Liza Suloti of SHADOW: “Identify core values from the onset”

Authenticity and transparency will always take you further as a brand. Finding opportunities — whether through a brand’s voice, lifting up people in the organization or inviting people in so that it becomes more than just a brand to people — builds trust and believability. Working with Sun Bum for several years has set the new standard of authenticity […]

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Authenticity and transparency will always take you further as a brand. Finding opportunities — whether through a brand’s voice, lifting up people in the organization or inviting people in so that it becomes more than just a brand to people — builds trust and believability. Working with Sun Bum for several years has set the new standard of authenticity and transparency for us, as they truly live as the rad organization that they share with their community.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Liza Suloti, a Partner at SHADOW.

At the onset of her career, Liza immersed herself in the fashion, beauty, lifestyle and retail industries, building a name for herself, channeling her passions and beginning to shape her future as a brand marketer for some of the industry’s biggest names.

In 2007, Brad Zeifman and Lisette Sand-Freedman founded SHADOW, a leading integrated marketing and public relations agency. Liza joined SHADOW in 2008 and helped establish the foundation of the company and lay the groundwork for the agency’s distinctive vision and steadfast goals. She was named a Partner in 2012.

Liza developed SHADOW’s Broadcast and Media Training Divisions and has spearheaded SHADOW’s Beauty Division, growing its client roster tremendously with clients activating within media relations, influencer marketing, creative and event production. She has continued to shape the vision and culture of SHADOW through her leadership, example and day-to-day contributions as well as her role in business development. Much of SHADOW’s growth can be attributed to her creative and forward-thinking approach, passion and executional skill. It is in part because of Liza that SHADOW’s core values of fostering creativity and encouraging employees to strive for more and be better than great in the workplace, are at the heart of everything the agency does, and clients continue to see SHADOW as true strategic partners.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was an English Major at Boston University and always dreamt of becoming a writer. One of my dear friends was a fellow New Yorker and English Major at BU, and a few months after graduating we met up for a drink. At the time, she was working for Brad Zeifman, my now Partner at SHADOW and one of the smartest, most dynamic people I know. She told me how she thought I would love Public Relations because of the opportunity it offers you to write, work with the journalists and outlets you admire while also storytelling for brands and people — a combination of all the things I am passionate about.

Brad was leaving Rubenstein PR and looking for a new assistant at Susan Blond, Inc. where he was joining as Vice President. Thanks to my friend’s good word, I met with Brad the next day and nailed the interview with the exception of my answer to his last interview question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Thinking about how I would measure success in the next 5 years, naturally I said, “in Chanel.” It symbolized success to me — that I was nailing it so much at work that I’d be able to afford the coveted Chanel extra-long necklace or their divine tweed jacket. He thought it was the worst answer he’d ever heard, and I almost didn’t get my shot.

Luckily, the other people in the room thought it was unlike any interview answer they’d ever heard and urged Brad to take a chance on me. That was a pivotal turning point in my life, not just for my career. Working with Brad has shaped my life in many ways and helped me see the opportunities ahead that allowed me to tap into my talents in all areas of what we do and find success along the way.

To this day, what I continue to love about my work is not just that I’m surrounded by people I adore and proud of what we’ve built at SHADOW, but I’m also still challenged and inspired every day. I also love that I’m never without an opportunity to tap into my experience, expertise and passions. Every hour brings something new: strategic planning with creative approaches, media training or shooting a broadcast segment, chatting with editors and brainstorming story ideas — it’s a gift to be able to feel that fulfilled and challenged.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Like most people that have probably answered this question, we can all agree no mistake ever feels funny at the time… But the biggest mistake I made when I was first starting out was with a beauty brand I represented at the time, led by a personality that was both my best friend and yet the biggest bully. I was too young to know better and tolerated behavior I would never as a grown woman. I marketed this person in the vision they cast for themselves, all well knowing I was just perpetuating the behavior.

It taught me some of the lessons I call upon today, some of which are my signature strengths, like navigating challenging personalities with ease, remaining calm under pressure and separating myself from a work situation emotionally to ensure I make decisions from a place of clarity.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Great marketers are hard to find. It takes a uniquely gifted person to be able to possess all of a great marketers’ traits and skills, from a critical mind to a creative spirit, from a thoughtful storyteller to an influential writer, from a cultural expert to a forward-thinking trend visionary.

