Creative

If you think you’ve seen Sandy Marshall somewhere before, you’re probably right. Besides running a small advertising agency, Marshall is heavily involved with Second City, has appeared in movies such as “The Dilemma” and on Comedy Central. I sat down with him to learn how improv comedy and marketing blend in perfect harmony at his agency, Marshall Creative.

Sandy Marshall, CEO of Marshall Creative – and the guy who might be behind that Second City production you’re about to see.

Dan Gershenson:
Sandy, you’re an actor, a director at Second City, a TV writer…then on top of it all, you decide in 2006 that you need even more to do and found Marshall Creative. Why?

Sandy Marshall: 
I was working as a freelance writer and was doing some copywriting and someone was asking if I do websites. I said, “Sure, I do websites!” I went and opened a bank account and started doing some small little jobs.

So I founded Marshall Creative sort by accident. Our biz has been almost 100% referral.

Since then, we’ve grown what was a very small freelance operation to where we’re at now, with an office that has 6 employees and a number of different contractors.

Our cardinal rule was that we didn’t get anything unless we absolutely needed it. Including business cards. We were careful to move at exactly the right pace. I didn’t set out to plunge into agency life. We had the great fortune to work with clients who were seeing a huge change in the multimedia landscape, so because of our experience in the creative world, we were able to blend talents and provide a lot of services other agencies did in about a third of the time. Being a small, flexible agency, we can divide and conquer better on certain things.

DG: What I notice that’s different about MC is that while there are many talented people in writing, design and web programming, almost all of them have a background in theatre. You direct at Second City, your Chief Technology Officer is also a sound designer for theatres, your Chief Brand Officer is also an actor and director. Did you intentionally seek to bring theatre-minded folks into the fold here?

SM: Absolutely. It was very intentional. It’s very important to me that people here have an artistic passion outside the office – not just people who want to work at an agency. I’m more interested in the kind of person who is in Chicago because they want to do comedic acting but also want experience as a Copywriter. Which tends to yield better work.

We’ve found ways to “under-complicate” projects and cut out a lot of office drama because we have a lot of other outside passions. It’s a very creative-minded group that arrives at decisions a lot quicker and collaborates more effectively as an ensemble. Creative ensembles in theater are used to building on small budgets and constructing beauty in a small amount of time. We’re able to do the same for our clients quickly and it’s much more fun.

It’s crucial that the vibe be right in an office. Putting together an ensemble like this is very similar to casting a show. Every personality has to be the right fit for what they’re doing.”

– Sandy Marshall, CEO of Marshall Creative


DG: How does improv training come in handy in the marketing world?

SM: With improvisation, every idea is a good idea. If someone has an idea, a lot of times they’re not sure why they had the idea. It’s our job to build upon that idea and turn the idea into gold. We try and build on any idea that the seed of that idea suggested. Improv is built on collaboration, listening and taking one idea and building upon it as quickly as possible.

DG: Speaking of as quickly as possible, you have a concept at Marshall Creative called “The 4-Day Website.” How does that process work exactly?

SM: It was in response to websites that we were building that were, at the time, taking forever. The thing that usually takes the longest is the “About” page. So we decided to cut down on that by having the client come into the office, book out 4 full days with the entire agency and begin building the site from ground zero on Day 1. We get a designer and copywriter in here, we talk about needs and ideas and we build mockups and wireframes based on that. The client signs off on crucial phases every step of the way.

It all happens very organically in the office. The advantage to the client is that they can be in our office as much as they want. It becomes a living, working office for them for 4 days. Which is great for clients who really want to get a site up and running very quickly. Once we launch the site within 4 days, we train them on how to use it – so they tweak, change and update it on their own.

DG: Who are some clients that you’ve worked with recently?

SM: We’re very excited to be working with Second City Communications, who hired us to manage the redesign a website of theirs that sells short videos to corporations. These videos are called Real Biz Shorts, short films designed to lead off training for sales reps around the country. In addition to their site, we’re working on earned media campaigns, paid media campaigns and more. It’s a great gig because it combines a lot of institutional knowledge of what Second City is, it’s nice for me personally since I’m a Director at Second City and it’s nice because it’s just the right amount of “business meets creative” to allow us to flex a lot of muscles. We were hired to deliver the right vibe – which is awesome. It’s a very exciting project.

