Interview with Tim Clevenger, VP Brand and Marketing Cambia Health Solutions

Tim Clevenger, VP of Marketing at Cambia Health Solutions, a kid who grew up in a rural ranching town of 200, wore a suit to the 2ndgrade, had a life plan that was squashed in a college art class – shares his story of success.

Podcast Transcript:

Julie Roehm: Hello, everybody. I am here today with Tim Clevenger. Tim is the Vice President of marketing at Cambia Health Solutions here in Portland. He was raised in the central Oregon ranching country, and he knows a thing or two about branding. He has built his career around building brands focused on the consumer, and he's been using his passion for marketing, branding, and the creative process on behalf of Cambia Health Solutions and its companies to drive marketing success [00:01:00] for the last four years. Prior to joining Cambia, he led the successful marketing communications and branding efforts for the University of Oregon. Go Ducks.

Tim Clevenger: Go Ducks. That's right.

Julie Roehm: Go Ducks. Okay. He was the Vice President of marketing and brand management for The Papé Group for 11 years, and then, he moved. Before moving to the client side, he spent 15 years working for two Pacific Northwest ad agencies and several years with radio stations and newspapers, but I have to say you don't have a face [00:01:30] for radio. You were meant for TV, Tim.

Tim Clevenger: Well, thank you.

Julie Roehm: He received a Bachelor's degree in journalism with an emphasis in advertising from the University of Oregon, and he also earned a Master's degree in business administration from ... Is it Marylhurst?

Tim Clevenger: Marylhurst, yes.

Julie Roehm: Marylhurst University. He and his wife Lisa live here in Portland, and they enjoy everything that Portland has to offer from amazing hiking and good beer to fantastic food and crazy events, which, again, I've spoken about. I love coming to visit Portland because you can just eat [00:02:00] and drink your way through, and nothing can make me happier, but clearly from reading your bio, you're sort of the ultimate Oregon guy. This is in my own ... I'm branding you this. So, congratulations.

Tim Clevenger: Yeah. Thank you.

Julie Roehm: It seems you obviously have a passion for everything the state offers. In fact, I have it on good authority from a mutual friend that you actually started off living the ultimate "hippie life". And [00:02:30] you gave a little of it away when you said that you kind of grew up in the ranching country, but will you give a little bit of history of your upbringing as a hippie?

Tim Clevenger: Well, I would say I was less the hippie. My dad was kind of a mix of a little bit of both, and he came from a ranching household, but when he moved back from California, he had a interesting passion for, this is in early '70s, Euell Gibbons health food, crazy, kind of psychedelic [00:03:00] shirts in these small little towns in central Oregon. Never seemed to fit in, but he was always just, "Hey, I've got to be who I want to be." So, I lived with that. I was the opposite. I went to first grade and wanted to wear a blazer and a tie and pretend like I went to a private school in a town of 300 people.

Julie Roehm: So, I think this is hysterical. So, this is the fun part of the story, and it's just this beautiful setting we have to create here for our podcast listeners. So, rural Oregon [00:03:30] is sort of like the wild west, right?

Tim Clevenger: It is the wild west. When I grew up, yes, I went to first and second grade in a town of 200 people. My dad's first teaching job, he was a shop teacher, was in a town called Prineville, Oregon, founded by a relative of mine and another gentleman named Barney Prine, had a population of about 2000 people. So, that was pretty big.

Julie Roehm: Big time.

Tim Clevenger: Big time, and you're on your own when you're [00:04:00] out there. So, you are truly out in the middle of nowhere.

Julie Roehm: And he was an educator. Was he a teacher?

Tim Clevenger: He was a teacher. He taught metal shop, and again, in his unique fashion, so, your shop teacher, he had two Bachelor's, two Master's, and was working on his Doctorate before he passed away.

Julie Roehm: Maybe just a little over-educated for the role of shop teacher?

Tim Clevenger: He just loved education, loved learning new things, and would always push us as kids, just keep trying new things, learning new things, [00:04:30] and when I got passionate about art, he just kept pushing. Take more classes, try new things, and explore. Try something different.

