Men's Wearhouse marketing leader on building trusted agency relationships
Bruce Hershey has seen marketing from multiple perspectives — as an agency exec, entrepreneur, marketing and sales leader, strategist, and now as vice-president of marketing for Tailored Brands. That multifaceted view has made his approach to agency relationships somewhat unique, and especially effective and rewarding. Hershey shared that strategy and its benefits with The Drum.
Tell us about your role.
As vice-president of marketing for Tailored Brands, I oversee Men's Wearhouse, Moores in Canada, K&G, and Joseph Abboud, as well as Tailored Brands as a whole. The one brand I don’t oversee is Jos. A. Bank. My role is focused on strategy and execution from a business perspective and a creative perspective. I oversee all consumer touchpoints — from setting the go-to-market strategy to implementing that, and then having my teams execute against that across all channels and media.
My primary focus is Men's Wearhouse because that's our largest brand in the portfolio.
What do you look for when choosing an agency?
I'll back up a little, so I can set it up properly. I came from the agency side of the house. And when you're at an agency working with brands, there are always those moments where you feel like you're not getting everything you need to help the brand be successful. Sometimes there's a lack of trust, a lack of sharing, a lack of collaboration. The agency becomes the fall guy because it's easy to point a finger when they're being paid to help the brand be successful.
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So, having been there, I have a high respect for agencies, and I know what they need to be successful.
When I'm looking at trying to identify a partner, it's more about are they agile and willing to learn? Are they pushing themselves internally to be better? Yeah, I want to look at the work they've done with other brands. But, most important, I want to know what they’re doing that's unique and different internally. How are they positioning themselves with their team? What are they doing to make their leaders better leaders and help their teammates advance their careers? Because that's the kind of culture I know I can lean on to help me be successful. If they don't have that trust culture internally, then there's not going to be a trust culture externally.
It has to be a true partnership. It can't be, I'm just stroking a cheek or you're my fall guy. It has to be, ‘We're in this together, and I'm going to give you everything I can to ensure our success.’ Not your success, but our success.
What about EP+Co made you decide to work with them?
I had met EP+Co at a conference, and I liked the culture; I liked what they were doing. I liked that they were boutique-y, but still had this backbone behind them that could help them if they needed to flex a little. But I had an agency of record already.
At that time, I was tasked with building our first-ever content strategy. I knew I couldn't lean on my current agency, so I leveraged that as an opportunity to bring in EP+Co and not only see what they could do, but also help me solve an immediate challenge.
We had just finished doing extensive qualitative and quantitative research to help formulate how we can react and change with our customers. So, I brought in EP+Co and gave them the research data and a bunch of data on our performance to help them build out the content strategy. And they said, "Wow, that's a lot of information." And I said, "Well, yes." And they said, "Yeah, but we've never had this much information — and we love it." So, I said, "Great, but I need you to move fairly quickly on this." And they started cranking really fast, asking tons of questions, collaborating on an almost daily basis.
About three quarters of the way through, my CEO at the time challenged me to make some shifts. So, I called EP+Co and said, “I have a big opportunity for you to come win the business, but you've got to have a pitch ready in a week."
A week later they pitched to me and my boss and my creative lead at the time. And we fell in love with what they were coming to market with. It was a fresh approach to taking what we learned from our consumers and leaning into the challenges while taking advantage of our strengths. We made some subtle tweaks and a week later they came back to pitch to our CEO, our brand president, and some other executives. Our CEO hired them on the spot, and we recognized them as our agency record from then on.
What happened with that campaign?
The pitch was in June  and our CEO wanted the campaign to be in-market the first week August. Normally, we’re in-market for fall in September week two. It was practically a rebrand, but EP+Co didn't blink.
What did you have to do to hit that deadline?
It was a learning curve for both of us. I don't want to paint that this was a beautiful picture all the way through. There are peaks and valleys to everything. But the good news is, when a valley hit, we all dipped together. We knew that we had to get back up on top of the mountain together. That to me is what helped my team understand how important it is to have that deep collaboration. The last thing I want is anyone pointing fingers — because we're in this together, and that's why I'm a big component of sharing information.
Tell us about the campaign.
We learned from the research that our customers didn’t know we had tailors and stylists in every single store. So, our new campaign brought in a new brand ambassador called The Tailor and brought back the tagline, "You're going to like the way you look." But we spun it, too, to make it more relevant culturally. We started weaving into, ‘She's going to like the way you look,’ ‘Your boss is going to like the way you look,’ ‘Your clients…’ The list goes on with different ways to make the customer react and look at it differently.
By bringing this brand ambassador into the fold, it allowed us to have a conversation instead of being this voice from above; to let our customers know we have these reasons to believe, or reasons to buy [RTBs].
Talk more about building that comfort level within your team to be so collaborative with EP+Co.
Most brands want to point the finger. It's always the agency's fault when something goes wrong. For me, with my team, it’s always, "Our agency is our partner. Our agency is an extension of us. They're our team." Would you want somebody pointing the finger at you if you weren't in the room? No. We have to be respectful because they are our team. That’s how I set the stage internally.
How do you ensure collaboration with the agency?
We established what I call normally comms: Who's responsible for what, who delivers what, who signs off on what. Who's your day-to-day, and when you need to elevate, who do you elevate to? Once you understand and follow those, the structure of the relationship becomes very clear.
Also, the way I structured the scope of work with EP+Co was to identify not just the scope, but also what are the tracks of work that we're going to accomplish in this scope? How are we going to grade each other on a quarterly basis? That’s really important.
We set up four areas that are rated 25% each — communication, deliverability, accountability, and brand KPIs — which holds everybody accountable. And it's not about us grading them only or them grading us only. It's about us grading each other together and seeing how we're going to continue to evolve and learn from our wins and losses.
Within the scope of work, I also mapped out how we process creative. The steps are:
- The creative presentation
- The round robin of initial observations
- The agency leaves the room
- Marketers consolidate their feedback
- The agency returns to the room
- We provide one-voice consolidated feedback, so the agency is not confused
- The agency has a Q&A with us
What’s best about your brand-agency relationship?
One thing I love about our relationship is that if I feel like there's someone on the EP+Co team who needs some coaching or additional skills, I'll say that to their boss. And they do the same thing. It's a nice push and pull. We collaborate really well. There's none of this, "I don't trust you." I have faith in them. I don't need to have my finger on everything they're doing, because they need to go do what they do best.
And when we started thinking about 2019, they knocked the cover off the ball. They came in with some cool, fresh new concepts. They evolved because there was trust, there was data shared. And that's how you evolve. I honestly feel like I have a whole extended team with EP+Co. And to me that's priceless.