Aaron Perlut is founding partner of St. Louis-based integrated communications firm Elasticity. Formerly a senior Omnicom (FleishmanHillard) counselor as well as a communications executive for two of the nation's largest energy companies, he has spent some 25 years in media, public relations and digital marketing, helping a range of organizations -- from Fortune 500s to professional sports franchises to economic development authorities to well-funded startups to non-profits -- manage reputation and market brands across multiple channels in an evolving media environment.
How did you get into the industry?
I was working in television for a few years and decided it was not for me, so I had to figure out where to take my career. I could write reasonably well from my journalism training and understood how television media worked, so I took a handful of PR internships over the course of a year and ultimately ended up taking a full-time role at a small agency in Miami.
Any emerging industry trends?
Technology and the way consumers and b2b audiences are adapting to it has dramatically altered the marketing communications landscape and it seems to evolve further every few months. The real key is content as a means to share a narrative. We’ve had to evolve the format of the content but good storytelling is still the primary component – blogs, video, memes, anything. Then we must find new ways to deliver that content and ultimately the message of a brand or organization that disrupts someone’s attention span, makes them pay attention, and try to drive that audience to ultimately take action, buy a product or whatever you are trying to achieve.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
The greatest challenge is, first, making sure you create great content that stands out and disrupts, like Burger King’s recent anti-bullying PSA. Second, you must understand how your audience most effectively will receive the content, how you can get them to engage with that content to the point it makes them want to use your product or service or share the content with others. That changes as people adopt new channels and paid media becomes more essential, particular in social media.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
My partners and I were working at a very large PR firm and felt the industry was falling behind consumer trends and behaviors. Years prior the marketing industry had unbundled services so you had agencies that were doing PR, advertising, media buying, SEO – but largely just one thing in many cases. We felt you not only needed to create great content, but then integrate the delivery of that content in paid, owned and earned channels to surround target audiences due to the ADHD world we are living in which is only getting more cluttered. So that’s what we did – three of us with an idea and some nine years later we have a nice little practice with about 35 people working with brands like GoDaddy, Fireball Whisky, H&R Block, Capital One, the State of Missouri and a lot of other great brands.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We’ve been watching the influence of the Hispanic market buying power in the U.S. and earlier this year launched a Multicultural Marketing Practice Group at Elasticity, hiring a veteran multicultural marketer to lead strategy and integrate what we are doing digitally with Spanish-speaking audiences in the U.S.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
For us everything starts with our people – how you treat human beings who work as part of a successful team, to trust and empower, to create a community within an organization that will collectively succeed, we hope. That’s where our success begins and ends and we keep pursuing means of growing the strength of the community within Elasticity, better-understanding how the pieces fit together effectively, recognizing our individual and organizational weaknesses and more. That’s where we’re focused right now.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
I love this company, my partners and the entire team but there are too many difficult moments to count. Early on there were growing pains with my partners – really just learning to work closely with one another, just like a marriage. But you have bumps in the road that never go away. Probably the biggest was our largest client that represented 40 percent of our revenue moving on. We had to dig in, didn’t lay anyone off, and were able to make up the revenue within nine months or so but it was a stressful period.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Brands and organizations don’t hire us because they think it would be ‘neat’ to do so. Typically they are trying to solve some type of business problem, like diminishing sales, reputation issues, whatever. I’ll never forget our two campaigns for H&R Block, which was increasingly thought of as stodgy and conservative among 21- to 35-year-olds. We were charged with creating a digital and PR campaign to drive brand engagement and counter those perceptions. One year we created — The Million Mustache March — a very funny campaign that hit all the typical marks on media placements, online engagement and more. But what really signified we'd done what we were hired to do came later during an analyst report for Block competitor Turbo Tax. In that, a digital marketing campaign by Block was cited as having nabbed market share amongst the key Millennial audience from Turbo Tax. And to me, that's what we were hired to do. That demonstrated that we moved the needle and returned the investment Block made in us.
How do you motivate others?
I would love to say I’m a nurturer – well, no I wouldn’t. I would say I lead and motivate by empowering people. When people believe you trust in them, when you give people responsibility, allow them to grow – I find they excel. And usually, when someone needs support, they know I have an open door and am willing to spend as much time as needed to help address challenges.
Career advice to those in your industry?
I’ve made so many mistakes and have seen so many made that my list of suggestions is long and rather random but I tell my kids they need to find something that really makes them happy. So if you have a mind for using marketing communications to solve critical business issues and have thick skin as oftentimes we deal with people who look at us like commoditized, expendable assets – jump in. But find an organizational culture that suits you and chase the creative challenge, not the money. Otherwise, you’ll be miserable.