Roundtable Transcript: As Marketing Evolves, They Keep Up

The Business Journal conducted a roundtable on marketing Aug. 22 in the Courtyard by Marriott, Canfield. Participants were Adrienne Sabo, creative director of Clever; Rebecca Bayley, consultant at Pecchia Communications; Cailyn Chrystal, director of operations and client services at 898 Marketing; Steve Cross, CEO of iSynergy; Jeff Hedrich, owner of The Prodigal Company; and George Farris, CEO of Farris Marketing.
The 2023 Roundtable Series is sponsored by iSynergy, a digital marketing agency based in Canfield that provides branding, web design, content marketing and search engine marketing services.

The Business Journal: Let’s begin by discussing – and explaining influencer marketing. Who are these influencers? Who’s doing influencer marketing and how is it done?

GEORGE FARRIS, CEO, Farris Marketing: I don’t know how much is done locally. Influencer means exactly what it is. It’s someone who has a good following on social media. You hire one to be your spokesperson or at least to promote your product in some form or another.

It used to be you just had a few to choose from. But now there are so many that there are several agencies who will help you choose an influencer and bargain for you, et cetera, based on the specialty or based on the demographics or the – or the product you’re selling. It’s pervasive.

JEFF HEDRICH, CEO, Chief Marketing Officer, The Prodigal Company: George did a great job of explaining.

We do work with some influencers, mostly in the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Columbus markets. And it can be a process in identifying that right fit, that right person.

Someone may have the followers but not be cooperative in the kind of content they produce and the things that work.

Influencer marketing is really powerful. At one level we’ve always been trying to reach influencers in terms of identifying the influencers in the community, who make buying decisions.

It’s a social media phenomenon. It’s here to stay. And, you should dive into it, it can be productive.

But like any marketing tactic, sometimes it doesn’t work and you have to go on to the next person.

The Business Journal: Speaking of what doesn’t work, Bud Light got caught in the buzz saw with influencer marketing and tried a transgender individual. So what was the thinking there? How did they come across this gender-fluid person to drink Bud Light and then suddenly Kid Rock and a whole bunch of other influencers decided that Bud Light didn’t taste so good anymore?

HEDRICH: Right, right, right. Obviously they didn’t understand their market, the Bud Light market, They didn’t know their audience. They were trying to do something their audience wasn’t ready for.

Other audiences would probably not see that as an issue. There are many other alcohols that use influencers of many persuasions where you don’t see that pushback. So it was a monumental error on their part, whoever the decision makers were, on not understanding their audience, that this would not be acceptable.

The main thing is: How are they supposed to recover from that?

I think it’s more time than anything. They’ve tried various things. I haven’t heard anybody come up with, here’s what you should do, Bud Light.

FARRIS: It’s going to take time. They lost $6 billion in market valuation.

That brings up a bigger issue: How much should our clients be involved in and make commentary on political issues? People say they want to have a social conscience.

From a marking perspective, though, unless you’re willing to completely cut out a market, like Bud Light found out, you have to be very careful what you say. Because especially today we live in such a polarized society. What makes one group happy makes another unhappy.

STEVE CROSS, CEO & creative director, iSynergy: They were too focused on expanding their market region.

Bud Light didn’t have the right data and research on their existing client base and what was going to upset them and what was going to turn them off on the product.

It’s less about influencer marketing.

But to bring it back to influencer marketing, one thing you always have to do is the attribution.

You’ve got to be able to close the loop to make sure that whatever you’re paying that influencer, that content, you’re getting it back. That’s the goal. You’ve got to properly communicate that to them.

Is it transactions if it’s an e-commerce client? Is it just reach, impressions? What is that that you’re trying to gain from them? And the best influencers work with you back and forth on that.

Our role as an agency is we put the influencers with the right demographic, the right vertical, the right segments, with the proper clients.

Without that and having like the proper pixels or the codes to show attribution on the transactions or the coupon codes, you don’t know how successful that campaign was.

CAILYN CHRYSTAL, director of operations and client services, 898 Marketing: To bring it back to local influencer marketing, I agree that we don’t have a ton of local influencers. We also have used people in Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Something recently we have gotten into more with some of our clients, though, is going through the NIL [Name, Image, Likeness] portal with college athletes, with Youngstown State University athletes.

