Ten years ago, when the real estate bubble finally burst, Jeff Pulvino closed his decade-old real estate investment company and sweated through the “Now What?” people face when they find themselves out of a job. Social marketing was in its infancy. Jeff pivoted his company, and, using the strengths of its internal marketing department, jumped into Facebook marketing, and, ultimately, built a full-service digital marketing agency. It was not an easy climb.
Eight years into agency life, Jeff realized that, without a strategic plan, the agency was just “marketing in the dark,” and often failing to deliver what customers wanted and expected – a specific goal had never been communicated. Today, most of their 4- to 5- year-long client relationships start with a marketing strategy workshop, a 30-day, low-level engagement where the parties can mutually get to know each other, discuss objectives and strategies in depth, and determine if there is a “fit.”
Jeff explains that “most entrepreneurs, business owners, and established businesses come . . . for marketing, but they have no real defined marketing strategy.” As an additional challenge, these clients often come to Boost when declining sales have left them strapped for cash. They may know the results they want . . . and desperately need to survive. They may even by hyper-focused on some particular technology, but often fail to have an understanding of realistic timelines.
Boost Media Group takes a step back, looks at the realities of cash flows, calculates how long it will take to generate a return on investment, and then crafts programs that address a client’s current cash needs and long-term growth objectives. Starting with this workshop session has exponentially increased Boot’s close rate and its ability to attract new customers. One of Boost Media Group’s sub-brands, Fitness Media, helps “big name clients” in the fitness industry develop their funnels and monetize their brands.
In this interview, Jeff identifies some of Boost’s keys to success. In the early years of the agency, he focused on sales. Over time, he has learned that it is not about how much the agency sells . . . it’s more important to make sure clients are a good fit. He credits having a robust technology stack of project management tools, templates, and proven processes . . . and iteratively improving those processes to meet the needs of his employees, clients, and his company . . . to being able to consistently deliver great results.
Boost recently acquired another agency, SearcherMagnet, which is “highly specialized in direct response lead acquisition.” Jeff says that acquiring another company brought with it experienced, high-level, passionate team members that Boost never would have been able to hire. He looks forward to expanding more this way in the future.
Jeff can be reached on his company’s website at: https://boostmediagroup.com/, by phone, on Live Chat, or by filling out a Contact Us form.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m joined today by Jeff Pulvino, Co-founder and CEO at Boost Media Group based in Sacramento, California. Welcome to the podcast, Jeff.
JEFF: Hey, Rob. Thanks for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this.
ROB: Yeah, me too. For sure. Why don’t you start off and tell us what we’re looking forward to here? Tell us about Boost Media Group and where your excellence is in Boost.
JEFF: We are a full-service digital marketing agency. We’ve been in business – it’ll be 10 years next month, in January. We started in the social media space as that was new on the scene 10 years ago, and we jumped right in and started with Facebook marketing and have expanded since then to be a full-service agency today. We employ a little over 50 people. We do all aspects of digital marketing.
I’d say our specialty is we’re really focused on the strategy. What we find is that most entrepreneurs, business owners, and established businesses come to us for marketing, but they have no real defined marketing strategy. So where we find we’re hyper effective is by starting with them in a workshop environment and outlining their goals and outlining a digital marketing strategy that can be executed on over the next 2 to 5 years, depending on the business, and making sure that strategy details into their actual business goals, and then executing and performing on that.
ROB: Very cool. Is that initial strategy something that you do as an initial engagement, whether or not they’re a client? You give them a deliverable? Or is that part of the onboarding once they’ve decided to go with you? How do you think about that part?
JEFF: It’s part of how we begin to work with any potential client. We learned the hard way. We made a lot of mistakes over the last 10 years, and it’s something that we implemented about 2 years ago, over the course of working on campaign after campaign.
