Branding Advocacy (on Purpose) with Attitude

Josh Belhumeur is Managing Partner at Brink, a creative group that uses culturally relevant art content and experiences through a variety of initiatives to engage audiences and build brands for products, political candidates, and progressive causes. 

In this interview, Josh explains how his agency, which started as three guys in a Tucson garage doing web development, evolved into a full-service, “all things media, all things internet, all things digital” agency with attitude and two physical locations. Only recently has the leadership at Brink started to understand who they are, who they want to be, and what they want to create . . . and it is the nexus between brand development and socially-responsible advocacy.

A consultancy branch of the organization works with C-suite level executives to discern product market fit and develop an organization’s ability to innovate. An indie film “wing” distributes about 150 titles worldwide and on subscription platforms. 

On the agency side, client-focused teams (a UX lead, an art lead, a producer, and a strategist)

  1. Help brands identify their purpose and bring that purpose to market 
  2. Produce excellent, timely, relevant, and digitally-rooted creative work

Josh joined Brink (2006) to work on strategy and business development. He moved to Washington, D.C. to expand the agency’s client base and found “a lot of government, a lot of politics, a lot of advocacy” and a lot of “learning.” In Washington, organizations often align under the same brand – a for-profit, a nonprofit, and a super Political Action Committee – separate entities, but run side by side. This provides the flexibility for the organization’s “branches” to have separate missions and do different things while utilizing the same internal knowledge and resources.

Brink grew up with the internet. Around a year and a half ago, troubled by the power of the internet to distort truth, Brink launched a 501(c)(3), now managed by Josh’s partner, to address what Josh refers to as the 4 destructive forces of the internet/ social media:

  1. The filter bubble: Social media platforms will push content to you that matches your beliefs. You are more likely to interact with this content. They make more money
  2. The sensationalist skew: People are more likely to react to the outrageous. Again, more money
  3. Binary thinking: Digital platforms will push people into little boxes. If Facebook senses you are considering buying a home, its algorithms will push content related to home-buying.
  4. Unclear authority: The proliferation of fake news makes it hard to know who and what to believe. 

The goal of the Brink Foundation is to educate people on these four destructive forces and then target messages to offset the harmful effects of the internet and reduce political polarization. Knowing their “purpose” has lost clients for Brink . . . but gained new clients who are better aligned with the agency’s interests. Win-win.

Brink’s unique value ad? The ability to work with brands, introduce activism, help them brands guild out activism programs, and unify that activism into their brand strategy. According to Josh, “Being an activist brand is the strongest way you can find a tribe.”

Josh can be reached on his agency’s website at: , where you will find information on the agency, the consultancy, their films, and the Brink Foundation.

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How to Avoid Being a Commodity

Mike Stratta founded Arcalea on the idea that digital marketing and advertising should be objective, not subjective. In this interview, Mike talks about the importance of focus: on a very deep and narrow skillset, on a limited niche of (service) industry clients, on engendering a great company culture, and on hiring great people. 

Mike built Arcalea’s service offerings around the things he really loved to do. Arcalea provides comprehensive quantitative analysis and implements tactics based on that analysis and how brands are positioned online. Mike believes it takes significant due diligence to prevent scope creep from paralyzing the creative process. Arcalea stays out of the creative arena by cultivating relationships with partner agencies to provide clients with creative content.

Mike thinks that it is essential for any business to ask itself, “What can we provide at such a depth that we differentiate ourselves from our competition?” . . . and “How can we provide a higher level of service than others in our same space?” Companies that fail to build a deep enough or wide enough economic moat risk becoming price-driven commodities. 

When Mike started Arcalea, he had already built and sold an agency, but one that dealt with blue-chip companies. He tells his audience that, “When working with those big brands, you are just a commodity” and explains how these giants put the squeeze on small agencies to provide more at a cheaper price . . . because they can always find someone else to do the work. 

Today, his agency serves companies with $5 million to $500 million in revenue . . . where the agency can work directly with the C-Suite decision-makers and the client base is more nimble and responsive to changes in direction than larger organizations or subsidiaries of those larger organizations. Mike’s ideal customers are those who are a cultural match for Arcalea: the ideal relationship is one of appreciation/ advocacy/ trusted partner – and he definitely eschews being a “vendor” because vendors are commodities.

