A Strategic Marketing Merger: Why Invoke Marketing and Tank New Media Got Married

When Jon started Invoke Marketing, a scrappy startup agency, he made things up as he went. As the company pivoted and grew, his clients also pivoted and grew, and agency and client interests diverged. Jon, in his eagerness to help, also took on too many clients who were poor fits.

Jon’s intense drive for growth and eagerness to help led him to take on clients that didn’t fit the services Invoke wanted to provide. Pushing too hard too fast led to making mistakes fast, and then moving on too fast to learn from those mistakes. Jon warns that agencies need to be careful about their growth rate and about making sure that they select clients who need the services their agency wants to sell.

When relationships were no longer mutually beneficial, some clients left, and Invoke found it needed to release others. That resolved the immediate “poor fit” problem, but financially? The company either had to reinvent itself fast . . . or “join forces” with another agency.

Invoke was a Hubspot Gold Partner. Surely, among Hubspot’s 4,000 partner agencies, Invoke could find another agency interested in a synergistic partnership. In his research, Jon was aware that he wanted to find an agency that would be good for his clients and one that kept him employed. Invoke’s assets included a great client base, Hubspot implementation experience, Jon’s ability to grow an agency (to 7 employees in 3 years), his leadership skills, and his passion for sales. (He notes that he understands marketing, but he is good at sales.)

Some of the 9 interested agencies wanted only part of what Invoke had to offer. The initial search to signing on as a partner with Tank New Media took a quick 4 months. Jon and one other employee remain anchored in Lancaster, the other 7 members of Tank New Media are located in Kansas City. (Jon says that Thad and Krista, at Tank New Media, Kansas City are “phenomenal marketers,” but don’t enjoy sales.)

Tank New Media focuses on brand experience, creating healthy partnerships with its clients, collaborating to develop the right strategies, the right solutions, the right tactics and building a cohesive experience across the entire relationship lifecycle. Proof that it excels in building relationships? Tank typically retains clients for about 4 years, a long time in the marketing world.

Jon has three roles with Tank: 1) new business development (selling), 2) working with client sales teams to facilitate sales (which includes a sales-aligned CRM system), 3) growth-focused leadership.

The “Why?” at Tank? Creating a great experience for customers, employees, and customers’ customers. Jon warns that customer relationships are important, but, even as an agency takes care of its customers, it also has to take care of itself. Overzealous attempts to keep customers happy can destroy companies. A company has to survive to be able to continue to support its customers.

Jon can be contacted LinkedIn, on Twitter, but probably most easily by email at

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Transparency: Staying True to your Core, to your Strategy and to your Passion

Perry Nalevka, CEO at Penguin Strategies, has almost 20 years of working in technology at various start-ups, with the last 10 years in sales and marketing. For the past 5 years, he has run Hubspot’s first Israeli Partner, Penguin Strategies, a niche agency for technology firms with its “packages” named for different species of penguins. Why penguins? “They’re just a cool bird,” Perry says.

Penguin Strategies’ website is very transparent on how much a client is buying of what and for what price. Using a system of “credits” enables Penguin to be far more flexible, transparent, and nimble in its response to market conditions. Penguin can adapt its strategy to changing customer goals as needed on a month-to-month basis. Posting the prices for the its services means that, if clients want to add something extra to the mix, they don’t have to haggle over what it will cost them . . . they already know. Posting prices also has the benefit that clients can see that they aren’t being charged any more or any less than the next client.

Initially focused on Israel’s technology firms, Penguin bridged to the international market when tech firms sought it out. Ten time zones between Israel and Silicon Valley proved a challenge, so Penguin opened a subsidiary in the U.S., which has greatly facilitated scaling.

Perry believes that focusing on a niche, “on something smaller, you’ll get more.” When Perry took on some manufacturing companies, the methodologies he had set up for the tech companies did not work, and his employees started to leave. Perry considered setting up a division to work with the manufacturers, but, in the end, decided to stay true to his vision. Divesting Penguin of the manufacturing companies led to some hard conversations and cut revenue 15 %, to the tune of $25,000 to $30,000 a month.

Perry says most agencies know marketing tactics, how to use the marketing automation platforms, and how to create beautiful designs. Yet, very few agencies have the creative and strategic thinking to help companies get “to the next level.” Creativity and strategy are what “really make the difference.”

Perry can be reached at his company’s website:, or by email at

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People Don’t Buy Widgets—So What are you Marketing?