Working with a client, feeling like you’re driving the results that you thought they were looking for, but having a client say, “That’s not good enough” – over 8 years of being in business as an agency owner, we finally realized that if we don’t have a blueprint or a plan to go to work on, we’re just marketing in the dark, if you will.
It was no wonder that some of the clients weren’t receiving the output that they were looking for. It was because it was never communicated to us. Maybe a client hired us to do marketing, and maybe we were doing social media ads. Their expectation was to get 10 or 20 more sales or conversions a month, but we never engineered that to that specific goal. So, through trial and error over the years, a couple years ago we hit the pause button and said, look, there’s got to be a better way to do this.
Now, any client that wants to engage with us, we strongly recommend or insist on starting with a strategy workshop session, which is a lower level engagement for us to work through that process – generally takes about 30 days – and that way, they get a good feel for us and we get a good feel for them, and we can then mutually decide if it’s a good fit to move forward with being their marketing agency of record and performing services that we do.
ROB: That definitely sounds like something born from wisdom. I’ve really only seen this done two ways fairly effectively. One is that you get paid for a strategy engagement upfront and give them a deliverable that they can walk away from – which is well, good and fine – and the other is to do it as part of the engagement.
As you have experienced, I’m sure, when you sign, you sign a contract and it’s 6, it’s 12, it’s 18 months. But the practical piece of business is if someone wants to leave and quit after 5 months, are you going to sue them? What are you really, actually going to do there? You want to earn their business and earn it back.
JEFF: Absolutely. Nothing good comes from that. The hardest part of an engagement is making it through that first 6 months. Without the strategy in place, and even trying to do the strategy as part of let’s say the upfront, initial engagement – like if you’re working on a year engagement and you say the first month’s strategy, they’re rushing through that and they can’t wait for you to turn the marketing switch on and start generating leads.
We did try that for a little while, and we just realized that separating the two engagements and not being so eager to earn that 1 year or 2 year contract – it was kind of a little counterintuitive. We were so used to trying to close that commitment, we realized that once we let go of that and said “Let’s just focus on the strategy,” that approach was so much easier for the client to engage on.
We were able to build so much more rapport during that process that it actually exponentially increased the close rate and our ability to bring in new customers. And then the success rate of our campaigns went through the roof. So overall, it’s been the best thing we’ve ever done as an agency.
ROB: I think it’s counterintuitive because talking to customers – you mentioned it’s a lower level engagement. Talking to customers, talking to clients is time-intensive, it’s work, it’s hard. It doesn’t feel like doing the thing you said you’re going to do. But there’s such an opportunity to build trust every step of the way, into a multi-year relationship instead of just the contract that you signed.
JEFF: Right, and that’s so much more valuable. We’ve got clients that have been with us for the entire duration of the agency, and we’ve learned over the years that if we do things the wrong way and just focus on closing as many new clients as we can, they’ll cycle through, and the retention rates go down.
We’re far more successful and happy as an agency. It’s less stress, and you know the client, and you’re able to fulfill on what they want and hit their goals. It’s a much more pleasurable experience. I’m sure as an agency owner, you’ve experienced this. There are some clients that are super enjoyable to work with, and others maybe not so much. What we find is that this has been something that has increased our enjoyment level because we’re able to work with the clients that we want to work with.
ROB: For sure. You mentioned clients you’ve had with you from the beginning. Take us back to the origin story of Boost. How did Boost come to pass in the first place?
JEFF: That’s kind of a funny story. I’ve been an entrepreneur for close to 20 years, and my business partners and myself had a real-estate-related company. We were working in the real estate market. As you know, 10 years ago, the bottom fell out of the real estate market and we were in a business that was doing about $25 million a year. We were sitting there going, “What are we going to do?”
One of the things that we had done really well with all of our ventures is that we had always done our own marketing. We had an in-house marketing team. What we decided to do, out of sheer need and desperation, almost, was pivot out that team and create a marketing agency.