We’ve tapped into that for one of our fitness brands, using some of those college athletes who do have a large following, whether it’s locally or nationally, because a lot of them aren’t originally from here.

REBECCA BAYLEY, consultant at Pecchia Communications: When you asked what is influencer marketing, it might be an easy way to realize that we’ve always had influencer marketers. They’ve been spokespeople.

Once it was paid celebrities or people paid to be heavily associated with the brand. So if you think, say, Michael Jordan and Nike, we’ve always had them.

Now with social media, so much of marketing has been democratized that people want to see reflections of themselves. They’re trying to make those connections with influencers.

An influencer might not be someone from your community. But he’s someone you can relate to.

Like Steve [Cross] was saying, if you have that correct demographic, the clients or potential consumers are going to be more apt to trust that person as an authority.

Again, locally, I don’t think that we have many influencers that have that traditional relationship.

There are social media people whom you see continually in chat rooms. They have large organic followings on their social media pages, things like that.

ADRIENNE SABO, creative director, Clever: There’s been a shift from general influencers to more content creators and very content specific. Users are gravitating toward that more than the general influencers.

The general influencers blew up during COVID and it was like: We were all stuck at home. So let’s watch these people’s lives. And they have lives that mostly are unattainable. They live in these huge houses and their luxury lifestyles aren’t relatable.

Content creators are industry specific – fitness or food or home décor.

Those are the people becoming more successful because they’re focused on one area and they’re becoming knowledge experts instead of general lifestyle bloggers that we’ve seen at the beginning [of influencer marketing].

The Business Journal: So if I am watching a television commercial, am I going to know that person is an influencer for a certain product?

CHRYSTAL: I would say it’s mostly on social media.


FARRIS: Any social media

SABO: Instagram, TikTok, Facebook – are like the top three that an influencer would be on. And if they’re using all three properly, they’re doing their deep dives on YouTube and linking it from their Instagram and sharing their daily life and their stories. They’re on their [cell]phones all day long.

The Business Journal: While sharing their stories, they’re talking about this product?

SABO: And you can tell, like the ones linking anything and everything from Amazon Prime Day. They’re just after that affiliate marketing. They want that code. They want those sales.

And then you find the people who have true brand partnerships, the make-up influencer who has a partnership with MAC or Tower 28. And they really go into what makes a product different and unique and how they use.

FARRIS: Rebecca [Bayley] was right, though, to follow up on what she said. Influencer marketing is not a lot different than celebrity endorsements. Like we used to bring Cleveland Browns players here to be in commercials for car dealers that we worked for. They’re giving a direct pitch.

The moment they walk off that set, they’re probably driving a different brand back to Cleveland. They’re clearly paid and their connection with the dealership, especially during football season, creates more notice.

The whole influencer on social media, there’s a lot more work involved on their part.

They’re not coming down and giving three lines and saying, “Don’t forget to shop here.” They’re investing time to learn about the product, explaining, and recommending it. So they’re busier. But they also have a greater reward.

The Business Journal: Who are some of these people and how much money are they making?

FARRIS: The Paul brothers are a good example from somebody that watches sports. They are in their 20s, making – depending which brother – anywhere from $10 million to $30 million a year just from revenue that they get from their own sites, merchandise they sell, and everything they’re paid to promote.

CROSS: Jake Paul and Logan Paul.

SABO: They’re originally from Cleveland.

The Business Journal: Why do I care about Jake Paul and his brother?

CROSS: Because they have a following. People listen to them.

FARRIS: Huge following. Huge following.

CROSS: If they say buy this product, their followers will buy that product.

HEDRICH: They’re creating lots of other content to get you to follow their lives, their lifestyles, their activities. These guys are into combat sports and so forth. So they developed this following.

Again, it’s not like Michael Jordan. He’s a great basketball player. OK, he sells these shoes. Again, very, very limited. With these guys, it’s not just their combat sports but their lifestyle. So they have recommendations: Hey, they tend to influence males.

FARRIS: They’re more easily influenced. They’re easier to influence.

HEDRICH: And there are regional people, too. They’re not all as prominent and national as the Paul brothers. So if you have somebody in the Cleveland market who has a couple of hundred thousand followers and this woman is always posting about things to do in your home and how to make your home beautified. Then again she works in a kind of like product placement. She’s going to work it in [and say], I got this at whatever store it is.

