Conversations with Leaders and Founders of Marketing Agencies, sharing wisdom on how they built their company, lessons they wish they knew when they started, and marketing and agency strategies for the months and years ahead.
Calming the Chaos of Agency Operations
Karl Sakas is an Agency Consultant and Executive Coach at Sakas & Company where he consults with, coaches, and trains marketing agency owners struggling with various challenges related to their teams, their clients, and their services. His focus? To guide agency owners through risky decision-making, help them overcome constraints, enable them to grow profitably to the next level, and to make them “better bosses.”
Karl has a strong agency operations background and has worked with agencies around the world. His team is often called in when an agency:
Founder’s network runs out and the agency needs to find new customers, Is slammed by new growth opportunities, or Needs help on a sales process . . . figuring out team member and client onboarding processes, smoothing delivery, or developing strategies for building long-term relationships. In this interview, Karl identifies six agency “roles”:
Account managers sell additional services to existing clients and keep them happy; Project managers ensure that work progresses smoothly and profitably; Subject matter experts (SMEs) . . . the craft-focused analysts, developers, designers, and writers; Broadly experienced, client-facing Strategists; Business developers, who provide organizational marketing, sales, and partnership-building; and Support, the overarching leadership, and operations management team that ensures smooth agency function. In this interview, Karl recommends that overwhelmed agency owners offload tasks in a prescribed order (subject to agency-owner preferences);
The SME work. Start using freelancers and later hire full-timers to do the highly visible client execution work. If an agency owner wants to spend all his or her time on “craft,” he or she should either be willing to hire six-figure management talent or shift to being a super-consultant and not own an agency. Project management, which is mostly (client-facing) internal coordination. Account management, so the agency owner is not the first person clients call when they need something. Sales . . . or strategy . . . depending on what the agency owner wants to “keep.” Or a hybrid, e.g., where another member of the team qualifies the client and the agency owner serves as the “closer.” This person does NOT have to be the expert the agency owner is . . . so he or she can be hired for less than the agency owner would pay for a personal clone. Karl notes that there is a big difference between delegation and abdication. He warns, “Don’t just dump everything on someone and expect them to figure it all out.” The agency owner has to train these “replacements” and help them build the qualification process, so prospective clients, now vetted and talking with the agency owner, will be more ready to “sign on the line.”
In 2016, Karl founded a CMOs-only mastermind group, where he guides non-client CMOs through their challenges. He compiles the data he gathers from these CMOs into anonymized insights which he passes on to his agency clients . . . to help them improve.
Karl has built a ranking tool to help agencies assess current and future client value, clarify “fit,” and optimize client satisfaction and agency profitability. He will be running an “Ask Me Anything” session at HubSpot Inbound 2021, sharing scripts for difficult client conversations, talking about commitment to warmth and competence decision-making, and presenting a Reason, Options, Choose (ROC) negotiation framework that guides agency/client conflicts through chosen options toward mutually satisfactory solutions.
Karl can be reached on his agency’s website at: sakasandcompany.com, where he offers free newsletters and articles.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m joined today by Karl Sakas, who is an Agency Consultant and Executive Coach at Sakas & Company based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Welcome to the podcast,
Innovating with Imagination and Intelligence
Paul McDowall and Catherine Clark were neighbors when they founded ClarkMcDowall, a 21-year-old agency that with “intelligence and imagination” architects growth for “visionary companies.” Originally starting with big clients Catherine “inherited” from her previous employer, the agency had to put in effort to bring on the startups and mid-size companies that keep an agency nimble, fresh, and entrepreneurial – where there is a higher chance of “getting stuff done.”
Paul says the agency’s most productive relationships come with clients that want to think ahead and think differently, make changes and do something different, and push boundaries – that these companies have a “sophistication in the way they think, but also a progressive way of thinking about their own industry or their own business.” Catherine notes that the human side is important to the mix and that today’s clients are far more savvy about marketing and innovation than they were even six years ago.
Brand-architecting involves broad-scope innovation in such activities as creating new brands, amplifying “rising star brands,” and transforming legacy brands for visionary clients by changing brand strategy, purpose, or positioning. The agency’s brand expression work covers verbal expression (naming/ messaging) and visual expression (visual ID, packaging, design across the whole ecosystem, and web, video, and social components). Catherine says, “Architecting a brand is really about getting into what it stands for and then really thinking about how that impacts in all the ways it expresses itself.”