It wasn’t something where we set out to be marketers; the bottom fell out of our business, and we had no idea what we were going to do. Marketing was the idea that we came up with. It was a pivot. It’s something that we fell in love with, and we’ve done ever since.
As a real estate investment company in the real estate space, we had always done our own marketing. Looking at the market and seeing that the real estate market wasn’t going to bounce back anytime soon, and not sure what we were going to do, we decided to take that team that was doing the marketing for us and spin that out and start a marketing company.
We ended up pivoting from the real estate market into the marketing agency. It was something that we did out of sheer need and almost desperation, and it’s worked out well for us. We fell in love with it, and it’s something I think we’ll do for the long term going forward. I don’t see us ever stopping.
ROB: That really makes sense with the timing. I hadn’t really thought about it before, the timing of the intersection of the real estate collapse with what you mentioned before, which was starting off in social media marketing. Even that world has changed remarkably, but it’s really been, since then, quite a run for digital marketing in general.
JEFF: Oh, absolutely. When you call yourself a marketer or a digital marketer, you’re one of many in a very large ocean. Going back to the strategies, I think for a long time, we struggled with how we were different than other agencies out there, because there are so many agencies and marketers to choose from.
When we came up with this process of doing these marketing strategy workshops, it really cemented how we’re truly different than other agencies and allowed us to further identify the characteristics of our brand, Boost Media Group, and how working with us would be different than anybody else out there.
ROB: It sounds like some agencies will give a very large menu of what they offer, and then try and do everything with a client. By focusing on the strategy and then on the tactics, you’re probably able to get clients to opt in or out, to say, “You know what? We’re not real focused on SEO.” Or “we have a great email list” or “we don’t have a great email list, but we want to.” Or maybe they’re aware of video, which is in its own renaissance right now.
JEFF: Yeah, it’s interesting. It does help with that, and it allows us to also make sure what they think they want is truly in line with their goals. I just had a company that came to us about 2 weeks ago, and they came to us wanting SEO. They were really, really hyper-focused on SEO. They had done a lot of research about how their site was ranking and about how, over the past 2 years, they’ve lost market share based on their site not ranking as well with the changes Google has made in SEO.
All that information was correct, but they also, because of their loss of market share, were experiencing downturns in revenue, and they were really financially sensitive to what they could spend on marketing and how long they could wait for an ROI.
Through the marketing workshop, we were able to identify, yeah, you definitely do need to work on SEO, but based on your budget and what your goals are and the short-term window that you need to generate an ROI in, we need to focus on some paid advertising in order to increase revenue, to then increase marketing budget, to then be able to expand and focus on SEO.
That’s a really good example of how going through the workshop, we were able to identify a better approach and a more long-term solution that helps them hit their goals and also accomplishes their concerns about SEO, but provides immediate revenue increases.
If they would’ve hired us 6-7 years ago, we would’ve just given them the SEO they wanted, and 5-6 months into it they probably would’ve been frustrated because they weren’t seeing the spike in lead generation that they wanted because the SEO efforts are more of a long-term approach. It takes time.
ROB: I think another interesting wrinkle on your journey, Jeff, is if someone looks up your LinkedIn and your own involvements, they’ll see you also have Fitness Media on there. I am imagining that Fitness Media did not just emerge, fully formed, from your brain to do something different, but there were some experiences you had that gave you conviction that a separate brand was needed for this. Tell us a little bit about that process.
JEFF: About 4 years ago, we were doing some website work for a fitness athlete by the name of Jeremy Buendia. Jeremy Buendia is an Olympia champion in the Mr. Olympia competition for the physique class. He’s won four titles now as Mr. Olympia in the physique class. We met him after his second Olympia. He hired us to do some website work. I’m chasing him around, trying to get payment on a bill that’s roughly – it’s under $2,000. This guy is at the top of his career. He just won the championship in his division.
