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Cathy Monetti

A writer by trade, Cathy founded the firm that is now Riggs Partners in 1987 and has served as the firm’s lead creative strategist since that time. She is a voracious student of all things Next.
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posted by Cathy Monetti Oct 31,2017 @ 02:35PM

A Storied Past: 30 Years of Riggs

 It has been 30 years since I first opened the doors of C.C. Rigg’s, more years than I had been alive at that time. (Okay. Wow.) I look back now at that 27-year-old with great affection realizing what a naïve, idealistic young girl I was, recognizing all these years later the great gift in making that kind of leap when I didn't know any better. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, as they say, I had no clue how complicated and risky and unpredicatable running a business would prove to be.

Day One was October 19, 1987. It will go down in history as Black Monday—so named due to the dramatic dive of the Dow Jones—the greatest single day drop ever, and a turn of events a more knowledgable entrepreneur might have interpreted as a sign. It was lost on me. I don't remember the news even registering, to tell you the truth, my focus so narrowly zoomed on the one sure-bet client giving me enough confidence to open those proverbial doors. 

And so I sat at my Bell Office Furniture used metal desk, straightened up the set of newly sharpened pencils, and picked up the phone to call Anne, the marketing director for the client I planned to recruit. "She's no longer with the company," said the operator on the other end of the line. "The entire marketing department was 'dissolved' over the weekend."

I kid you not.

I don't remember what I did next. Sat in stunned silence for a minute, I am sure. Then probably I got up and served myself a large Diet Coke.



 circa 1987


Those first years were tough. I was single, then a newly wed with a husband who supported my crazy idea and the resulting business in a quiet but beautiful way. For the life of me I don't know how anybody in the ad business made money in those days. In addition to the requirements of sound strategy and great creative the mere development of the ad executions was incredibly time and labor intensive. We used drawing boards and radiograph pens and t-squares and press type. If you needed an image you drew a sketch, then hired a photographer or an illustrator. If you wanted to test color for an outdoor board you put tissue paper over the thing and colored it in. I created my own accounting system: every payment I received I split between two checking accounts. Into one I put every dime I owed on behalf of clients, and I paid those bills immediately. Into the other I put the "profit" out of which I paid the agency bills. I never mixed the two and as archaic as the system was I am proud to say it established a wonderful and important precedence. To this day our agency has never used client money to pay anything but their own bills.

I also didn't pay myself a regular salary, at least not for the first few years. I believed it to be a smarter business practice to put that money away in the event the agency needed it. It's a practice I counsel against strongly these days when I talk with new entrepreneurs, a terrible practice that sets up an unrealistic and unsustainable model.



at our 10th birthday party 


It was tough, but the rewards were great, too. The first to come along was a sweet high school student, Julie Smith, who called out of the blue to offer her free services as an intern willing to do anything to get some advertising experience. This included emptying the trash, she noted on the telephone, "and you don't even have to pay me." I had not considered adding any type of employee at that time—even a free one, and certainly not a high school student—but Julie's infectious enthusiasm won me over. She remains one of the brightest lights in my life.



Julie's joy is infectious. See? 


We enjoyed success, too. A little billboard campaign we created for Dutch Door Artists Supplies won gold and then Best of Show our first year in the Addys, something we never dared dream in a market with big reputation agencies that had big budget clients. We were particularly proud the work was honored since it represented more than good creative—it established an uncompromising ideal that to this day has been our standard. I had woken up the day the campaign was to be presented to the client with the knowing feeling my recommendations were not right. I called my dear friend and freelance art director Tim Burke very, very early and asked him to meet me at the studio as soon as he could get there. "I know the pitch is today," I said, "but the work isn't right and we're changing it."


van gogh.jpg

 Can you spot the press type?


So many people with incredible talent and great dedication have been a part of our story since those early years. It takes my breath to consider it. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 78 or 79 folks are Rigg-ers past or present, not including the many interns for whom we don't have viable records. The aggregate number feels surprising since our staff numbers have, by design, remained relatively small. I look over that list with awe and remember what each and every person brought that pushed us forward. So many gifts. So much grace.



 Lisa, Tim, me, Julie: the early years' C.C.Rigg's crew


It is the thing I am most proud of, if you will indulge me that, more than the work for which we are known, more, even, than the honor it has been to serve exceptional clients who have trusted us with both their investments and their businesses. We have hired well, by and large, knowing beyond knowing that the best thing an entrepreneur can do is be brave enough to surround herself with people who are smarter and more talented than she is.

