In this episode, Stacy sits down with Melissa Howell, who is the Director of Client Partnerships at Wilkins Media, an out of home specialist firm based in New York City. The two discuss Melissa’s unique, millennial perspective of an old school industry, and how she convinces digital and social heavy brands to take a chance on out of home advertising.

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Stacy Jones (00:01):
Welcome to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. I’m Stacy Jones, the founder of Influencer Marketing and Branded Content Agency, Hollywood Branded. This podcast provides brand marketers a learning platform for top experts to share their insights and knowledge on topics, which make a direct impact on your business today. While it is impossible to be well versed on every topic and strategy that can improve bottom line results, my goal is to help you avoid making costly mistakes of time, energy, or money, whether you are doing a DIY approach or hiring an expert to help. Let’s begin today’s discussion.

Speaker 2 (00:31):
Welcome to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. Here’s your host, Stacy Jones.

Stacy Jones (00:36):
Welcome to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. I’m Stacy Jones and I’m so happy to be here with you all today. I’m going to give a very warm welcome to Melissa Howell. Melissa is the director of client partnerships at Wilkins Media, an out of home specialists firm based in New York City. With over eight years of national, out of home experience, connecting brands with consumers through outdoor advertising and experiential marketing. Melissa has a very unique take because she’s a millennial in an old school industry, and she works to help convince digital and social heavy brands to cut through the clutter and take a chance on more traditional out of home advertising that they might have been thinking about. Today, Melissa will be sharing her advice on navigating outdoor advertising and experiential marketing. We’ll learn what works from her perspective, what should be avoided and how some just miss the mark. Melissa, welcome. So happy to have you here today.

Melissa Howell (01:26):
Thank you so much, Stacy. I’m excited to be here with you.

Stacy Jones (01:31):
Well, starting off, can you share a little bit more about what got you here today in this career of outdoor advertising?

Melissa Howell (01:41):
Yes. So I moved to the big city of Manhattan shortly after college. And I had started a career in the floral industry of all things. And I went to work for a company in New York and I just wasn’t really fulfilled doing that. And I had advertised in marketing, loved advertising and growing up in Alabama, I had never seen anything on the level of advertising as it is in New York City. So as I’m walking around New York, all these giant billboards, Times Square, I mean, it was just overwhelming. And I was like, this is so cool.
And I started connecting with people in the advertising industry and on really hot, hot summer day, I went and handed my resumes to all the top agencies around New York. And that’s how I got my first job in outdoor advertising. Thankfully the girl at the front desk thought I had some guts and passed it on to the CEO. And he said, “I don’t know what I have for you, but I’m going to find something for you.” And so that’s how I got my start in outdoor advertising. And I honestly, when they said out of home, I had to Google it. I was like, what is out of home? I didn’t learn this in marketing one-on-one. I don’t really remember it. So after brushing up on my out-of-home knowledge, that’s where I started my career and that’s where I’ve been for the last eight years now.

Stacy Jones (03:12):
That’s really awesome. I know. And so two things there, one you’re trekking around in the hottest days of summer in New York, looking for a job when most people leave the city. So your competition wasn’t knocking on the same door as you were at that time, you picked a great time.

Melissa Howell (03:26):
I did. And honestly, everyone was emailing HR. When I was hand delivering a resume, I did get kicked out of a few buildings by security, but it ended up, I got a job, so it worked out for me. But I think especially nowadays looking at the younger generation who is just so tied to their phone, who hide behind text messages, I’m always like, just get out there and knock on the door, hand deliver a resume, pick up the phone. And you just set yourself apart by doing that.

Stacy Jones (03:55):
Yeah. We constantly have internal conversations because everyone’s like, “I’m just going to send an email.” I’m like, nope, you actually have to communicate, connect and talk to people because that’s how people actually build relationships versus emails.

Melissa Howell (04:08):
It’s so important, especially these days.

Stacy Jones (04:11):
Yeah. The second thing you said, okay, New York. You decided to take on out of home advertising in New York. There is no better city in all of the world than what Manhattan offers and Times Square offers for out of home. So that was a unique experience for you to be able to actually jump in and dive into.