We become close, and I said, “Jeremy, what’s the deal? How is it that you don’t have the money to pay this bill? You’ve got a gold medal. You’re at the top of your game.” He said, “I don’t make a lot of money in this space. Even though I’ve got the medal, I’m kind of broke. My lifestyle consumes all that I make, and it’s not as glamorous as you would think.”
It was an “aha” moment for me, because I’m looking at somebody who is at the top of their game, who has all the eyes on him in the world, and they’re not really financially benefitting from it. Long story short, we ended up partnering with Jeremy and building his funnel. Here we are 4 years later, and that funnel has done seven figures in sales through selling online coaching and membership sites, eBooks, clothing, what have you.
That’s probably one of our most famous case studies as an agency, and that venture brought us a lot of recognition in the fitness space and fitness industry. Because of that, we spun out a sub-brand of Boost Media Group called Fitness Media, which is focused just on the fitness industry.
ROB: I can imagine that being even an ongoing trend. There’s lots of sports that are emerging, whether it’s your CrossFit, or famously, a lot of the MMA fighters in UFC – really, most of them don’t make much money, but they have a profile that can be used to do a lot.
JEFF: Yeah. With the way that social media is today, especially Facebook and Instagram, there’s so much opportunity to brand yourself and create your own following and monetize that, if you’re passionate about it. In Jeremy’s case, he’s very passionate about bodybuilding and fitness, and he was able to contribute to the writing and creation of a lot of the content that was his own way of doing things and training.
I think there’s a lot of people out there that have that passion that just don’t know where to start on how to create their own personal brand and grow it. With the opportunity that we all have today, that’s something that is out there for us to work towards, and it’s completely a viable career path for those that want to take advantage of it.
ROB: That’s a very fascinating modern take on social media. You started in social media, and things have gotten a lot more complicated. There’s still influencer marketing world, but you’re talking a lot more meat and potatoes. You’re talking about lead gen. You’re talking about commerce. You’re talking about things of sustainable value. Influencer marketing may be great now, may not be great later. This sounds much more sustainable.
Jeff, when you think about the journey so far, past 10 years of Boost Media Group, what are some things that you’ve learned that you might do differently if you were starting fresh today?
JEFF: I think one of the things that we learned is that it’s not about how much we can sell. I touched on that earlier. It’s more about finding the right clients that are a good fit unilaterally, a good fit from both sides.
We’re looking for our ideal client as much as they’re looking for the ideal agency. Finding that good fit and that perfect marriage, if you will, is what truly makes it a healthy company to where everybody enjoys working with that client and on that client, and it’s a long-term relationship.
In the beginning I was a little naïve, thinking that we just want to sell as much as we can, and that’s definitely not the case. It’s something we learned the hard way. With experience, I think over time, you just become a little bit more refined and slower to approach that relationship and making sure it’s a good fit. I think that’s definitely one example.
The other thing is having the systems in place. We’ve got a very robust technology stack of project management tools and templates that we’ve developed over the last 10 years – everything from how we deploy a project and how we track time, how we invoice – all those were things that we had to learn the hard way.
I’ve often thought if I had to do it over again, we pivoted out of a real estate investment company into a marketing agency because we had done our own marketing. None of us had ever worked at an agency. There’s so much to working at an agency that we had to learn the hard way. If I had to do it over again, I probably would’ve gone to work as an intern at an agency for free, just to learn all the nuances and problems that can come up as an agency that would’ve short-cut our learning curve and the lessons we had to learn the hard way, because we’d bump our head against the wall.
ROB: I think you referenced something that doesn’t probably get enough coverage. I think process as well as that agency tech stack – people talk a lot about their marketing stack, but I feel like we don’t hear as much about the business operations stack when it comes to really any company, but particularly agency side because there’s so many moving parts and there’s so any creative people. What are some tools that you have found work well for you?
JEFF: I think the most crucial tool if you’re an agency that wants to sale is a project management tool. We use Zoho Projects, and that’s because we use Zoho One, which has all of their tools and components. It integrates well with their accounting stack, which is Zoho Books, and their CRM, Zoho CRM. It provides near-seamless integration across all the different tools.
