The Steven Spielberg of B-to-B

2017 ANA B-to-B Hall of Fame inductee John Favalo turns a fascination for how things work into a brilliant career

By Amelia Duggan

Christopher Churchill for B-to-B Marketer


ANA B-to-B Hall of Famer John Favalo readily admits that he fell into business marketing early in his career and has never looked back.

"It happened in a couple of ways," recalls Favalo, EVP of Group B2B at Eric Mower + Associates. "I was always fascinated by how things work — cars and machines and things you find in factories. I wondered how people dreamed up the ideas and made them real."

His first job out of college was as an account executive at Fred Riger Advertising, an agency in Binghamton, N.Y. He cut his teeth on two accounts: an area savings bank and Lyncoach and Truck Company.

"From the start, I had far more interest in the truck body account," Favalo says. "I found the product and its audience interesting, and there was so much to learn about them. The idea of multiple purchasing influences was fascinating. Just one message wouldn't do the trick. The message to the CEO had to be different from the one developed for the guy putting the truck together."

Next was a job as a copywriter at VC Graphics in Syracuse, N.Y., owned by a former engineer. Due to client satisfaction with Comptex, a sister company offering services like technical writing and proposal preparation, the graphics studio was launched to handle branding, corporate identification, and the creations of sales collateral, among other things.

"One of the first projects I worked on was a 'sell-up' manual for GE televisions. My job was to take all of the TVs that GE made and collect all of the data about the products and determine for vendors where they could up-sell," Favalo says. "I learned about retail and selling. I learned to simplify messages for GE and other companies that … needed to attract a B-to-B buyer and the end-user of the products."

We must be focused on the problems to solve and the opportunities to sieze, says Favalo

Favalo soon realized that there was an opportunity to produce more relevant and creative advertising for technical products within the engineering space. So in 1969, he made the decision to launch his own agency, Sage Advertising, which later became Sage Marcom. It would eventually become an integrated marketing firm, with offices in Boston, Atlanta, and Syracuse, strictly focused on the B-to-B space.

After years of success, Favalo realized that Sage Marcom lacked the necessary expertise in retail merchandising to fully support its clients. So he engaged in discussions with Eric Mower + Associates, and they combined operations in 2001.

"We expanded our portfolio of services — writing, media, and all technical aspects," Favalo says. "That was the value we delivered, and Eric Mower + Associates brought retail expertise and knowledge of consumers. Together the marriage was pretty solid."

Eric Mower, chairman and CEO at Eric Mower + Associates, admits that he has long admired Favalo's work, even as a competitor. "John has always had the ability to take a challenged brand and make it competitive and a take category leader and affirm its position," Mower says. "He is like the Steven Spielberg of B-to-B in that he's never deviated from the practice since the first moment in his career. He has an extraordinary competency and affection for it."


Challenge Forges Collaborative Excellence

For Favalo, one hallmark of his career is his collaboration with Legrand/Pass & Seymour, which began in 1992 when Legrand, a $3 billion French electrical company, acquired the smaller electrical manufacturer.

"The Pass & Seymour wiring devices had deteriorated to a second- or third-tier brand," he recalls. "Distribution opportunities became more limited with lesser shelf availability. Distributors wanted to skinny down their offerings."

Favalo recalls that the then-CEO at Legrand/Pass & Seymour believed the company was going to lose business because there were stronger brands in the marketplace. The company needed to change, as did its channels of communication. End users had to want the brand.

"The CEO brought on a new CMO," Favalo says. "We were involved in the agency pitch and we won. It was this alchemy among president, new CMO, and agency that spurred the rebirth of this brand. We worked hand in hand in all communications and messaging. The brand promise had to be identifiable every single day."

Twenty-five years later, Favalo says the client/agency relationship with Legrand/Pass & Seymour remains strong. "Everybody in the agency that touched this client, from customer service, product development, and engineering to quoting and pricing, had to demonstrate their buy-in 24/7," he notes. "It took years but we did it, and this brand today is a premier brand in its category."