As an example of client work, Catherine talks about the agency’s multi-year effort with the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team; addressing such issues as – What is their purpose? Why do they exist? How do they uniquely do things? What is it they actually do? – and then thinking how that manifests in the organization’s operations – a campaign, a tagline, player experience, how a new player is greeted . . . or about the arena itself and the experience of the arena. Paul extends the scope by mentioning that these things include the internal culture as well, “how they talk to each other” and “how they hire.”
Although ClarkMcDowall is based in New York City, the 2020 Covid lockdown forced the agency to rethink its organization. Catherine talks about the tension that comes with change . . . and the agency’s decision to “Just go hybrid and start building it.” Today, the agency uses different systems, different ways of hiring, and different ways of working than in the past . . . and has a strong focus on creating a work environment that is less transactional and more about people’s lives. About 25% of the agency’s 25 employees work remotely – across the country.
Catherine says all this change has come with some nice surprises (and these are quotes):
The more we allow people to try to find their own rhythm and their own environment, the more we’re able to retain them and get the best out of them. I feel like we’re even truer to ourselves in our values. We’ve really doubled down on the way that we treat people, the way that we integrate into our community, some of the pro bono stuff that we’re doing. There’s this weird thing that the more you innovate, in a way, the easier it is to be true to yourself. You have to change a lot in order to really notice that anchor that you have. Catherine and Paul can be reached on their agency’s website at: clarkmcdowall.com or on LinkedIn.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined today by a duo, Paul McDowall and Catherine Clark. They’re both Founding Partners at ClarkMcDowall, based in New York City. Welcome to the podcast.
PAUL: Thank you.
CATHERINE: Thanks for having us. We’re very excited to be here.
ROB: It’s very excellent to have you here. Maybe you could star
Ken Magma Marshall is Chief Growth Officer and Managing Partner at RevenueZen, an agency focused on helping high-growth-oriented B2B, SaaS, and professional service brands generate more demand and leads through SEO, content, and LinkedIn . . . to get real leads that actually convert.
Ken started his agency four-and-a-half years ago. His first milestone was developing a successful, process that worked and that he could pass onto another person with his SOPS and get the same results. Instead of waiting for clients to request particular services like keyword research or gap analysis, Ken could tell a client, “In the first 90 days, we’re going to do these two things that will lead to X outcome based on the research and analytics from my previous clients.”
The second one, he says, came about when the repeatable system evolved to the point where he no longer had to tweak the system himself to continue to get targeted outcomes.
About six months ago, Ken’s agency reached its third milestone, when it was aqui-hired by RevenueZen. RevenueZen, with a traditional focus on lead gen, appointment setting, and LinkedIn, got Ken’s agency’s assets, his knowledge of inbound technology, his presence on the executive team, and his agency’s book of business. Complementary strengths have proved win-win.
ReveueZen’s clients are typically established professional, mid-market service companies that have good revenues . . . but may or may not be profitable. All but three B2C “outliers” are B2B technology companies, with 60-70% in SaaS (software as a service). Most of these companies have marketing teams, but are not problem- or solution-aware with respect to RevenueZen’s methodologies, don’t know what kind of solution they need, or don’t know the right provider.
What do they know? They want results.
Ken says it is imperative for the agency to qualify its potential clients through the discovery process – if clients don’t understand customer lifetime values /average lead values, they are likely to have unrealistic expectations of the value of conversion or question whether they will get a positive return on spend.
Ken will be moderating a HubSpot’s Inbound2021 session, “Long Live Forms, All Hail Chatbots: The Epic Debate of Booking Demos.” In answer any participants’ subjective blanket assertions, such as a statement that “Chatbots are the future,” Ken will be asking such probing questions as: “For whom are chatbots correct?” What other marketing stack does the company use?” “How will the company measure effectiveness?” The objective is to dig to a deeper level . . . to determine which use cases are appropriate, who they’re appropriate for, at what level of business maturity, etc. This year’s online HubSpot Inbound conference is scheduled for October 12-14.
Ken is intrigued by some of the newer technologies:
Lead-qualifying software that captures online prospects’ form data, qualifies leads programmatically in real time, filters their information to match rep data, and immediately either notifies the appropriate sales rep or establishes a live video chat. Conversion.AI software that generates scripts based on user inputs and expectations “learned” over time. Alex Boyd (RevenueZen founder and CEO) and Kenneth David Warren Marshall II (a.k.a. Ken Magma Marshall), can be reached on LinkedIn or on the agency’s website at: revenuezen.com.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and it is that time of year once again. It is almost time for the Inbound Conference. Much like last year, it will be virtual, but what that means is this is the time of the year where this podcast gets a little bit more salesy, but in a good way. It’s just a different flavor of the agency services world that we like to cover.