Frank Cowell is CEO of Elevator Agency, a full-funnel digital agency providing a fully-integrated, synergistic marketing “ecosystem,” differentiates his agency by a number of things. The first one is that accounts are managed by strategists instead of by account managers. Why strategists? Frank has found that strategy development, system testing and optimizing, and working with the client is a big, full time job, and should be a billable function, not something to be covered through the less transparent means of skimming off other line items.

In this interview, Frank explains why he believes that most agencies (and many other companies) fail to sell the “right thing” . . . they more often talk about the “line item” services or skills their companies offer instead of selling outcomes. His company’s “elevator formula” involves understanding “what you want a business to ultimately be,” the “outcome of what you are selling,” and “the methodology for achieving those outcomes on a consistent, predictable basis.” Everything must be crafted with that end in mind, including the client selection process and team-building. He feels that companies start out as “consultancies,” and only become “businesses” when the principals can walk away for a month and the company continues to operate.

To achieve this level of organizational maturity, Frank notes that a company has to have a completely clear vision on its branding: Who is it going after as clients? What is its value proposition? and What brand promises does it need to make to win this business? It also needs to implement some variety of an Entrepreneurial Operating System whereby the organization focuses on a limited number of issues over 90-day cycles so that problems are truly solved and the company can move forward. In marketing itself, the company has to sell outcomes . . . and to differentiate itself from the competition.

Frank outlines his Elevator Formula, which provides a both repeatable methodology and service differentiation. The Elevator Formula is a defined process the agency uses for selecting clients, developing a winning proposal, and delivering a strategic plan that produces the outcome a client wants.

  1. Assume the majority of contacts don’t have a problem you can solve, or, for some other reason, are not a fit for your agency. Only consider taking on a client when you are certain they are a right fit . . . and that you will be able to help them accomplish the desired outcome. Is the outcome what this prospect wants and/or needs?
  2.  The next part of the process is discovery. What are the prospect’s target markets? What is their business model? What outcomes are they targeting? The purpose of discovery is to identify the “opportunity,” but also to qualify the contact at a high level. Does the contact have the budget and the authority to act?
  3. In the collaborative planning stage, the prospect and agency work together to fill in the blanks on the Elevator Formula blueprint, building a high level strategy. When the client helps build the plan, they are more likely to accept the presented solution/proposal . . . because they already have vested interest in it.

Frank’s emphasizes the importance of an agency fully understanding itself, what is it really selling, who is it selling to, and what is its desired outcome . . . and mirrors that model when describing what an agency needs to do to effectively serve a client: to understand the client, what is the client selling, who is it selling to, and what is its desired outcome . . . These critical questions that can redefine marketing strategies for both the agency and the client.

Frank can be reached on his company’s website at:, on Instagram and Twitter as @FrankCowell or by email at:


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Why a Catch and Release Agency Practices Client Psychology

Matt Hodkinson, Chief Exec Agent, Influence Agents, introduces his agency as “mutinous.” He feels the old agency model of schmoozing for long-term retainers is not in a client’s best interest. Instead. Influence Agents tells clients from the beginning that it “will not be there forever” and targets a two-year client relationship with these small companies, which are mostly mid-market B2B tech companies.

The agency’s “sweet spot” clients are the IT Managed Service Providers and Value-Added Resellers – techie companies that rarely excel in self-promotion. Matt notes that these companies are “not the best at telling stories about how great their technology is, and certainly not doing it in a way that engages people in the right way.” They will often talk about solutions at a technical level – an ineffective approach at best. Effective marketing, he says, talks about challenges and heightens problem awareness and need.

Influence Agents coaches clients to “marketing greatness.” filling in the gaps, designing strategies, implementing technologies, and providing in-depth training to ensure long-term success. At the end of the relationship, the “educated” client owns the marketing knowledge and expertise as a company asset. Matt is in the process of creating a knowledge base of marketing strategies, which will be exclusively available for Influence Agents’ clients. Catch, set up the client for success . . . and release.

Influence Agents, a HubSpot Gold partner (almost Platinum), focuses on customer psychology – understanding B2B prospects’ emotional and logical triggers for making purchase decisions – and marries that with producing tangible outcomes – the metrics of revenue, qualified leads and customers.

To gather psychological information about a client’s ideal prospects, Influence Agents defines and identifies them, interviews them away from their work environment, and asks open-ended questions about the challenges they’re facing – in all aspects of business. By recording and reviewing the stories and examples these ideal prospects provide, Influence Agents can tease out trends and themes, gain an understanding of the challenges and pains these prospects face, and discover how to add real value to help these potential customers. Knowledge of what the ideal customer needs directs the marketing strategies Influence Agents develops for its clients.

Matt cam be reached on his company’s website at: or on LinkedIn at — but please send a personalized intro.