This goes doubly true for my beloved business partners. I am neither kidding nor exaggerating when I say I truly believe each and every one—individually—is the secret to our success. (I do realize that is not possible. And yet.)

Teresa Sarvis Coles, who was the answer to a prayer I didn't even know to pray when she stepped in and took the reigns during the years I was geographically removed from the business, whose smarts and vision took us from creative boutique to bonafide Mar Com agency, whose little idea became big CreateAthon and who serves as the program's grand champion today, who in every personal and professional way is my heart and soul;



two girls with some big dreams 


Kevin Smith, who literally knocked on the door as a recent college grad and talked his way into a job that didn't exist, who brought us our first Big Client, who had his sights set on NYC and spent those years away reminding us what a special place our little agency was, then returned bringing everything he learned, whose gift for strategy is beyond comprehension and who, without fail, elevates our standard;

Ryon Edwards, the finest person I know, the most generous and patient and kind coworker I know, the most talented designer/art director I know (quite possibly in the universe), who always—always—delights and surprises with his other-worldly talent and sweet, sweet spirit;

Tom Barr, the incomparable Tom Barr, who is In Charge Of Everything and makes it all look effortless, the ultimate juggler of 10,000 things and still always has time and an answer, money man, spreadsheet man, my I-can't-survive-in-a-world-without-him-and-wouldn't-want-to man, thank you Tom Barr.



my people: Tom, Teresa, Kevin, me, Ryon


And I must mention Michael Powelson and Katy Miller, both with their own superpowers, both providing so much support and smarts and doing their jobs so well they have given me the grand, grand gift of stepping back a little, opening my life a little to some awesome new experiences and challenges.

I am also deeply proud of my insistence that we evolve as the years have gone by. I always think of Riggs as having shape, a literal shape I can see in my mind's eye, and I can visualize it morphing from this to that as we meet changing market conditions or changing client needs. This matters whatever the type of business, I believe, but never more so than in an industry dedicated to understanding and anticipating trend. To still be around, and relevant, and independent, 30 years later is a testament to this commitment to change, I think, to re-thinking and reconsidering everything every single day.



before we cutted and gutted the Yugo (and painted it purple)


and attached it to a billboard 


This is a business for young people, there is no doubt about that. How grateful I am to those who populate the WECO building as Rigg-ers today. We have never had a more talented, cohesive, supportive, and yes—loving--group, not in all the years, and that's saying something because we've had some mighty strong teams. I thank each and every one of you from a place of deep affection.



 Riggs Partners today


It has been a lovely, bumpy, joy-filled ride, and I am humbled to my core when I look back to see the 30 years all lined up, pretty maids in a row.


 sign today.jpg

How grateful I am.



posted by Cathy Monetti Mar 15,2017 @ 04:45PM

Connectivity. And Uber.


I RECENTLY TOOK my first Uber ride.

I know, I know, this is an embarassing admission. But there it is, and here is why I mention it at all.

I am fascinated by the Uber experience and the statement the phenomenon makes, not just about our culture, but about connectivity.


IT WAS OUR FIRST NIGHT in San Diego and we had just made dinner reservations. The weather was awful (yes, we brought rain to Southern California), so even though the restaurant was not more than a mile away, walking was out. That's when my daughter suggested we consider Uber. We had a rental car, so it took a little convincing to decide to leave it parked in front of the house and to summon "a local" to drive us up the hill to Bull & Grain. But that's just what we did.

The car arrived in mere moments, and the three of us climbed in. Eliza quickly struck up the conversation that was repeated with every subsequent Uber driver: How long have you been driving? What made you decide to do it? How do you like the work? I was fascinated by each and every one of these exchanges. They were personal (albeit short) commentaries about life and its twists and turns: It was the first night with Uber for one admittedly anxious woman, a school teacher with young children at home. Another was a longtime driver who happened to be a jazz musician with great artist recommendations (Anita O'Day) and a strong suggestion we rearrange our intenerary to include a visit to Cabrillo (we did) and the museums at Balboa Park (we didn't but wish we had).


