Candice Simons, the founder and CEO of Brooklyn Outdoor, is reimagining out-of-home media and customer relations in the advertising industry.
Founded in 2013, Brooklyn Outdoor is now a regional and national advertising force. The predominately female powerhouse team uses a grassroots method, working with the artists and creatives in the community to provide unique, attention-grabbing advertisements and experiences for local and national businesses.
Recently, Insightly CMO Tony Kavanagh interviewed Candice on Insightly Gamechangers Podcast. Listen to the podcast or continue reading to learn about Candice’s journey to entrepreneurship and how she navigates the competitive world of advertising while staying true to her values.
Going for it
Starting her own business in Detroit—after 10 years of working in the advertising industry in Chicago—was a huge leap of faith for Candice. She woke up one day feeling that Chicago, the city she loved, wasn’t there for her anymore and she no longer felt fulfilled in her job. Years later, she still remembers her life-changing trip down Lake Shore Drive, with the keys to her new house in Michigan and the city of Chicago in her rearview mirror. Candice felt overwhelmed by her swift decision, but remained true to her resolve.
As soon as she got to Detroit, Candice got flooded with opportunities from customers she worked with while at her job in Chicago. Within a week she was interviewing in New York, and the calls kept coming.
“It was apparent to me that I needed to do this,” says Candice. “There was also a need for what we could offer in out-of-home advertising… I didn’t know Detroit was going to be what it turned out to be for me, but I knew that I had to start the company. I had to make that decision quickly.”
In a way, Candice says, the choice was made for her—she couldn’t ignore the persistent call to action and the market need was glaring at her. Equipped with years of first-hand experience in the industry and a solid training she received at a small advertising company where she had to wear many hats, Candice was ready to embark on her entrepreneurship journey.
Within a few weeks of being back in Michigan and leaving her job in Chicago, Candice was building a website for her own business.
Identifying gaps and unique opportunities in outdoor advertising
For Candice, the gap between consumers and their experiences with brands was rather obvious. She points out that the same new technologies that enable businesses to connect with more people online are also the ones creating a distance: businesses are not in front of their customers as much as they used to be.
Candice, who remains true to her authentic self and encourages her employees to be “authentically themselves and not apologetic about it,” saw an opportunity in building a different kind of business—a business where people took time to get to know individual customers, their needs, and goals.
In order to create advertisements that resonate with target audiences and better connect independent billboard operators with their Fortune 500 clients, Brooklyn Outdoor spends time in the neighborhoods where the ads go up, learning about the people and the culture.
Evolving with the changes in advertising
Considering how much and how often we get distracted by the media all around us, has out-of-home advertising lost its relevance? Not according to Candice: as the oldest form of advertising, out-of-home has always been relevant and the digital world only amplifies its impact.
“[T]he first thing you do when you see something, you Google it… and all of a sudden you are in the world of that brand,” says Candice.
As technology evolves, so does Brooklyn Outdoor. They are always listening and watching what their vendors and competitors are doing, so that they can set themselves apart. Candice and her team always look for fresh, outside the box ideas and solutions for their customers.
And, while Candice and her team never tell customers to use outdoor advertising versus other formats, she’s aware of her advantage.
“I can tell you that on TV and radio—the first thing you do when you hear commercials, you change the station. With out-of-home you can’t do that: you’re looking at it, you can’t turn it off, it’s there, it’s there all day, it’s there all night,” she says.
Candice is confident about the future and believes that as long as Brooklyn Outdoor aligns with the changes and growth in the industry, the business and their service will remain relevant.
Making the most of technology, including Insightly
Growing up with an engineer father, Candice developed deep curiosity about everything around her and how things work. So, it’s not surprising that when she was starting her business, Candice had all the subject matter expertise she needed and got the ball rolling with no problem. But years later, when the business began to grow and they were hiring more employees, Brooklyn Outdoor was facing an operational challenge.
“[A]ll of a sudden we’re at a completely different level and a different game, in terms of how we operate. You have one Excel spreadsheet and you have ten people touching it—that can be disastrous,” says Candice.
A disorganized and manual system also kept Candice from spending time in the community, networking, and building key partnerships and customer relations.
Instead of waiting for a disaster to happen, Candice decided to organize Brooklyn Outdoor’s internal systems and use workflow automation. That’s when Brooklyn Outdoor became an Insightly customer.
“It has changed over the years and we worked with other companies and nothing really worked the way that we wanted it to, so when we ended up working with Insightly, it was great,” she says. “The system allowed us to make all these workflow automations ourselves for the most part and, when we needed help, there was someone to talk to.”
In order to find the best solution, Candice spent time evaluating different systems and determining the workflow at Brooklyn Outdoor. She wanted a system “you can run and not have it run you.”
Candice wanted to ensure that all the data entered into the system was strategic and intentional, so that they would capture all relevant data that would help improve sales and assist the management.
“I think that it’s also important for us having employee engagement in a new system, because any time you try to change anything it’s like ‘Whoa, what is this, why am I doing this and what are you getting from it?’ I was like ‘No, this is for you. I mean really it’s for all of us’,” says Candice.
A few months later, after the team noticed how much easier their lives had become with Insightly CRM, they all got on board with the new system.
Building lasting customer relationships
When asked about her “ideal customer,” Candice looks at work and the customers they choose to work with through the lens of the company’s values and core mission.
“As a company, and personally, we encourage personal development, uniqueness, and we celebrate balance and community,” says Candice.
And, in order to create opportunities for personal development and meaningful work, Brooklyn Outdoor’s ideal customer is often one that has a sizeable budget.
“If you are brand new to out-of-home advertising, I’m not saying we can’t work with you, but your budget is probably going to go further with one of the big three [ad agencies], because they have more,” says Candice. “We have more quality versus quantity, and they have more quantity. So we will get clients that will reach out, we will talk to them, and then at the end of the call we may determine that, ‘Hey, why don’t we give you access or connect you with one of our competitors in the market to maximize your budget?’”
Candice trusts that when they do what’s best for the client, even if that means turning away business, they’re building lasting customer relationships.
“When they have a larger budget and need exactly what we have, then I am sure they will call us because we had their best interest at heart initially,” says Candice. “It’s not necessarily about having a budget, but typically we work with the larger Fortune 500 companies through their advertising agencies, through their media buying agencies. We’ve also worked with a lot of clients on their very first out-of-home buy in the market.”
Never losing her focus on customers, Candice emphasizes that as their clients and their needs continue to change, Brooklyn Outdoor is there to help them in their journeys, whether by working with them directly or referring them to the right person or company.
For Candice, building lasting customer relationships starts with paying attention to clients’ needs, to what they are saying, and understanding their key audiences and short and long term goals.
“[W]e can create the best ad and the best campaign in the world, but if it’s not resonating with what they [our clients] are looking to do and who they are looking to target, then what’s the point? It’s about strategy and you have to be able to put in time to get to know your clients and get to know them as people,” says Candice. I have never viewed clients, competitors, anyone that I work with in the industry as an opportunity.”
Working as a team, creating a community
Candice’s customer philosophy is an extension of the way she treats her team, her community.
“Success doesn’t come from working alone, you need relationships and you need to nurture them,” says Candice. “And, if you are not modeling that at a high level, then I think anything that you don’t model at a high level you can’t really expect through the chain of command.”
“Relationships with each other and within our organization are really important. That is also something that really sets us apart from the competition—we look at people as people.”
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