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M2M: Lori Colman on Leading a Successful Business
October 12, 2017
M2M: Lori Colman on Leading a Successful Business
Jose Vega
Jose Vega

In celebration of Women’s Small Business Month, this week’s Marketer to Marketer (M2M) blog features CBD’s founder Lori Colman, who has spearheaded a successful business in an industry that has an ongoing history of gender inequality.


Lori Colman isn’t afraid to take risks. In fact, the formation of CBD Marketing can at least be partially attributed to her willingness to venture into the unknown. She co-founded CBD at the young age of 30, when she won over an important piece of business from a host of larger, more established agency competitors.

Along with the help of Co-CEO Liz Brohan, Lori has built CBD up from a small business to the booming integrated marketing agency it is today — and she shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.

Q&A with Lori Colman

What is an average day in the office like for the Co-CEO of CBD Marketing? What can you usually expect to do?

It has changed a lot over the years. Liz [Brohan] and I used to be heavily involved in the account management side of CBD, but now much of that responsibility lies with our dedicated account teams, which has allowed them to really own their achievements and be accountable for a variety of key metrics. In recent years, we’ve found it beneficial to the growth of our agency to take a step back and let each department spearhead their work without too much day-to-day interference. Of course, that isn’t to say that we don’t keep ourselves busy. Running an agency is a lot of work. I tend to get more involved in matters of finance such as agency projections, budgets, and optimization. Liz, on the other hand, is more involved in agency operations and new business.


To what do you attribute the growth and success of CBD Marketing?

Hiring great talent. That is absolutely the number one thing. Over the years we’ve gotten better at assessing new employees. It used to be more about whether or not we saw a potential hire as a good fit based on skill sets — which is still important. However, we’ve gotten much better at defining the type of employees we believe will thrive here, which has led to a very successful and productive workplace.


It seems as though CBD is based on a strong level of trust on each individual member of the team. What does it take to be an employee here? What do you look for?

We hire people who are self-starters. Every person in our office is proactive, motivated, and collaborative. We don’t believe in micromanaging. The bar is set pretty high and it’s thanks to our exceptional talent pool that our work environment allows a lot of freedom and flexibility.


What do you think is the most important aspect of being a leader of a marketing/advertising agency?

I think Liz summed it up nicely in her M2M blog post. But aside from a commitment to collaboration, it’s important to have a solid understanding of what it means to be a leader today. The age of the autocratic boss is pretty much over. I think female leaders have a much easier time coming to terms with that fact. Being an effective leader is more about working with people to set goals and provide a direction. Empathy and compassion are also critical, not only for your employees, but for your clients as well. You have to listen and take into account other people’s needs and opinions. That being said, you also have to know when to trust that your gut instinct will lead you in the right direction.


What is it like to be a female executive in an industry that, like far too many others, just seems to be lacking enough of a feminine presence?

It’s interesting, our very first client was a manufacturing technology firm whose marketing director happened to be very open-minded and professional. Although, the president of the company initially wanted to choose an agency he felt more comfortable with, which was led by all males, our client fought for us because he believed our approach had the most merit. While I’d like to think that is the case all of the time, you can’t expect that lack of gender bias. You have to get an idea for the culture of a company before going into business with them. But, the way I look at it, when you remove bias from the equation, you can see the quality of work for what it really is.


If you had one piece of advice to give to women looking to start up a business or agency of their own today, what would it be?

It probably wouldn’t be too much different than what I’d say to anybody who wants to start [a business or agency], but it’s all about making sure that you are keeping close track of metrics and KPIs, as well as knowing how to make difficult choices. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but ultimately, you have to ensure that the business you are running is sustainable. As far as the female aspect goes, I’d say that they shouldn’t even give it a second thought. Don’t let it be the thing that defines you.


Other than growth, what are you hopes for CBD in the future? How have you started working towards them?

We’re working towards being more holistic in our service offerings by giving our team members a greater variety of work that challenges and motivates them to step out of their comfort zone. We want them to be thought leaders in whatever part of the equation their role fits into.


Last but not least, what is meaningful to you outside of your role as Co-CEO at CBD?

I’m on the board of the Alliance for the Great Lakes in which I’ve served two six-year terms, so I’m very interested in regional water quality and what’s happening in our environment. My father was a sailor and I grew up along one of the rivers that connects to the Great Lakes, so they are very meaningful to me. I also support Chicago Canine Rescue where my husband and I help train, socialize, and, most importantly, find permanent, loving homes for their dogs.