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Build a Thriving Digital Agency Where?

Jacob Baadsgaard is Founder and CEO of Disruptive Advertising, an agency that helps companies grow to the next level using Google and Facebook ads, leveraging the platforms with revenue—through a CRM- or lead-gen-based campaign or by ensuring that the ecommerce analytics are strong so everything is revenue-driven, testing website experience to see what resonates with potential customers, and perfecting the website experience so clients can effectively scale.

Jacob started his career in web analytics implementation with Omniture. He soon discovered that pay per click (PPC) was the easiest metric to track and provided the most insights, and left Omniture shortly after it was acquired by Adobe to go out on his own. As his agency grew, it leaned heavily on Google-Adwords-based paid search to drive traffic to landing pages—but had no way to measure conversion until they implemented to refine the landing page experience.

Disruptive Advertising is located in Lindon, Utah. With a 2017 population of almost 11,000, Lindon nestles between beautiful Mount Timpanogo and Utah Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Utah. In 2009, 2011, and 2013, CNN Money Magazine listed it as one of the “100 Best Small Cities to Live in America.” Lindon is part of the Provo-Orem Metropolitan area, with a 2016 population of slightly over 600,000. Lindon is not the bustling metropolitan area where one would expect to find a thriving advertising agency with over 100 employees.

Disruptive Advertising has around 500 clients—and they’re not the mom-n-pops. An enterprise team manages accounts with monthly spends of $100 to a million dollars. A small business division works with lower-spend clients, e.g., healthcare and home service companies. The majority of Disruptive’s clients have an average Facebook and/or Google monthly spend of $20,000 to $50,000. Hardly average. How does that happen?

Jacob credits his company’s success to the fact that it takes its own marketing and branding very seriously, to the tune of a million dollars a year. Disruptive drives a lot of inbound, but, at the same time, maintains a laser focus on its performance-driven PPC and PPC ancillary services. When clients request “other” types of work, Disruptive provides these by partnering with agencies that excel in those specialties. Quality control is also critical for keeping Disruptive’s customers happy.

In order to track the performance of over 100 employees, Disruptive uses a technology that continually audits all accounts to confirm that best practices are consistently and universally implemented. Employees and their managers are likewise responsible for ensuring this is done. In addition, product owners in the areas of Google Ads, Facebook Ads, site testing, and analytics review all accounts on a specified schedule—a triple redundancy that ensures customers get the services they expect.

For years, Jacob put all his energy into growing his company, to the detriment of his health and his relationships. He felt the success of his business was a reflection of his value as a human being and that, the minute his company stopped growing, he would no longer be a good person . . . he would be a failure. A company valuation and mergers & acquisitions expert asked him some pivotal questions: “What is your plan with the business? What is your exit strategy? What is going on?”

When Jacob didn’t know whether he wanted to sell the business or what he enjoyed about it, the expert told him, “If you love what you’re doing and you love the people that you’re working with, run it the way that you love running it, take a little more off the table along the way, and just be involved with it long term.” When Jacob realized he could define his own success, he fell in love with his business all over again.

Jacob can be reached on his company’s website at or on its LinkedIn account at:

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Quick Wins for Long Term Profits

Josh Dougherty and Polly Yakovich own A Brave New, a 4-year-old boutique marketing agency focused on branding, inbound marketing, and web design. A Brave New uses strategy, marketing, content, and technology to help clients around the USA tell their stories, expand their reach, and connect with the right kind of customers, clients, or donors, “who will benefit from whatever they have to offer.”

A Brave New believes in developing a “smart strategy” and diving quickly into execution to get “80% of the way” to the final results—energizing client companies with quick wins, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and leveraging that experience to refine the strategy. Targeting perfection from the start wastes time and strategy does not have to be “complete” at the time of implementation. Companies can learn a lot by “doing,” adjust their course, and develop strategies iteratively over time. A Brave New has found that flexibility and nimbleness empower companies to leapfrog over the competition. In simple words, “Get to the marketplace quickly, then fix it.”

Both Josh and Polly came from a “big agency” and executed carefully-planned, strategic, employer-supported exits from big agency life. They honestly and openly shared their long-term goals with their employers and maintained good relationships with them as they adjusted their work schedules and phased into working at A Brave New full-time over a period of two years.

In this interview, Josh and Polly address the curiosity, discomfort with the status quo, and drive to explore new ideas that characterize the entrepreneurial spirit. They give a lot of credit for A Brave New’s success to great mentors and a network of entrepreneurs who advised and encouraged them through the hard times so typical for start-up companies. Josh comments that, “Fortune and the future really favor people who are bold and set big goals.” Polly agrees.