From an agency perspective, we’re using a recruiting software from them, an HR management software, a project management software, a CRM software, very in-depth data analysis analytics software that we pull in data from different platforms, like pulling in data from Google Analytics and Facebook and WordPress to provide dashboards and reports that cross-pollinate that data in one single data store.
So we have very advanced technology, technology stack, technology integration and reporting, and that’s so key when you’re on larger scale projects like the Jeremy Buendia project, where we had to understand where every sale is coming from and give a report on all the advertising costs that contributed to every sale. Pulling in that data from all those different platforms was the only way for us to truly achieve that goal.
The backend technology is so important to being able to run the business in a scalable manner. Otherwise, you’re doing all that manually.
ROB: I don’t know if I have talked to someone who is as deep into one stack – it’s almost the level that some larger organizations are dialed in to let’s say the Salesforce ecosystem. It sounds like you’re tied in pretty well to the Zoho world, and it looks fairly economical.
I think one thing that is an obstacle to tools is the adoption of those tools. You talk to some organizations, and some of their folks love Slack, and then a lot of their people don’t use Slack ever, at all. Their sales team doesn’t even touch it and doesn’t get it. How do you navigate your team through people who may not have a disposition towards process or towards tools, but helping them get to the table and realize this is the core of operating this business?
JEFF: It is admittedly a constant struggle. You’ve got to be very open to the feedback from your team, at least in my opinion. One of the ways that I try to approach things is that as a team, we’re going to agree on what technology we’re going to use and what the process is going to be within that technology. Once we agree on it as a team, I’m going to hold you accountable to that process.
That process is the adoption. As a team member, if you don’t find that process is healthy for our organization, then it’s your duty to raise your hand. You can’t just ignore the adoption and the process that, as a team, we’ve agreed to.
By taking a team approach, I’ve found over the years – and this was very hard for me. I was much more, in the beginning, “Just do as I say” kind of guy. I’ve learned and matured over the years that I’ve got to be open to the feedback from the team and hold them accountable to what the team’s agreed to, and that allows me to then in essence hopefully achieve better adoption rates, because now I’m holding them accountable to the team and not just to what Jeff wants as the CEO.
That’s worked well. But I just found the other day that we weren’t following a process that we agreed to in our ticketing system, so we’re in the process of redefining it. I think it wasn’t being followed because the team members didn’t like it and they hadn’t spoken up, so now we’re going to redefine it and prove it. That should lead to better adoption and more efficiency within the company.
So it’s a constant struggle. It’s continuous process improvement that leads to the higher adoption rates.
ROB: Jeff, I appreciate the candor when you’re talking about the journey that you’ve been on and the process that you’ve been through. It’s hard to realize when we can do better and then to go and do better.
When we look ahead a little bit to the future of Boost and the future of marketing, what are some things that are exciting that you’re looking forward to?
JEFF: One of the things that we just did 4th quarter of this year was we closed on our first acquisition of another smaller marketing agency. We acquired a company by the name of SearcherMagnet. SearcherMagnet was highly specialized in direct response lead acquisition.
I’ve known the CEO, founder, and owner of SearcherMagnet for a very long time, over 10 years, and we became good friends. We started joking about this 2 years ago over breakfast, and those jokes got more serious. Long story short, we ended up acquiring his company in September of this year, and we’ve been focused on that merger. We’re pretty much at the tail end of the merger and operating as one company now.
That was very interesting, and it’s something that I think, because of the success we’ve had with that, we definitely want to do more of that. As a larger agency approaching 60+ employees, and like we’ve discussed, with the technology stack and the infrastructure that we have very similar to maybe a much larger agency, we’re very efficient and scalable. It allowed us to acquire this business and merge it all in fairly easily. We feel like we want to make that part of our goals in 2020 and going forward.
