Experiential marketing agency, Grow Marketing was founded by former competitors Cassie Hughes and Gabrey Means. The duo teamed up after years of trying to one-up each other in experiential marketing experiences at competing brands before experiential marketing was barely a standard marketing practice. Now they work together with brands like Google, Pernod Ricard, GAP, and Levi’s.
Hughes and Means shared the story of Grow Marketing with DIVERGE:
How did Grow Marketing start?
Cassie Hughes: Grow Marketing started over a glass of wine 16 years ago when a friend introduced me to Gabrey Means, who at that point I considered to be my biggest rival. I was at Levi’s and Gabrey was at the Gap. Needless to say, we were always trying to outdo each other with store launches, press events, stunts and all things experiential. Our mutual friend insisted we would really like each other if we met in person and he couldn’t have been more right. One glass of wine became two as we talked about the agencies we managed and the kind we were looking for but could never find—equal parts strategy, creative and execution. By the time we finished the bottle, Grow was born.
Since co-founding Grow in 2001, Gabrey and I have built Grow from a two-person consultancy into an award-winning agency that creates flawless live experiences across the country and around the world for top global brands.
What do you think makes Grow unique?
Gabrey Means: We create and execute experiential campaigns from strategy through creative down to every last logistical and creative detail—most agencies in our space are good at one or two of these things but not all three.
Our executive team, including myself, Cassie Hughes and our managing director, Tami Anderson, were all former in-house marketing directors at retail brands and that is how our team approaches their work—looking at the whole picture versus just the experiential elements of the campaign. Clients love that we can (and often do) act as the center of the wheel, wrangling multi-disciplinary agency partners to work together on a larger objective and ensuring that all marketing disciplines are working in concert to make 1+1 = 3.
We also have an amazing team. While some people do great work because they are inspired or love the category or are just having a good day, our team always delivers because they personally aren’t satisfied with anything less. We understand that the details must live up to the strategy or the whole thing falls apart, so we’re relentless about making every element great.
Which industries are you seeing really embrace experiential marketing?
Cassie Hughes: The social media explosion was one of the best things to ever happen to our industry. Both brands and consumers have an insatiable need for content, and live experiences satisfy that in a way other marketing disciplines don’t. There are a range of industries from tech to retail to CPG that have adopted experiential as a core element of the marketing mix. And there are newer entrants, like healthcare, that are really seeing experiential as a way to bring their brand DNA and values to life for consumers. We did a pop-up for Dignity Health for Super Bowl 50, which was the first time the brand had exercised their experiential muscle. Visitors really embraced their Hello Humankindness message and the brand ended up ranking the highest in social engagement of all Super Bowl 50 sponsors, which included brands like Levi’s and Intel who are globally recognized and have been doing this a lot longer, not to mention had larger budgets. That’s the kind of power a great experience can deliver.
How do you see experiential marketing as a way to attract and retain millennial talent?
Cassie Hughes: One of the biggest challenges facing companies today is the competition for talent and the struggle to remain current and consistent with employee engagement. Millennials tend to blend their passions, work life and personal life, making it more important than ever to ensure this group is engaged in a way that meets their high expectations.
Unfortunately, right now 71% of millennials are not engaged at work, 72% don’t feel like their skills are being fully utilized and 60% don’t feel like they’re being developed as leaders. We see this as a great opportunity to turn the concept of experiential marketing inward. Companies that master the art of internal engagement—Google, Zappos and Patagonia are great examples—are likely to attract and retain millennial talent—and all talent for that matter—better than those who don’t.
What advice would you give to other young women coming up in the creative industry?
Cassie Hughes: First and foremost, always listen to your gut. Set clear intentions for yourself so you are clear about what you want to achieve. You have to know what you want to get it. And be careful what you wish for, it very well might come true!
Gabrey Means: Work hard and have confidence in yourself—the hardest step is the first one. Also, know what you don’t know and surround yourself with the best creative network to advance your career.
How does Grow celebrate diversity?
Cassie Hughes: Being a women-owned agency, we intimately understand the importance of diversity and tapping into a range of viewpoints and philosophies. We consciously put teams together that collectively represent varying opinions and approaches. We practice the “yes, and…” approach so all ideas and opinions are heard and considered. We also encourage curiosity as a core pillar of our culture—we work to discover and share inspiration from every team member and fresh sources. At Grow, we strive to be a work-home where everyone can feel free to be their unique selves—always open with who they are and accepting of each individual around them.
Which project you are proudest of?
Cassie Hughes: While I’m proud of all our work, for me it would have to be our Dignity Health activation at last year’s Super Bowl City. This heartfelt program is a perfect example of how we humanize brands by connecting them with audiences in a meaningful and memorable way.
Gabrey Means: It’s hard to choose just one! Most recently, I would have to say our partnership with Google for their Block Party tour to show the power of Google Home and Google Play Music together. It was a perfect merging of the online and offline worlds bringing real YouTube Creator use cases to life in each of our tiny homes. Consumers really saw the benefits of the product firsthand in a way that leveraged storytelling to both engage and inspire social sharing.