DG: As you’ve had an agency for a little over 5 years, what’s your goal for the next 5 years at Marshall Creative?

SM: Our 1-year goal is to sustain and grow at the right rate. We’re continuing to see new business come through the door, which is exciting. We have the right people for the right positions. We’re in a good spot and we’re looking to add even more stability. In 5 years, our goals are a number of product-based initiatives we’d like to sell that will come to fruition in the next 18-24 months. For now, we’re having fun applying what we’ve learned for clients to our own brand, including our own website.

The “pie in the sky” is we would like to do all of the marketing for whatever becomes the biggest privatized space company in the next 5 years. So Virgin Galactic would be a dream client. Because we would all like to get paid to go into outer space to make sure the job goes well.

The Chicagoland Conversation with Hireology

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down on behalf of the Chicagoland Chamber with Adam Robinson, who is the Chief Hireologist of Hireology. Previously, Adam was the co-founder and CEO of illuma, a leader in high-volume recruitment outsourcing solutions as well as the creator of the Ionix Hiring System, a full suite of interview and assessment tools.

Hireology is a company that specializes in interview guides, applicant tracking, candidate assessment and selection. Just this year, the company was featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, Crain’s Chicago Business and Fox Chicago, where it was profiled as a “tech company to watch.”

Adam, on your website, you describe Hireology as a company that was 13 years in the making. What do you mean by that and what inspired you to start Hireology?

AR: My last company was an outsourced recruitment provider and through the course of my time there, what I learned was that most companies are terrible at hiring. Fewer than 10% of companies know how to conduct an interview. It’s a coin flip whether it works out or not.

Why? The company doesn’t think far beyond next week or next month with that person and instead just focus on the fact that they have a hiring need.

So at Hireology, we’ve used technology that helps correlate behavioral tendencies to a person succeeding in a given job. We work through that data to see if it’s a good fit with an easy to use online tool that incorporates an applicant tracking system, interview guides, online skills tests, background checks and more. All within one interface.

Can you speak more to how that science occurs? Is there a real criteria behind it all?

AR: We’ve analyzed 1000’s of interviews across hundreds of companies to come up with the 67 Elements of Success™, traits that, when present in a candidate, enable us to predict his or her likelihood of success in a specific role.

What type of training and tools do you provide to managers on how to evaluate a candidate?

AR: The manager logs in and runs their entire hiring process from our website. Thousands of potential questions get customized based on requirements into an interview guide. The manager receives questions that are perfect for their hiring scenario, which makes their life tremendously easier.

We’re increasingly giving people the tools to help find the right candidates. When you put a job in our system, you get a unified URL for that given job. When you’re no longer hiring for that job, you turn off the product. Hiring spree? Turn it back on. There’s no contracts or math. It’s $24 a month.

What’s a good example of a company that needed your services at Hireology and prospered from hiring you?

AR: A woman in the medical space recently turned to us because she was having difficulty attracting the right kind of candidates. She posted on Craigslist, did flyers and it wasn’t that organized of a search. Then she talked to us about activating a full account with our processing tools. She couldn’t be happier and she’s able to scale her growth with this tool.

Is there an ideal company that hires you at Hireology?

AR: We really work with all kinds of companies from industry associations and healthcare systems to franchises and small business owners. No matter what, we want to work with people who will embed our platform into their hiring process rather than handing a confusing binder off to a hiring manager. There’s no reason to do that when we can set up the system in literally 60 seconds. You pick the plan you want and it’s a 14-day trial. It just works. And it works for a lot of people.

The Chicagoland Conversation with Free Green Can

In just three years, Free Green Can has taught thousands of Chicagoans to help the environment by doing what they already do – pitch their trash and recyclables into a dual purpose recycle/trash container. With the Park District and major sports teams in town on board, the company has some exciting plans in the works for 2012 – including building on the revenue sharing opportunities for potential advertisers and host companies.
I sat down with Dave Whorton from Free Green Can to discuss how his company is putting corporate profitability and environmental responsibility on the same page.

