Duncan Channon's chief experience officer on keeping connections open

"The question we are grappling with as an agency for our clients is: Business as usual. When will that be and who will I be when it returns to normal?"

Amy Cotteleer, partner and chief experience officer at Duncan Channon, was never one for Google Hangouts, but she’s become a convert.

It's keeping her more closely connected with colleagues and has become a "bit of a silver lining."

Los Angeles-based Cotteleer, who sold her digital, social and live experiences business, A2G, to Duncan Channon in early 2019, is applying lessons learned during the financial crisis of 2008 for clients including the LA Rams and e.l.f. cosmetics.

Back then, she helped brands maintain relationships with consumers when disposable income and consumer confidence were under attack. 

Cotteleer discovered that social influencers—it was the dawn of the Mommy Blogger Era—were proving great surrogates to real-life, consumer events. For Nintendo Wii, A2G was able to work with bloggers to reach parents who were worried about their kids playing video games. 

"We appreciated that it was the experiences of the influencers, that they could then bring to their audiences, that would then be shared exponentially," said Cotteleer. 

Today, it might be beauty influencers on TikTok and game-streaming personalities on Twitch, but the concept is the same. They are the bridge to consumers who are not interacting with brands in-store or at events. 

Cotteleer, a former banker who worked in movie financing before switching to marketing, talked to Campaign US about keeping clients, colleagues and her two daughters happy while maintaining her own sense of self.


We are almost a month into COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. What are your impressions or learnings over this time?

It is a month, and I have a totally different perspective than what I thought it would be. 

The demands that have been placed on working parents, to entertain, to protect, to teach, to coach...for me, it has been a complete learning experience. It is fraught with challenges, to technology not being a friend to, over time, a sense of uneasiness. 

At any part of the day, you can go from being uneasy to fearful. Even though we are Zooming every day that is not a human connection.

How is it managing teams from afar?

As a partner, as a leader, it is my belief that we have to separate the signal from the noise. We do that by figuring out what people need, encouraging who we work with. It is about setting boundaries, being realistic and helping employees figure our how to self-care and be present. Especially if you are a parent. 

At the agency, our CEO Andy Berkenfield announced a program, Tag Out. What that means is, as a parent, if you feel you need to tag out, you have not only the support of the agency but also of co-workers and colleagues. For me, every morning between 9 and 10, I am tagging out to make sure my daughters are good for school and with the apps they are using for learning.

As a marketer and a consumer, do you miss stores or do you see your own behavior changing longterm? 

The question we are grappling with as an agency for our clients is: Business as usual. When will that be and who will I be when it returns to normal?

This is not short-term, even when the stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, we are not just going to flip a switch and do live events as soon as we can go outside. 

Then, the reality is we are at a minimum of three to six months from holding events, because there are so many things that go into live events, from a scouting perspective to negotiations. Providers are going to be decimated because of the shutdown. The reality is, we are going to lose florists, caterers. We are going to lose venues, we are going to lose fabricators. 

And there is a psychological impact we are going to have to address. Can you imagine being surrounded by a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand people? I can’t. It scares me, and I do it for a living.

What are you able to do for clients now, as far as social and digital experiences?

As we are social, digital and experiential, we have always understood the importance of all three. We are definitely talking to our clients about influencer and social engagements, across all platforms, from Twitch to TikTok. 

We have weathered storms before like the financial crisis in 2008. We created programs to reach out to YouTubers and mommy bloggers, so when events went away, consumers passion for brands continued. 

So we know influencers and social engagement are going to play such a critical role.

There is this instinct, I think it is almost primal during an economic downturn to want to cut dollars. Maybe you cannot do a live event, but I think that it is dangerous to for brands to cut spending. They will have a harder time coming back.

We are dealing with consumers who feel like life has been canceled, here is a time for brands to help their consumer connect. 

What is going on with some of the clients you are working with?

We were selected before the shutdown by the LA Rams to help them create strategies around their in-person, 7,000 person NFL draft event. The Rams, locally in Los Angeles, were going to have a celebration for their fans, 7,000 of them in one space, during the NFL draft in Las Vegas.

It is unfortunate that we might have to wait another year for it. Even before the NFL was talking about it, we were talking with the organization to discuss other ways to connect online, through every platform available for us to create the sense of community to connect with people who have a passion for football and give them a place to connect with each other.

Another example is our client e.l.f. They launch products on a regular basis. Often times, they have in-person events to celebrate. The products are going to hit the stores, that cannot be delayed. How can we look at the influencer community to do the heavy lifting, to do it differently, perhaps? 

It’s been about a year since Duncan Channon acquired A2G. How are things going with your team being in Los Angeles?

I would jump up on a plane go up to San Francisco and San Francisco would jump on a plane and come down to us.  

The irony is, I feel more connected to the San Francisco team now. I think I can speak for my team here in Los Angeles because we prioritize face-to-face communications through Zoom and Hangouts like we never have before. We used to not see each other every day.

It has been a little bit of a silver lining.

How will this COVID-19 affect you personally? 

I think on a personal note, it will forever change the way I communicate with the teams in San Francisco. I have prioritized now clicking Google Hangouts and making a face-to-face call and that is crazy for me. Now, I look forward to popping on Google Hangouts and seeing people. There are moments you hear a voice in the distance, and everyone asks, "Who is that?" Or someone’s child will pop on the screen. There are really delightful moments. 

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