Sandra Fathi, Chief Strategy Officer at Affect, Acquired by Gregory FCA (New York, NY)
Sandra Fathi is Chief Strategy Officer at Affect, a public relations, marketing, and social media agency that focuses on B2B technology, healthcare, and professional services. The agency clients range from “startups to large multinational publicly traded companies.” B2B tech includes such things as “cryptocurrency, data, cybersecurity, supply chain and logistics, mobile application development, and cloud computing.” Healthcare includes healthcare IT, devices, MedTech. and services but stops short of highly FDA-regulated areas. Clients’ products tend to be complex but further challenges for the agency include multiple decision-makers and multiple considerations.
Ashley Logan, Founder and CEO, Yakkety Yak (Chicago, IL)
Ashley Logan is the Founder and CEO at Yakkety Yak, a full-service purpose-driven content marketing agency that provides blog writing, social media marketing, video production, and website design and development for brands and organizations that want to make the world a better place.
John Kriney, Founder and President, OptFirst Internet Marketing (Miami, FL)
John Kriney, is Founder and President at OptFirst Internet Marketing, a Google Certified Partner (2010) that specializes in full-service online marketing campaigns and website, app, and landing page development. Campaign expertise includes customized search engine optimization; Google Ads search, video, display and shopping campaigns; cross-platform remarketing; E-commerce marketing; Facebook and Instagram ads for lead generation, sales, or brand building purposes; LinkedIn ads; and combinations of all of that.
In 2003-2004, John started selling after-market auto customization products in Los Angeles, CA; ranked his business first in searches for body kits and parts, and generated up to $3.5 million a year in sales. As things slowed in 2006, John sold that business. What to do next?
Seeing his success, six business owners he had worked with requested his help with their online marketing. In 2008, John moved his business to South Florida, named it OptFirst, and provided his clients with profitable conversions. He made sure they knew how much much money they were making per campaign, per campaign type to ensure long-lasting relationships. When companies wanted to focus on branding, he demanded that both the target and the success be quantified.
He admits there are three types of competitors that may steal his customers: the one-off internet whiz kid who is someone’s nephew, vertical internet marketing agencies that draw customers away by speaking the “right jargon,” and the traditional marketing agency that’s trying to tack on digital as a service. “Lost” clients often return – a tribute to his agency’s collaborative approach of “one business owner working with another.”
OptFirst was one of the first early adopters of LinkedIn direct conversion campaigns and has been running campaigns for the University of Miami’s Continuing Education Department, marketing 22 different programs on that platform for over 4 years. Because OptFirst’s efforts with the University of Miami outperformed all other universities by 90%, LinkedIn took John and a University of Miami representative to lunch. They had proved a profitable campaign could be run on LinkedIn.
John believes you need 3 channels of incoming advertising for any business . . . so they also run SEO campaigns, Google Ads, and paid social for the University. In total, the agency offers 11 different campaign types, of which SEO has the lowest CPA.
John has written 3 books on search engine optimization and internet marketing. He thought he would hand his 8-step SEO plan to clients and lose business because clients would now know what needed to be done. Providing that knowledge was “the right thing to do.” But it didn’t work that way. The 8-step book made him the “expert” for work clients did not want to do. They would thumb through the book and immediately sign his proposal.
Since the pandemic, John created “the seven steps of becoming an author” and has guided half a dozen business owners to getting published. He says “There’s no better way to control your Google presence than . . . becoming an author. When you put a book out on Amazon, there’s a knowledge panel to be claimed as an author on Google, and then you really control your first page.”
