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Dana McGough: Journey to Cayenne Creative

Posted: September 2, 2015, 3:30 p.m.
by Mary Claire Hunter.

If you had less than three weeks to get more than 2,000 people to attend a theater opening, could you do it? What if that theater was in the middle of the suburbs and the opening party was Halloween night?

One of the most challenging tasks within the public relations industry is changing consumer behavior. Humans by nature are creatures of habit. Another challenge is making something, like choosing a particular movie theater over another, a newsworthy issue. In the early 2000s, Birmingham advertising firm DavisDenny was tasked with both of these challenges. Specifically, it fell to University of Alabama at Birmingham public relations graduate, Dana McGough.

McGough, an account executive and public relations manager with DavisDenny at the time, recalled the challenges that came early in her career working with Rave Cinemas.

Courtesy of Rave Cinemas

For this opening in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, she had to re-evaluate her target audience, since most inhabitants of the suburb would be taking their kids trick-or-treating. She decided to target local college students of Samford University. Her strategy was hand-delivering VIP tickets for two on Samford’s campus, while collecting valuable information about the other movie theater these young adults attended.

The October 31 opening party was successful, but more importantly, Rave Cinemas became the new movie theater to attend in the area. McGough made the pre-opening party newsworthy, successfully communicated its superiority to competitors and, therefore, changed consumer behavior for the years to follow.

As a result of her hand in the opening of this one cinema in a Birmingham suburb, McGough spent the next 10 years traveling and leading other theater openings in the country; she saw the number of Rave Cinemas grow from five locations to 60.

Being able to “move the needle” within the business and directly measure objectives set forth at the beginning of a campaign is what McGough enjoys the most about PR in an agency.

After working at DavisDenny for 14 years, McGough was hired as the director of public relations and social engagement at Cayenne Creative, an advertising and marketing firm in Birmingham, Alabama.

Courtesy of Dana McGough

Within the Birmingham community, Cayenne always boasted a reputation of strong brand strategy and design creativity. In the last year, however, the agency has experienced much growth, moving to downtown Birmingham and almost doubling its workforce. Cayenne has also added three departments: an interactive department, in-house media department, and public relations and social engagement department.

“I thought it was genius to bring in directors at our level to come alongside that really strong core of creative work and brand strategy to not only help people figure out who they are, but who their audiences are, strengths and weaknesses, and how to position themselves within the market,” McGough said.

Whether it be a small, local business or a large corporation, McGough respects that Cayenne invests the same time and care in each of its clients. She believes that each client has something special to offer. The difficult part is determining how to best communicate that need to the audience.

Similar to the one taught within The University of Alabama’s advertising and PR department of RPIE, Cayenne believes effective communication follows a process of learning, planning, executing and measuring.

I toured Cayenne’s new office space and found whiteboard walls clad with words and ideas covering every interior of the conference room. This is what McGough described as the most important, but often neglected, learn phase. Typical questions are posed to the client, and the collaboration begins by analyzing strengths and weaknesses of the brand, who the competitors are and what those competitors are doing. Atypical questions are posed as well, such as “if your brand was an animal, what would it be and why?” McGough explained.

Cayenne aims to be as organized and transparent as possible when interacting with its clients, so that the partnership promotes success in a measurable way and “moves the needle” within the business.

Mary Frances Somerall, part of the account service team at Cayenne, elaborated on what the addition of McGough has done for the agency.

“Dana brings an expert’s mindset to the Cayenne team,” Somerall said. “You can throw just about any PR, social media, content creation, event planning, or reputation management question at her, and she has an answer — one she’s confident about because she has the experience to back it up.”

There is tremendous respect for McGough as a PR professional within Cayenne, but according to McGough herself, that respect goes both ways.

“Reputation brought me here, but the people and the work we consistently put out is what keeps me here,” McGough said. “These guys eat and breathe what they do. We are so hungry. Everyone is always reading, listening to podcasts, meeting with people — anything that will make them better, so we can bring that back to our clients and help them achieve their goals.”

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