5 Ways to Improve Your Marketing Budget and ROI

With the growing complexity of marketing channels and the need for businesses to constantly adapt their strategies, managing marketing budgets effectively has become more critical than ever to ensure the highest possible return on investment. In this interview series, we are talking with marketing experts, industry professionals, and thought leaders who have significant experience in budget management and optimization, to share their “5 Ways To Manage Your Marketing Budget For Improved ROI.” As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Cronin.

Jay Cronin is the EVP and Managing Director of Hothouse Inc, in Atlanta, Georgia. Jay loves helping brands connect with people — He is an integral part of helping clients build meaningful relationships with their consumers in new and engaging ways. Jay has worked in the industry for decades at notable companies like the NFL, Properties, J. Walter Thompson, RMG Connect, and OgilvyOne, and with brands like the United States Marine Corp, FEMA, Jiffy Lube, HSBC, and TransAmerica. Although he has been recognized at the Effies, OneShow, and Webbies, his greatest achievements are his children.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your personal backstory with us?

I loved stories that drove outcomes, which attracted me to great brands. That said, my first job wasn’t technically marketing… but it was for an iconic brand rich in stories. The Boy Scouts of America was my first job, as a development officer raising money from Corporate Headquarters in NY, which in essence was leveraging brand appeal and using direct marketing. Through that job, I networked my way into Sports Marketing and Experiential with NFL Properties which was a crash course in the power brands, the passion of culture, and how to engage audiences at both the grass roots level and nationally. From there, I then joined an incredible learning experience at J. Walter Thompson and later Ogilvy and Mather on iconic brands and branding processes. Both of which provided endless lessons in branding, strategy, research, the ever-evolving integrated marketing and communications planning. And presently, happily part of the boutique Hothouse which sets brands ablaze using culture as fuel!

Can you share with us three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves?

We all live and learn through our experiences., I have come to find that these are the 3 main things I focus on:

It’s about the people — It will always be about the people you are surrounded by and you surround yourself with. I was lucky to always have an advocate, or I sought out a guide — critical to each step of the journey.

Respect — This goes hand in hand with point #1, but I want to unpack and emphasize this goes beyond the agency walls, and applies to clients, the culture of client organizations, partner agencies, media properties/reps, and the objectives and skills of the people you surround yourself with. When you welcome in a diversity of thoughts, experiences and are open in this business you thrive, and your clients do as well.

Focus on the outcome that is needed — Don’t try to over control the process to get there. Coming up through account management, I learned early on that my “imagined” right way was a false pathway. When a team is provided a tight brief, they amazingly can accomplish things I never imagined.

Fantastic. Let’s now shift to the main part of our interview. What factors do you consider when allocating your marketing budget across different channels and tactics?

Start with the End in Mind — and be careful here to really look at your business needs and the next four steps to ensure you are realistic about where you are applying your resources and if you have enough in the right steps. Marketing budgets are investments directly related to business outcomes.

Reconcile what kind of Brand you are now, and where are you in the maturity cycle — ideally informed by research but certainly by common sense. All brand marketers have a vision for their brand, but how does it live in the real lived experiences of your consumers? And do you have the right investment in differentiation, brand distinction, cultural connectivity, media dollars (spoiler alert… the less of the first three the more $$ you will need).

Where are your consumers’ heads? And what options do they have? What are the consumer headwinds or tailwinds at each step in a consideration cycle? How much effort is required to overcome or propel a thought, feeling or action? Some brands don’t need deep investment at each step, some require deep investment.

What channels are most impactful and what content is needed for each? This is where your learning path is key — what is the “next best” thought, feeling or action you want to create and have you made it easy for your audience to follow through on this. Amazing how many people forget this step as we get into the details of each project.

In your opinion, what are some common mistakes that marketers make when managing their budgets? How can they be avoided?

Mistaking ripples for tidal waves… remember Threads, or what about Clubhouse? Marketers were deep in the hype cycle that was here today and gone tomorrow. Know and understand the layers of how the world works. The human nature of how people engage. Brands must be both fast and slow thinkers. Fast to understand the signal through the noise, and slow in understanding how brands deliver enduring value over time.

How to avoid these pitfalls: Use data as a guide, not a God. Pair it with human insights and creativity to build holistic campaigns.

Plan but stay agile: Have a strategy, but be ready to pivot when instinct, opportunity, or the unpredictable market demands it.

Understand the environment in which your brand lives and you must navigate as a marketer.

When allocating your budget, how do you balance short-term marketing goals with long-term brand building initiatives?

At Hothouse, we talk about “The Long Now”. Which means helping our clients invest in the most powerful brand and business building way possible today and tomorrow.

1. Start with a “Long Now” Perspective:

Begin with a long-term vision. What do you want your brand to represent in 10, 20, or even 50 years? It’s not just about profits or market share (although those are certainly key KPI’s), but your brand’s legacy, impact on culture, and enduring resonance with consumers.

2. Short-Term Needs with a Long-Term Lens:

Every brand needs quick connections with culture to survive and fuel its growth. When considering short-term marketing objectives, ask: How do these align with our brand’s long-term vision? Will they create momentary spikes or provide a flywheel effect towards an enduring brand value?

