Lori Asbury is #MadeForKnoxville.

For 25 years, Lori provided marketing and advertising expertise to major names in TV. Striking out as the boss of her own agency, she found a way to help more companies find their footing in branding.

Like many others, Lori was drawn to entrepreneurship by the desire to control her own destiny. After being laid off from her position as a senior executive at HGTV, she found herself faced with the decision to stay in Knoxville or start over elsewhere. She loved the culture of Knoxville for raising her children, so she stayed and founded CMOco, Chief Marketing Officers for Hire. 

Since then, Lori has been developing a unique set of services to meet clients’ needs in the most effective and efficient way. She and her team provide strategic marketing services to growing companies, both local and international alike, and they do so at a fraction of the cost for these companies to hire full-time marketing staff. Lori’s secret sauce is being fearless and open to innovation. Recently, she found a way to expand her business by offering agency infrastructure to support others starting their own ad agencies. This new program, in addition to others, is allowing CMOco to grow at a rate that wouldn’t be possible if it simply stuck to what felt safe. With a mentality that seeks opportunities to grow, give back, and invest in the community, Lori has built a company that is focused on bettering the lives of everyone in its reach. 

“Be restless and don’t get comfortable.”

In Their Own Words…

I’ve worked in media, marketing and advertising for 25+ years. Moved from city to city chasing my career and was lucky enough to experience so many different cities and cultures within the United States. Prior to starting my own agency, I worked for major media companies. I started in the promotion departments of local TV stations as a producer in Oklahoma City, OK and Miami, FL. 

I worked my way up the ranks into management positions with CBS TV in Chicago, then was promoted to head of the advertising and promotion department at WCBS TV in New York. My job was to oversee the station’s advertising and promotion – with a huge emphasis in driving ratings for the local newscasts. I then went to work as VP of Advertising & Promotion for the 35 Fox Owned & Operated TV stations. I was responsible for consulting with the Fox Owned & Operated TV stations throughout the country helping them with branding, news promotion, as well as helping support marketing strategy for the station’s syndicated and prime time programming. HGTV brought me to Knoxville back in 2007. I was hired as SVP of Marketing, Creative and Brand Strategy. I was responsible for the oversight of the network’s on-air & off-air branding and positioning, marketing all of the network’s shows, press & publicity, graphic design, media planning, as well as working to support the brand’s extensions into new revenue generating partnerships such as magazines, paint, carpet, etc. 

I was laid off in 2011 in a corporate reorganization and that’s when I started CMOco, a full-service marketing and advertising agency, with a bit of a twist. Losing my job at HGTV was a pivotal moment in my career. I had worked in television for over 25 years and it had become a grind. It was the same story over and over. You’d work at a media company for 4-7 years and then top management would change and they would bring in their own people and start all over again. Also, ironically, the more I moved up the ranks the less innovative and creative I was allowed to be. 

In 2011 when I lost my job at HGTV, I was a single mother to two very young children. I had a decision to make: Would I continue my career in media which would require me to move to another city? Or, would I take control of my own destiny and build my own business? I chose the latter not only because I wanted to be in charge of my own career, but also because I wanted my children to be rooted somewhere. This was extremely important to me. I wanted them to grow up in a town that offered an environment and a community that was aligned with my values. A town small enough to know your neighbors but big enough to offer a good life experience. Knoxville felt like home. I grew up in Kansas City and I went to the University of Oklahoma for my undergrad. The people, values, and experiences that I had growing up were very similar to that of what we were experiencing in Knoxville. I couldn’t think of a better place to raise my children. I am so glad they call Knoxville home.

About CMOco:

While CMOco operates as a full-service ad agency, we also work with clients on a long-term basis acting as their full-service marketing department that just happens to reside in our own offices in West Knoxville. Our solution has been very advantageous for companies with revenue in the 1M-100M range who may be in high growth mode and need high-level strategic marketing, but don’t necessarily have that expertise in-house. Clients can hire us for what they would pay a mid-level marketing executive for, and what we deliver is much more sophisticated and strategic. We aren’t full-time, but because we are so experienced at what we do and have significant infrastructure, we work more efficiently. We bring a full-service, one-cost total solution to our clients. We don’t require long-term contracts and there’s no overhead as there would be for an internal employee. Our clients see the value and it’s been a really great solution for many businesses. 

Our roster of clients consists of over 100 companies locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. 2022 was our biggest year yet. We have several programs getting off the ground such as our Independent Agent program where someone can launch their own CMOco business using our back-end infrastructure and resources, allowing them to start their own agency much faster and with much less financial risk than a traditional start-up. We also started offering white-label services to companies who have clients they already serve that may need branding, marketing, web development work, etc. This allows a business to offer these types of services under their brand name making a percentage on services they pass through to us. It’s a win-win-win. Provides the business additional services for their clients, creates an additional revenue source for that business, and CMOco makes money. 

CMOco has been in business going on 12 years, and I feel like we are really hitting our stride. I recently hired a gentleman that I went to business school with at Cornell as a consultant. He is an extremely smart businessman and entrepreneur. He’s helping me brainstorm new ways in which to continue to not only grow my core business, but also continue to grow the Independent Agent program and White-Label program. My goal is to continue to create multiple revenue streams for the business that add value above and beyond our traditional accounts or individual ad campaign projects. I have also worked these past two years to develop some key referral based partnerships that have proved quite fruitful.

I think the biggest lesson I have learned as an entrepreneur is to be flexible and forward-thinking. Be willing to adapt your business as the market demands. Be restless and don’t get comfortable. Always be pushing yourself to find innovative ways to drive value for your organization. Also, stay true to your personal expertise and knowledge. Don’t pursue business opportunities that are not aligned with your core competency. I have seen so many people invest in business ventures that are outside their wheelhouse and it rarely goes well because they are not familiar with the inner workings of a particular industry so they don’t know what may, or may not, make that opportunity successful. 

I also believe wholeheartedly in becoming involved and invested in the community you do business in. My CMOco team has been involved with several community organizations. We have served as a team with Mobile Meals and we now volunteer monthly with Second Harvest. We close the business for a day and serve together. I feel it’s the very least we can do for a community that’s given so much to us.

Photo provided by PopFizz Productions

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