FARRIS: When you say Kardashians, they were probably the first [influencers]. Still among the biggest.

SABO: And we’re talking millions for one post, just one post.

FARRIS: Paris Hilton.

BAYLEY: Kim Kardashian was one of the first.

FARRIS: Is she still alive?

BAYLEY: Yes! (Laughter)

The Business Journal: This brings us to all of the changes in the social media market. What’s a business to do? There’s social media, traditional media, digital media. It’s all changing really rapidly and folks are confused. What to do?

CHRYSTAL: There are so many forms of media and so many options. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, though. It just gives businesses more opportunities to choose what’s right for them.

It’s important for them to understand each type and what it’s good for. Coming to people like us who can help them to navigate that – depending on their goals and budgets and what their target audience is – we can help them decide what is best, if it is social media, if it is programmatic digital.

The Business Journal: [To Cross] Can you give an example of what you would do when a company that sells widgets comes to you and says, “I have no idea what to do”? Would you put them in social media?

CROSS: It depends on the client. I don’t think every business should be on social media and have a huge budget and a huge priority on social media. It depends on the goals, what you’re trying to achieve.

Social media isn’t for everybody. I tell people: If you’re not going to do it well, don’t do it at all. Because bad social media is worse than no social media at all.

It’s about creating content. We always pose social media to our clients as a behind-the-scenes: Who are you? Who is this client? Who is this business? What do they do and how do they do it? Because buyers want to know the why behind who they do business with.

It’s not exactly what the widget is that they’re purchasing. Apple is a great example. The iPhone is probably a worse phone than Samsung but people love the brand. People love the why. That’s why they stay with an iPhone and Apple.

BAYLEY: As with the Bud Light discussion, it’s very important, to have the data on who you’re trying to reach. So if the demographic you’re trying to reach is elderly or young, there are different channels that you’re going to access. Start with good data.

FARRIS: As Steve [Cross] said, if you can’t do it well, don’t do it. Forbes [magazine] says that 93% of small businesses struggle with social media. That’s because it looks like a great free idea. Let me do it and they do it.

But if you go on and look at their social media, I would say that half of the businesses in the Mahoning Valley, their last social media post was 2022. “Merry Christmas or Happy New Year” – maybe.

[Lack of expertise about social media] is not their fault. They’re busy. They’re putting the stock out. They’re ordering. They’re hiring. They’re doing all kind of stuff if you’re a business owner.

Social media, while technically it’s free, is not. It’s not the solution for every small business because it still takes a lot of work. That’s why they tend to hire somebody or hopefully would hire somebody.

HEDRICH: The thing to remember when you talk about all the choices is that people consume so much media, supposedly nine hours a day. That’s what the stats show.

Yes, there are many media choices but people are consuming it all the time, whether they’re on their cellphones, television. Doesn’t matter. Streaming or cable, broadcast, magazines:, People consume media.

All those channels are necessary and welcome. We  live in a society of media consumption, so there should be multiple channels.

The Business Journal: And there is a generation gap, who consumes what.

SABO: And where. You have a definitely younger demographic on TikTok. You have an older demographic on Facebook.

You have a more professionally driven demographic on LinkedIn. They’re there to network and find jobs and make career connections. You don’t have to be on all platforms if that’s not where your market is.

Also, the same strategy doesn’t work on every platform. Posting the same content on Instagram and LinkedIn is probably not the best idea unless your audiences are very similar. So you need to look at who you’re trying to target.

Facebook is a slightly older demographic. It’s still very strong in this area. We still use it very much. So it is very valuable. Everyone thinks it’s going to go away.

But there’s also the launch of new [social media platforms.] When Threads came out, everybody hopped on. It’s fizzled a little bit. There was Lemonade.

HEDRICH: More than a little.

SABO: Lemonade was out a couple of months before that. They were describing is as the new Pinterest. There’s still Pinterest and it’s still popular.

A lot of people feel the need to hop on the next big thing. And it may not be the big thing.

CROSS: And to put a bow on the social media, with local businesses that struggle with it, a lot of times they have difficulty in trying to sell their products or services. They look at social media and ask: How do I sell on this?

Ninety percent of the time you should just be giving content. You should just be giving value to your audience.

At the most, 10% of the time you should be selling on social media. Because if all you are is just sell, sell, sell, sell, sell, people will tune you out. They’ll unfollow and want nothing to do with your brand.

