Creativity is the Secret to Marketing Success – Pat Lemieux

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Using video to grab attention & boost brand awareness – Pat Lemieux

We’ve been hearing quite a lot lately about how adding video into your content marketing plan should be a vital part of your strategy. But there are still many out there that think it’s only something that can be done in certain industries that aren’t “too rigid, too buttoned-up, too serious”. Well Pat Lemieux of C&L Aviation Group has proven that theory wrong and shown that aviation guys do have a sense of humor, and he’s helped to translate that into some pretty sizeable business growth and name recognition for them.

Rich: My next guest is the Director of Marketing for C&L Aviation Group, a global aviation company specializing in aircraft maintenance, refurbishment, paint, and sales. He has a decade of experience building brand awareness creating unique customer interactions and experiences that often fall outside the realm of traditional marketing efforts.

He’s a self-described “Pearl Jam junkie”, and also enjoys running, tacos, traveling, and playing with his son’s Legos, but not all at the same time. Welcome to the show, Pat Lemieux.

Pat: Hey, thank you, Rich. It’s a pleasure to be here, thank you very much.

Rich: Now you and I have known each other and been friends for years, but what was your path to C&L? Have you always done marketing?

Pat: So actually, no. I went to school for marketing and management, as well. After school I traveled around a little bit and ended up landing in Bangor, Maine – which is kind of the area I went to college in – working for a newspaper just doing some management stuff for traditional print side of the business. It wasn’t where my passion was.

As the newspaper industry started to change and we could see the need to really ramp up what we were doing on the web and community engagement and those sorts of things, I started to have a lot of different roles in the company. From doing an educational outreach program, to building an audience of bloggers, and building an online audience around the state. And then also from there kind of doing makeshift events and trying to get our name out there that way.

Eventually we decided we wanted to begin producing events as a revenue generator, and I began running that. So for the better part of a decade I was kind of a “jack of all trades”. And what that allowed me to do was test a lot of different things and a lot of different marketing ideas, event ideas, and that’s really the background for when I took my role here in an aviation company. 

Rich: Alright. Well you and I, like I said, we’ve been friends and have known each other from the Maine marketing arena for years. But of course it took us to go out to San Diego before we really sat down and hung out, I think we hung out more in Dan Diego than we have in the past 2 years in Maine.

Pat: Probably, yeah.

Rich: So we were out for lunch at Social Media Marketing World this year and you were telling me a story about a time that occurred shortly after you were hired by C&L about some news that surrounded your first trade show. Can you tell that story again for my audience?

Pat: Absolutely. So essentially I’d been here for about a month, and at the time they hired me basically because I knew some things about marketing, but I didn’t really know anything about aviation. I was still trying to figure out the names of all the planes and what made them actually lift up in the air. Which, three years later I’m still trying to figure that out.

Rich: It’s magic.

Pat: It’s fairy dust under the wings, I don’t know how it works. So essentially we at the time – and for the history of this company – we were known for working on a particular aircraft type in the regional market. It’s an older aircraft but something we have a really strong niche in, it’s called a Saab 341 Aircraft. Globally there are 300-400 people that are making decisions about those aircraft today, so a really small audience of people.

Every two years they have a conference and the manufacturer of that aircraft, Saab, puts that conference on. Up until that point, C&L had always been a platinum level sponsor, and what that had done was allowed our name to be plastered all over everything, our CEO got up and spoke, and it really gave us a really good presence at the event.

Well they kind of changed things up a little bit and we competed with Saab just for regular business, and we had a pretty strong competition with them there and so they changed the way they wanted to run the conference and they weren’t allowing us to be a platinum level sponsor anymore.

Rich: They basically rejected your money. They said, “We don’t need your $20,000 because we don’t want the competition”.

Pat: Exactly. And so my CEO kind of asked, how do we still have a presence there. We were still planning to go and attend the event, and we wanted everyone that was there to know we were there. We were there to talk to people and see how we could help them with their aircraft. And again, this is a really small community, everybody kind of knows everybody, pretty much everybody knew sort of what was going on outside our company and it wasn’t news to anybody but we had to try to figure something out.