Critical to long-term success? Mike says, “Hire slow. Hire the person who sees more in the future of the position than you do. Hire the person who will be a 10x game-changer.” Then, he says, “Lock them down with a cultural fit and cultural environment and even more pay than you first intended so they will never want to leave, no matter how much someone else offers them.”

Mike also addresses the difficulty of implementing policies in a period of fast growth, as his company experienced when it grew 2800% over a period of three years and made position #149 the very first year it qualified for the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the U.S. Whew!

Mike can be reached on his company’s website at or on LinkedIn.

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Heating Up the Market for Consumer Packaged Goods

Greg Keating is Agency Operations Manager and Business Development Lead at Hangar12, a fully remote, digital marketing agency that has been in Greg’s family in one form or another for 3 generations, and transitioned from brick-and-mortar to fully remote in 2015. 

After a college internship his father arranged at what is today Hangar12 (No, thank you!), Greg started his career in production supply chain management, doing supply chain and marketing analytics, and “proving himself” in massive companies (Coca-Cola and Ecolab). His father, Kevin, again tapped him a few years ago. What to do?

Greg’s father, Kevin, whose original career choice had been to work in Parks and Recreation in Irvine, California, likewise, had been tapped by his father in 1988 (Greg’s grandfather had joined the agency in 1981). Greg’s father joined the agency and worked there for 12 years before he purchased it in 2000. 

Granddad worked there, Dad owned it . . . Greg took a second look, and, amazed at how far the agency had come – from the in-store shopper marketing cardboard cutouts he saw when he was growing up to today’s digital and social media marketing – and fell in love.

Hangar12, renamed 1n 2012 in honor of his grandfather’s WWII Air Force service, is somewhat Chicago-centric, but staff are located throughout the Midwest. The agency provides consumer packaged goods clients in the food and beverage space with a consumer-first approach, in-house creative teams, omnichannel activations, and a focus on measurement. 

What makes Hangar12 great? Greg believes the remote business model enables his team to deliver “quality marketing campaigns faster than anyone else,” utilizing digital, social media, consumer promotions, and shopper marketing. And LOTS of video. Remote employees work when they feel they can be most productive (which improves efficiency) and log their time on daily timesheets, “meeting,” as needed, by phone or email. Getting campaigns running fast makes for happy clients and reduces the delay in marketing effort revenue recognition. 

Greg notes that ecommerce and the rise of Amazon have challenged brick-and-mortar retailers to stock new brands and unknown products, even before a full marketing plan is in place. Why would stores do this? Brick-and-mortar businesses, especially grocery stores, having been stagnant area for so long, are now scrambling to find the next “hot item,” to get on the “front end” of a trend, to stock a product before the competition does, or, even, to become an exclusive vendor for a “unicorn” product. Once a start-up’s product is “on the shelves,” stores are demanding that these brands “prove” that they are putting in the marketing effort that justifies the placement . . . which is when the startup brand goes looking for what Hangar12 can do.

Greg can be reached on his agency’s website at: or by email at:

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Hyperfocus and a 100% Solution to Win a Niche Market Monopoly

Verne Harnish, founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and CEO of Scaling Up, a global executive education/ coaching company, has spent the past three decades helping companies scale up. Credentials?

  • 15-year chair/instructor at EO’s “Birthing of Giants” CEO development program (held at MIT) 
  • Authored best-seller, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits (published in 2002 and translated into 9 languages)
  • Authored Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It and the Rest Don’t (published in 2014 and winner of 8 major international book awards)
  • Grew Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) to over 14,000 members worldwide 
  • Chairs annual ScaleUp Summits (in collaboration with Bloomberg) and grew Scaling Up to over 180 partners on six continents)

Verne, citing John D. Rockefeller’s biography, Titan, believes that hyperfocus is critical to business success. He gave the example of Arnie Malham, a longstanding EO member, who wanted to be a marketing/ advertising agency. Focus? Advertising and marketing for law firms. More focus? Personal injury law firms –Intense focus? Personal injury law firms in NFL cities, large cities with the sophistication of billboarding and radio. Hyperfocus? To work for one personal injury law firm per NFL city, making a simple promise: “I’m going to make you No. 1 in that market.” Then, provide a 100% solution.

In this interview, Verne talks about the four numbers it takes to grow a company: revenue, gross margin, profit, and cash – each significant at a different growth stage. 