The Business Journal: That brings us to content marketing. What is content marketing and how has it changed what you do?

FARRIS: Content marketing usually refers to blogs and things like that. How you differentiate that from selling or the selling sort of marketing instead of content marketing is that it typically is how-to content; here’s a tip; here’s interest. It’s content that draws interest from your target demographic or your target audience. But it doesn’t directly sell. That’s the biggest difference.

Usually there’s a lot more volume which connects to AI and that’s another topic for today. Writing blogs that are about 600 to 450 words takes a lot more time than writing a social media post with 280 characters.

The Business Journal: [To Hedrich] How do you use content marketing?

HEDRICH: Any number of ways but it doesn’t have to be digital.

For example, our most successful business development tool for a B2B [business-to-business] client is a magazine they do. They get more. It’s B2B. It’s a financial institution in several markets. We are not selling the client’s product so much as we’re showing who their customers are and their stories and other people like that want to read the stories of these entrepreneurs.

In the stories, audiences find out that they work with my client and they get their financing through my client and that leads to business. That is what we’re trying to sell. We’re using the content to try to sell. But it’s not direct selling.

In this case it’s storytelling about people who happen to then use our client. Then that drives business. It’s not social media driven. It’s content marketing.

CROSS: At its core, content marketing is developing content to place that company or that brand as the authority in their space. It doesn’t matter if it’s digital. Doesn’t matter if it’s a magazine. What you’re doing is setting up your client to be the authority in their space.

That’s the way people look at them. They follow them. They’re like, that’s good content; I want to read and understand and digest everything that this brand puts out because it’s good content. It’s not a 450-word blog that doesn’t give you anything.

If you have a 2,000-word blog that dives deep into a topic that people will bookmark and they’ll share on social media, then you set yourself up as being the authority. And it’s not just some top-10 list.

CHRYSTAL: Yes, I agree.

CROSS: At its core, it’s the content, setting yourself up as the authority. All the channels are just the activation of that content. When you get them to visit your site, it’s the psychology of, data is currency now. You get them to sign up. You get their email address so that way you can remarket to them. And it’s the funnel or the flywheel; whatever, whoever, whichever platform you talk to.

And it’s nurturing that lead and that audience down the funnel until they get to the sales side.

BAYLEY: And not only do you have conversion opportunities with content marketing, particularly digital, you have to bring in the whole SEO aspect.

If you’re writing content with the notion of making your client an authority or making them relatable to the potential consumer, you’re also peppering that with those SEO terms and those backlinks. You’re spending a lot more time on that. The payout could be greater.

CROSS: And it lasts longer.

BAYLEY: About 80%. For sure, it lasts longer.

SABO: It also is useful if you use what we call a pillar content strategy. If you’re writing that blog, that is 10 things, I can write that into 10 social posts but now I’m able to drip that on my social. So it’s not this whole other bucket that’s over here that I have to do. It is a part of the mix of everything and how you get legs out of what you’re doing.

We like to ask: How can I educate? How can I engage? And how can I entertain? These are the three buckets we look at to make great content for clients.

The Business Journal: When it comes to SEO [search engine optimization], many small business owners probably have no idea what that means. You could say that you must use these keywords. Doesn’t it take professionals such as yourselves to get involved in SEO?

FARRIS: I would think so. It’s very technical – it’s not something that anyone can do well.

The Business Journal: You’re writing your content for SEO. How does that work?

FARRIS: It’s more than that: things like meta tags and things that are technical aspects of your website. Basically, you’re creating your website to please Google. Because Google has what, 92% of the market share. You’ve just got to stay up on what Google wants. And then either you do it or you have some other professional do it.

SABO: You’re structuring it such a way that hopefully they’ll find you. What words are they searching? Seeing what your competitors are doing is a great place to start, seeing what keywords they’re using, what their content is like.

Then use that to inform how you not only do the back-end descriptions and keywords and meta, but also how I write my copy, how I structure my copy, where I put those words.

How I tag my images to make sure that word is in my image when it comes up, it says it is whatever it is, making sure it’s in my Google My Business profile, making sure those words are being used on social.

It can be across the board as much as you can be consistent with that. But then you have to monitor it as well. If the market changes or if the keywords change or you’re not doing well, you have to be able to pivot and make those adjustments. So it is –

The Business Journal: Complicated?