At first we said what if we shot everybody an email or what if we sent you guys with some swag. We talked about all the normal stuff that you would think about doing. But it kept being, “They really don’t want us to do this, they really don’t want us to do that”, and then our CEO said it just feels like we have our hands tied. And I said what if we made a video kind of where your hands were tied. And he looked at me and said, “Like in a chair?” I thought right then, Rich, that I had gone too far and I was done here. “Time for you to go, thanks for stopping by.” My idea was a little out there.

So I said, “Here me out. Let’s think about this. What if we made a video rather than a plea for an email, let’s shoot the whole thing with cameras and let’s put you in a dark, dingy basement.” We worked with a video production company here in town that had done some work for us in the past, and they have a pretty good sense of humor. We chatted back and forth and came up with a script for it, and so that’s exactly what we did. In an afternoon we took our CEO and put him into a basement and we tied him to a chair, gagged him, and then shot a video where the premise was that somebody – who will remain nameless – was trying to keep him and C&L form the conference that he was going to, and then he broke out of the chair and ran out of the basement.

So we did that, and then took the video and out it up on YouTube and our website, and we started emailing the contacts that we knew were going to the show – just the link – just a note, “We thought you would find this funny, we’ll see you in Scotland.” We also put on the footer of everyone who works for us in their email, we out a graphic of our CEO tied up in a chair.

The response was incredible. Everybody knew, and laughed, and got the joke immediately, and started reaching out to the CEO and out team of people that were going to be there, booking time and making sure they met with us. It was really like nothing I’d ever seen. The buzz going into that conference was not the conference itself, it was the antics that we had done around that.

To amplify that a little bit, the next thought was, how can we stretch this a little farther. How can we take something that we built online and extend it to the conference that we weren’t necessarily invited to and we had no real space in? And we were lucky in that the conference was happening in Glasgow, Scotland – which is a fairly small place – and most everyone that was going to be there were flying internationally.

So I started thinking about it and we decided that it would be really good to connect in the airport there in Glasgow and ask them about what sort of traditional advertising options they had in the International Terminal of their small airport. They were happy to talk to me at 3:00 in the morning when they called back, and we decided that we really only need it for a few days, we wanted to buy up all the large poster space in their International Terminal. And we shot what looked like movie trailer posters again of our CEO in shackles, so to speak, and letting people know again that he was going to be there.

And to this day, I’ve met people that were there, and then they got off the plane all they saw was our CEO in the airport as they moved through Glasgow, Scotland. So that was the first impression on the ground, and again, it was met with a really positive response from everybody who was there.

Rich: Obviously I love the creativity and how you put this in front of everybody. What was your reaction from Saab?

Pat: So after this I think Saab connected with us. And we have a working relationship with them so we tried not to go too far, but they certainly did want to make sure that we were welcomed back in 2018 as a platinum level sponsor like we had done in the past, barring that we weren’t going to make any more videos quite like that.

Rich: And share with me if you will what it cost to make the video and what it cost to get all that advertising space in Glasgow Airport.

Pat: Basically it was less than half of what we would have spent to do all of that – to do the video, the marketing space, all the printing that needed to be done and the small things that surrounded it – it ended up being less than half of what we’d have spent just as a sponsor. So we saved money.

Rich: Absolutely. And you have a story now that you can tell and that everyone will remember you for, much more than just dropping the fee for the event. You certainly would have gotten some visibility for that, no doubt about it, that was worthwhile. But you got so much more for your creativity.

Pat: Well you know, to this day – that was 3 years ago – I was recently in Atlanta and I was talking with somebody and he was still talking about a marketing/PR stunt that we had done 3 years earlier. So it left an impression for sure.

Rich: So are there any other types of marketing – I hate to call them, “stunts” – that you’ve done for C&L over the years that you want to share with us?