Julie Roehm: And your mom, you said she made your clothes, I believe. You told me a story about how she used to make your-

Tim Clevenger: Yeah. Well, if you were a teacher back then, you obviously didn't make much money. So, still don't know, I will say.

Julie Roehm: Still, or I was going to say [crosstalk 00:04:47].

Tim Clevenger: And so, yeah, she made most all of our clothes until I got my first job, and then, you could buy some of your own clothes.

Julie Roehm: But I need the visualization of the story of you going to your mother when [00:05:00] you live in this small, sort of ranching community and saying, "Mom, I need a suit," and not just a suit, but I hear you needed a logo on the blazer chest.

Tim Clevenger: Well, I wanted an emblem. Yeah. So, I had a little red blazer, and I wanted an emblem on mine, and somehow, somewhere, I had learned something about a private school, and I wanted an emblem because that's what kids in private schools had, and again, I went to a school of about 40 people. So, no one had any idea what I was wearing, [00:05:30] let alone a jacket, let alone one with a logo on it.

Julie Roehm: And did you carry a backpack or a-

Tim Clevenger: I started carrying a briefcase a few years later. I waited a little bit until I got a little older so I could bring a briefcase to school.

Julie Roehm: All right. So, the class pictures were you. So, you looked sort of like you were the assistant teacher and then the kids in their plaid and cowboy boots [crosstalk 00:05:51] situation, jeans.

Tim Clevenger: Yeah. A lot of cowboy boots, a lot of jeans, a lot of plaid shirts, T-shirts. Yeah. So, my dad would do the opposite. He would come home, and he would [00:06:00] find this crazy fabric, and he would ask my mom to make these shirts that just would literally hurt your eyes. They were so bright with all these crazy patterns, and he just loved them.

Julie Roehm: So, he loved them, and then, there was his son, Tim.

Tim Clevenger: Exactly. Right.

Julie Roehm: Who was in a suit. So, you had mentioned that you guys, I think, you moved to LA for a time and then back. So, what happened there, and how did that influence your-

Tim Clevenger: Yeah. So, when my dad hitchhiked down to [00:06:30] LA right out of high school, met my mom. They lived down there for a few years, and my sister and I were born down there, much to the chagrin of my grandfather. Because our family are wagon [inaudible 00:06:42]. We came over on wagon trains and settled a lot of the land over there, and he was convinced because that's why we went to the University of Oregon because that's where all the "hippies" went and that something happened to us, and we were born in LA or southern [00:07:00] California.

Julie Roehm: Yeah. Okay. So, by having you then go to the University of Oregon, they were able to weed that out of you, all of that bad juju that apparently had-

Tim Clevenger: Oh, no. That would've been Oregon State University. Right.

Julie Roehm: Oh, right. The Beavers. Not the Ducks. Yes.

Tim Clevenger: Right. So, the Beavers. Right. So, my sister and I were the black sheeps. We went to the University of Oregon Ducks, and that's where my life path started to change, but yeah, we were the first, to my knowledge, first out of my family. And [00:07:30] again, when you grow up in rural Oregon, not often do you go to the University of Oregon.

Julie Roehm: Right. That's a big deal. Well, still a great school.

Tim Clevenger: Right. We're changing that.

Julie Roehm: Still big deal, lot of famous and important people came out of the University of Oregon, right?

Tim Clevenger: Absolutely.

Julie Roehm: So, speaking of that, and we talked about it in sort of my signature question, if you will, is about holy shit moments that happened to us that informed our careers, our family, our lives in general, and you kind of intimated a little bit about [00:08:00] how when you went to the University of Oregon, things happened to you there. Will you share a little bit about what that moment was that really sort of juxtaposed where you thought you would be?

Tim Clevenger: Yeah, absolutely. It's one of the things that, even when I was working on the branding for the University of Oregon, it was something that always stuck with me, but yeah. So, I had always loved art and creativity and that whole process, but as my suit [00:08:30] and attire would attest, I also had this crazy love of business, and I didn't really know how to mesh the two together. And so, when I went to the University, my dad was a teacher. I thought, "Well, maybe I'll be an art teacher," because I loved art. So, I enrolled in Fine Arts program, and one of my classes, we're drawing this model, and the-

Julie Roehm: What was the model of?

