June 10th, 2021

Renee Lewis grew up knowing she needed to work hard to achieve success. She founded her own marketing firm, L&P Marketing, to help real estate developers and luxury brands express their vision and improve their proformas by studying the wants and needs of their target markets. A dynamic CEO, trend forecaster, and change agent, Renee Lewis is a knowledgeable inspiration to the niche advertising world of placemaking.

Below, learn how Renee forged her path, how companies preparing to go to market can hone their founding story, and her advice for women leaders looking to start their own venture.

Tell me about your executive journey up to this point.

My grandfather worked in a lumberyard and was incredibly poor. He and my grandmother saved every penny they made to send my father to medical school. Seeing that struggle as a child made me aware of the sacrifices required to obtain an education and career, and it made me driven. I’ve worked since I was 14. It never felt like it was a chore as much as an honor to have responsibility.

I attended the University of Texas not knowing what I wanted to study. I went the business major route before realizing I didn’t have a firm foundation in the arts. I switched to English and took a lot of cool, thought-provoking classes. I also learned how to do thorough research and became incredibly curious.

Around that time, I realized I wanted to be in advertising. The late 80s was a golden era for the advertising agency world, and I was eager to be a part of it. With great effort, and after two years of being told no, I finally landed a job with an agency and fell in love with the work. After the agency almost went bankrupt, I left to work for a client. I learned more in four years on the client side than I had in over 10 on the agency side – proformas and cash flows were a whole new world for me. It was fast, furious, and I loved it.

What pushed you to start your own company?

I never had the intention of owning my own agency. I worked for a land developer and, although I was running the marketing programs and hiring the best agencies in the business, there was a gap in what they delivered and what I needed to execute. I created my firm to fill that gap. I knew both the client side and the agency side, so I mirrored them to create a unique marketing firm.

What is the unique value you bring to the boardroom?

“Placemaking” is something relevant we incorporate into our work that I uniquely offer to a board. It focuses on capturing an experience that a person has in a certain place, and understanding the nuances of what people really do. I can dive into and understand what experience a customer is looking for and what they value, then help clients determine how to monetize that experience and translate it into a profit. Truly understanding the target market is more important now than ever.

As companies prepare to go to market, what steps should they take to ensure their brand is in the right place?

Many companies don’t have the time or manpower to take a step back and look at themselves through a third party’s lens. Branding, especially during an IPO, is not only ensuring that you are not only putting your best foot forward, but that you are accurately communicating your success.

For any company considering an IPO, start by researching best-in-class companies, regardless of their vertical, then put your presentation together. Be certain your story is clear and solidified for others to understand, read, and value. Share it with an outside, reliable source and ask them what their takeaway is. If they got your message, then you have a solid picture painted.

What are the key elements of good storytelling?

Succinct, meaningful text and imagery are powerful. The most successful stories cover these components: Brand Position (Unique Selling Point). Brand Promise, Brand Story, and Brand Style. This link provides a quick and easy guide to anyone needing to write their story.

How can leaders create a safe space for authenticity to grow, and how have you done that on your own team?

I can always tell when our team is not in the right frame of mind. The easiest way for me to make room for authenticity is to take a step back. This can be physical or literal, but I encourage people to spend time in places that induce thoughtfulness.

Museums and nature are really great places to spend time exploring thoughts and ideas. Also, drawing and writing on a creative basis for fun is an incredible way to encourage authentic thought. When we’re working on a place-specific project, I don’t think there’s anything more helpful than visiting the place—even if there’s nothing there yet. There is a soul to a place / a piece of land you can feel when you’re on it.

How has Athena been helpful in your journey?

Athena has opened my eyes to the role of women in the boardroom. I have been so busy with my head down, that it has been nice to look up and how others are doing what they are doing – especially women that are so far outside the industries in which our firm works. I have met some amazing women along the way. Also, Athena has helped me tell my own story. I am very used to crafting stories for others, but it has been really nice to have help in crafting my own.

What advice do you have for women leaders who might be interested in starting their own company?

Have a really good accounting and legal team; those two areas require expertise that most entrepreneurs don’t have. It can also save a tremendous amount of headache along the way in terms of administrative work. After reaching a sizable number, having an HR (either outsourced or internal) is very beneficial.

Beyond those, the most important aspect is people. Surround yourself with the people who will share your vision and help you grow.

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