I am joined today by Ken Magma Marshall, CGO and Managing Partner at RevenueZen based in Portland, Oregon, though he himse
Josy Amann is Co-founder at Media Matters Worldwide, an analytics-driven, brand-power-focused omnichannel media buying, and planning agency serving B2B and B2C clientele. In 2005, Josy and her co-founder left a large agency where they had been providing media buying and planning to start Media Matters – with no money and a two-pronged plan – to get their own clients and to freelance with other agencies. Their first client was a “gift” from their prior agency. Josy says referrals sustained the agency for the first ten years. In 2019, MMWW hired a leadership team to help scale the business, to be able to serve larger clients and to meet the variety of technological demands. Completely remote from day one, MMWW tripled its employees from 20 to 60 in two years – during Covid!
Omnichannel marketing encompasses both traditional and digital advertising. Traditional advertising includes linear (scheduled broadcast) TV and radio, outdoor displays, direct mail, and print. Digital advertising may involve:
Programmatic purchasing (using automated technology to buy advertising space) OTT (over-the-top) delivery (customized, precisely targeted content on online streaming channels, CTV [cable TV], digital radio), or The utilization of banners, videos, and social media. In this interview, Josy explains that digital outdoors has increased in importance because this adspace is:
More available than in the past, More trackable, and Can be purchased in dayparts as is done on TV . . . increasing efficiency and reducing costs by buying the time and location that reaches your target (commuting?) audience. Josy says buying advertising to promote brand power affects strategies, the types of media purchased, “and even sometimes the audiences.” Josie finds the need to adapt to constant technological change is both a challenge . . . and exciting . . . and notes, in particular some current issues that will affect her industry.
Internally, the MMWW media team leads the overall strategy of the business and provides thought leadership and communications planning by:
Consulting with clients to define target audiences Researching where the audience lives and how they consume media Determining what the client can afford and the most efficient way to use the client’s budget Establishing a strategic messaging framework that seamlessly aligns audiences with the messages, types of media used through the consumer journey, KPIs, and client goals Traditional media (which requires relationships with channel representatives nationwide) and Programmatic and social media (which requires experience on all the different platforms). Purchasing a client’s strategic mix of: Utilizing analytics and attribution reporting to ensure the interrelationships between the various media channels are supportive. Josy can be reached on LinkedIn or on her agency’s website at: https://mediamattersww.com/.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined today by Josy Amann, Co-founder at Media Matters Worldwide, headquartered in San Francisco, California. Welcome to the podcast Josy.
JOSY: Hi, Rob. Thank you so much for having me.
ROB: It’s wonderful to have you here. Why don’t you kick us off by telling us about Media Matters Worldwide and what your superpowers are as a firm?
JOSY: Superpowers, I love that question. I always tell my kids, “Focus on your superpower, focus on your superpower!” [laughs] Media Matters Worldwide, we are a media buying and planning agency. We’ve been in business since 2005. We are buying omnichannel media across all different types of businesses. Half our clients are B2B, half are B2C. But we play in the media buying and planning space and the analytics. It’s kind of the dorky side of the business.
ROB: [laughs] Perhaps dorky, but very important to get right and also probably quite easy to do wrong. When you say om
Push-Pull Transformations Drive Rocket-Ship Growth
Julie Koepsell came into Horizontal Digital as President of the North America division in December 2020 at a time when, due to Covid, the company was “fully remote.” Horizontal Digital is a 17-year-old global, “experience forward” consultancy that puts people at the center if its efforts by creating deeper, end-to-end-connected, seamless, relevant, and personal customer relationships that boost client ROI. Because Horizontal is a boutique consultancy, clients get a “very high touch experience.”
Julie says it is important for leaders to “listen.” One of the first things she did after joining the company was to connect one-on-one with all 50 division employees. Due to continued growth, the division has hired an additional 150 employees over the first part of this year. Globally, the consultancy has 500 employees.
Many of Horizontal Digital’s B2B clients sell through multiple distribution channels and dealer networks. The desired push-pull challenge is complex – companies want their dealers to recommend their products . . . but they also want customers to ask for the company’s products. Horizontal Digital strives to:
Create promotional programs that build meaningful relationships with end customers so those customers will go to dealers and ask for a company’s products. Build a martech stack so the customer journey experience is cohesive from sales and marketing through digital POS, web and experience portals, and customer service. The goal is to understand what customers want, anticipate their needs, and grow relationships “at a life level.” Provide client education and get client employees to understand the need for internal changes related to demand generation, customer experience, or “internal digital transformation” initiatives . . . and help them understand how those changes will be implemented. She says, if a company’s message is properly set up across all channels, companies can simultaneously control expenses and grow revenue . . . customer lifetime value is increased, customers will advocate for the company, and there will be an increased opportunity to cross-sell and upsell.