Tim Clevenger: A woman.

Julie Roehm: Oh, okay. A model, like a physical model. Got it.

Tim Clevenger: Right. So, it was a life drawing class. And so, [00:09:00] drawing away, and the teacher's walking around the class, checking out all of your work, and he stops behind me for what seemed like an eternity, probably about 15 to 20 minutes, and I thought for sure-

Julie Roehm: That's a long time to have somebody over your shoulder, 15 to 20 minutes.

Tim Clevenger: Oh. Oh, yeah. Oh, you're just thinking, "He's going to rip this to shreds."

Julie Roehm: This can't be good.

Tim Clevenger: Cannot be good. And so, when he first said something, he said, "I think you're in the wrong school." And I just, "Oh, my gosh. [00:09:30] What's wrong?" And he could tell I was ... He said, "Stop. No, no, no." He said, "Your drawing looks exactly like the model. It's great." But he said, "You're trying to replicate what you see, not interpret it, and artists interpret. That's what makes art." And he said, "You might be more satisfied in a career in advertising or graphic arts or something like that," and growing up in a small town, I had no idea what that was. So, he [00:10:00] took the time, his own time, set up an appointment with a counselor in the advertising program at the journalism school, and I found out about this career that blended business and creativity, art, and all these things into one. And I was just enthralled.

Tim Clevenger: I just switched majors immediately, took all my journalism courses to get into the school, and that really was the trajectory that changed everything because I met a couple [00:10:30] of guys that were majors at the journalism school who were starting a fraternity, convinced me to join and help start it because they were starting on campus. Never thought I would be a Greek. It's through that fraternity that I ended up meeting my wife my last term of school, who became a teacher, who stayed in Eugene. I waited for her. I started getting into advertising there, and everything just kind of took off from there. It was nowhere in any of my plans.

Julie Roehm: So, [00:11:00] when you went into ... As you said, you'd gone in the ad business. You found your calling. This was like, "Okay. This is the perfect combination or business and creativity." And you had this plan, as you were saying, to go into the ad business. Before you met your wife Lisa, you shared a story about how you'd had this grand plan of what your ... Now, that you've found your calling, right? So, what did that look like?

Tim Clevenger: Right. Oh, I always had grand plans. Now, [00:11:30] I can look back and see. Those will always get changed, and yeah, I was going to go to work for McCann down in San Francisco. I had just broken up with this very lovely girl who was way too serious and needed to stay and finish her degree.

Julie Roehm: Well, are you giving an apology to her here on the air? You're sorry.

Tim Clevenger: I'm so sorry, Suzanne.

Julie Roehm: Sorry, Suzanne.

Tim Clevenger: I've ran into her since. But I was dead set I was going to be an ad guy down in San Francisco. [00:12:00] And so, spring break, I came back from spring break. I told all the guys, a bunch of my friends in the fraternity, I was going to go on a big dating spree, finish off spring term, go get my job at McCann and never look back.

Julie Roehm: Sow those wild oats and move on and be a big ad guy, just like you see in Mad Men.

Tim Clevenger: Went on one date and fell in love, and three weeks later, we got engaged, and we were-

Julie Roehm: Three weeks later?

Tim Clevenger: Yeah. We were married. We met in April, gave over my fraternity [00:12:30] pin, got engaged, and got married that December.

Julie Roehm: Holy cow.

Tim Clevenger: It was just whirlwind, and I felt so bad because I really had no intent, and all the excuses I said about breaking up with-

Julie Roehm: Yeah. So, you could go on this dating spree.

Tim Clevenger: Right, and it was like, "Oh, not so much." So, yeah.

Julie Roehm: Suzanne, he had the best intentions. It wasn't you. It wasn't you. So, how conflicted were you? Because I imagine, look, you'd gone on this long path. You were always sort of the [00:13:00] odd duck out.

Tim Clevenger: No pun intended.