Pat: Yeah. We’ve tried a lot of different things. What certainly worked the best for us is what we started with, which is the video stuff. We have found that in aviation – which is not necessarily known for its sense of humor – that putting together silly little videos that poke some fun at the industry or something that’s coming up and going on, we really resonate with people. It’s different and people just seem to like it.

The industry as a whole gets together a few times a year at really massive trade shows and there’s a lot of companies there with some really deep pockets. We could spend a small fortune to just blend in and look like everyone else, but what we’ve decided to do instead is try the video approach. And it’s really worked for us, particularly in the corporate market, which is where the private jets are, and charter companies, and those sorts of things.

Up until a few years ago we had just kind of started to get into that market, we weren’t well known, there’s a lot of large established companies in that market and doing videos this way really helped us get our name out there in a way that traditional and even new media digital strategies just weren’t able to do.

The first major event we did using this strategy is called, NBAA, which is National Business Aviation Association, a big conference. Rich, this thing has 3,000 people that attend it and has well over 1,000 different trade show companies that set up 1,200-1,600sf, these are big, serious companies spending a lot of money to be there.

And we sat down and thought, how can we replicate what we did for the Saab conference at something of this size, where we didn’t know everybody. We decided that we would kind of try to play off the name a little bit. It was in Orlando, Florida, and NBAA sounds a lot like NBA, so what if we made a series of videos – instead of one – and we ended up doing three.

We pretended our CEO got a call that was saying that the team was all set for NBAA, and it autocorrected to NBA. So once he read that email he thought he was going to be the star of a basketball team.

Rich: From the long history of Mainers that have been in the NBA.

Pat: The well-established tradition of basketball in the frozen north. So essentially we made a series of videos where he’s kind of going around the office and he’s throwing basketballs at people, he’s having people do suicide drills, he’s trying to hit easy layups and he’s missing them. It was just very funny. And all the people that were going to be at the event we put in that video as well and kind of se them up as the C&L All-stars.

And again, we put the videos out on YouTube and we ran them through social media and we promoted these ones using Facebook ads, a little bit of advertising on LinkedIn, some different avenues there. We also put them in email footers and put them on our site. The response was huge. A lot of people who were going to be at the show were sharing these videos, commenting, reaching back out to us and wanting to know what our booth number was and how they could come meet us, and it was working really well. We decided one of the ways to again try to take something that we had done online and bring that to the event was to, rather than erect an enormous booth like everybody else did, we used some of that space to put in a fake basketball court and a hoop and we brought a bunch of basketballs with our logos on them. And sure enough, people spent 3 days hanging out at our booth playing basketball and making all the other booths around us very nervous with their perimeter shots. Aviation people, also not known for their basketball prowess.

But no, it worked out really well, it helped establish us in an industry where we weren’t that well known. I do want to point out that was kind of the upper level stuff, trying to reach everybody. We also did some unique things because I wanted to make sure that we had a goal going into that, that we wanted to have meetings with people that we really thought we could do business with, and that can be really difficult to get the right meeting with the right people at these events because people only have so much time.

So what we did was we took all of our videos and we did personalized intro and outros of our CEO talking directly to somebody else. So let’s say he was talking to you on video it would start, “Hey Rich, this is Chris from C&L. We hope you really enjoy these videos and I look forward to seeing you at the end of the NBAA conference.” We took those and we put them on individual video players which load kind of like when you get a birthday card and it starts playing music the second you open it, same premise but it’s got the video attached to it. We also put that in a box with a full size basketball that all of our team that were going to the event had autographed. And rather than bring a traditional business card to the event, I did trading cards of everyone that was going to be there.

So we kind of packaged this stuff up and we FedEx’d it out to 32 individuals that we were trying to book meetings with for the event. Again, the response from that was great, it was a direct mail piece that we had over 50% of the people we sent that to actually reach back out to us and asked us when would be a good time for them to come meet with us and learn more about our company.

Rich: That’s fantastic. And again, it separates you from everybody else. It’s creative and plays off a theme, I just love everything about it. And glad to hear it was also successful, not just a creative idea.

