Having lived in New England for the last 30 years, you wouldn’t guess that 52-year-old Marilois Snowman grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was journalism that brought her north when she was 22, but she soon made the decision to pursue a career in media and advertising. Confident that she had finally found her industry, she was inspired to create a company, culture, and a lifestyle of her own—and so Snowman founded Mediastruction.
Mediastruction specializes in media strategy and planning by using data-driven applications and sophisticated algorithms to measure performance and attribution. Based in Norwell, the company has devised successful media strategies for Cirque Du Soleil, Disney on Ice, Ocean State Job Lot, and others. As National Women’s Small Business Month kicks off, Rockland Trust’s “Talking Business Advice Series” asked Snowman to speak about launching her own business, how she thrives in a crowded, data-obsessed environment, and what she looks for in employees.
So, how did you get here?
That’s a funny question because my degree is in journalism and I started out as a journalist at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune and Haverhill Gazette. So I was always interested in communication and writing and how people think and how they connect with one another. I had a short stint in PR and then was recruited by a media agency, which was funny because I did everything I could to avoid math and now pretty much what I do all day involves math. My dad was a math teacher and I think he gave me a phobia about math.
What led you to be the entrepreneur that you are?
I think it evolved from wanting a good work/life balance. I’m a mom of three and I couldn’t find a job that offered me the challenges I craved plus the stability I wanted. So I kind of built it. I’m not even sure if it was intentional. It just happened. But because I really, really love what I do and we do a good job. It’s just grown organically.
What is Mediastruction?
Mediastruction is a media agency that’s part of an ad business that helps marketers decide where they should place their ads and how much they should pay for it. That’s our value proposition.
When did you start the company?
I founded the company in 2007. We now have eight full-time employees and three part-time employees. Our billings are right around $1 million a year with about a dozen clients at any one time.
It seems from looking at your company website that you’re more strategically inclined—part consultant and media planner—not just a media buyer.
Yes. Today, with technology and data, it’s definitely moving more toward precision targeting of the appropriate message and getting it to the right audience, as well as building a case for a return on investment to the marketer. We use data insights as much as possible to make a better informed media plan. We are buyers for sure and we still negotiate and get the best value for our clients, but it’s a lot more fun when you can provide some sort of attribution and rationale for your selection. And, of course, there so many more places to buy media now.
Are you more able these days to better track and demonstrate the return to your clients?
Yes. We’re actually working on a project now with Rockland Trust where we are using machine-learn modeling and algorithms to determine which media investments are driving sales, what the value is of each of the channels. It’s really interesting. Often, what we call the last touch point—the piece of direct mail in your hand or the banner ad that you click—gets a disproportionate weight or value for a campaign. But with sophisticated modeling you can give better attribution to stuff that heretofore has been harder to assess.
I know clients, particularly PR clients, typically want some measurement of success and return. That’s often difficult to show.
Right. We can partner with PR folks now because part of the metrics that go into this algorithm is about earned media. How are consumers talking about your brand? How much are they sharing word of mouth about your brand? With social media listening tools we can access and assess a lot of that data that goes into our attribution modeling.
Which media trend is rearing its head most often these days?
(I’m) trying to make sense of the plethora of choices in media. Budgets haven’t grown exponentially along with the number of places you can advertise. So the pie hasn’t gotten bigger, it’s just gotten more fragmented.
Is it still challenging to explain to clients what all those media channels are today and the value of each one? Or has that task gotten easier as the digital revolution has progressed?
The most challenging part is one you would think is the least challenging. It sounds so simple, but it’s answering the question: “What is it that you want to happen?” People are tempted to say “Well, I want everything.” I’m ambitious and I’m an entrepreneur and I want everything, too, but we have to build a roadmap to get from A to Z. And that can be challenging. So, I find prodding clients to broaden their thinking isn’t as challenging as one might think if we have an objective and everyone’s aligned with what the objective is.
Any particular challenges for you because you’re a woman in this business.
Not really. My biggest challenge was starting a business in 2007. That was a really tough time to start a business, if you recall what 2008 was like. You couldn’t even get a line of credit. But being able to pivot, being adaptable, and bootstrappy has been more of an asset than a liability.
What kind of people do you look for when you hire?
It’s more of a work ethic and a mindset of being curious that I look for because there’s a continuous learning curve in the job today. I always like to keep new talent in the pipeline. My key hires mostly have experience in media buying. Some come from an agency or the brand side…but our media coordinator was a nurse.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
Compared to ad agencies, I think we’re different. There was this movement toward open office space and unstructured time off policies, unlimited vacation if you got your work done. We’re not like that and we are probably more traditional. Everyone here is pretty family oriented, but love what they do. I think the family/work balance is most important. If you can have dinner with your family every night, I think that’s great. At most ad agencies that’s not a priority.
Last question. Where did the name Marilois come from?
It’s a combination of my two grandmothers’ names, Mary and Lois. It’s very rare. Although, there is a Spanish “Marilois” who keeps asking me to give her my Twitter account.
Interview by Doug Bailey. It was condensed and edited for clarity.
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