Dave Whorton of Free Green Can

How did the inspiration from Free Green Can come about? I hear it was from an unlikely source.

DW: That’s right. About 3 years ago, our founder, Steve Holland, was at a park where his son was playing baseball. After the game, his son wanted to recycle his plastic bottle, but couldn’t find anywhere to do it. So Steve wanted to champion that cause by helping the park out with some recycling bins. Before long, the concept grew to the point of where the can is now patented.

It’s great that the idea from a 13-year-old kid really spawned Free Green Can. When you say one person can make a difference, one person really did make an environmental difference – throughout Chicago.

To be clear, the Free Green Can isn’t just for recycling, right?

DW: Absolutely. We are a dual-purpose trash and recycling bin, with half the bin divided down the middle. What we believe is that if we offer a recycling solution everywhere there’s a trash problem, people will generally do the right thing. By having a trash and recycling option in one bin, it makes life a lot easier and people will always do the right thing when presented in that fashion.

What could one Free Green Can mean for the environment over the course of a year?

DW: One Free Green Can, in a year, will save 15 trees.* When you think about our impact in the Chicago Park District, we have 2500 Free Green Cans placed. That’s going to be a very exciting environmental impact for us. It’s one of the big motivations for us as to why we do what we do every day.

How many Free Green Cans are there in the Chicagoland area?

DW: There’s our crown jewel, the Chicago Park District, where we have 2500 cans placed on the Museum campus, in Grant Park and along 16.5 miles of lakefront trail – from 63rd Street Beach to Osterman Beach. Also, at U.S. Cellular Field, we have 375 Free Green Cans. We’ve got 35 cans surrounding Wrigley Field. We were just at Fiesta Del Sol, which is the largest Latin festival in the Midwest. Several Aldermen are working with us now to place Free Green Cans in their wards.

Besides the recycling advantages, speak to the revenue sharing opportunities for businesses that choose to use Free Green Can.

DW: We provide the cans for free. We can do this by the advertisers that have come on board to support us. Those advertisers have four panels to share their messages with a very captive audience that engages with the product.

We take 10% of the revenue earned and give it back to the venue that uses our cans.

Think how that affects municipalities, for example. Everyone’s struggling in these tough budget times. So when advertisers support us, we’re so excited to give back to these host locations in partnership with these companies.

How does a potential advertiser go about working with Free Green Can?

DW: You come to us and let us create a solution for your type of company. If we get the chance to know your brand, we have price points for everyone from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies.

We have companies coming to us with Quick Response (QR) Codes that link back to a website. Well, we can help create that QR Code for a small business or use it for large companies featuring it as part of their marketing plan.

What are your goals for the rest of 2011 and heading into 2012?

DW: What we’re so proud of is how we’ve been embraced by the city and the Chicagoland Chamber. We’re really re-inventing public recycling in the city of Chicago. At the end of this year, we’re going to be able to say we’ve helped the Park District, several wards, Cubs, White Sox and more.

We’re going to use that as springboard to help showcase Chicago to the rest of the country as we go into other cities and say, “Look what we’ve done for Chicago and we’re ready to do the same thing for you.”

That said, we want to make sure our backyard is taken care of, with small businesses here who never thought they could advertise in the out-of-home industry.

Your product is a help to the environment, but how can people make the business environment better for you to succeed as an entrepreneurial company?

DW: I’ve traveled a lot and believe this is one of the cleanest cities in the world. But it can always improve. Now it’s ingrained in people’s minds that recycling is what you should do and that throwing it in a garbage can is not enough.

We’re trying to preserve the awe that residents and visitors have for our city. So for us as a small business when considering where to base Free Green Can, the question was “why not Chicago?”

The Chicagoland Chamber has done a great job of helping us get the word out and offering support, advice, guidance and counsel. That’s one of those things as a small business that you rely upon – people who have a feel for the pulse of Chicago. The connections that the Chamber has made for us have been phenomenal. We want to start giving back to the Chamber with as much enthusiasm as they’ve given to us.

(This post originally ran as a piece for The Chicagoland Chamber.)

*Number is based on if Free Green Can is filled with 25% paper, 25% plastic, 25% aluminum and 25% glass.