Julie Roehm: Right. No, I totally meant that. The odd duck out, [inaudible 00:13:07] sort of growing up in Oregon. You really kind of felt like you knew and then lost yourself, and then, you had this calling, and you were super inspired. And then, this woman comes along, and she changes everything. How did that ... I mean, look, obviously, but how did you reconcile sort of your plan to go down to McCann, if you will, with, "Okay. I'm going to [00:13:30] give that up because this is more important"? What was that moment? What happened in there?

Tim Clevenger: Well, that's one of the unfortunate ... I lost my dad about three years after we got married, and so, I had a few years of really valuable time with him and had about nine months right before he actually passed away where we were spending a lot of time together. And when I was wrestling with that question, it was like, "Look, this is something I want to pursue, but I also love-

Julie Roehm: I'm in love. Yeah.

Tim Clevenger: Yeah, and it's going to be crazy [00:14:00] for her to pay out-of-state tuition. She only has a year left, and I've told students this before. He said, "When you're young. You have a lot more opportunity to try new things." And he said, "It's not going to kill you to wait a year or two. The job will always be there as much as you think that you need it." And he said, "Pursue love before you pursue [00:14:30] business." And I had made that mistake two years ago when I went for an internship in an advertising agency and told him ... He had this whole summer trip planned because he was a teacher. We were going to drive across the country to New York, fly over to Europe, and backpack around Europe all summer, and I broke his heart, told him that I had to take an internship in advertising so I could pursue my plan. And he just gently, never held it over me, but he said, [00:15:00] "Don't ever make that mistake again. Pursue the love that you have for Lisa before you pursue your career, whatever you think that is." Now I can look back-

Julie Roehm: Very wise.

Tim Clevenger: ... 30, 40 years later, and so, I took him up on the advice and stayed, and then, that's how I got involved with newspapers, radio stations, and a lot of those people that I work with became my first clients [00:15:30] when I started a small little ad agency with a friend of mine. And then, we grew that, six years later, into three different markets and 15 people, and I sold that, went to work for another agency.

Julie Roehm: What was that agency named? What was it called?

Tim Clevenger: Clevenger West, very creative.

Julie Roehm: Clevenger, okay. Yes, right.

Tim Clevenger: But none of that would've happened, and while I always kind of thought, "Oh, maybe this would be the time," then life started to happen. And then, we [00:16:00] had our daughter. We adopted our son. Eugene was a great place to raise them, and the second agency I went to work with had offices in Portland and Seattle. So, I got to explore the northwest. There wasn't any reason. Lisa started teaching, and it was one of those moments where you just sort of look back, and I remember getting calls from friends of mine in advertising school that were just burnt out in New York and burnt out in Chicago and San Francisco, "Is there anything [00:16:30] that you've heard of, anything open in Portland? Anything open? I'd just love to get out of the rat race." And I look back and think, "That could've been me." Yeah.

Julie Roehm: Right. So, actually, so, you've had a couple of those moments, right? The moment that sort of put you on the path to the career but then the moment that had you choose love over career, but you thought that that was the choice, but in fact, that actually informed your career and [00:17:00] built ... because you were one of the early Portland ad guys. I mean, the marketing and advertising community here is massive, but then, it was tiny, right?

Tim Clevenger: Oh, it was really small. No. I mean, [Whiten 00:17:11] was still down on ... right across from our office on Second and Stark. I mean, they had picked up ... They had obviously started working with Nike, but yeah, there were just a handful of shops here. Our shop in Eugene, when we opened up our Seattle office, there wasn't a lot happening. There were some [00:17:30] of the big guys, the big firms started to appear, but yeah, it was a completely different world back then.

Julie Roehm: Right. Now, it's amazing to come here. It's a, I mean, plethora.

Tim Clevenger: Oh, I'm amazed how many people just move here and then start looking for work. I mean, it's really become a popular place, obviously, and people love it. And that's why Lisa and I have loved just moving here, just exploring everything Portland has to offer.