Melissa Howell (04:28):
It was, I mean, coming from a fairly small town in Alabama and I moved from there to Texas, I was between Dallas and Austin. So it kind of set me up for the big city, but being a Southern girl in New York, you’ll gain your backbone for sure. Especially first sales job and cold calling, cold emailing. And the Southern accent can only take you so far there. But I learned a lot. I learned about a lot about business and sales and even just myself and just meeting interesting people from all walks of life. And I just, I mean to this day, I’m so glad I had that experience in New York.
I think every young person should try to find an opportunity, whether it’s an internship or a job or something to spend time in that city, just the energy, the energy New York brings and just the grit and the hustle. It’s like, everyone’s on the subway going to work. And it’s like, we’re all going to hustle and make something of ourselves today. And I think it really set me up nicely for LA because I love it here in Los Angeles, but the pace of life is a little different than New York in a good way. Just the quality of life is better being outside here, but I still have that New York hustle, which is really nice. I think that’s really what’s helped me in my career.

Stacy Jones (05:50):
So when you started off this conversation with me, you said that you got hired for this job at an out of home agency and you had to look up what out of home is. Can you share with our listeners in case they too are like, “Is she talking about billboards? What is she talking about exactly here?”

Melissa Howell (06:06):
Yes. So out of home media also sometimes called outdoor advertising is anything outside of the home. So yes, billboards, a very big part of, out of home. Every time I say, “I’m in outdoor advertising.” People are like, “Billboards.” And I’m like, “Yes, billboards. That’s about 10% of it.” So on top of that, you have transit media. So here we’re in Los Angeles. So you see the transit buses, you see the rail now that we have, the expo line, Metro. You have the double Decker tour buses here. You have Uber actually just launched and out of home, digital car top service. So that’s part of out of home now. And it doesn’t only include those media formats, but it can also be experiential. We do a lot that we include that in outdoor advertising as well, because it’s happening outside of the home, it’s happening on the streets. You’re reaching these consumers as they’re going to and from work or to and from errands throughout the day, you’re hitting them at all different touch points throughout the day.

Stacy Jones (07:19):
And so when a brand comes to you, how do you start working with them? How do you come up with your solution of your magic bag of tricks of what is actually going to get them noticed?

Melissa Howell (07:30):
Yeah, it really depends on the brands. So I still like the brands who know themselves and know their customer base do best in out of home. I do come across brands like you mentioned earlier that have never done an out-of-home ad before. So there is a lot of educating and handholding, but I love that side of it, but I definitely think just knowing the objectives of their campaign with any form of marketing is really important. Are you just wanting general brand awareness? Are you wanting to see an uptick in your sales? Are you wanting to create a buzz worthy Instagram reaction to your ad? I think it just really starts off first with what’s your objective and how can I help you achieve that?

Stacy Jones (08:23):
And so when you say a buzz-worthy Instagram moment with your ad, how can a brand make that happen?

Melissa Howell (08:31):
I think out of the home, you can get so creative with, I know when we think of just a billboard, it seems really boring. But when you use bold colors or witty, humorous, creative and even, you’ll see a lot in LA, build outs with Netflix has done a lot of [crosstalk 00:08:49] build outs.

Stacy Jones (08:50):
So like monsters coming off of it or buildings being taken over.

Melissa Howell (08:56):
Exactly. Yes. And like interacting with the consumer. And when I see those, those are the brands that do best in out-of-home. I feel like sometimes brands take themselves a little too serious with out of home. And you’re trying to get the attention of the person who is in their car listening to this podcast and prepping for the next meeting and drinking a coffee. You’re trying to get their attention. So you’re not going to get it with a very small, small, lots of small words on there and in black and white. You really want to just be bold and creative and that’s going to be the out of home ad that gets noticed the most.

Stacy Jones (09:39):
And with advertising as out of home, I think that the numbers, when I see them, when they’ve been run for different client campaigns, they can be tremendous. The actual impact that you can have can be really, really high. Right?

Melissa Howell (09:53):
Yes, definitely. And I think we’re seeing even more of it now with social media. Many of my clients are leveraging their out of home by, on social media, whether it’s interacting with their followers saying, “If you see our ad, take a picture and use this hashtag.” And then they create kind of a viral buzz there, which is great, or they’ll do a street-level ad that you can interact with the consumer. So it might be a hand painted wall in Venice that you can walk by and insert yourself in and be creative and take a selfie. Those are the different ways where we’re seeing that your reach can just be far more than just the eyeballs that are actually passing it, that you’re actually reaching people digitally as well.