So, we’re out there. We’re going to be looking to acquire maybe another marketing agency or two to help grow the business, and by doing so, bringing in some high level owners, executive types that are passionate about the industry of marketing – so passionate, they own their own agency. What we’ve found, through this acquisition at least, is that I’ve got a new business partner that there’s no way I would’ve been able to hire.
It took us a while to vet if it was a good fit, but what we’ve learned is that now we’ve got not only increased revenue, new team members, a new business partner – it’s been a very rewarding, successful experience, so we’re looking to do more of that.
ROB: It’s interesting how this first merger came from a point of friendship and helped you dip your toe in that water without having to overcome all of the questions you had to your process. As you look at it moving forward, clearly not every acquisition will come that close at hand.
What do you think it takes for people on both sides of that transaction – I think there’s an element of pride on both sides; on the one hand, the person who has had their flag in the ground, building their own business, to be acquired, and on the other hand, for the acquirer to invite someone else to the table as a partner. How do you think about that process and what it may take for people to get through that in their own circumstances?
JEFF: It’s interesting. I think it took us a long time because we talked about it a few times, but there was a lack of trust. We had to get to a point to where we were able to overcome and trust each other. That took us 2 years. In some cases, that could take longer. In some cases, that could take not as long. I think that you have to be willing to put your ego aside. You have to be willing to be completely transparent.
I think the trust was built to a point to where we were comfortable to proceed forward by increasing the transparency of where we were at with each of our agencies. From the outside looking in, we always want to paint the picture that we’re the best agency in the world, but every business has issues and problems that they deal with on a daily basis. It’s that constant improvement process approach that allows a business to grow continuously and scale. You’re going to always have new problems that creep up.
I think it was getting past the point of “I’m going to paint a perfect picture” and getting to the point where we trusted each other and said, “Look, here’s where my pain points are. Here’s why this would be a good fit for me. Here’s what I would be looking for out of the situation, because I would want to focus on this and I’d want you to focus on this,” and allowing the two of us to redefine our identities within that new merged relationship, and then taking ownership of those roles and growing from that point forward.
In summary, being very vulnerable and transparent allowed us to get to a point of putting our egos aside and trusting each other.
ROB: That solidly makes sense. It sounds like this process of self-examination that you have in yourself, where even over time, as you self-examine, you see these little holes in your game and your company and your go-to-market, and if we’re honest with ourselves, if they’re not getting smaller and they might be getting bigger, we may see that need where someone else fits – who, to your point, may be super hard to hire. You see agencies all the time try and make that key hire, and it’s such a big bet. It’s hard to do right, I think.
JEFF: It’s such a big bet, and then if it doesn’t work out, you’re putting your whole team through this cycle. We’ve made those bets before and bet wrong. This is something that turned out really well. I think that in some aspects, we got lucky that our first acquisition turned out really well, but we also learned a lot. We’re going to be looking at how we do that again going forward and minimizing the risk and trying to ensure that we have similar success in the next acquisition.
ROB: Fantastic. Jeff, thank you for going deep on this stuff and sharing where you’re finding strength that comes from identifying weakness. I think it’s super helpful for us all to think about. When people want to find you and Boost Media Group, where should they find you?
JEFF: They can go to boostmediagroup.com. They can give us a call. We’ve got live chat there. They can fill out a Contact Us form.
I am busy, but I’m never too busy to have a conversation. I always make myself available to get on a half-hour phone call with any potential client. Any person, entrepreneur, they just have questions, all they have to do is reach out and ask for an introductory call scheduled with me, and I’ll make the time. Never too busy.
ROB: That’s an amazing offer. Thank you for your generosity there, Jeff, and I hope that people will take you up on that. So good to meet you, and thank you for being on the podcast.
JEFF: Rob, thanks for having me. It’s truly been a pleasure.
ROB: Be well, Jeff. Bye.
JEFF: Thank you.
ROB: Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email email@example.com, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.