Julie Roehm: Oh, for sure. Yeah. So, when you think about where you [00:18:00] are now and what success looks like moving forward for you, versus you kind of the quintessential grand planner who, then, finds out that that wasn't the right plan. So, probably knowing better than to make big plans that are going to change, what does success ... I mean, you've chosen to stay. So, obviously, success feels like it belongs somewhere and something to do with here, within the Portland area, but what else? What is it that you are looking [00:18:30] and aspiring to?

Tim Clevenger: Well, and Lisa and I talked quite a bit about that. I mean, as a trajectory of a career, my next rung, obviously, I'd love ... My goal is to be a chief marketing officer, and I've talked to other friends about that and started to talk to other CMOs about that. So, I would see that in the future for me. I've also heard from a lot of CMOs that are like, "If you like marketing, [00:19:00] you should really be thinking about whether that's exactly the trajectory want with the type of company that you ... You make sure you get to the right company because some CMOs don't do a lot of marketing. They end up doing a lot of C-Suite work and helping protect their marketing team."

Julie Roehm: Bureaucratic. Right.

Tim Clevenger: Right. So, for me, I mean, I love marketing. I love branding, and so, wherever that next step is ... because the Portland opportunity, when I was working at the university, [00:19:30] it was a great brand to work on, and we were still in Eugene, and I could see that going quite a while, and then, when a recruiter called, it was like, "Wait a second. Our kids are grown and out of the house. Opportunity to try something new, live in Portland." We'd been in Portland a lot, but actually reside here and explore it. Again, we didn't search that out, and so, I think what I've learned is just [00:20:00] be open. Let the universe know you're there, and the opportunities find you, and then, you explore those, and it's sort of like a date. You begin to find out is that the company you want to engage with, is that the type of role you want to engage with. They need to find that out from you, too.

Julie Roehm: Well, and again, I like in this role that I have in doing these guest conversations as being armchair psychologist. [00:20:30] I tend to see in you this passion and this love, certainly the marketing, but how love has sort of trumped all of your decisions. Of course, the love of your wife and your family and the kids, and you were super generous with your heart and your family, and you've adopted children, and the most giving of families do that, I think. But that you also wanted to give back to the school I thought was really insightful, at least for me, and I may be [00:21:00] making more of it, but the University of Oregon had a ... Both from a childhood perspective in terms of something that most people wouldn't aspire to that you got to and then that you were able to not only find your calling there but then actually give back to the school by working at the school itself and then setting up shop, building an ad agency, which in and of itself is amazing that you could have an agency here that expands to multiple markets.

Julie Roehm: It seems like through all of this, it's the [00:21:30] love of things, that calling that you had from childhood, has been sort of the weaving point. Do you see yourself doing something maybe more along those lines, that more kind of giving back? We talked to Carol Kruse earlier, who I know you worked with at Cambia and is a good friend of yours, and she talks about how, now, she's kind of looking at that and the giving back into the community. It seems like you've already done that. [00:22:00] Are you looking to do more of that?

Tim Clevenger: I would always do that. I mean, that's something that even before I was working at the university, Lisa and I were always pouring our time and resources into the University, and we would find our son. We'd find organizations. Personally, I just believe that our creator gives us love for a reason because when you hold onto it, it just kind of rots. It doesn't really do much, and the more you give away, it's such a [00:22:30] counterintuitive thing that the more you give away, the more you receive. And so, for me, it's just going to be continuing to find those organizations to be involved with. If it's professionally, that's great. I mean, I volunteer on a lot of boards and organizations, help them with their marketing plans, help them with their strategic plans, communications plans. Anything I can do to help them achieve their potential as a nonprofit and reach their markets, I love doing that. I love doing it with students. I work with young guys from my fraternity [00:23:00] now, helping them, and it's just an opportunity to take what you've been given and share it.

Julie Roehm: And give it back, right?

Tim Clevenger: Yeah.

Julie Roehm: And as a result, you've given to so many others because you talk about some of the people who work for you at Cambia, but also some of the students and the people that you worked with at the University of Oregon. You have any stories about what they have done [inaudible 00:23:27]?