Sue Smith, former VP of marketing at Legrand/Pass & Seymour, shares Favalo's appreciation for the success of the client/agency relationship. "We met and started to work together at just the right time," she says. "John's vision and strategy and willingness to think out of the box were integral to our success. He was great at learning the electrical industry and how to become an innovator and pacesetter."

Smith, who now serves as a professor of marketing practice at Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management, says that over her 10-year collaboration with Sage Marcom, Legrand/Pass & Seymour grew from a $50 million company to a $350 million business.

"Electrical contractors were our prime customers at the time," Smith says. "John figured out how our products worked and then how contractors would want to see them work and imagine themselves using them. John helped us make our products more efficient for our contractors."


What's Next for B-to-B?

Induction into the ANA B-to-B Hall of Fame, established in 2016 to pay tribute to B-to-B professionals with exemplary accomplishments and contributions to the industry, signifies to Favalo a growing appreciation and respect for B-to-B marketing as a discipline.

"I am honored to be in such great company with Philip Clement, Al Maag, Tom Stein, and Sherri Leopard, all icons in the industry," Favalo says of the 2017 class of inductees. "What the ANA is doing now — by strengthening the B-to-B educational offerings and even by creating the B-to-B Hall of Fame, in my mind, reinforces, if not revitalizes, the importance of business-to-business in the overall marketing and communications industry. I have always seen myself as a keeper of the faith for B-to-B, and with this recognition, my faith is stronger than ever."

Paraphrasing Charles Dickens, Favalo believes these are the best and worst of times for B-to-B marketers. "We're headed into territory that few of us understand," he says. "There is so much data connected to marketing communications, and we still don't understand all of it. It's the wild, wild west and constantly evolving. Much of it will shape how advertising and marketing communications function in the future."

Most conversations today for marketing and agency professionals, Favalo says, revolve around tools. "Data is a tool. Content is a tool. We have many more tools to work with, but at the end of the day, we're doing the same thing — solving problems," he notes. "If we're not doing that, our time is limited in this business.

"We, as communicators and marketers, must be focused on the problems to solve and the opportunities to seize," Favalo adds. "We must create innovative solutions to make brands more effective and successful, solving the problems that might stand in the way. Helping brands overcome challenges is where our value will be."

Better understanding the customer is another imperative for the industry, Favalo says. "For so long, we were communicating with baby boomers. We need to understand millennials and gen Z. These are the audiences that we need to reach. That's a change that we're going to have to deal with in a big way," he adds.

Favalo also believes that marketers need to start thinking of B-to-B audiences as shoppers, applying shopping principles to marketing strategies and messages. "We need to revise our thinking with B-to-B and must apply more shopper marketing and intelligence to the B-to-B space," he says.

Perhaps Favalo has just discovered a new fascination for the way things work. His experience and ingenuity make him well poised to face the next frontier of B-to-B marketing.



What Clients Say About John Favalo

"John Favalo has an overabundance of enthusiasm and is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. He has so much energy and gusto about the way he approaches an opportunity that after you talk with him, you need a nap. On the B-to-B side, there are probably not more than two or three people who are as connected as he is. He delivers what he promises, no matter what is happening with the economy. He brings a singular perspective to the table, and he's thorough beyond thorough."
— Jeffrey Hayzlett, CEO at C-Suite and host of "C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett" on C-Suite TV, who was CMO at Eastman Kodak Company when he first encountered Favalo

"John brings to the party experience from other guys — he can connect the dots around businesses that he's dealt with in similar spaces and things that they did. He is my go-to guy, and he makes things happen. He is very customer-centric and a trusted colleague. He's vested in his relationships."
— Bob Heisner, VP of marketing at the Apex Power Tool Group, who has worked with Favalo repeatedly over the years



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