Stacy Jones (10:41):
You make me think of all those angel walls, like the angel wings wall people have that could actually be branded in some way.

Melissa Howell (10:48):
Yeah. Hey, great idea. Someone should take that. It’s true though. The hand painted walls are one of my favorite formats in out of home. It’s just brings kind of art to the streets and the brands who utilize the hand painted walls, they get it.

Stacy Jones (11:06):
What are some of the mistakes that brands can make along the way? When they’re thinking, “I’m going to do out of home.” And I think you’ve touched on one of them, which was like black and white little tiny text.

Melissa Howell (11:16):
Yes. So you have about, let’s call it five to eight seconds if someone is in a car driving by an ad. So the biggest mistake I’ve seen over the years is an ad that is too wordy because if that person can not read it as they’re driving by on the interstate, going 70 miles an hour, we have a problem. So that’s a huge mistake. Also too, just because I work with a lot of brands who buy digital and social ads, they’re used to creating an ad for a screen this big on our phone. So when you try to take an ad and translate it from a phone or a computer screen to a 14 foot by 48 foot billboard, you’ve got to change it up a little bit. And I think one thing that always comes up is logo.
You want that logo to be big. You want it cheesy big sometimes. But I find that sometimes my clients will get a little too artistic and they’ll want the logo to be subtle. And I’m like, you’re paying for this board. We want people to see and know that this is your brand. So I definitely think bigger the logo, the better. And like I mentioned before, black and white colors, great for something else, maybe great for digital ads, because there is a lot of color in other things, but for out of home, really those bold colors and then always the rule in outdoor advertising, seven words or less, that’s always rule of thumb.

Stacy Jones (12:51):
That might be a good rule of thumb for social media advertising too.

Melissa Howell (12:56):
Definitely.

Stacy Jones (12:57):
Okay. And then, and I hear you on the logo. We do product placement in movies and TV shows and some of the things that we do are like fictional out of home experiences for brands, right? So if you have Spider-Man shooting, they need that New York Times Square to be remade and they’re doing it from scratch, with cleared brands and brands who are paying and so forth. But we run across the same thing. I’m like, “Can’t you make your logo a little bigger? Is there a reason why you don’t want to have a larger logo? Is there a reason why you’re being so delicate here?” And it happens all the time where brands want to minimize their brand sometimes in a world where that type of advertising only really works when you maximize it.

Melissa Howell (13:41):
So true. So true.

Stacy Jones (13:43):
Are there any other mistakes that people make? Do they, for example, do they think that doing, and maybe you can, is running one ad, one sign, one location enough?

Melissa Howell (13:57):
It depends. If it is a very buzz worthy ad, yes, but I always, I know it’s dependent on budget, but I always really try to push my clients to buy several different formats. Like I said, you’re wanting to create touch points with the consumer throughout their day outside of the home. So I love a mix of a high traffic, high impact, either a billboard or wallscape. A wallscape is essentially a billboard that’s on the building. And you see a lot of these on sunset here in Los Angeles. You see a lot of these in New York and even in Dallas, Texas, I mean, they’re just… Wallscapes are blowing up because they’re just a little more artistic and different than just a freeway billboard. So I always suggest doing a high-impact format in a high traffic area, but I really love the high-frequency format.
So one of those is wild postings. I’m sure you’ve seen them. They are the guerilla style step and repeat posters on construction barricades, or just around street level media wise. And so you can see these from the car. They’re great for pedestrians. That’s one of my favorite formats. As well as with transit, the bus shelters. People don’t realize bus shelters, you’re not just targeting the people who are on the bus. You’re targeting every car that’s going by. And as I drive from here in Santa Monica to west Hollywood, I could pass probably 50 bus shelters. And if every other one is the same brand, I’m going to notice that.

Stacy Jones (15:40):
And then with what you’re doing as well, is there a certain dollar point of entry? I know it’s so dependent upon the type of platform, the city, how long the ads going to be up, but is there really an opportunity for a brand of any size to do out of home or do they need to have some sort of level before they start considering it a budget?

