Hilary Craven, former executive at 72andSunny and chief marketer at the LA office of RTO+P announced the launch of her own brand consultancy, Sidecar.
This new consulting practice she built has reported competencies in brand strategy, earned media strategy and execution, and strategic partnerships. Craven, who had joined RTO+P in 2015 after spending six years at 72andSunny, credits her experience launching such divisions in previous agency roles set her up to create a different kind of brand consultant.
Craven said to The Drum: “I was really fortunate to work at two shops that were open to testing more ‘non-traditional’ ways of working. This allowed for me to gain exposure to a large number of brands and also a wide range of business problems and really has informed the way we have set up Sidecar. I was able to road test the areas of focus, and the services we offer our clients on a large scale while at my previous agencies and now have become hyper-focused with Sidecar.”
This venture has allowed Craven and team to work in ‘stealth mode’ with emerging and established brands to hone their identities and cultural footprint.
“I have always been interested in pushing agencies into new sectors,” said Craven, “and I feed off of challenging the status quo when thinking about new ways of brand building. I don’t want to look at brand building in a rigid way, especially because our channels of communication continue to change.”
The plan for Sidecar, as stated in a launch statement, has been to bring a credible voice in creating “value-based brand partnerships,” ones that do more than just utilizing networks of influencers to build equity — a point brand-side marketers have chided in recent weeks.
Craven added: “Sidecar wasn’t built in response to what is lacking, it is primed in anticipation of what clients will need."
In such, Sidecar has already worked with brands in the cannabis and music spaces, both industries considered in crossroad moments. “There is certainly a lot of whitespace to operate in,” Craven said about the cannabis market, in particular.
“I think it is less about what hasn’t been addressed properly and more about playing catch up,” she continued. “There have been dozens of very sophisticated brands flooding the market from various orientations, but the core marketing challenge is finding ways to speak to such a wide consumer base. It is our job to both educate and give permission to the consumer to feel comfortable trying this product because it has been wrought with stigma for so long. Due to such varied media habits, I believe the fastest way for the cannabis industry to welcome in new consumers will be to step out from the shadows and create best-in-class experiences in the real world and in retail that feel similar to retail experiences they are familiar with, for example the exchange at a beauty counter.”
As for the music space, which is still adjusting to a seemingly-matured streaming market, she stated: “There is quite a lot of changing opportunity but one area that I think requires some smart solutions is the explosion of streaming listeners in global markets. There will need to be a lot of focus around data capture and creating curation experiences that engage listeners in a more meaningful way.”
Choosing to launch an independent brand marketing practice at a time when holding companies have consolidated specialist shops, and massive consultancies have acquired smaller practices to compete for clients came off as a potential risky maneuver.
Craven, who has been known to embrace changing course when the time calls for it, seemed to downplay the current state of the industry, saying: "There has been a lot of chatter over the last few years about the ‘reckoning’ of the agency model. I’m not sure I believe things will be that seismic — I still think there will be a place for the large agencies to make great work for their clients.
“The reason why we are set up as a consultancy or advisory is that I believe clients," she added, "and specifically young brands will need specialists to focus on key beats within their growth. Having a smaller specialized infrastructure allows us to really embed with the client. Sidecar can come in and help establish foundational marketing strategy, develop priorities, and execute in key areas that matter most.”
On the about page for the fledgling shop, in all caps, the agency stated a clear message: "We're calling shotgun." When asked about what success meant for Sidecar, Craven gave a two-fold response. First, in the business-case: “We have seen some great success launching some really innovative emerging brands into market, marked by their rise to category leading status in a very short time. We have added value to several small agencies to help them get their personal brand out into the world.”
Her second reason she called much more personal. “One of the indicators of Sidecar’s success will be showing other women that being a female founder isn’t just part of a sea change, bringing this point of view is an essential part of building smarter companies.”