Our SHADOWs are just that good. They’re definitely our secret sauce. Our creative, integrated approaches and agency structure are what set us apart from other agencies. Our client roster and results speak for themselves. But all of that wouldn’t exist without the amazing minds and talents we have to bring it all to life. If you don’t have the talent to be able to execute it, it’s just a great idea on paper.

At SHADOW, we are known for building up talent and in turn, seeing the business opportunity there. Our executive team has been built from the ground up with SHADOWs that started their career with us and have expressed areas they are passionate about, which we in turn have used to create successful Divisions. Event Production, Creative, Beauty, CPG and Influencer Marketing are all Divisions that didn’t exist when we started in 2007, but together we have grown them and become a robust partner for our clients who can take a truly integrated approach to everything we do.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Warren Buffet said, “One way to double your worth is to hone your communication skills. If you can’t communicate it’s like winking in the dark, nothing happens. You can have all the brainpower in the world, but you’ve got to be able to transmit it.”

Communication can truly be a key to success. At the heart of people’s confidence and ability to get what they want is having the right tools to be an effective communicator. Through my work in Media Training, I have had the pleasure to work with so many different people. What I have found is that they all have the same fears and barriers to success that hold them back. It always comes back to confidence. Knowing we can provide people with the skills to get what they want in life is amazing. It’s also part of the reason we have been so passionate about creating certified communicators at SHADOW, from our executive team to the agency as a whole, so they can become masters in using their voice internally and externally. Especially in today’s digitally focused world, it’s so imperative that people can find the right words to communicate in such a way that helps them achieve their goals.

Our Beauty Division has been another area of passion for me. When we focused on growing the division, I knew that it was a thriving category with tremendous growth but that there was so much untapped opportunity there. I also saw that it is a deep and meaningful category with uniquely talented and creative people that can impact people’s lives and the way they feel about themselves. Growing the Division from a few accounts to becoming the agency of record for Keys Soulcare, a skincare line by Alicia Keys, and amplifying a brand that represents where beauty is going — community first, clean, tapping into an idea of soulcare needed now more than ever before — is deeply meaningful and another example of how at SHADOW you can tap into all of your interests and talents at once. Having the ability to be strategic, thoughtful marketers but also to be soulful in how we position the brand with an icon like Alicia at the helm, all while being challenged intellectually by the e.l.f. Cosmetics team, who helps us elevate every way that we plan, think and ideate, has been incredible. It’s an example of a true partnership.

Finally, I believe that in every crisis there is an opportunity, and while we are living through the most challenging time in our lives, it has also been a very proud moment for me to see how our SHADOWs have stayed connected, persevered and grown. We have all flipped everything upside down to find entirely new ways of working, and the ideas that have resulted have blown me away. There is an ongoing commitment to being better than we have ever been and to continue to wow our clients and be an incredible partner for them.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

For me, brand marketing leads to a reason to believe in a brand. Product marketing and advertising lead to a reason to buy. Brand loyalty comes from a reason to believe, not just to buy. The reason to buy will always follow.

Brand marketing gives the halo of building trust and affinity, and once you’ve built that, you can then market the product. If you try and skip that crucial piece, it won’t lead to long-term brand growth or achieving goals as it relates to brand positioning and shaping perception.

Product marketing can be exciting because there’s nothing more fun than that energy around the “gotta have it” feeling. There’s a lot of room for creativity anchored around a product or category as opposed to the breadth of a brand. That lives in the now. It is possible to live in the now while also contributing to the halo effect of a brand, and that is when you’ve really done your job.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Brands aren’t made overnight, they’re built with care, with ideas laid brick by brick. Building a brand requires a holistic exercise in making an idea a reality, but once that reality is born, amplifying it through marketing channels starts to pave the way for its role in culture, marketplace and people’s lives.

You’ll never break through and become culturally relevant with just a product, but even if you’re so much more than that, people must know about it and feel your impact.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

1. Identify core values from the onset. Every form of communication should ladder up and be an expression of those core values. Whether it’s e.l.f. Cosmetics’ “For Every Eye, Lip and Face” or aerie’s #AerieREAL, a brand that has a clear and distinct set of values helps build trust with its consumers.

2. Authenticity and transparency will always take you further as a brand. Finding opportunities — whether through a brand’s voice, lifting up people in the organization or inviting people in so that it becomes more than just a brand to people — builds trust and believability. Working with Sun Bum for several years has set the new standard of authenticity and transparency for us, as they truly live as the rad organization that they share with their community.