Melissa Howell (16:04):
No, I think= any size budget can do out of home. Yes, if you are coming to me and you want to a billboard on Sunset and you’ve got $5,000, yes, we might have a problem, but there are just so many other ways that we can spend your money. I mean, you’ve got the Apples, the Facebooks, the Netflix of the world buying out-of-home, but you also have local realtors who buy bus [inaudible 00:16:32] or a billboard. There are definitely ways around the pricing of out of home and a lot of the outdoor vendor partners that we work with.
If there’s unsold inventory right before a campaign start date, we always start campaigns on a Monday, usually. So if you’re like a week out and a billboard hasn’t sold, they will drop the price drastically. And that’s a great way when I work with clients who’ve never done out of home that are a little nervous about it, might not have a big budget. I suggest, hey, if you’re not married to a certain location, but you’re like, “I know I want to try to be on the west side. I want to be in Culver City and I want to be in the Sherman Oaks area.” I can at least kind of position you in those areas and know, all right, a week to start, we’re going to see what’s available, see what we can get the best deal on. And then that way you can just get a lot more bang for your buck.

Stacy Jones (17:34):
And is your agency that you’re working for, do they own the advertising that you’re selling or are they partnered with other third parties where they’re renting the space basically and booking it very traditionally, like you might do with a lot of other types advertising?

Melissa Howell (17:50):
Right. No. So we do not own the outdoor space. We’re essentially an out of home buying service. So we work with these vendor partners and we work to set our clients up to get the best deal possible. And we are really a resource for them in the out of home space. So I work with a lot of small to mid-size agencies who buy digital, who buy TV and radio, but out-of-home isn’t their specialty. So they come to us and partner with us as we’re the experts in out-of-home. And our company’s been around for over 50 years. And we do about 175 million in out of home a year, which allows us to tap into discounts and offers that a one-time out of home brand might not be able to tap into just doing one $20,000 campaign versus us when we buy millions of dollars from these out of home vendor partners.

Stacy Jones (18:49):
Yeah. That makes sense. Are there other little secrets or tricks that buyers should be aware of or keep in mind where they could be more savvy in the out-of-home space?

Melissa Howell (19:00):
Yes, I think out of home is really… There’s a shift into programmatic, which is really interesting buying certain audiences with out of home, which is great. But, and I love the data behind it. I use it a lot to make selections for my clients using mobile and behavioral data, which allows us to buy more strategically for our clients. But I think it’s also really important to work with an expert in the market that you’re buying, because they might not know that, oh, this board looks really great from a data standpoint, but I know that board in the spring isn’t a good board because there’s a tree in front of it that blooms-

Stacy Jones (19:48):
Blossoms. Big flowers.

Melissa Howell (19:51):
Yup, that will block your entire billboards. So those are the things with working with someone who knows the ins and outs of a market and the ins and outs of out of home. I think it’s really important because you can have very, very disappointed client when the CEO of their company is in town and drives by and sees that blooming tree in front of their billboard. They’ll be having us call the city to have the tree trimmed. So those are the little things where it’s really knowing the market. And that’s something I’m so lucky at my company and to have lived in New York and LA is great, two of the biggest markets, but my colleagues at my company are across the country. And so I was recently planning in Denver and I don’t know Denver well.
So I was able to pick up the phone, call my team in Denver and say, “Hey, do you have a second to look? I wanted your opinion on these.” And they’re like, “This one, one of the best billboards. That one, no, no, no, no, don’t get it because right now we’re getting out of COVID and there’s not a lot of foot traffic there now.” So it’s great because I can lean on my amazing coworkers in markets that I’m presently not in and that just help helps me sell better than my clients.

Stacy Jones (21:10):
I’m assuming during COVID it was a bit rough with out of home advertising.

Melissa Howell (21:14):
It was a challenging year. It was, yes. When you sell something called out of home advertising and everyone is in the home that made it really difficult. It was challenging. And I know a lot of companies with their transitions and a lot of clients switched agencies. You saw a lot of turnover. I’m so thankful that my CEO’s amazing and kept the majority of us on board and just it felt like we even became closer as a company. But I think now that we’re through it, people are getting vaccinated. The cities are opening up. I mean, we’re about to see a boom in out of home.
I think it’s going to have a moment because everyone’s tired of being cooped up at home and they’re ready to get out. And what I’m already seeing in my planning and buying for out of home, especially in New York and LA, space that normally I would have had more options a few months ago, they’re booking out, which is great. I’m not complaining because business is good, but I’m telling clients now these short term buys, we’ve got to start planning more ahead. So it’s May now, we’re going to go ahead and start planning for the Q3, Q4 campaigns, because we want you to have the best options available.