Josh can be reached on Twitter at @doughj or on LinkedIn

Polly can be reached on Twitter at @pollyyakovich or on Linked in at:

Both are also available on the company’s LinkedIn page: or on their company website, a Brave New, at

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Branding and Bonding on the Floor

Rhiannon Andersen is Co-Owner and CMO at Steelhead Productions, a company that designs exhibits and tradeshow environments, customizes displays to the clients’ specifications, rents out the components, and oversees shipping, setup, onsite union labor workers, and teardown.

Many companies sell complete exhibits or tradeshow environments. Steelhead Productions has been in the “rental business” since Rhiannon’s father started the company 22 years ago near Seattle. Rhiannon and her business partner, Sean, bought the company in 2006. In 2007, they decided to move to Las Vegas, thinking that, although they were doing well in Seattle, opportunity would be much greater in convention-rich Vegas. They arrived just in time for the economy to take a dive.

Riding out the 2008 through 2010 economic downturn by providing a lower-cost “rent vs. own” option for cash-strapped exhibitors, Rhiannon believes today’s “collaborative consumption” (e.g., Airbnb, Uber) is transforming how people have access to they want and is “right in line” with Steelhead’s rental philosophy.

Steelhead buys infrastructure components and maintains its massive inventory (and some of its high-end clients’ properties) in a 50,000 square foot warehouse near the Las Vegas convention center. The company provides flooring, infrastructure components, backdrops, furniture, specialty lighting, video screens, monitors and more—everything tradeshow and event managers need for temporary, impactful, and sustainable branding. Each display is customized to meet the renting client’s requirements. Rental exhibits have another advantage in addition to lower cost and curated setup—flexibility. Because companies don’t buy high-cost displays, they can easily update and refresh their “image” with every show.

Due to high fuel costs, the cost of crating tradeshow infrastructure and shipping it long distance can be prohibitive. Rhiannon recommends that exhibitors or tradeshow marketers develop relationships with exhibit rental companies like Steelhead near where they are exhibiting.

Rhiannon has found her company’s membership in Entrepreneur’s Organization and exposure to other entrepreneurs has brought an increased understanding of smart ways of being a business owner.

She feels that the future of the tradeshow industry does not rest on techno-glitter as much as on the human-to-human connection and bonding that can happen on the tradeshow floor.

Rhiannon can be reached on her company website at, which resolves to: On LinkedIn, the company shares thoughts on industry trends. Instagram and Facebook speak more to how the organization works.

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How to Grow a Happy & Healthy Digital Agency

Clodagh Higgins, author of A Happy & Healthy Digital Agency: 6 Pillars to Build a Profitable Business with Ideal Clients and Digital Agency Coach/Consultant for GROWIT GROUP, consults with digital marketing agencies and provides them with the resources they need to make wise business (financial, hiring, and recruiting) decisions. Her company, Growit, targets agencies new to inbound marketing or looking to accelerate team success, analyzes their goals, evaluates current go-to-market strategy effectiveness, and builds strategies aligned with the desired results. Growit has clients in Canada, the U.S., the UK, and South Africa.

In this interview, Clodagh explains that digital marketing entrepreneurs and their employees are two distinct kinds of people. Marketing entrepreneurs open their businesses because they love marketing, marketing strategy, and exploring new ideas. Given training, they may learn the intricacies of sales, marketing, and software technologies, but often have little idea of how to scale, how or when to hire, or even how to evaluate profitability. Employees of marketing entrepreneurs choose to work for entrepreneurs, but they want to know their career paths and the work process . . . and need structure and support to do their best work.

The most prevalent (and deadly) problems Clodagh sees in agencies are:

  • Chasing sales and not paying attention to services
  • Failing to hire a “traffic manager” when the service department gets beyond around 4 employees.

Clodagh emphasizes the importance of and reasons for a company to:

  • Define its 5 core values . . . and post them on the its website
  • Understand the DNA of the purchaser and the lifetime value of a customer
  • Mine current customers for more work . . . and for referrals
  • Time-track services and target 70% utilization of a services team
  • Post a page, “We are always hiring,” with 5 core values in sentence form
  • Make sure that clients are aware of an agency’s value add

Clodagh provides guidelines determining expertise, so agencies can offer higher value to their clients . . . and charge more for their services . . . because they are experts. She also recommends several software solutions to help agencies make operate more effectively.

Clodagh believes, “The future of agencies is all in the value and insights that they bring to clients” and an agency needs to remind its clients every single month of the results it has produced.

