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Lori Bitter on Running a Successful Boomer Marketing Agency

After the first few What I Should be Doing posts, one of my blog readers, Peter Van Bloem, brought this to my attention: Lemonade the Movie. Have you heard of it? It’s a documentary that follows 16 advertising execs through agency layoffs. Turns out the layoffs motivated them to pursue other things they aspired to do, from starting a surf camp to completing the Tour de France to founding a successful social media consultancy.

I’m a huge advocate of making lemonade when life gives you lemons. It’s a trait I call buoyancy – the ability to bob back to the surface even when you feel like you’re drowning. I wrote about uncertainty and fear of life’s crossroads giving way to periods of intense personal growth in my What Steve Jobs Can Teach Us post. Here’s another story in the same vein.

LORI BITTER, President/CEO at Continuum Crew

Lori Bitter could call in a favor with the universe. She’s worked incredibly hard, bootstrapped others’ dreams, practically invented spontaneous acts of kindness, and paid it forward so many times that people would jump out of their skin to return the favor.

They do and they did. One day before Lori’s 50th birthday, JWT decided to shutter BOOM, the Boomer marketing division that she had built. Lori was out of a job in early 2009, with an epic recession looming ahead.

After the weekend, Lori came back and launched Continuum Crew, funded by her own severance package. Lawyers, business advisors, accountants flew to her side… as did 6 members of her former staff. With JWT’s permission, former clients also signed up – generating positive cash flow from Day One.

Flash forward to present day and Continuum Crew is 12 people and going strong. Last year they acquired – the largest online Boomer community – which allows Continuum Crew to field research and provide advertising opportunities that reach Eons’ 800,000 members. Entrepreneur Magazine recognized them as one of the 100 Companies to Watch. Lori is a regular blogger and speaker on the Boomer marketing circuit.

Here’s the thing: Mature marketing isn’t the niche it used to be. At 77 million, Boomers are the largest segment of the U.S. population, and the youngest Boomers just turned 47. Combine that with the fact that we’re living on average today 34 years longer than our great grandparents, and suddenly people over 45 represent the majority. They’re setting the agenda for everything from new product development to media consumption.

Says Lori: “I’ve been focused on Boomer marketing for 10 years. I’ll be damned if I’m getting out of this just as things are getting interesting.”

“Boomer marketing is finally on people’s radar, especially in social media, interactive, and PR channels. Continuum Crew’s focus is on clients who want to engage Boomers with emerging media. We work with companies in senior housing, Pharma, healthcare, packaged goods, consumer electronics, etc. We provide classic ad agency services, plus consulting, product development, social media strategy and management, media planning and buying, research and thought leadership.”

JS:           Why did you feel compelled to do this, e.g. open your own agency in such a precarious business environment?

LB:          Three reasons: 1) I did it for my clients. I had long-standing relationships with many of them and I couldn’t leave them hanging. 2) I knew I could be successful because I launched a 1-person marketing consultancy after the birth of my daughter, and grew it to 8 people. I was well-versed in all the classic small business challenges, e.g. cash flow, trying to grow while trying to conserve money, etc. (McMillan Marketing Communications merged with Royse Wagner and today is McKenzie Wagner). 3) It had to work. I care too much about this space and the people I brought with me to accept failure.

JS:           What are some exciting projects you’re working on?

LB:          In 2010, we acquired This is a Boomer portal of over 800,000 members, originally conceived by founder, Jeff Taylor. We have amazing opportunities for social listening to inform product and marketing campaign development, targeted advertising, expert panels, research, etc. I brought over my daughter, Ashley Mercier from as Group Publisher.

Last year we also launched the Move Beyond Age Coalition to support individuals and companies who are committed to making smart design a quality of life issue. We are encouraging companies to design better products and services for older consumers. For example, Jeff DeMure & Associates is an architectural firm that is reimagining the way assisted living facilities are designed.

In addition to my Boomers in the Wild blog, I’m working on a book on aging trends. My other daughter, Kate Bitter, who studied cultural anthropology is helping me with that project. Kate is also a Product Manager at Crew Media and Eons.

JS:           As your own boss, have you achieved a better work/life balance?

LB:          I still work 15-16 hour days. I’m starting to get regular speaking engagements that require me to be on the road a lot. And I’m constantly fueling the new business engine. But it’s the devil you know. I know my own work ethic. I have the flexibility to take off when I want to. Nobody is chasing me down.

JS:           What’s it like working with your daughters?

LB:          It makes for interesting holidays. We have to agree not to turn Thanksgiving dinner into a status meeting. But it makes me incredibly proud. One of my daughters will say something particularly brilliant on a conference call and I’ll close my eyes and see her as a baby in her highchair as if it were yesterday.

That’s the thing. Life is long. It has many chapters… and many occasions to reinvent yourself.

Follow Lori on Twitter

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