3. Allocate Budget with Layered Prioritization:

Using the Pace Layering concept:

Fast Layers: Allocate funds to agile, adaptive, and trend-responsive marketing campaigns (like digital ads for a seasonal promotion). This satisfies the need for immediate ROI and relevance.

Slower Layers: Invest in deep-rooted brand-building initiatives, like community outreach, content creation, and values-driven campaigns. These resonate at cultural and societal levels, ensuring long-term brand endurance.

4. Regular Review and Rebalance:

The market is dynamic, and consumer behaviors shift. Regularly review the effectiveness of your strategies. If a short-term campaign is providing exceptional returns, consider how it can be leveraged or evolved for long-term brand-building.

5. Stay Adaptable but Anchored:

The paradox of “The Long Now” is to be responsive to the present while staying anchored in the future vision. So, while trends and fads can offer short-term gains, ensure they don’t derail the brand from its long-term path.

For start-ups and those with limited budgets, what tactics would you recommend to receive the highest return and the fastest initial growth?

The most famous word in advertising counsel… It depends on what stage of growth you are in, and what kind of business/brand you are building. Wherever you are, ensure that you know what your brand vision and vibe is, and have it clearly defined. Find help, define it, share it with your sales team, ensure you live it in your social, your content, and know how you want to connect with the culture you are targeting. Secondly, think through your key segments and the consumer journey for your business and have an engagement plan. Build it as robustly as possible, but don’t drown in all of the options. As a start-up you need a smart executable plan to start learning from and then stay flexible and focused on your brand and feedback from the people that matter most — your customers and team.

How do you collaborate with other departments within your organization, such as sales or finance, to ensure alignment and maximize ROI from your marketing spend?

At Hothouse, we don’t pride ourselves on having all the “answers”. Instead, our strength lies in posing the right questions and providing the stimuli that awaken curiosity, innovation, and, most importantly, actionable insights within client stakeholders. We understand that the very stakeholders we collaborate with, from the C-suite to the customer service reps, hold a wealth of insights and perspectives that can drive brand evolution.

Moreover, the real magic happens when marketing becomes an integrative process — where all departments come together under one umbrella. It’s not just about marketing to the customer, but marketing with them and the various internal stakeholders. Through this enriched collaborative method, what we yield is not a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy, but a holistic brand narrative, cultural connections, and creative outputs that are genuinely built on stakeholder and customer insights.

What tips do you have to get buy-in from the CEO and others in the C-Suite when requesting additional budget for new projects or tactics?

Tie it to a business outcome or imperative. Every CEO or leader cares about the brand relevance and business outcomes — It is our job as the agency to partner with a marketing team to justify what the long-term brand building or short-term brand building will achieve in terms of outcomes.

In this era, the ‘Risks of Inaction’ are becoming as important, if not more so, than the risks of action. Playing it safe and adhering solely to tried-and-true strategies can leave a brand stagnant or, worse, irrelevant. Not adapting to changing consumer behaviors, not innovating in product development, or not embracing emerging social platforms out of fear can be a silent brand killer. Competitors aren’t your only threat; they’re also the cultural shifts and tech revolutions you didn’t see coming or chose to ignore.

Which marketing software in your tech stack do you feel is most worth the investment?

Hmmm this is a scary question… standby for the onslaught of sales emails or calls…

We are tool agnostic as all our clients work off different stacks. But I look for my “people stack” regardless of what we are working on — a savagely curious account leader, a strategic comms planner, a savvy technologist, and a business or media analyst or planner can make any tech stack work harder.

Here is our main question: Can you please share five things marketing leaders should do to improve the ROI of their marketing efforts?

1. Navigating “The Long Now”: Consider the concept of the ‘Long Now’, an idea presented by Stewart Brand which encourages long-term thinking. In the context of marketing, this might mean evaluating brand-building activities not just on immediate returns but on the lasting legacy they leave.

2. Culturally Connected Brands: Brands that are culturally connected inevitably create deeper, more meaningful relationships with consumers. Consider Nike’s “Dream Crazy” campaign with Colin Kaepernick. From a strict ROI standpoint, it was a risk — even leading to short-term stock dips and calls for boycotts. But, it cemented Nike’s stance on social justice, resonating with many and bolstering its cultural relevance. This is a value that transcends conventional ROI metrics.

3. Know Your Key Segments: Everyone is not your customer — Everyone may buy, or be able to buy, but you have power segments, strive to understand them, define them and map their customer journey and consideration process and build your plan around that.

4. Invest Along Your Customer Journey: The consideration barriers and your brand needs — some brands need to make deep feelings, some need to provoke curiosity and provide deep factual content. Line your investments to make the biggest impact where you need the help.

5. Understand Your Gap: Navigating the interplay between your brand vision and the consumers’ lived reality is a never ending exercise. On your best days, the alignment seems natural, almost seamless. Others are vast. It’s during these moments that you must harness resilience and adaptability, drawing on your resources and experiences to bridge the gap. Embracing the concept of “The Long Now” means understanding that the present moment is a mere point in a larger continuum where you can effectively navigate the ebb and flow between vision and reality.

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

How can our readers best continue to follow your work online?

You can follow our work on the following platforms:





And you can connect with me personally on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jay-cronin778/

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.