Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Suzanne Shelton: I’m founder and CEO of Shelton Group. I’ve been in the advertising industry for 24 years now. As CEO of Shelton Group, I set the vision for the company and ensure we’re delivering on our purpose and walking our talk. I also directly manage the development and growth of our business, blog regularly on our website, share what we’re learning at multiple conferences each year, and work with our research team on our proprietary studies.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
SS: Our business is sustainability; we exist to help companies define and leverage their sustainability commitments to gain a market advantage. Like many marketing firms, we perform market research, create communications platforms, and ultimately launch advertising, social and PR campaigns in the market to tell our clients’ stories. What’s unusual about us is our focus. Most communications/marketing firms are generalists, working with a broad range of clients in many different verticals. We believe (and have proven it in practice) focusing on one area – energy and the environment – gives us a depth of expertise unmatched by generalist firms, which allows us to serve our clients better.
What’s also unusual about us is that we fund and conduct our own proprietary research quarterly. Most marketing firms will do this only on behalf of a paying client. We use that research as a proof point to our brand – in order to be the industry thought leader, we need to know what the market is thinking. We use the ongoing insights we get in our research to fuel the development of our client work — and our marketing efforts. We speak at 20-30 national conferences every year about our understanding of the American mindset about sustainability, we now have a weekly newsletter that highlights our findings with a subscriber base of nearly 4,000 marketing professionals (in the energy and environment space), and this year we’re launching a new online sustainability insights subscription service and a software platform we’ll be licensing to our nation’s utilities that will spur Americans to undergo energy efficiency retrofits to their homes.
Most advertising and marketing firms don’t make “products,” so we’re very different in that way. Our aim is to be a catalyst for making every home and building in America energy efficient, and green products (and behaviors) ordinary. That vision is what compels us to ideate new services and products beyond the typical fare for a firm like ours.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
SS: You know, I’m going to give Joel Makower the credit here. Here’s why:
- He taught me (by example) that being down to earth and humble — even when you’re a leader in an industry — is far more effective than acting like a big shot.
- He nudged me to expand my horizons and attend events that hadn’t been on my radar screen, got me contributing to greenbiz.com and doing webinars.
- And he demonstrated to me the power of diversification in a highly focused business. It seems to me that Joel never limited his view of “publishing” to creating an online magazine. They’ve gotten into the conference business, webinar business, consulting business, speaking business…essentially finding several successful ways to leverage the greenbiz brand. I’ll admit, we’re taking a similar approach today — broadening our view of marketing — inspired in large part by Joel’s success.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
SS: I had a consultant tell me 12 years ago that if I wanted to grow a nationally recognized advertising and marketing agency from Knoxville, TN, I’d have to specialize. I resisted his recommendation for two years because I thought it would be REALLY boring to focus only on one industry. After a couple of years of not getting any closer to my growth and impact goals, I realized he had a point. And I realized I was really wrong about the whole boring thing.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
SS: I’m proud of Do 5 Things. It’s a marketing optimization platform for utilities looking to increase rebate redemptions and encourage energy efficient behavior change, and it’s our first consumer-facing solution beyond an ad campaign. With Do 5 Things, we’re coming out of the traditional ad agency box and into the marketing innovation box. I’m proud of us for being willing to go there and rethink how we can best live our purpose and achieve our vision as a company.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
SS: I’d give the sustainability people within the Fortune 500 a LOT more money with which to execute against their goals. It continues to astound us that these intrepid souls are charged with hitting humongous, publicly stated goals and they have so little money with which to launch initiatives to tackle sourcing, manufacturing and packaging changes, not to mention social and community initiatives and then actually marketing the story of their accomplishments. Sigh.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
SS: This may not be what you’re looking for…but my perfect day is 78 degrees and sunny, anywhere in the world with my family, simply enjoying each other’s company.