UBER IS HOT, there's no doubt about that, with some experts putting the private company's value in the $60 billion range. (Billion.) While this evaluation is a rather hotly debated topic, there's no denying "mobile moment" appeal on which the concept is based. Hailing a ride requires the push of a button. Cars are (generally) close by. Fares are established up front, and because the bill is paid automatically and electronically, no cash changes hands. That means there's no worry over being ripped off by a circuitous route driver, and there's no fretting over a tip. (I can't overly state the value of this part of the model.)

And there is the fact your driver is not a distant, impersonal professional but a "regular" person who has a particular set of circumstances that brings him/her to Uber driving in the first place. The whole experience feels more pedestrian, somehow, like these people are your neighbors--human beings with complicated lives and jobs and families, challenges and charms, flaws, dreams and failures. You might be strangers in a car, but there is also between you a sweet window for connection, somehow, a quiet understanding you are just people going about life and doing it the best you can.


THIS CONNECTIVITY is a very real part of Uber's appeal, that's what I think, and it's the point I want to make. It's an acknowledgement, however understated, that we are all in this together, that whether you're the one giving the lift or the one paying the fare, both sides of the Uber equation are actually doing something good, something that helps a brother out.

It's a pretty compelling business benefit, I have to say, even if it's a quiet one.

posted by Cathy Monetti Nov 28,2016 @ 03:30PM

Humanitarian. Oh, yes.

Like so many, I awoke on Friday to the sad news the great South Carolina humanitarian Judy Davis had died. It was a shock that hit me hard, and I spent the day with Judy and her family on my mind and my own heart in rather a state of disbelief. The question is ages-old, and yet I wrestled: How could this happen to someone so vital? So generous? So good? How could our city sustain such a devastating loss?

Davis, Judith (web).jpgShe was one of the great ones, is the thing. For years, Judy was a calming voice of reason in important conversations all around our city. From boardrooms to lunch tables, she was an eternal optimist and a tireless advocate in efforts to improve whatever needed improving. She fought hard, but she did it with such grace and elegance you hardly noticed. She was a motivator, too, serving as a mentor to so many and sharing her gifts as a keynote speaker at one time or another at nearly every event in our community.

But there was something else about Judy Davis--a quiet quality that endeared her to me and countless others. She always made me feel like I was the special one. She'd smile that bright smile, and her eyes would sparkle, and for that moment she gave the immeasurable gift of validation, so beautifully articulated by Oprah Winfrey as the greatest gift one human can give to another:

I see you.
I hear you.
What you say matters.

 Oh, Judy. You were one in a million, and I'm so thankful to have spent time in your orbit. 


It was my honor to serve with Judy on the Central Carolina Community Foundation board and I thank them for use of their photo. 

Read more about Judy Davis here. 

posted by Cathy Monetti Sep 29,2016 @ 03:28PM

Marketing Fundamentals in the Age of Revolution

My head spins as I think of the billion ways the science of marketing has changed in the last few years. Our toolbox has become so expansive, the options so varied for creating communications and brand experiences it is as daunting as it is thrilling to consider them.

When you find yourself overwhelmed, remember this bit of good news. Some things haven’t changed—and these truths apply to every business challenge marketing can help address, no matter what the delivery channel.

Resist the urge to begin with a solution.

It’s so easy to leapfrog to the exciting (and seemingly productive) endgame. It feels efficient, and in this warp-speed competitive landscape, who doesn’t want that? We hear it often as clients come to us with their requests for specific deliverables. We need a TV spot, or a brochure, or a social media campaign. Our response is always the same. What business problem are you trying to solve?

Next, solve the right problem.

This takes hard work. It also requires that you be honest, direct and specific. Ask enough tough questions that you get a clear picture of the challenge you’re dealing with. Things like: Why is this the problem? When did it begin? What caused that? What are the contributing factors today? Is one of those the real issue here?

If you don’t go through the drill-down, you’ll likely end up with a solution that never gets at the cause, and therefore provides short-term relief, at best. It reminds me of an issue we’re dealing with in my neighborhood right now—the fact that our cove on our pretty manmade lake has disappeared since we moved in eight years ago. There’s a plan for digging it out, something about which we are thrilled. We will have water again! But it won’t solve the real problem, which is the silt that flows in every time it rains. Stopping that flow is the real problem to be solved.

Once you’ve drilled down and have identified the right problem, there’s another important question.

Is this an issue marketing can help solve?