3. Don’t shy away from what’s happening in the world, embrace it. SHADOW has been at the forefront of being part of the cultural conversation this year and encouraging our clients to do the same. Now more than ever, it’s important to use your platform for positive, meaningful impact.

4. Be a source for joy, inspiration and connection, not just a source for a transaction. Consumers are looking to brands to do more than sell to them, and that’s when the relationship can either start and end or become a meaningful journey. Keys Soulcare has been at the forefront of this approach in beauty, as the brand launched with content, community and conversation months before it even introduced product — a truly unique launch strategy for a beauty brand.

5. Be consistent. When a brand stays true to their voice and lifestyle, it builds trust and makes every opportunity to engage with the brand feel believable. Moroccanoil has always exemplified this in how they show up. You can innately spot the brand visually and through its content.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

When I think about meaningful brands, I often think back to 2014 and the headline of a press release we were drafting at the time for our long-standing client, Aerie. Writing the words “challenging supermodel standards,” I could feel in my gut that we were about to do something special. Boy did we. Six years later, #AerieREAL has grown from a no retouching campaign into a movement focused on body positivity and empowerment and many other brands have since followed suit. Aerie has challenged traditional standards and the fashion industry all while continuing to evolve and build brand loyalty.

Through its marketing, product offering, authentic messages and the way the brand carries itself, Aerie has truly built a powerful community. What continues to impress me most about Aerie is the way the brand has stayed true to their pledge to honor the idea of REAL, both in how they show up and how they contribute to society. It is with this kind of dedication that a brand goes beyond product and becomes something more. I am blown away daily by how my partner Lisette Sand-Freedman and her team lead the charge with that business and AEO Inc. as a whole.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

There is no such thing as a find and replace approach to measuring success. At SHADOW, we believe that at the beginning of every relationship, specific objectives should be set to ensure that everything is working towards achieving them. Some are data driven, others are more subjective.

We utilize traditional measurement in the form of press and social impressions, reach and share of voice, but we also look at the shift in perception — breaking through in outlets a brand has always wanted to be featured in, reaching new audiences, community response and engagement and so much more. There are also tools to measure awareness, which is a halo term for one of the steps that gets you to sales and conversion. As marketers, there are many steps we have to take to get to that ultimate consumer action, whether it’s a product sale, follow on social media, email sign up, event attendance or one of the many other ways to engage with a brand.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media plays a tremendous role as it’s both a community meeting place as well as a direct conversation between brands and users.

While it’s one of the many tools we use to communicate, it also offers a key opportunity to test and learn. Identifying what’s successful on social media, which evolves constantly, can help inform bigger ideas.

We are also always ensuring that our marketing and communication efforts are aligned with the social media landscape through real-time listening and engaging. We encourage our clients to align their social strategy with our efforts to ensure the brand’s channels and therefore influencer and editor audiences are experiencing uniform messaging.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Step away. I firmly believe you refuel yourself when you step away. How you step away is up to you. For me, time with my family fuels my soul. It can also mean going for a walk on the streets of New York or reading and listening to music. There has to be time to do that. If you don’t refuel yourself, it’s impossible to continue to be creative and see outside the bubble of what you’re working on. Being a marketer or business leader means always having eyes and ears open to what’s happening in the world, which in turn inform ideas and decisions. When you’re energized from the balance of work and your own version of refueling, you can think more clearly and can both be present while also seeing the path ahead.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement, it would be one that empowered people to be more generous with complimenting others. I find that a compliment holds a lot of power, and you don’t always realize how badly someone needs one or how much you could even use one yourself. That simple act can shift someone’s mood and change their day. It can be something they continue to think about, feel a boost in confidence from and even make decisions around. A thoughtful compliment can have a greater impact than just that one moment.

I bet if you think back on some of the ideas you’ve pursued, decisions you’ve made or talents you’ve identified in yourself, you could link it back to someone generously complimenting you.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Love is Life” is something I say in my personal life all the time, because I truly believe it is. It so simply resets priorities and helps you visualize goals. Deeper into my career, I found tremendous joy and fulfillment in pursuing the paths that I loved — brands I loved, partners I loved, visions I shared, creative expression I adored. By simply recognizing that love will drive you towards the right decisions, it can inspire and energize you to work harder than ever before.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to share a meal with Amal Clooney to talk all things global affairs, style, beauty secrets (HOW is her hair always that gorgeous??), juggling two kids with a career and like, George.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@LizaSuloti @Weareshadow

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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