Stacy Jones (22:40):
Had there been any brands that you’ve seen that have just really nailed it on the head for out of home advertising that you think are just really good advertisers for that space?

Melissa Howell (22:52):
Yes. So many. So many. I feel like, wow. I mean the entertainment brands have always loved out of home, have always done a great job. And then… What’s that?

Stacy Jones (23:06):
Especially here in LA.

Melissa Howell (23:07):
Yes, definitely. I mean, they were the kind of OG out of home advertisers and then Google and Apple, Twitter, Facebook, when tech came in and started buying out of home, it got the attention of so many more brands and they’ve never thought out of home really? And when those brands started buying, that’s kind of when we saw this evolution of out of home. So I feel like as of entertainment brands, FX always gets it right. They must have this amazing creative. I’m like, I want to meet the creative minds behind their out of home creative because it always pushes some buttons.
Sometimes you’re like, what is that? And then you want to watch the show because you’re a little more intrigued there, but I feel like they get it right. Netflix gets it right a lot just because it’s Netflix and they know what they’re doing. They’ve got, like we talked about the build-out. So things are great. I feel like a lot of category disruptors, I like to call them, because new emerging brands love out of home. It’s really a launch pad for them. And those category disruptors do well. So for example, Roman or Hims, they’re for men and-

Stacy Jones (24:28):
More directed consumer type brands.

Melissa Howell (24:30):
Yes. And it seems like faux pas to advertise for ED. And yet they were doing it dominating the subways in New York City and they got the attention and saw crazy brand lift. And then I feel like also consumer good brands, like Oatley, oat milk, they did a great campaign actually in 2020 and saw great results from it too, just being like, kind of poking fun at milk. And it was just a really… Their creative was bold and eye catching. And then, I mean, Casper mattresses, they were really, they dominated New York and some of the other bigger markets as well when they launched. And it just, when you create that domination effect and you just cannot…
The great thing about out of home, you can’t turn off the ad. Ad blockers, sorry, you can’t block out of home. You can’t turn off the billboard or a poster or a taxi job going back. So it’s when you are just seeing the brand in your face all the time, that brand recognition is so valuable. And so I feel like they really got it right from like a domination perspective. And then I’m trying to think of other, I mean, Postmates right now has a great campaign running. I don’t know if you’ve seen it in LA, but bright colors. And they’re just really… It makes me hungry every time I pass it. It’s like, oh, maybe I’ll learn a sushi tonight. It makes you think about food. So they’re the-

Stacy Jones (26:13):
Cars that look like sushi and yeah, they’re running it on television too, and they’re running it on social. And so they’re just further enhancing it by bringing it out of home. It’s a really good ad campaign.

Melissa Howell (26:23):
Yeah, no, I think the synergies between digital and out of home right now, I mean, I would never go to a client and say, “Give me all your digital money. Let’s run out of home.” I think it’s the it’s most effective when you’re running both. And you’re really creating trust with your brand and clients or customers are more inclined to click on a mobile ad or interact with a connected TV ad if they’ve seen the brand elsewhere in an out of home. It just creates trust within the consumer and the brand.

Stacy Jones (26:57):
Well, I love your earlier mention of doing a call to action where you’re actually able to engage with the ads, but just adding in your hashtag, adding in a contest, adding in just a request to do something. And I think where you’re going to see a lot of growth probably in the next years ahead is actually in AR and VR and bringing and expanding upon that too.

Melissa Howell (27:22):
Oh, it’s already happening. One of my coworkers works with a lot of gaming companies and so it’s really cool to see some of the things she’s doing with AR and with just holding up your phone with Snapchat, the creative on the bus shelter will start to move and come alive. And then we’ve done before with experiential doing AR as well on t-shirts that a brand will wrap a food truck and will go out and give away free t-shirts for the brand and interact. And I can’t wait for that to come back because of course that’s been down with COVID, but we’ve seen a lot of companies want to do AR with that as well. So I definitely see that as a trend in out of home.