SABO: – a whole ‘nother beast.

CROSS: It doesn’t have to be, though. You touched on it with Google My Business. There are certain components of SEO where business owners can do that very easily. They should set it up. They shouldn’t wait until they get to an intermediate or an expert level of needing help.

They can do all that on their own. Like Google or its Google Business Profile, GBP. It’s their knowledge card, when somebody searches their brand or their services, to fully fill that out with their name, their description, the forms of payment they take, their hours, and make sure it matches on their website.

SABO: And confirm it. That is the biggest thing we run into: people not claiming their page.

CROSS: Claiming their profile.

SABO: They do all the work and then they never do the last step: the authorization from Google saying I am who I am.

BAYLEY: Get the code. Put the code in.

The Business Journal: Could you elaborate on that? So, it’s a simple task that businesses should do. But many in the Mahoning Valley don’t?

CROSS: They don’t. It’s in Google. It tells you: Do this and we will help you be found.

That’s what Google’s goal is: to help users find what they’re looking for.


CROSS: If they build out their profile – it’s called a citation – they should use it, even if they don’t do social media. They need to create a Facebook page because that’s a citation.

The more times your name, address, and phone number show up on the internet, the higher you rank in Google locally.

It’s like votes. The more citations you have, the more votes you have, the higher you rank.

And those are just simple things. You have all that information as a business owner. You have your name. You have your address. You have your phone number. You have a short business description. You have a long business description. Your business hours. You have associations you belong to. They can fill all that easily.

The only thing we do as an agency is give them a spreadsheet so that way they can’t mess it up. They fill it out. Then we copy and paste it and put it in the profile for them. That’s all we do for local SEO.

HEDRICH: I feel like in the last – I don’t know if my colleagues agree – last three or four years, most business owners do have a general understanding of SEO, that they need to do it. They may not be expert in executions.

There’s been progress. I can’t remember the last time we talked about it to someone who didn’t know what we were talking about.

It does create an issue: when everyone is doing SEO, at least reasonably competently, I’m struggling to see the competitive advantage of having a great SEO like you used to.

CROSS: Right.

HEDRICH: There’s a shift going on. You need to do it. Otherwise, you’re going to fall behind. But it’s more difficult to be a leader when so many people are using the same tools.

And younger generations coming up. You might have an older owner but a son or a daughter is involved in the business and they understand it.

CROSS: And the understanding that they need to do it continuously. If you get to No. 1 this week, you’re going to be No. 3 next week if you turn it off and stop doing it. Everybody’s battling for that top spot.

BAYLEY: It’s always an interesting conversation to have with a new prospective client from our end, too, when you discuss SEO and the way they perceive themselves and what their keywords would be.

From our perspective, that’s not going to go anywhere. That’s not how people search things. That’s not what people look things up as. So that is why you need professionals to know what that formula is in Google, what types of words people look for. Because the business owner could be way off.

The Business Journal: Let’s move to artificial intelligence. Are you using artificial intelligence in creating content?



The Business Journal: How does it work?

HEDRICH: Two areas. Copywriting most definitively. It’s not about writing a finished article or ad but it can really help to organize your content. It accelerates the process.

I just finished a project that normally would take me 10 hours to write. It took 41/2. The final product wasn’t written by AI. But it helped me get there a lot faster.

And on the visual end, we’re starting to do that. With things that create, we’re still exploring and finding issues. But we’re starting to use some AI-generated visuals. Again, it may not be the final thing we produce but it could accelerate the process.

Does that jibe with everyone else’s experiences?

FARRIS: We’ve found that it’s useful also. From a volume standpoint, when you need a lot [of content],  it’s going to shoot out a lot. Now, you don’t want to automatically believe what it says is correct.


CROSS: Right.

FARRIS: I found that out the hard way. Certainly when you’ve got to write something long, AI is useful. I’ve got three apps on my phone now that I purchased that we’ve been using aspects of it. You want to use it for customer relationship management.

You used to have just a chat feature on websites. But, is it better to have a chat feature that’s connected to AI so that you can get questions answered right there? You don’t have to have somebody live waiting. That’s something we’ve been doing for a couple of years. That’s been available. It’s not something we invented or created.

