​​​​​​​Profile: Garrett Plepel and Gary Friedlander, Co-Founders, Collaborative Marketing Group

​​​​​​​Garrett Plepel, left, and Gary Friedlander ... photos by Brian Morrison

Garrett Plepel and Gary Friedlander co-founded Collaborative Marketing Group in November 2000 because they saw the opportunity to provide a more cost-effective, nimble shopper marketing agency than their previous employer.

In the nearly two decades since, they have endeavored to stay true to that mission, says Plepel, who serves as CEO, while Friedlander fills the role of executive vice president.

Plepel is responsible for overall financial planning and profitability management, and managing the MillerCoors account. Friedlander oversees shopper marketing client teams and new business development. “We both take a role in evaluating internal processes and resources and ensuring teams are set up correctly,” Friedlander says.

Collaborative Marketing Group has account teams set up by client, although individual team members might work on more than one client depending on the size of the account. “We find the closer they are to clients, the better they’re able to advise them,” Friedlander says. Creative teams are assigned to specific clients but with some overlap to allow for shifting resources during busy periods for a given account, he says.

Collaborative Marketing Group also designates certain team members as “retailer captains” who are responsible for knowing the specifics at select key retailers – what it takes to execute programs and what tactics these retailers offer and prefer, Friedlander says.

Digital, mobile and social media have been a major focus for Collaborative Marketing Group in recent years, prompting the agency to add a point person in that area to help guide its efforts, Friedlander says.

Friedlander believes that clients should evaluate their shopper marketing agencies through key performance indicators, such as whether they provide objective program-based recommendations, have impeccable communications skills, manage vendors and budgets well, and provide value for the client’s business overall.

Clients of Collaborative Marketing Group tend to need the most help with program evaluation and results-based implementation, Friedlander says. They often aren’t able to obtain the right data from a program and evaluate the program in time to make changes to the next cycle, he says. To add value, the agency has created several client-specific “after action review” processes.

“They never have time after program one is over to evaluate (data) before they go on to the next one,” Plepel says. “The more of that we can put on ourselves, the more it helps them. It allows them to not get involved in the heavy lifting.”

Looking into the future, Friedlander sees continued blurring of the lines between shopper and e-commerce, brick-and-mortar stores becoming more specialized and niche, expanded offerings like “grocer-ants” and healthcare partnerships, and innovations in deliveries as driverless cars and drones continue to evolve.

“As shopper marketers, how will we take the shopper through the path to purchase without that firsthand interaction they get at a brick-and-mortar location?” Friedlander asks. Possibilities for such e-commerce strategies and tactics could include more expanded product features and weekly deals on e-commerce sites, a sampling page to ask for sample size items delivered with your next order, and an increase in social influencers delivering their “picks of the week.”

Plepel believes partnership marketing will continue to play a role in the shopper marketing mix, with brands looking to find partners that fit and enhance their brand proposition, and provide in-store value to both shoppers and key retailers. “The tools we use to deliver this will evolve as they have in the past few years – with loyalty, digital coupons and new vehicles that don’t exist, as well as new categories, new partners and new brands,” he says. “If I knew what those were going to be, I’d be a millionaire.”