Clodagh can be reached by email at: or

The company website, where Clodagh blogs about agency life, challenges, ups and downs is Her book, A Happy & Healthy Digital Agency: 6 pillars to Build a Profitable Business with Ideal Clients, is available in paperback on Amazon and on Kindle.

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Control Risk? At What Cost?

Chris Denny is Founder and President of The Engine Is Red, an integrated creative agency which Chris claims functions more like a startup than like a traditional agency. The company provides a variety of services—branding, campaign work, and a lot of interactive and digital work—but it has eliminated the classic methods agencies use to try to control the risks and variables inherent in creative work—timesheets, project plans, change orders, scopes of work, contracts, and retainers.

The result?

Changing the way business is done changes results . . . Chris found that when his clients and agency were freed from old marketing paradigms, interactive creative collaboration resulted in bolder, more innovative work with less risk.

Chris says,

What does it take to produce risky and exciting and high-quality ideas? We’ve learned a lot about the sense of community and culture, the security and safety to explore dangerous things.

In this interview, Chris offers a number of operational insights he has discovered over the years. He believes that relationships are key to the quality of work produced . . . it’s not just a matter of talent.

The major cause of poor client relationships? Rigidity. Big ideas only break through when there is freedom and a trust in flexibility, when the client and agency representatives can sit down and hash things out from the beginning.

He says,

Find the right balance of predictability and safety, of freedom and autonomy, and focus on trust and empowerment. When things go wrong, be an educator and an encourager, not a critic – The more people as leaders focus on that, the more teams thrive and the more clients thrive. It makes all the difference.

At times, hashing things out does not produce expected results. One client wanted to expand its business of repurposing older buildings. In working with the company’s full leadership team, The Engine is Red discovered that a great barrier to “adaptive re-use” is not that people need to be informed about it . . . the real problem is that it is difficult to quickly estimate renovation costs. The company didn’t need a marketing campaign—it needed a tool. The Engine is Red worked with the company’s estimating team to prototype a product and ended up building a mobile application that fully specs cost, size, and occupancy of an adaptive reuse project—in under a minute.

The whole process of examining a campaign, pivoting to a product, and launching that product was completed in 10 weeks . . . on time and on budget—and all done with the original paperwork.

And why put an agency in Minneapolis? This was an early decision for the company, based on locating where there was a wealth of creative talent. Chris describes Minneapolis as “one of the most vibrant creative cultures in the country right now.”

Chris can be contacted on The Engine Is Red on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, on the company’s website at:,, or by email at: He encourages listeners to stop in The Engine is Red’s studios, either in Sonoma County or in Minneapolis.

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Re-wiring Attitudes and Behaviors, Embracing Change, and Winning New Markets

Bree Groff is CEO of NOBL Collective, a global change agency that helps quickly-growing startups or huge legacy organizations seeking to grow or scale to negotiate change. NOBL does not provide the strategy, or the brand work. Instead, it looks at decision-making, communication, meeting patterns and day to day interactions—the company’s culture—and collaborates closely with the company to steer the “human side of things,” embed the capacity for change and the feeling that change is productive and energizing, and help its clients get good at change—which is a critical competitive advantage—all without losing their “core.”

In this interview, Bree talks the “critical mass” for companies . . . when the number of employees requires new ways of doing things. She references Dunbar’s number, which is a rough measure of the upper limit of loose relationships a person can maintain . . . and still remember people’s names. Organizations reaching certain sizes often need to develop new ways of working in order to “move to the next level.”

How do you change large corporate cultures? Bree has found that, if you can effect behavioral and mindset changes at the individual level—even with very large organizations—and by repeating this enough times, change the organization to what it wants to become—more agile, more digital, more collaborative, more authentic, more engaged . . . and ultimately, more profitable.

Meeting-heavy company cultures tend to have a lot of ad hoc status meetings. Bree feels meetings should be intentional, with a “strong cadence around what you’re talking about with what frequency.”

NOBL published Team Tempo,, a guide to effective meetings. Bree recommends companies consider quarterly team retrospective meetings to evaluate the company’s internal environment and strategic sensing meetings, where teams discuss customer, industry, and technology changes that may impact the company.

How a decision is made can have a major impact on decision quality . . . and acceptance. After numerous client queries of, “How do I make a decision?”, NOBL developed a “Decider app,” available as a Slackbot at or as a web version at This tool asks a series of short questions and then recommends and defines the decision-making process that best fits the circumstances, highlighting the process’s advantages and disadvantages. The decision-making methods include: autocratic, avoidant, consensus, consent, consultative, delegation, democratic, or stochastic.

Bree can be reached on her company website at, on LinkedIn at /in/bree-groff-94281136/

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