You experiment with AI from a copywriting standpoint. But like an old teacher used to say, “Just ’cause you own a typewriter doesn’t mean you’re a good writer.” And so, even if you have AI, how do you recognize what’s good and what isn’t?

It doesn’t give you the talent to recognize what’s good and what isn’t or what you should or shouldn’t say. There’s still judgment involved. It’s a tool.

SABO: Yes.

CROSS: Yes, embrace it, yes.

SABO: AI is another resource. It’s another tool in your toolbox. It helps copywriters, especially when you need to do a ton of research.

It helps aggregate that I’m on the right track but I still have to take my branding. I still have to take my SEO. And I’ve still got to take all my other things and create original copy.

But AI gives me a good starting point for design. We use it a lot to edit photos. It helps to regenerate backgrounds and change things. We’ve had clients use the AI headshots but we’ve gotten some weird things back. Like an arm’s not in the right spot. Or it gave them weird-colored hair.

I’ve seen some weird things happen; so it’s definitely not there. But you get 50 headshots for a hundred bucks or something. Out of that you maybe have only a couple that you want to use. I don’t know how beneficial that is when you could hire.

FARRIS: Image generation, though, is the biggest ethical question.

CROSS: That’s for sure.

FARRIS: Just the other day, just to see what would happen, I asked it to create Elvis on a motorcycle. Clearly – and I don’t know why I thought that – but, I looked at it. And it’s not Elvis Presley.

But, at a glance, 60%, 50% of people will think it is Elvis Presley. If you use that in an ad, should you pay Elvis’ estate?



FARRIS: That’s the big question. You can get close enough but not be a real image of a celebrity or a copyrighted image. Right now you get away with it.

HEDRICH: A key is understanding how to write the [AI] queries. That’s basically where you’re at in the copywriting – what you’re asking it to do.

Sure, some of your business owners say, “Can I use it?” Yes, they definitely can. But the technical term is query engineering, which is a little overstated.

It’s the idea that how you write the queries, how you interact with whatever form of the AI you’re using, ChatGPT, whatever. And so that’s one thing we’re trying to get better at. That’s where the marketer still comes in.

How you ask the questions. Then it gives you something. You ask it again or you request it to do something. So it’s a process and we’re still learning it.

CHRYSTAL: As marketers, we obviously can’t be experts in every industry that we work in. And we also can’t rely 100% on the client to give us that knowledge. So it’s super-helpful, especially in a B2B where, you might be writing a blog or a piece of content about something that’s technical and you don’t know because it’s hard to understand.

AI is a very helpful tool as a starting point to get background knowledge in a simplified way. And then you take it, create the content, then go back to the client and ask, Is this accurate?

BAYLEY: I agree. From a factual and a grammatical point of view, AI is amazing. It will put that comma where it needs to be. From a branding point of view, AI is not going to capture that opinion or emotion that the market might need. But it definitely has a place.

CROSS: Right, that’s where it lacks right now is in the copy. It doesn’t have an opinion. It can’t give you that. The brand. It can’t get that across.

The Business Journal: What’s an example of a well-engineered query?

SABO: I still have some work to do on my query engineering. But I’m understanding how it works. You ask it to ask you questions about your business or what you’re trying to write about. That way it can give you the best information.

So you’d say: Ask me 10 questions about my business so I can write XYZ. It will give you prompts and you respond. Then it will spit out what you need that is more customized to you.

Instead of asking, What is XYZ?, you’re saying, To write about XYZ in my business, what are 10 or 20 questions you need to know from me? And then it’s getting more information from you to make that more customized. …

CROSS: The greatest queries are iterations.

You don’t just have one. You do one. Then you take what it brings to you. Then you take that and you iterate it and make it better.

And you expand on that. And then some of your best outputs that you’re going to get from ChatGPT are a series of 10 or 20 queries until you get to the exact one that you want.

It’s not a one time and you get there. To get to a final place where you’re only going to have an hour or two hours for a copywriter to put their touches on it, it’s going to be anywhere from 10 to 20 different iterations until you get there.

The Business Journal: Are copywriters going out of business?


SABO: I don’t believe so.

CROSS: They’re needed more than ever. It’s just their jobs will change a bit. We still are going to need people to sift through this content generated by AI. Where they were writing from scratch, they’re learning to edit. And fact check.