John says his “slogan” for the times is: “2020 is survive, and if you make it to 2021, then you can thrive.” He can be reached on his agency’s website at: OptFirst.com, at John Kriney on LinkedIn, and by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Twenty-nine years ago, Alvaro Psevoznik, CEO of DM Agency, was a 19-year-old Argentinian law student, designing flyers for hospitality clients in exchange for admissions into nightclubs. Alvaro found himself frustrated with Argentinian politics – which is plagued with fiscal instability, political corruption, de-motivational handouts for a large percentage of the (unemployed) citizenry, and a cycle of massive financial crises every 5 or 10 years. Alvaro’s experience was, no matter how hard one worked and saved, bank accounts could disappear overnight. This constant uproar, Alvaro says, makes it hard for people in South American countries to plan and work toward a future.
Alvaro moved to the U.S. in 2002 and went back to hospitality marketing. He claims that early adversity provided lessons that helped him survive the 2007-2008 recession (which closed some of his small- and mid-sized clients’ businesses) and prepared him for today’s Covid-19 challenges. In this interview, Alvaro talks about the importance of positive messaging, adaptability, and being “transparent” when faced with crises. He emphasizes that changing Covid-19 “rules” requires fast response.
Today, DM Agency is a comprehensive, full-service, one stop shop for digital marketing solutions. Alvaro explains that there are costs associated with trying to provide a wide range of client services—you either risk people discovering that you are not as “good at everything” as you claimed, or you find yourself supporting an expensive, diverse “stable” of top talent in order to be able to “deliver.” If he were to start over today, he says he’d focus on specific industries and doing only what he was best at doing – lead generation through online advertising.
Most DM clients are restaurants or hotels, but DM has also started to expand into the Esports — organized, online, multiplayer video game competitions that produce $2-3 billion a year through advertising and sponsorship. Esports, Alvaro says, is huge. DM has virtual offices concentrating on Esports in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, and South Florida. Alvaro has created “splinter” agency entities – pretty much the same staff/different “labeling” – that focus on specific unrelated industries in order to avoid such questions as, “What would a restaurant marketer know about marketing windows?”
Agencies often advertise that they are “bilingual. Alvaro says that DM is bi-cultural. Speaking Spanish is different from thinking in Spanish or Latino. DM understands that the Spanish community in the US is not a homogenous group – the culture of origin varies significantly by geography across the US. The agency divides Hispanic marketing into four regions: Mexico and North America, Central America, South America, and the South Florida Cuban community.
Aside from South Florida, how do cultural differences play out across the United States? New Jersey, New York, Chicago have strong Puerto Rican communities with some Mexicans and Dominicans. Mexicans as a majority are located more on the West Coast – Arizona, Texas, and California. Because the words, the accents, the thinking patterns, and the cultures in each community are different, marketing needs to be different. Alvaro hires Hispanic staff that mirrors each targeted audience – so the messages “rings true.” Google translation does not work. Neither does human translation if the culture, vocabulary, and thinking patterns of the translator are not the same as those of the target audience. Authenticity cannot be faked.
Alvaro can be reached on his company’s website – DM agency, as in digital marketing agency – dmagency.us
Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO, Bayshore Solutions (Tampa, FL and Denver, CO)
Kevin Hourigan is President and CEO of Bayshore Solutions, a digital agency that started in 1996 as a branch of a managed services provider – a 3-member team building and maintaining client networks. Two years later? Thirty employees.
Decades ago, one of the Kevin’s engineers developed a company website and asked 100 of the company’s clients if they would be interested in a 3-page website for $500. Client responses were either “What’s a website?” or “We’ll never need one of those.” One client agreed to give it a try. That $500 website cost $5,000 to build, but two years later, in 1998, clients came begging for websites, which were now more profitably priced at $7,500 and up.
The company failed in its attempt to go public in the late 90s and survived the dot com crash in the early 2000s. Its base of paying clients plummeted 90%. In response, the company slashed its staff from 225 to 12 in a year. Larger agencies, the ones Kevin considered as his mentors, the ones that went public . . . failed. Bayshore Solutions is one of only 2% of the digital agencies that survived the dot com collapse.