Tim Clevenger: Oh, that's one of the things that I love. [00:23:30] Marketing in particular, in addition to just the discipline that I love, the detective sort of work and getting in there and using your creativity to come up with solution. You work with so many people, and you spend so many hours together, and I have so many stories. I have one colleague who started out as an admin in our marketing department, is now VP of marketing for Cummins, I think. I don't remember exact title. I [00:24:00] have another friend who is heading up a magazine in Manhattan that came through our team. I mean, I get notes from people all the time that are just doing these, for them, amazing things as well, but just, they're enjoying life, and they're out there pursuing this career that I've love and that have kind of infected some other people with, too. I just love getting notes from people. Yeah. We have a student who [00:24:30] she just got ... She was a student working for us at the university in the marketing department, and she's in marketing now in Portland. She just got married a year ago and getting notes from her and seeing pictures.

Tim Clevenger: Another one that lives in Chicago, we just got a not with her and her two kids and what they're up to. It's amazing. I love the human connections that marketing brings when you have that opportunity to spend hours a day arguing with each other and what's the right strategy, what's [00:25:00] the right target, how are we going to solve this problem. You get that solution that you know. Everybody's like, "This is it. This is gold." And you move forward with it, and the more you do that, you live with each other, and then, you get to see each other and support each other as you pursue different career paths.

Julie Roehm: So sort of going back to that professor who stood over your shoulder and introduced you to the world of advertising, not his world but a different world, do you feel like you've been able to give some of that back to some of those [00:25:30] students and teammates?

Tim Clevenger: I sure hope so. Yeah. I try to be very careful when I look at people's work, when I do performance reviews.

Julie Roehm: I bet.

Tim Clevenger: I try to just really look at everything and say, "Okay. Here's ... " As opposed to just a cursory review and say, "Okay. I don't want to be tough," but sometimes, you have to say, "I think you can do better. Maybe you're in the wrong school," or something.

Julie Roehm: Maybe [00:26:00] this isn't for you.

Tim Clevenger: Right. Well, I have one really dear friend who is now a priest.

Julie Roehm: Really?

Tim Clevenger: Yeah. It wasn't for him, and yeah, he's, I believe, in Pennsylvania now, and yeah, we keep in contact on Facebook.

Julie Roehm: And you helped him?

Tim Clevenger: I didn't help him become a priest.

Julie Roehm: No. But did you help him come to the conclusion that what he was doing maybe wasn't right?

Tim Clevenger: Well, we had a lot of life discussions, and is this really a career, and he still always [00:26:30] liked ... He was more on the PR side within the firm I was at, but he really wanted to pursue his faith. So, the way he put it, he said, "I'm just going to be a PR man for God."

Julie Roehm: Nice.

Tim Clevenger: Who's going to take debate with that.

Julie Roehm: No better boss than that, right? Yeah. For sure. That's amazing. So, I think it's those experiences and having had that experience, that frightening, sort of pivotal moment, but somebody who had the courage to tell you. Instead of [00:27:00] sort of the participation flags that we all get, the little ribbons that we all get now to give to kids, that instead, somebody has sort of tough love and says, "Not this but maybe that." So, not discouraging but honest and that you were able to take that lesson and pay it forward.

Tim Clevenger: Well, it's like that teacher in the art school, and I wish I had always remembered his name, but if he either didn't care, or he was just showing up to take his paycheck or didn't have enough [00:27:30] courage to say something. I had to believe what he said. If the drawing was fine, he could've just given me a reasonable grade and moved me along, and I would've been some frustrated art teacher somewhere. But sometimes, there are those moments when you have to just say, "Hey, let's talk."

Julie Roehm: Be honest.

Tim Clevenger: Right.

Julie Roehm: Yeah. Well, it's great, and I think it's fabulous that you've been able to take that and continue to pass it forward. So, I think we'll get a new blazer for you with a big heart on it. That's your big love, [00:28:00] big love.

Tim Clevenger: I like it. I like it.

Julie Roehm: Well, thank you, Tim. I appreciate you coming and joining today.

Tim Clevenger: Thank you.

Julie Roehm: We've gotten so much from your inspirational story, so ...

Tim Clevenger: Well, thank you very much. I enjoyed the time.

Julie Roehm: Thank you.

Julie Roehm