Of course we marketers love it when the answer is yes. But so often there is other work to be done before marketing can help. Perhaps the issue is operational, or it could be a substandard product or service. Are employees informed, engaged and able to uphold the brand and its promise? If not, address these issues before spending a dime promoting or you’ll not only waste your marketing budget, you’ll also likely dig a deeper hole. As advertising guru David Ogilvy stated so poignantly: Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster. It’s so true. The last thing you want to do is spread dissatisfaction with your offering or invite customers in for a poor experience.

So the cards are on the table, the contributing issues have been addressed, and it’s time to market. Now what? There’s a lot to consider in developing powerful messaging, a plan for sharing and meaningful opportunities for engagement. But I’ll offer this vital step as a starter.

Look through the lens of your customer first. It sounds so simple, and yet most of the time this is done so half-heartedly—or not at all—much of the work that follows is off base. For most of our Riggs Partners’ clients we recommend bringing on a researcher who can get true and unbiased input from the target audience. And our goal is not to confirm what we suspected. It is always, always to discover something we didn’t already know. (That’s where the proverbial pot o’ gold lies.) When you find that sweet little nugget—that comment or recurring theme or nudge that shifts your perspective, even if just a little bit—begin there. Because now you’ve got something meaningful to work with that will resonate with the folks you are trying to reach.

Even in this age of person-to-person digital communications, developing and deploying a marketing plan is an expensive proposition. Add to this the reality that options for communicating are virtually limitless, and good decision-making becomes an overwhelming process. As in all things, when you’re not sure where to start, start with what you know. Begin with the basics.

*This article was originally featured on Columbia Regional Business Report 

posted by Cathy Monetti Aug 18,2016 @ 04:56PM

Change, Nuance and Finding the Sweet Spot

A not-so-secret to success in business is the willingness to evolve. It’s been true from the beginning of time, I suspect, and I am quite sure the requirement has never been more significant than it is in the dynamic world market of today.

I believe so strongly, in fact, change has been a fundamental of our company since its founding nearly 30 years ago. It’s a practice we go about proactively—so much so that a joke around RP is how nice it would be to come in FOR JUST ONE DAY and not feel as if we were starting over.

 Oh, I am proud of that challenge.


AND SO IT IS that we’ve spent the summer talking through some newly articulated tenets for our work. I don’t have to tell you of the sea change brand marketing has experienced in the last few years; the digital revolution has not only supported the power shift, it created it. But there are subtle shifts, as well, tiny nuanced considerations that can mean the difference between well considered and invisible.

For example, it’s no surprise a well-designed brand/customer connecting point is the result of smart strategic planning. And yet it’s tempting to issue these like buckshot. There are so many options available to us today, what with endless delivery channels and proclaimed thought leadership and the prevailing belief the world waits (with bated breath) for whatever it is we have to say/sell/do.

But there is a sweet a spot.

Oh, there is a sweet spot and I encourage you to carefully articulate it. Work hard to identify the right time/place/exchange that will create a true brand loyalist—someone who will choose your brand over any other option and, more importantly, will tell others about it.

78272483_thumbnail-749515-edited.jpgA FEW WEEKS AGO we were having this very tenet discussion as we sat around the big kitchen table at the WECO. The question presented to all the Riggers was this: Give an example of a time you were converted to a brand loyalist. What was the brand touchpoint? How did it make you feel? What can we learn from it, and how can it make our work better?

I kicked off the conversation with my own story from the US Open tennis tournament. Sponsored in part by Lexus, VIP parking was available at Flushing Meadows to anyone who arrived in a Lexus or who presented a Lexus key. We zipped past the long, long line of cars waiting to fork over twenty bucks for general parking (on the outskirts of the gigantic tennis complex) and were ushered right in to a sweet spot (pun intended) near the stadium. And it was free.

The message: We, at Lexus, take care of our drivers.

Why it worked: a meaningful benefit ($20 and a great parking space) offered at the perfect time (a premiere event)

But there was also this important nuance: It was on brand for Lexus (luxury brand = VIP)

The conversation that afternoon was fascinating. The stories of brand loyalty were as diverse as our group, although many were of great customer service—a great reminder that even in this day of digital communciations, human exchanges still trump all.


WHAT ABOUT YOU? Can you remember a time a brand did something that converted you into a loyalist? 

I’d love to hear the story and share it with our team. Comment below, or send me a note to




By the numbers

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