When Kevin realized that what he had left of the company would never again be “an aspiring dot-commer on the verge of going public, spending money like it’s going out of style with clients spending money with us like it’s going out of style,” he knew it was time to rebrand. He wanted the new name to be “agnostic,” that is, not tied to any transient technology. Bayshore Web Development could become obsolete. Baysore Solutions, on the other hand, would not be tied to any here today, gone tomorrow technology.
For almost 25 years, BayShore Solutions has helped clients create advertising campaigns that drive qualified traffic. It designs and develops powerful stakeholder-targeted websites with the right marketing mix to help its clients succeed. The agency markets itself as a digital expert, applying strategies horizontally across a variety of verticals, transferring experience from one vertical to another completely unrelated (and non-competing) vertical. Every solution is unique, with a balance of the “bleeding edge of new and the tested, tried, and true.” Around 90% of implementation strategies are things Bayshore KNOWS will work. The 5 to 15% that is experimental will vary depending on the phase of an industry’s business cycle.
After Kevin had excellent experience working with a CEO coach, he decided to let his leadership team hire an executive team coach. The result? Tighter vision and a better definition of core values (working together, winning together, and solving problems together), with the team all learning together, rather than receiving the information from “an informed Kevin. He says, “Having a team coach, we’re hearing the same thing at the same time.”
In response to the impact of Covid-19, Kevin explains that his company has reduced unnecessary expenses and increased its marketing budget by 50%. He says the company’s strategy is to market and sell its way through the crisis, rather than trying to cut its way through. The results so far? Leads are up, traffic is up, and sales have met December’s forecasts. He plans to continue operating this way and says the agency’s next 90-day plan is to remove unnecessary operational expenses and reinvest that money in sales and marketing efforts.
Justin Ramb, President and Sandra Marshall, VP of Client Services, Bigeye (Orlando, FL)
Justin Ramb is President and Sandra Marshal, VP of Client Services, at Bigeye, a full-service B2B and B2C agency that focuses on audiences, creative work, media and analytics, and data.
Use primary and secondary research to discover who they are, where they consume media, what they look like, and what triggers them to convert
Develop marketing personas that match two or three target audience personas
Test strategies against those personas to ensure activities align with objectives
Use current customer data to develop lookalike audience and personas based on existing data
Develop personas based on where company wants to head. Is it looking to capture new clients or new types of clients? Supplement data with key stakeholder interviews, additional research, online research, and quantitative/qualitative research.
B2C: Bigeye utilizes specialized tools to learn about a client’s audience and customers
As part of persona development, the agency tests messaging, colors, headlines, and photography for optimal audience response.
Rather than resent the parameters of defined personas, the creative team appreciates understanding the target audience.
Media and Analytics
As part of persona development, the agency explores media usage.
Media develops a persona-based media plan and begins placement in that media
Utilizing Google Analytics and custom dashboards, the Analytics team tracks establishes targets and KPIs
24/7 analytics data provides information about how things are performing.
Data answered the questions: Where can things be optimized? How are conversions going? Do the real audiences align with those targeted?
Bigeye started in 2002. In this interview, Justin describes the chaos of those early years and the ultimate discovery that the agency’s greatest success was driven by hiring team members who were committed, skilled, and aligned with the agency’s direction. Sandra added that the agency also has to “arm” new employees with “the appropriate support,” foster a sense of collaboration, and avoid over-siloization.
Justin outlines the updated review and review cycle program (structured through a program called Lattice) the agency uses to keep everything running smoothly. Every two weeks team members submit a four-question online survey that covers how they’re doing, what roadblocks they have, and anything they want their manager to know. Every quarter, team members submit three or four agency- and personal-growth goals. These are used to project the agency’s direction in the subsequent quarter.
Finding a mentor, someone a step or two ahead, can help a startup avoid pitfalls. Justin comments that if you find an outside counsel and can afford that person, it’s probably not too early. He also mentions ways to find such help for free. He says strategic, balanced growth is healthy growth and believes that a company that is not growing is dying.
Justin and Sandra can be found on their agency’s website at Bigeyeagency.com, where visitors will find an “incredibly updated” blog.
