Following a post-grad stint working in marketing for Madison Square Garden in the ’80s, Marsha Lindsay returned to her home state to start a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she had a consumer psychology fellowship. There, she found that her research on purchase behavior was a powerful tool when it came to her freelance client work. When she received her master’s, she decided not to go forward with a Ph.D. program and her originally intended career path as a college professor. Instead, in 1978, she launched her own agency, now called Lindsay, Stone & Briggs (LSB), with offices in Madison, Wis., and Minneapolis.
Early on, LSB signed Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate (and eventual governor) Lee Dreyfus as a client. Working on his underdog campaign was a “gateway to awareness and opportunity,” Lindsay said, and contributed greatly to LSB’s growth in its early years. That growth continued as LSB added big-ticket clients like Kohler, Kraft, Oscar Mayer and PepsiCo to its roster. Meanwhile, Lindsay herself gained respect and prominence in the ad industry, collecting awards like Wisconsin’s Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year in 1984 and being the first woman named to the Wisconsin Advertising Hall of Fame in 2014.
Though she never became a professor, that time in grad school continues to pay off. Lindsay said she still relies on her academic background, which she’s continued to nurture with a stint teaching at Wisconsin’s business school. Behavioral economics guide LSB’s work, leading with the idea that “decision-making is predominantly subconscious.” “How one takes advantage of it and finds what ultimately will attract people to a brand—those are all the things that fascinate me,” she added.
Lindsay stepped down as LSB’s CEO in 2015 and now serves as the agency’s chairwoman and chief strategist, roles that she says allow her to pay greater attention to “what it takes to drive clients’ growth and their brand and innovation.” That often involves conducting the same sort of research she did decades ago as a grad student: identifying emerging issues that will concern marketers while seeking solutions to either mitigate or take advantage of these issues—a practice she refers to as “enlightening” clients. “We want to help everyone move forward with what’s going to help more quickly in the future,” she said.
When you’re passionate about your work, Lindsay said, the desire to create change and implement the new in your company can at times take precedence over explaining these changes to your colleagues. “When you have a vision for the future, you get very excited about enacting it in your organization,” she said. “And then you get really frustrated that others don’t see what you see, because you forgot to bring them along.”
Remember, Lindsay said: You have to essentially market your vision. “The insights and work you do is really only half of what it takes to lead in the profession,” she said. “You have to understand how to get other folks to see what you do.”
How she got the gig
Lindsay used the freelance copywriting clients she worked with during grad school as a springboard to start her own agency after completing her master’s degree.
“If you’re in the advertising industry, you’re in the profession of business outcomes,” she explained. “So you really have to study business on a daily basis. You have to serendipitously fall upon news you wouldn’t necessarily expect.”