Q&A: Jill Gwaltney

Jill Gwaltney discusses trends in marketing, why digital is more important than ever, and how a key acquisition is changing what Rauxa can do for its clients

Why did you start Rauxa?

Jill Gwaltney: I sold a direct-mail company and thought I might retire, but being home doing ladies’ golf days and coaching soccer just wasn’t me. I thought Rauxa, which I started to do creative production for direct mail, would be a hobby and a part-time thing. I was interviewing marketing directors to find out what they needed from a direct-mail agency and started getting work right away. It was never a part-time job like I thought it would be.

What did you learn from the sale of your previous company?

Gwaltney: I was working with my father in that endeavor, and he always tried to innovate and do what’s right for the customer. I’ve carried that over to this company, and it’s really fueled our growth.

When you say “do what’s right for the customer,” what exactly do you mean?

Gwaltney: It’s about finding out what they really need. We talk to them often, and we’ve found out that they really need help with targeting. They need to know who they’re talking to and how often they should be engaging people. Knowing that, we’ve worked to harness data and then added multicultural and digital elements to help them. Then we added research and media planning.

You started in 1999. What’s consistent all these years later?

Gwaltney: Our culture and values are still built around doing what’s right for the customer and pushing ourselves to uncomfortable zones to make sure we’re doing all we can in new ways.

What’s changed?

Gwaltney: Marketing and technology have changed so much of our industry, and you can’t be afraid of it. Consumers are now 24–7, and you have to engage them in new ways. Another thing is the combination of digital and technology and how data plays a part in that. Our clients have to understand what channels they need to be in and how to optimize their spending. We do that for them and then report back in meaningful ways so they know where their costs are, what’s performing, and how to improve.

You made a big acquisition to help this along in 2012.

Gwaltney: We acquired a web design and development firm called ThoughtMatrix.

What was your motivation to acquire the firm?

Gwaltney: It was an important step for us because it added digital capabilities like app and website development, digital strategy, and a greater understanding of the systems-and-tools needs of our clients. These ingredients are so important to creating a full customer experience for big brands.

Why not do it yourself? Why make an acquisition?

Gwaltney: We did think we could do it organically, but we didn’t have the internal expertise at a level that would allow us to scale quickly and stay ahead of the market.

How did you find ThoughtMatrix?

Gwaltney: We vetted hundreds of companies through a third party. We wanted a company that matched our customer-oriented culture, and we wanted really smart, innovative people because this landscape changes so fast. We need people to find new things, digest them, and help clients leverage them. ThoughtMatrix was deep into tech with really smart people and strategies. They can build anything to make great user experiences.

You’ve mentioned user experiences a few times. Why is that connection so important these days?

Gwaltney: We help our clients sell things. Consumer behavior is changing, and it’s critical to have that digital component combined with reporting, analysis, insights, and recommendations. Clients don’t need a data dump, they need to understand and adjust. We help them leverage digital tools and then suggest new steps and strategies.

What works well?

Gwaltney: It has to be a combination. Direct mail isn’t dead, but all of these steps have to work together. Maybe it’s a pre-roll on YouTube or a targeted e-mail. Video and original, interesting digital content is hot. Our clients are trying to engage consumers more with personalization and dynamic content.

What are some mistakes brands can make here?

Gwaltney: You can’t just throw out a bunch of media and hope something works. It has to be authentic, because consumers talk to each other constantly. Don’t make claims you can’t back up. Understand your benefits and your value proposition. Don’t inundate consumers with info and content they’re not interested in because they’ll hit delete, unfollow, unfriend, or unsubscribe.

How do you think things will evolve this year and beyond?

Gwaltney: As consumers cut the TV cord, our clients are looking at how content is being delivered. We have to keep looking at which technologies consumers adopt. There’s a major shake-up coming soon.

What does that mean for Rauxa?

Gwaltney: Because of what we do with technology, we’re ready and positioned to help our clients navigate the changing landscape. Whether it’s new ways of connecting with consumers or new ways to deliver content and messaging, we’re ready to support them with the right marketing and technology to build great customer experiences that are relevant and meaningful.