Pat: So a year before we went to that show and walked away where we had hoped – from the show and the meetings I had – we had 7 viable quotes that we could send out, kind of quoting for somebody’s business. When we left the show this time, we had 77 quotes. And some of those quotes turned into legitimate business and that’s been really fantastic for us.

Rich: So have you ever had an idea for C&L that got rejected, that you’re able to share with us, that just went – as you said – “too far”?

Pat: So we’ve been doing it a few years now and there’s always kind of the hope that you want to level up a little more and try something a little different. This time around one of the ideas that we had come up with was since one of the shows we were going to go to was really close to Halloween, that we would make kind of a Stephen King spoof video. And rather than put up a traditional booth, we would put a giant haunted hangar up that people could walk through, like a haunted house, and we’d scare the hell out of them and give them a t-shirt when they were done, “I survived the Haunted Hangar at…” sort of thing. In hindsight, that one was probably going a little too far.

Rich: I don’t know, I like that one, too.

Pat: It had some issues with traffic and scaring somebody a little too much. What’ nice though, is that we have a culture here where we can sit around and take ideas like that and they’re not immediately dismissed. We work really hard to day, “Ok, and then what would we do, or how would this go, what would that look like”, and we really try to explore as far as we can go with something to try to make it work.

And it’s been successful for us, we’ve had a lot of success. At this point, I was looking at our YouTube page last week, we’ve produced over 75 different videos. Not all of them funny, some more traditional ones that showcase the capabilities that we have here, and employees and why they like working for us here, why they like living in Maine. And then of course some of the funny ones, too. And all of that stuff is what’s done really well for us.

Rich: So you kind of almost answered the next question I was going to ask which is, this may be impossible for you to answer but where do your ideas come from and do you have a process? It sounds like you have almost like an improve-type process. It’s easy for someone to sit around and just say, “Well, I’ll just target on Facebook”, or “I’ll spend more money on Instagram ads”. Where do these ideas come from for you? Is there anything that you or your team do to – and I hate to say this because it’s the most hackneyed phrase – but, to “think outside the box”?

Pat: It usually involves a few of us getting together. Again, not all the ideas are my own. I work with a company in town, we work with a really good group here that does video production for us. That’s not in my wheelhouse. And they’re great at coming up with some ideas and bouncing things back and forth, we’ll come up with 4 or 5 ideas. Some we know we want to do, we’re just not sure when. And others we kind of say, ok, this one’s probably not quite right. And then we work on different scripts and our CEO gets really involved, he enjoys it and he’s often the centerpiece of these videos and that’s been good for our company as well.

We have a good group here that like to be in some of the videos and we try to incorporate all of that to put together a script for a video that we know – or that we hope – people will enjoy. Again, you don’t want to do anything that’s too long, but you also want to tell a fun story and you need a little bit of time to do that.

Rich: Pat this has been great, and I really appreciate you retelling the story again for me. Where can people check out your YouTube channel and where can they learn a little bit more about you?

Pat: Thank you very much. Probably the easiest way to find me is right on LinkedIn, just look up “Pat Lemieux” and find me there. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram and pretty much everywhere else, so it’s easy enough to find me. To search C&L Aviation Group, on YouTube you’ll find us there, you’ll also find our stuff on Facebook, and Instagram, and LinkedIn, all kind of searching the same thing.

I would  anybody who’s trying to figure out a way to try to do something a little bit differently to look at a few of the things that we’ve done. I don’t think that there is an industry that can’t have fun. There’s always that, “Well, where in finance…or real estate… all we do is widgets and it’s not all that interesting.” You know a lot of our business is selling airplane parts and we’ve still managed to make it fun and interesting.

Rich: Yeah. I mean, obviously aviation is sexy and exciting, but some of it may not be.

Pat: Not always.

Rich: Right, exactly. Pat, this has been awesome, I really appreciate you coming by today and sharing your stories with us.

Show notes:

Pat Lemieux has figured out how to give a serious industry a shot of humor that’s translated to big success for his business’s growth and recognition. Look and see examples of how he’s done this on their YouTube channel.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing