MacLean Marketing Group Inc.: Fishing for ideas

Written by Susanne Baillie

Coming up with a killer idea is a lot like ‘noodling,’ says Dave MacLean, founder and president of MacLean Marketing Group Inc. Noodling — the bizarre southern-U.S. practice of fishing with your bare hands — involves wading right into the water, groping around for crevices and hauling out whatever bites — usually a four-foot catfish.

What does noodling have to do with the Kelowna, B.C.-based marketing firm? “We go fishing for ideas with our bare hands,” says MacLean. At regular brainstorming sessions, staff roll up their sleeves, feel around for opportunities and frequently pull up a prize catch, so to speak. Clearly, they’re not afraid to get their feet wet: the firm has a trophy shelf of accolades for its marketing campaigns; last year, revenues totaled roughly $1 million.

Prior to founding his firm in 1997, MacLean was a sports marketing specialist with the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, where he created the “Promo-chute”, small parachutes that are dropped into the crowd from an arena’s catwalks, attached to T-shirts, ads or coupons. When the Jets moved to Phoenix, MacLean moved to B.C. and launched MacLean Marketing Group. He began selling the Promo-chute to other pro sports teams, but, knowing he couldn’t make a living on one concept, he soon broadened into more traditional marketing.

In just over six years of operations, MacLean Marketing Group has made an impression. It has won the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award, and two of its promotions, including the Promo-chute, have specifically been recognized by industry award programs. The firm has also snagged some impressive clients along the way, such as Horizon Air, the Canadian Red Cross and the Ottawa Senators.

“The key to success in business is to find a need and meet it,” says MacLean. Recognizing that firms want creative and original promotions, MacLean ensure that staff hold internal and client “ideation sessions” and regular “noodling sessions” — named after the curious sport — to determine client needs and brainstorm creative strategies. “We’re in the business of ideas, so creativity is critical,” says MacLean. Sessions take place in the “Genesis Lab”, a casual space outfitted with a stereo system, DVD player, TV, guitar, leather couches, a basketball hoop and hockey net. “Creativity happens to a certain extent when you least expect it,” he says, “and I think you need to be in a free environment to be really creative.”

Recognizing that some firms create their own marketing campaigns internally, MacLean offers up some advice: “The campaign should communicate to your customers that you’re there for their benefit, that you’re there to serve them,” he says. “To do that, you need to understand what their needs are and what they want to achieve so you can help them get there.” His final piece of wisdom: “Marketing is all about telling a story. Tell your story in a way that’s compelling, so that when people are exposed to you, they go wow, these guys meet my needs.”

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© 2003 Susanne Baillie

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