  • From startup to that first million dollars, the most important number is revenue. It’s not about fixing the logo or the website, Verne says, just “Sell like hell,” and then when you get to a million, fix those other things.
  • From a million to $10 million, the most important thing is cash . . . because growing 10x will take a lot of cash. The cash model, the timing of incoming and outgoing cash, has to work.
  • From $8 or $10 million to $40 million, gross margins are critical. As companies start adding middle management and infrastructure, costs will increase, and gross margins will start to slip.
  • When a company is at the $30-40 million level, the most important number is profit consistency, because that is what the market expects.

At the organizational level, Verne claims there is one routine that will drive things further faster than any other – daily meetings to ensure organizational alignment on the task that needs to be done that day.

Verne invests privately in a number of scale-ups and is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians – so business-wise, or recreationally . . . he spends a lot of time doing “magic.” He available on his company’s website at, on the company’s new media site at, and by email is

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A Compassionate Angel with Skin in the Game

Malinda Gagnon is CEO and Co-founder of Uprise Partners, a consulting firm / investment firm that provides full-cycle go-to-market and deep technical delivery. Uprise can help launch and grow a business fast: whether they are a startup, launching a new product, or entering a new market. Whatever it is, Uprise teams can help companies “just blow it up” into something bigger.

Anchoring on a company’s brand promise, Uprise brings in efficient, results-driven SWAT teams of focused experts who have fast-growth, go-to-market capabilities: to build anything; to implement sales and marketing programs; to do branding; and to build, select, compile, and integrate technical solutions. Uprise applies agile methodology to everything it does, always asking: “What can we launch that makes the most impact, as quickly as possible?” 

Uprise may not have traditional agency/client relationships—its focus is on a mission to help business founders from areas that are underserved – minority founders, women founders, founders in rural areas or markets lacking a vibrant entrepreneurial culture and support system. If Uprise finds a small company they want to invest in, they will put “skin in the game,” take equity in the company, and bring on the skills that will help the company grow. 

Malinda spoke at Hubspot’s Inbound 2019 on the topic of compassionate commerce – “the art of selling what truly helps the customer.” The challenge? To be able to “talk about compassion in a way that people feel comfortable about it in a professional setting.” 

Malinda describes the more-commonly referenced empathy as the first step toward compassion: empathy is the ability “to walk a mile in someone’s shoes, see the world through their eyes.” The next step toward compassion is “to understand the most fundamental motivator a customer has – their emotions. Critical to getting to that level of understanding? Map emotions to every stage of that customer journey and address those emotions, both positive and negative. You only reach compassion when you understand the customer and “have a deep desire to help.”

Malinda can be found on her company’s website at of by email at: She and her husband/co-founder also have a tech-oriented podcast called Data Myths, available “everywhere.”

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Nothing Sells Better than the (Edgy, but Funny) Truth

Daniel Harmon is Chief Creative Officer of Harmon Brothers, an ad agency most famous for the Squatty Potty Pooping Unicorn. The agency mixes two areas of concentration: traditional direct response advertising (asking for an immediate sale) and branding (where the goal is to evoke a positive customer brand response and promote brand loyalty.) 

Clients come to Harmon Brothers when their product has a more complex or difficult story . . . or even one that touches on societal taboos, but Harmon has to be sold on a company’s product before they will take on that company as a client. Daniel believes that comedy is a good for simplifying complex ideas, and “making the boring interesting and the controversial safe.” In this interview, Daniel also discusses the techniques and importance of ad testing. The quality of creative is important, but Daniel believes distribution is key.

Before the Harmon brothers became Harmon Brothers, they worked at Orabrush, which was founded by Daniel’s brothers when they took an old man’s floundering idea for a tongue cleaner (for bad breath), created a promotional video, and aired it on YouTube. Orabrush was the first product on YouTube’s ad platform that produced a positive ROI. 

A hundred or so videos later, Poo Pourri, seeing the Orabrush campaign success, contacted the brothers. They left Orabrush and went to work on the Poo-Pourri campaign, strategizing around their kitchen table, thinking that they would become part of the company. When Poo-Pouri started talking campaign contract, the Harmon brothers had to be something with a name . . . so the Harmon brothers became Harmon Brothers – we can change it later (but they didn’t). When the Poo-Pourri campaign exploded, people started talking about the Creative agency Harmon Brothers. Surprise! “I guess we’re an agency.”

