MADlab – A Marketing Collaboration – Crazy Like a Fox!

Clark Byron

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

The name of the new company is MADlab. Its founders, Deidra Langstaff and Mary Beth Hobby, describe it as, “a ridiculously talented marketing collaboration.”

Langstaff has been in the marketing field for some 23 years. The past 15 have been spent as a very successful independent marketing professional doing business as Langstaff Marketing. “When I started my business 15 years ago, I didn’t set out to have a business,” said Langstaff. “I was working with Coca Cola in Atlanta before that and my husband and I moved back to Albany where his family is from.”  This was in 1999, and Coca Cola allowed Langstaff to work out of her Albany home as a contractor. “Basically, I was freelancing,” she said. “Coke said we had to come up with a name so they could put us on the vendor list and pay us, so I told them just to list us as Langstaff Marketing.” Langstaff said that’s how her company evolved. “I didn’t start off to have a business, it just happened that way,” she said. “Fifteen years later, it really is a business, but I never really had the opportunity to set it up as my own company. In some ways, I credit the success to that, but this was the opportunity to set it up the way I would have done it if I were really starting my own business.”

Langstaff’s years of experience in the field began telling her that the entire concept of marketing was changing with the times; changing drastically and rapidly. “I was tired of doing marketing and advertising the same old way, and I felt I could really use a ‘partner-in-crime,’” she said. “That is, someone to bring energy back to the process. We needed to change how things had been done, especially in this neck of the woods, not just in marketing but in the industry as a whole.” The new mission became one of educating the public, changing the perception of marketing in South Georgia and other areas outside of Atlanta.” 

That partner is Mary Beth Hobby. Hobby has spent the last six years as the Director of Marketing and Vice President at Heritage Bank of the South. Langstaff said that Hobby, several years her junior, brings energy, youth, fresh ideas to the mix.

“Whether Deidra admits it or not, she has a brand and a great reputation,” said Hobby. “But it was very important to us to establish that I wasn’t leaving the bank to come to work for her, but that we were working together. It was a true meeting of the minds, a true collaboration. It also created the buzz and the interest we wanted it to.” 

The key word for MADlab is “experimentation,” according to the partners. “Marketing campaigns are not created equal, and experimentation is necessary,” said Langstaff. Admittedly, many clients might cringe at the idea of experimentation with their marketing dollars. They’d like to think they are paying for a sure thing from the get-go, but that is a big part of how marketing has changed in the 23 years Langstaff has been at it. “Customers understand when we explain to them that every company has a different objective,” said Langstaff. “We really talk to them about what their specific objectives are, who their target audience is, and then it’s a matter of experimenting with what’s going to work best for that company.”

A big change over the years, said Langstaff, is how the role of the client company has evolved and intensified. “It also has to do with the culture of the company,” she explained. “Some companies are not really willing to put in the work on their end, and they don’t quite get that. Having been in this business for so long, I’ve learned that there is a lot more work to be done on the part of the company than has ever been required in the past.”

Langstaff said that when she began her career in marketing in New York, a company would hire an agency and that agency bore the brunt of the responsibility for the campaign. “You’d would go out there and advertise and then just sit and wait for the results to come in, “she said. “It is totally different now. It is totally about the collaboration between agency and client. It’s a lot more involved than it’s ever been, and there are so many different elements we’re working with now. Customers get scared when you start talking about it that way. We’re really there to hold their hand and walk them through it.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is that multi-faced and increasingly complex art of marketing is that it is still all about results. “We’re very goal-driven and very results-driven, but it’s about the process,” said Hobby. “You have to have fun. Your employees have to be engaged in the process as do your clients, and we all have to be having fun during the process.”

Langstaff agrees that, of all things, fun is a key ingredient in all of it. “It has to be fun no matter how buttoned-up your company is. The process has to be enjoyable,” she said. “More than anything, we’ve got our clients talking. What we strive to do for our clients is first to create the conversation about the company, about the brand, about the business, and we definitely have done that.”

So, where did the name MADlab come from? “We’d been talking about going into business together for almost two years now, and we had just never pulled the trigger,” said Hobby. “We went through a bunch of possible names and one day I said to Deidra, ‘This is going to be a madhouse!’ Deidra said, ‘I like it. I like MADlab.’ And I said, ‘I like MADlab, too.’ It’s Mary (without the Beth) and Deidra, so it’s Mary And Deidra lab. We didn’t want to do it the other way and come up with DAMlab.”

Langstaff said the new name puts the new company in the running for some other work because it doesn’t pigeonhole it to being just being a one-person shop. “There are other people in this office that do great work besides me, that being my partner, Mary Beth, and we do have a staff here as well,” said Langstaff.

According to the partners, the response has been phenomenal. “We are truly grateful for all the support we’ve been shown,” said Langstaff. “It’s about the conversation, and then throwing in the word ‘experiment’ along with the name MADlab, and it’s working for us. We’ve just been very impressed with how people are responding to it.”

Because of the client base Langstaff was able to amass in the 15 years she flew solo, the firm will begin its official April 1 launch with two kinds of audiences, said Langstaff. “We have our local audience which is here in Albany, and people who know us personally,” she said. “But we also have a huge following outside of Albany. Depending upon what time of year it is, more than 50 percent of our client base is outside of our Albany market. I have a lot of people that I still do work for in the Atlanta market as well as other, smaller communities outside of here.

MADlab has special rates for nonprofit organizations, billing them at 50 percent of their customary for-profit rate.

“It’s about educating the client,” said Langstaff. “We don’t want to keep clients for life. We want to give them the tools so that they can eventually market themselves.”