The Business Journal: Are there any courses? Are the schools teaching this yet? Or is it so new —

CROSS: There are courses now in query engineering, prompt engineering, of how to best use the data set that ChatGPT is connected to.

The only other place we use it is programmatic with our A/B testing. We had it to do manual testing, A/B testing if we’re going to test a headline or copy or creative. Now we have platforms, AI platforms where you can put that in and it can generate 100 creatives, 100 different headlines for you if the budget allows.

HEDRICH: Copywriting and copywriters aren’t going to go out of business, but I do think it’s going to diminish the audience. Those who remain are vital. Efficiencies usually do create less demand.

Do I think some copywriters aren’t going to have jobs? Do I think some publications, like yours, are going to rely on it and no one here is going to lose their job. … If they had five writers, now they need four or three. Do I think copywriting as a profession is going away? No.

FARRIS: It also creates jobs. … Query engineering. That will probably be a course at college and somebody will be teaching that. … There are ethical problems. It’s going to create, unfortunately, another government agency to settle a lot of these questions.

CROSS: Italy has already outlawed it. They already said no data from any of our citizens, companies, geography, nothing can be used by AI

BAYLEY: Right. There’s also a move, too, in the visual arts, in the fashion industry. In France, if a photo is airbrushed, now they have to say that it was airbrushed or manipulated digitally.

They’ll be saying that with AI. You’ll have to have a disclaimer, if they don’t fully outlaw it. To your point, absolutely.

When mainframe computers came into being, people in industry and business went crazy. But it created some of the highest paying jobs because those are the people who know how to program. There’s a whole new industry that will emerge.

The Business Journal: What about fakes, deep fakes, and all this bad stuff we hear about?

HEDRICH: It’s the Wild West.

CROSS: Yeah, you can’t stop it.

HEDRICH: There are deep fakes and they will continue. Hopefully there are tools to help you identify them.

The Business Journal: Obviously there is a political conversation to have about deep fakes and disinformation. Do you have to be on the lookout for disinformation that might impact a company? Somebody posts something that isn’t true?

FARRIS: They’ve always done that.

… AI just helps them get more content faster.

HEDRICH: Like in the Bud Light situation, you could have a fake AI-generated celebrity, for Bud Light or against Bud Light and they’re not there. Could that happen? I guess. But what’s the motive of the party? Would a large corporation do that versus another corporation? There are concerns.

The Business Journal: Returning to Bud Light. With the polarization in society, you really have to be hip to that, don’t you, as marketers?

HEDRICH: Absolutely.

SABO: It’s internal. You can tell when you’re getting to that line where you’re venturing into territory where there’s a backlash. It’s important to have open conversations about those things and have policies in place to respond quickly if there is a backlash.

HEDRICH: It’s also understanding your audience. For example, Leonard Truck & Trailer has that ammo store. Everybody sees the billboards. They’re wild. They’re very much pro-Second Amendment. But that’s their audience.

They’re selling to people who want to buy guns. They’re talking about giving your kid a gun for Christmas. On one level you could say they shouldn’t be doing that.

Well, that’s who their audience is. So that’s where Bud Light was so off-base. Their audience isn’t interested in those issues or doesn’t want to have these [gender] issues shoved down their throats.

Leonard Truck & Trailer makes no bones about it: We’re behind the Second Amendment. We think everybody should have a gun. They do wild and funny. If you think they’re funny, it makes sense to their audience.

CROSS: The clients that know themselves best and have their guidelines defined – we can push right up onto it. It’s easier for us to work with them.

Is this bad? Is this going to get approved?

The clients who know themselves, know who they are, and have it spelled out for us how to create their content and where that line is, it makes it easier for us to work with them.

The Business Journal: Let’s go to the basic question of marketing versus branding. What is the difference? Is there a difference?

CHRYSTAL: There is a huge difference. Marketing is the company you think of when you want to buy a pair of shoes or you want to buy a car or something like that. It’s promoting the products that they sell. Branding is how you feel about that company, their voice, their attitude, their look, their logos, their colors, everything about that company.

Marketing is selling and that’s our job. And the branding side is making them look good and how they appear to the consumer.

BAYLEY: I agree. Marketing is more reactionary or more fluid. If you put a marketing campaign and the response is poor – not Bud Light – you can shift or pivot to something else to get to what you want.