They puttered . . . until Squatty Potty came along in 2015. Harmon Brothers created a “Rainbow Pooping Unicorn” video featuring a plush baby unicorn that pooped rainbow-colored soft-serve ice cream. The video went viral, with over 50 million Facebook/YouTube views that year. Squatty Potty sales shot up to over $15 million. A plush Squatty Potty Dookie the Pooping Unicorn? Just what every young child wants for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza? Maybe not . . .

Daniel spoke at Hubspot’s Inbound 2019 on the topic: “Create Ads that Sell.” He emphasized the importance of comedy and “brand” characters in advertising to get people to emotionally connect with a brand and putting really good sales principles into direct response campaigns.

The Harmon Brothers collaborated with veteran author Chris Jones to lay out the company’s key creative/ culture/ process/ partnership principles. The resulting book, From Poop to Gold: The Marketing Magic of the Harmon Brothers, is available on 

Daniel can be reached on his company’s website at: The company also has a podcast which can be accessed from that site. On “From Poop to Gold” podcasts, entrepreneurs/ creatives/ marketers tell stories about how they’ve turned bad situations into something positive – inspiring for everyone, whether in the industry or not.

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Going International: Breaking the Language Barrier

Wendy Pease is President of Rapport International, an agency that specializes in multilingual marketing, translating messages and meanings in over 200 languages – in any format, including blog posts, audio content, video, print, and multilingual chat. Wendy bought Rapport in 2004, because the fit seemed right with her interests. Over 15 years, it has maintained the same depth of languages and increased staff, revenue, and its focus on marketing. Rapport International is a Hubspot Partner

In this interview, Wendy explains that interpretation is for the spoken word what translation is for the written word. Translation, especially in marketing, is not done “word for word.” It needs to be culturally adapted and capture the meaning of the message. To ensure quality and to address this broad range of languages, Rapport International contracts with independent bilingual translators who specialize in writing for different markets and purposes.

Fifteen years ago, companies in English-speaking countries expanded internationally by exporting to companies in other English-speaking countries. Company websites opened markets across language, cultural, and geographical boundaries. Companies became “accidental exporters” when orders started coming in from other countries.

A reactive response to interest from other countries? Start marketing in any country that “self identified” as being a potential market. 

A better way? Wendy believes it is important to ask, “What is the corporate strategy?” “What is the marketing strategy?” And “How is multilingual communication going to support that strategy?” If a company only wants to sell certain products in a certain country, they don’t need to translate everything about all the rest of their products. A landing page can be used to test new market.

Wendy identified quite a few multilingual challenges: Keyword selection. Effective communication when a language does not have an equivalent word for critical product descriptor. Dealing with the approximately 3,000 new words added to a language each year. Marketing and inbound’s increasing complication and specialization, content management issues, and providing it all in the needed languages.

Wendy can be reached on her company’s website at or on LinkedIn: Wendy Pease at Rapport International.

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You Want Customer Loyalty? KNOW Your Customer!


Alita Harvey-Rodriguez is Managing Director of MI Academy, which offers customized team training programs for businesses interested in “transformative growth” and increasing leads, sales, and customer loyalty. Alita talked about how she started her company . . . and then, on evaluating what she was doing (consulting), determined she was not making the difference she wanted to make (changing the way companies worked). “Don’t Fall in Love with an IDEA,” she warns. “Fall in Love with the SOLUTION – and drive toward that solution. Ideas change all the time.” Yes, the solution has to be “feedback-driven.”

Alita believes innovation has to connect with a customer’s heart. It’s all about “the heart, the mind, the wallet,” she says. Companies have to understand, in depth, who their customers are, before they can roll out an incredible, seamless digital marketing, customer experience – with no “disconnects.”

MI Academy starts with a discovery process – asking its clients about 63 questions across different business units – in order to understand a company’s business, skill sets, tech stacks, and customers; how it uses data to drive decisions; and how to iteratively improve processes and customer experience within that organization – and then provides customized transformational training focused on improving all of the customer touchpoints in the organization.