Stacy Jones (28:14):
Are there any last words of advice that you would have as far as how to maneuver within the space, how to kick off your out of home if you haven’t done it so far?

Melissa Howell (28:27):
Well, I think step one, call me. I’m happy to help you.

Stacy Jones (28:31):
How would you do that by the way? How would you-

Melissa Howell (28:35):
Yes. But I think it’s just take a chance on it and you don’t have to be an expert. I think that’s… Work with an expert, but you, yourself as a brand, don’t have to be. I’m working with a new fashion brand right now that has never bought out of home before. And I’m so excited because they’re such a big brand and people are going to be so excited to see them in out of home, but I’m so proud of them for just taking a chance and being like, “Let’s do this. Out of homeschool, let’s interact with our customers. Let’s put real customers in our ads.” I think those are super effective. Look, I love fashion ad with a model, but I like seeing a girl that looks like me and it resonates more with the consumer.
So I think just taking a chance on out of home and that’s what I say when I’m working on new business is give me 15 minutes of your time and let me tell you why you should do out of home. And I think that is just being open to it especially in a world where we are so digitally connected, it really is cutting through that clutter and going with something that is a little more old school, but still super effective.

Stacy Jones (29:57):
And Melissa, how can people get ahold of you if they want to reach out and connect? What’s the best way to do that?

Melissa Howell (30:02):
Yes. Well, you can connect with me on LinkedIn, Melissa Howell, Wilkins Media on LinkedIn, let’s connect there. And then you can always reach out to my personal email, [email protected] And you can call my cell phone. People call my cell phone all the time. We’re 24 hours, 24/7 at Wilkins Media. I’ve got a lot of clients on the east coast and in London and it’s just like all hours of the day. And I love what I do. I love the out of home space and I feel lucky to be in it’s kind of one of those best kept secrets of the advertising world. And being from Alabama when friends and family found out, she’s selling billboards. I think they were worried about me because there are just a few billboards in Birmingham where I’m from. And I think they were like, “How is she going to make a career out of this?”
But it’s when you go to bigger cities, you realize, wow. And after this podcast and people listening to it, I’m sure you too, as you’re driving around, you realize there’s so much more out there than you initially see it unless you’re really looking for it because I mean, that’s a good ad, being very subliminal. But I hope everyone now as they’re driving around notices out of home more and interacts with the ads.

Stacy Jones (31:32):
Yeah. I mean, there’s studies that say that there are over 30,000 ads that we see in an average day. Now our last year of COVID, not so much, unless you were watching traditional television and watching all those commercial breaks maybe, but in our real life, I mean, ads are everywhere. It’s part of our culture. It’s part of what drives our pop culture. It really is something that’s the backbone of our environment.

Melissa Howell (31:56):
It is. No, it is. And I mean, I watch now that I do so much new business. So as I’m prospecting throughout my day, I then start getting served the ads for the brands that are researching. Thanks for a good intro. Yeah. I’m like their target audience. So I’m like, hey, and I love, my passion is kind of working with female founded brands, female focused brands. And that’s how I found you, interacting with female CEOs. I love it. And that’s something that’s kind of, I’m drawn to a brand that way. And I think if I’m part of the target audience, I know your brands. So I enjoy working on brands that I love and that I can relate to. And also brands that I don’t know. It’s like it’s really going from working from fashion brands to health and wellness.
I work with banks and credit unions. I did a huge COVID campaign last year. It’s just, I feel very fortunate to and learn from just all the different types of clients I get to work with. And I just feel super fortunate to work in a company that is so well-rounded with amazing co-workers, who we’ve all worked on all different sides of the business. So it just really, really helps me to be a better resource for my clients in the out of home space.

Stacy Jones (33:35):
That’s awesome. Melissa, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your insights and your advice and aligning us all to the powers of out of home advertising.

Melissa Howell (33:44):
Nah, thanks so much for having me, Stacy. I appreciate it.

Stacy Jones (33:47):
Of course. And to all of our listeners, I hope that you have a fantastic rest of your week. Thank you for tuning in to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. I look forward to chatting with you a little later, have a great day.

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