But the brand is more staid. It’s more stable. It’s how people feel about you.

Marketing 101: They always say Cadillac. How do you feel about [owning a] Cadillac? It means that you’ve reached the pinnacle of success,

Cadillac has had some big failures with their spokespeople or influencers. Their market share went down for a while. But still that brand remains as quality. Marketing is much more fluid. Branding is much more stable.

SABO: To be successful in your marketing, you have to understand your branding. Branding comes first. Then comes the marketing strategy.

FARRIS: Branding is part of marketing and it’s the cornerstone. It’s the basic thought, image, or feeling about a company – or the people your customers are about. The branding part should be appropriate from the get-go.

We’ve changed a lot of brand names and images, logos, et cetera, of companies over the years because times changed or their market changed. The products they sold to sell were no longer relevant.

They want to create a new excitement or interest in their company. Sometimes that’s worth rebranding. That’s where it all starts; Because they want people to have that impression from the get-go.

HEDRICH: A brand is the most valuable intangible asset that any company should have. It may not be because they haven’t invested in it. But it can be or should be.

We define brand as the perception of the value of a company, product or service in the marketplace. An example is Apple. Annually, Apple almost always ranks as the most valuable brand in the world. Not necessarily the most valuable company. The most valuable brand.

The brand that Steve Jobs developed is still based on those principles. All these new products, all these new technologies, but yet elegance, simplicity, great design, powerful user interfaces.

It doesn’t matter what you look at in all the iterations. Almost all – there’s been a couple of misses – fit that. That’s the brand. Those are the essential qualities.

How the stores look, the store experience. Those endure even though the products change.

When a company can identify those, your brand becomes a competitive advantage, even when you don’t have the best price or even if your product isn’t up to someone else’s. …

But people love their iPhone, including me. Someone has an emotional affinity with the idea of Apple. They perceive that. Those intangible assets make one brand preferable.

FARRIS: And the best brand in the world, the best branding in the world, isn’t going to make up for a crappy product, right? The reason Cadillac is considered the acme is because it makes a good product.

It’s not that it’s more expensive. It’s more money than a regular car but it’s a better car. too.

CROSS: The elementary example of marketing is Chick-fil-A. Their marketing is they make a great chicken sandwich. But their branding is their drive-thru. You can get through in 30 seconds.

But they don’t market that. That’s their brand. That’s what people recognize about them.

HEDRICH: And even closed on Sundays is part of their brand. They say they’re a family-friendly oriented business closed on Sundays. People have argued over the years how much more could they make if they were open on Sundays. But they would say no. They do it based on religious principles, at least initially. Now it’s part of their brand.

The Business Journal: Let’s wrap up with some final thoughts.

FARRIS: If you’re talking about the marketing industry today, it’s healthy and well.

Like any industry, we have to pivot and adapt to new tech, new technology. That’s always been the case. You have to adapt. You can’t be afraid of technology. You have to embrace it. Overall, I’m excited about the industry.

HEDRICH: Most people wouldn’t try to do their own accounting or legal work or other professional services. They are going to work with a professional. But a lot of people feel they can do their own marketing. Occasionally they can do it well. Mostly they can’t.

I’m very impressed with all my colleagues here. Whatever you do, hire professionals. Of course you should have a voice but realize you can’t be objective. I struggle doing our own marketing far more than with other clients. I can’t be objective. That’s part of it. And then, of course, the skills.

CROSS: Here in the Valley, people see the experts on this panel and we stop losing the talent that comes through our ranks and feels the need to go to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Texas. There are great people to work with and work for here in the Mahoning Valley.

CHRYSTAL: With marketing changing and having so many options, it shouldn’t be something that businesses fear and find confusing. It just shows how important it is to hire professionals.

BAYLEY: Always remember, whether you are the marketing company, the client, or the citizen, communication and integrity are key.

SABO: In this market, it’s always surprised me the variety of agencies that we have and we all have our niches. As a client, it’s important to find the right agency that meets your needs.

Pictured at top: Roundtable participants are Adrienne Sabo, creative director of Clever; Rebecca Bayley, consultant at Pecchia Communications; Cailyn Chrystal, director of operations and client services, 898 Marketing; Steve Cross, CEO of iSynergy; Jeff Hedrich, owner of Prodigal Co.; and George Farris, CEO of Farris Marketing.