What’s next for a Madison marketing maven?

More than 40 years into her career, Marsha Lindsay is still connecting the dots.
Marketing maven Marsha Lindsay, wearing glasses and dressed in white, stands in front of a background with the words The Indie Summit while speaking at a Beijing conference in 2019.
Courtesy of Marsha Lindsay
Marsha Lindsay speaks at a Beijing summit in 2019.

Marsha Lindsay was outside on her deck in Madison last summer when a friend asked why she was still working so hard — researching and writing articles, traveling the world (pre-pandemic), speaking to business leaders and boards, helping them read the future.

“I can’t not do it,” Lindsay replied.

Lindsay is a marketing legend, the first woman inducted into the Wisconsin Advertising Hall of Fame and a former Wisconsin Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. A few years ago, she stepped away her from venerable agency — Lindsay, Stone and Briggs — to concentrate on her consulting business, Lindsay Foresight & Stratagem.

In 2019, four decades after helping elect a Wisconsin governor — Lee Dreyfus — Lindsay spoke at a conference in Beijing on how top executives inadvertently thwart their companies’ growth. A year ago — March 2020 — she was scheduled to present at South by Southwest when the conference was cancelled due to the pandemic. She later presented in a virtual forum.

In a recent article she called “2021: Start of the Great Recalibration,” Lindsay wrote, “Despite decades of experiencing the magnitude of global warming, a teeny virus has made people the world over truly grasp what a small planet we share; how interconnected are our lives; the degree to which — in a mobile and global marketplace — the future you cast for yourself is my future. And mine, yours.”

“I get up in the morning,” Lindsay said, when we spoke last week, “and I’m curious about this, I read that, and I connect the dots. I can’t not think about these things. I love it.”

There are few more pure Wisconsin stories than Lindsay’s across the last half-century. She grew up in the tiny city of Manawa in Waupaca County, attended University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point and, at 19, was crowned “Alice in Dairyland.”

It was Dreyfus, when he was teaching speech and television at UW–Stevens Point, who suggested her future career path.

“I was in his undergraduate class,” Lindsay recalls. “He said, ‘Marsha, you have a knack for research and dot-connecting. I think you should go to graduate school, continue that research and publish it.’”

Lindsay came to Madison, continued her studies and began earning money applying her research as a freelancer. The success of the freelance endeavor led her to leave school and start a business she called Communicraft.

That was 1978, the same year some Stevens Point connections reached out to Lindsay for help. Public relations guru Bob Williams and Republican politico Bill Kraus had talked themselves into the idea that their buddy, Dreyfus — then chancellor at UW–Stevens Point — could be governor. More important, they’d convinced Dreyfus — and he was running. Would Lindsay help with an advertising campaign?

There were limited funds. Lindsay helped design a strategy using 30-second TV spots to promote half-hour shows, the better to showcase Dreyfus’ prodigious gift for gab. When buttons they’d commissioned came back with the image of Wisconsin reversed — the thumb pointing west — they simply added a slogan: “We’re turning this state around!”

Dreyfus’ upset victory brought Lindsay numerous opportunities to be involved in political campaigns. She worked on a few, then left politics behind after John Anderson’s unsuccessful presidential bid.

“Even back then you had to drop everything you were doing for any other client and attend to the campaign,” she says. “It wasn’t a sustainable business model.”

Over the years, the agency that included Lindsay’s husband, Rick Stone, became known for launching new products and brands. A centerpiece three-day event called Brandworks University annually brought hundreds of executives to Madison from companies that included Nike, Sony, and Johnson & Johnson.

Lindsay liked to say, “My role at the company is to anticipate the future and be ready for it.”

The near future — three to five years out — remains her bailiwick with Lindsay Foresight & Stratagem. She talks about quantum computing, with companies accessing huge data sets “and solving things in a few days that would have taken 40 years with conventional computing.”

Speed is the word. “We’re expecting things to improve faster,” Lindsay says. “We expect companies to improve their performance faster. We expect faster customer service. Faster delivery: in some markets in America, Amazon is delivering things in an hour.”

Another trend: “Consumers aren’t consumers, employees aren’t employees. They’re gods. They know full well they can bless or damn a company, a stock or a CEO overnight. It’s totally changing how people manage them and market to them.”

With it all, Lindsay remains an optimist. “One of the biggest things that influences the future is whether an individual, leader, company or country believes something can be improved. Research shows simply believing something is possible increases the odds that it is possible.”

Saying this causes Lindsay to recall how she recently lost her two great friends and mentors, Bob Williams, in 2017, and Bill Kraus, a year later.

“There’s not a day when I don’t think about them,” Lindsay says. “Each of them believed in the possible.”

Speaking of what’s possible, not long ago someone asked Lindsay if there was anything left that she really wanted to do. Perhaps a place she wanted to visit?

In all seriousness, she answered, “Outer space.”

Elon Musk, are you listening?

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