Julie is passionate about providing women with the opportunity to advance, especially in technology. She believes it is important, as the Horizontal Digital grows, to build the infrastructure and internal scaling to support that growth, to “create an amazing employee experience,” and to make sure clients’ experiences with Horizontal Digital surpass their expectations.
Julie can be found on her consultancy’s website at: https://www.horizontaldigital.com/ .
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined today by Julie Koepsell, President – North America at Horizontal Digital based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Welcome to the podcast, Julie.
JULIE: Thank you, Rob. I’m so happy to be here.
ROB: It’s awesome to have you here. Why don’t you tell us about Horizontal Digital and the journey the firm is on, where you specialize, and what we should know about it?
JULIE: I’d love to. Horizontal Digital is an experience-forward consultancy. We operate as a boutique consultancy, which really means that our clients get a very high touch experience from us. And we do it with global teams so we can actually deliver at scale, which is pretty unique.
When I say that we’re experience-forward, what that means is that we put people at the center of everything that we do. More specifically for our clients, we help them build deeper relationships with their customers so they get better ROI, and we do that by creating end-to-end connected experiences that are seamless, relevant, and personal.
If you consider that customer journey, we are able to deliver a cohesive experience all the way from sales and marketing through digital POS, web and experience portals, and then customer experience, and we do that so we can better underst
Capitalizing on Opportunity and Fixing What’s Broken
Ten years ago, Ryan Frederick, became a partner at AWH, a now 26-year-old firm that builds net new software products, solves data problems, and integrates systems across platforms and products (phones, the web, Internet of Things [IoT] devices).
The client mix is split in thirds:
Funded startups building disruptive products to capitalize on unique opportunities Midmarket companies (manufacturers, distributors, or nonprofits/social enterprises) who don’t have much technological knowledge or “horsepower” and a one-time or only sporadic need to build a “digital fix.” Enterprise clients that need prototypes and proofs of concept for corporate innovation initiatives (e.g.; leveraging blockchain technologies, integrating machine learning, and utilizing artificial intelligence). These companies have the resources to build the needed system but need guidance on how to approach a problem and what needs to be done. To ensure the best outcomes, AWH consults with clients and establishes advisory boards to iteratively build products that resonate with customers and provide value. Ryan started out his career as a software developer but migrated to the “business, human, and creative side of things” – because he was interested in utilizing a more complete mix of skills. In this interview, he talks about how developers have been maligned in the past for not caring about the quality of the code they wrote. He admits that a lot of bad software was written when developers were a “background assembly unit” and the practice was to “slide the requirements under the door” and direct developers to build what they were told to build.
Ryan says today’s developers, designers, and QA professionals demand interesting, challenging, impactful work and need to be involved from the beginning – in defining the problem and in the planning, design, and user experience processes. Losing team members mid-project destroys process, teamwork, and collaborative continuity and chokes progress as “replacements” need “ramping up.” AWH’s focus, particularly in the last 5 years, has been on creating an environment where team members feel valued for their work – in order to “get and keep the most talented, capable team” possible.
AWH often works with funded startups that often come up financially short at times where continued development is critical. To address this problem, AWH formalized an internal financing mechanism where AWH lends monies to cover continued development work in exchange for client royalties or equity. Ryan says AWH has done this 20- or 30- times, not so much by choice as by necessity. A few “loans” have “gone south” – but the company, to date, has accrued royalties or client equity of almost $2 million.
Ryan authored The Founder’s Manual, an experiential exposé of things Ryan has seen work . . . and not work . . . in the development world. His second book, Sell Naked, covers his experience over the past 10 years of owning and leading a professional services firm. Ryan says a lot of service firm representatives sell “propaganda, paraphernalia, and crutches” and 999-slide capabilities decks rather than starting with an open, authentic conversation about client needs. He says, “No prospective client cares about how awesome you are until they believe that you understand their problem and that you can . . . help them alleviate the pain of the problem. He also explains the informal proposal email process his company uses to quickly and effectively close contracts.
Ryan can be reached on his company’s website at: AWH.net.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined today by Ryan Frederick, who is a Principal at AWH based in Dublin, Ohio. Welcome to the podcast, Ryan.
RYAN: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
ROB: Wonderful to have you here. If we’re looking up AWH and what you focus on, it
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