My Best (and Worst) Campaign EVER: An Interview with Andrea Puhak, Director of Content at Resonate

January 23, 2018 | Melissa Nazar

Do you remember the best marketing campaign you ever executed? How about the worst?


I think one of the best ways to stay inspired and discover new ideas as a marketer is talking to my peers – marketing managers and directors who are living it right with me, testing out different, creative concepts as part of their programs.



So I was so excited to get the chance to dig in with a former colleague of mine – and friend – Andrea Puhak, Director of Content at Resonate, a martech startup that’s marrying proprietary consumer data and behavioral data to give you insights on every single one of your customers and prospects. (Check them out, they’re doing some super cool things!)


In her role, she heads up all things content and creative, and is constantly looking for new, innovative ideas to capture attention.


I asked Andrea to share both the very best and very worst campaign she’s ever executed* – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.


*Both of Andrea’s campaign examples come from when she worked at a different marketing technology startup, vs. her current role.


The Best Campaign

Fast facts

The idea: Host a happy hour event in conjunction with a major industry conference

Budget: $3,000

Time invested: 5 hours prep, 4 hours on site

Results: Two closed deals (~$20,000 each)


What was this situation?

So this was a startup without a big events budget at all. We were attending a big industry conference in Boston. There was no sponsorship money, so no presentation, no advertising, not even a booth. Just enough dollars to send a marketing person (me!) and a handful of salespeople to walk the tradeshow floor, for networking purposes.


How did the idea come about?

I asked myself and the team, “What can we do with little to no money?” We had this big opportunity to be in front of lots of potential prospects, but didn’t have the budget to make a splash in a conventional way. So in an attempt to make the best of it, we looked at the conference schedule to find opportunities.


Like most conferences, there’s little free time for attendees. The days were fully booked and nights were overtaken by the “big fish” hosting fancy dinners and after parties – there’s no way we could compete with that.


What we saw was a small window of time – just after the day events, right before dinners and parties – where we could host a short happy hour at a spot near the conference center. The goal was to make it simple, no frills, and easy for attendees to get to – offer a free pre-dinner drink with our team, with the promise of no pressure and no demos.


How did you make it real?

We found that the bar directly across the street from the venue was – surprisingly – available for one the nights of the show. Rather than book a dedicated room, we kept it even simpler – we reserved a section of the bar and put a credit card on file, instructing bartenders to serve until they hit a limit of $3,000.


About two weeks before the conference, I sent a quick email to our database about the event. It was a very basic, plain text email, no more than three lines long, and sent directly from me. I wrote it as if I was writing to a friend, and kept it very human, inviting conference attendees to meet me for a quick drink.




What happened next floored me. The email was the most engaged with we’d ever sent in my tenure – a 60% open rate, far higher than our standard 15-20%. Even more interesting, I’ve never in my entire career received so many actual responses on a marketing email.


People were RSVPing directly to me – even though I didn’t ask them to – like I was a friend hosting a party. I even got a handful of “sorry I can’t make it, but maybe we can catch up soon” responses! I even had a few folks decline the happy hour, but ask for a meeting with sales. It was incredible, and all from such a simple message.


In addition to the pre-event promotion, we did a bit of guerilla marketing onsite at the conference. We had branded wristbands made up, with a small card attached to each one with all the details of the happy hour. On the show floor, our salespeople approached attendees with a simple icebreaker: “Want a drink? We have happy hour tonight!”


Convincing people to join us after a long conference day for free drinks was a pretty easy sell – typically, at conferences, attendees are avoiding eye contact, hiding their badges, and so on, all in an attempt to duck salespeople and an elevator pitch.





But free drinks? What an easy opening line that was!


How did it perform?

Ultimately, we had 30-40 people show up at our happy hour event, including potential prospects, customers, partners, and a few friends. Not a massive turnout, but a quite good one by our standards. Keeping it fairly small actually worked in our favor, made it very intimate, and it ended up being much easier to interact with everyone. Our sales team spent time actually getting to know the attendees vs. focusing on a hard sell or a demo like you might at a booth.


In the end, we attributed at least two deals to the event, which more than paid for the happy hour (considering our average deal size was about $20K).


What’s the takeaway from this campaign?

The lesson I learned was that sometimes, the  simplest idea can be the most effective. We didn’t have a big budget, hosting a happy hour wasn’t necessarily the most creative idea either. It was more about being resourceful, using a big event as opportunity, and it worked for us.


I think part of the success was because it was so simple and casual, from the promotion email to the actual experience at the bar. It was authentic, about getting people to hang out and grab a drink, with no big sales push.


It was stupid simple and we didn’t need millions of dollars or tons of time to pull it off.


The Worst Campaign

Fast facts

The idea: Custom direct mail piece to support ABM approach

Budget: $200

Time invested: 40+ hrs prep over two months

Results: None/total flop


What was this situation?

Same company, but a whole different problem and approach. This time we were building out account-based marketing (ABM) efforts, and were looking for ways to create interesting, unique content for topic accounts.


It was a tough ask – how could we break through so much of the marketing noise that was already out there?


How did the idea come about?

There was one particular account – a large retailer of beach and surfing goods – that the sales rep just couldn’t seem to get into. All the standard channels – email, phone, etc. – had been exhausted.


We wanted to do something different, a bit unexpected, that would help us stand out. So we brainstormed and came up with a personal, direct mail approach – what if we sent a custom item to key contacts there that seemed super clever?


How did you make it real?

Because one of the products the retailer sold was a surfboard, we came up with the idea of creating small, custom surfboards, specially designed and branded with our company logo. Our designer also developed some custom packaging, with messaging specific to the retailer. We even had our videographer create a very targeted video to go along with it.  




We spent several weeks building out the idea and perfecting it. The result was this absolutely beautiful, highly creative piece that we knew the target account would love.


How did it perform?

So we literally sent out the surfboard and – no joke –  two days later, the company was in the news, filing for bankruptcy.


We had spent so much time creating this amazing, custom item, and it failed miserably due to circumstances out of our control. Needless to say, we never got a response.


What’s the takeaway from this campaign?

We totally over thought this new idea, focusing on being highly creative and also making it perfect. And it turned out to be a waste of time and money.  


What I learned is that while it’s important to constantly push to do creative, new things, you need to find a balance – you don’t want to overinvest time, money, etc. only to have it turn out to be a total flop. Being thoughtful about how and when you try out new things is just as important.


If I were doing this campaign again, I’d avoid going so over the top. There’s a certain beauty in the simplicity of not overthinking things. We could’ve done a smaller, faster test early on and made decisions based on that.


Any final thoughts?

Experimenting and finding new ideas to incorporate into your marketing is essential – it’s the only way to get better as a marketer. But the key is finding ways to test things out fast – without too much risk – and prove ideas to be good or bad quickly so you can iterate.


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