Alita spoke at Hubspot Inbound 2019 on “The Loyalty Agenda.” She presented a 4-part loyalty program formula based on the philosophy of slowing down (to assess the company, its business, and its market) to speed up (by enabling the company to make better decisions, restructure operations, and change how it listens to and interfaces with its customers). In taking the time to understand their customers and create personalized, seamless experiences, brands pursue customer loyalty and can “carve out brand niches in tough markets.”

Alita is contributing a chapter on sustainable digital marketing practices to an upcoming book. She believes companies need to innovate internally in order to stay on top of customers’ needs.

Alita can be found on her company’s website at: Her personal email address is:

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What Works, What Lasts, What Beats the Competition

Duff Ferguson is Partner and Founder of Amplitude Digital, a PPC and SEO digital marketing agency, Google and Facebook Partner, and three-time recipient of the Tech Innovator Award.

When Duff started what is today Amplitude Digital about 15 years ago, it provided general branding and marketing services. In 2015, it pivoted to focus on digital marketing, advertising, organic search, and e commerce, specifically on how clients could increase advertising spend, increase traffic, build their presence in online organic search . . . and then get a multiple return on that spend. Amplitude Digital compiles and analyzes “big data,” develops strategies, and strives to deliver first-page online rankings, breakthrough traffic, and high-performing ads. Typical clients are ecommerce companies selling packaged consumer goods on such platforms as Amazon, Google search, Bing, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Amplitude Digital maintains a 95% client retention rate.

Duff feels that Amplitude Digital is able to produce reliable, consistent results for its clients because the company:

  • knows how to build reliable information from digital data,
  • understands how digital bidding systems and online algorithms work,
  • develops dependable “white hat” SEO optimization strategies,
  • creates well-run, efficient pay-per-click systems . . .
  • and is able to identify and undo legacy “stuff” that is creating penalties and problems for companies.

Duff believes that what he calls “Real Talk” is critical to online success, and notes, in particular, these site components:

  • listing, title, and description quality;
  • sizing charts;
  • pictures; and
  • brand store information.

He notes that these are ingrained in today’s Amazon and Google algorithms, but, for long term success, companies will need to develop their own platforms so that they have the ability to control their data and know their customers (audience demographics).

The easiest way to find out about Amplitude Digital is on its one-page overview site at His company’s primary website is:

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The Power of Thought-leader Podcasting

Matt Johnson is Founder and CEO of Pursuing Results, a podcast production agency that works with emerging thought leaders – business coaches and consultants. Using a detailed process, Pursuing Results helps clients launch their brands, executes and distributes its clients’ weekly video podcasts, and promotes thought-leader business growth. His “specialized assembly line” produces consistently high-quality, on time podcasts. Matt focuses on a narrow product/client niche, because, he believes that, of all the content marketing things he used to do, podcasting produces the most growth and the most leads for his clients. 

Matt believes that, in order to influence people to trust you and to take action, podcasts have to be structured in a particular way. In this interview, Matt outlines three things that turn a podcast from entertainment into a platform for leadership:

  1. Seeing is Believing: Podcasts should be conversations with other influential people. When people see that you are recognized as a leader in your “area,” they will believe you are a leader in your area.
  2. Share Client Successes: Feature conversations around your (past or current) client’s successes. Put at least some focus on how the work you are doing (or have done) for them contributes to their success. 
  3. Go solo: Matt says, for a thought leader, having a podcast is akin to leading a church. If you are a leader in that church, you should be capable of delivering a sermon in that church.

How to develop solo topics? Matt works with his clients to help them identify their beliefs, values, and opinions – breaking down their holistic viewpoint into small chunks, each of which can be used as a solo episode topic. The sweet spot is to “go solo” every third or fourth episode.

How to keep the podcast momentum going and score some “quick wins”:

  1. Be strategic about whom you interview – make sure you have a good message-to-market fit
  2. Genuinely enjoy the interview conversations and the relationships you are building with your guests 
  3. Work behind the scenes to turn those relationships into a strategic referral network.

Matt attributes a good part of his (and his client’s) podcast success to the system he built around the process – and provides tips on strategic process-building and building checklists. He recommends that people who are considering starting a podcast . . . get interviewed themselves to nail down their message and what they want to talk about. How to get featured? A good start would be Matt’s website at:

Matt can be reached on his company’s website at:, where listeners can learn about his production service; on Instagram at:, and on LinkedIn at Matt will be launching a book, Microfamous™ in the near future.


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