Justin Gray, CEO and Founder, LeadMD (Scottsdale, AZ)
Justin Gray is CEO and Founder of LeadMD, a performance marketing consultancy. The agency concentrates on achieving tangible, holistic business goals – defining a buyer, launching a product, increasing revenue – to produce bottom-line impacts, rather than focusing on middle-process goals such as website or cost-per lead-optimization. Most of LeadMD’s over 3,500 clients are B2B and B2C considered-purchase organizations – big market enterprises of $100 million and up.
A “considered purchase” is a complex buying decision, fraught with emotional and financial risks and potential rewards – one that requires extensive pre-purchase research and evaluation. In B2B, this space might include software purchases, but it is more than that. LeadMD’s clients include technology providers (50% of clients are software providers), healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, and “anyone with a channel sale type of go-to-market.”
LeadMD bridges the space between being a global strategy consultant and providing regional implementation. The agency has data science, strategy, and go-to-market teams – who set strategies, plug those strategies into a broad range of systems and marketing platforms, build processes that work for clients, measure results, and optimize performance over time. Justin says that broad scope of function is rare in the B2B space. LeadMD’s consultants find the diversity in clients, the variety and unpredictability of problems and solutions, and the challenge of cobbling together customized solutions . . . exciting, and average 5 to 10 active, and widely-different campaigns a month. Close client relationships are critical.
New clients may come to LeadMD with a particular goal. The agency uses its “Catalyst Marketing Framework” that clearly states the client’s objective and then provides a “laundry list” of what the client will need to have solidly in place in order to achieve the stated objective. This helps them align their activities to the objectives, and, in the end, produce significant, relevant outcomes.
Justin has discovered over the years is that many clients believe they already have a full understanding of their buyer profile. Often that “full understanding” is only superficial. Do they really know who their buyers are? All of them? Then, do they know the platforms where their buyers “hang out”? Probably not. Yet that information is critical to know because those platforms are where LeadMd’s clients need to focus their marketing efforts.
LeadMD’s 3-person data science team digs in at a deeper level that its clients have – researching the market, defining buyers, assembling ideal customer profiles – and then translates that information into engagement and messaging frameworks.
LeadMD utilizes role-based psychological/personality profiling to select candidates who will strengthen the organization—either by reinforcing role-desirable traits . . . or by bringing a new direction to the role. The hiring process can take as long as 2 months. Fifty percent of the organization is employee owned.
Matt Weber, President at ROAR! Internet Marketing (Altamonte Springs, FL)
In 2007, after nearly a decade of experience in numbers-focused direct-response marketing, Matt Weber used a business broker to buy a small jack-of-all trades agency that provided sales training, traditional media marketing, and a small bit of web development. Over time, that agency became ROAR! Internet Marketing, where Matt is now President. The agency’s forte today? Measurable actions.
In this interview, Matt explains what a buyer can expect from a business broker, how to select one, broker limitations, and a broker’s role in facilitating business acquisitions. He warns that it will be challenging to evaluate transactional opportunities in the next few months. But, he also expects to see a lot of merger and acquisition activity as companies adjust to the COVID-impacted business environment. Matt’s general tips? Agencies will need to be more aware of costs now, “throttle back” on anticipatory hiring, , and eliminate “tool bloat” (buying multiple tools with the same functionality).
Matt is no stranger to change. In 2007, websites were little more than glorified brochures. Matt shed virtually everything of the original business, rebranded it, and focused heavily on digital marketing conversions and direct response. Early on, 85-90% of the agency’s revenues came from web development.
Today, 80% of his agency’s revenues come from recurring digital marketing services, primarily for three verticals: elective medical (almost recession-proof), recurring-business home services (need-based), and manufacturing (which has a completely different cycle than consumer-based marketing). Matt says, when you focus your efforts on a limited number of verticals, you “leverage your success more effectively,” and follows that with the comment: “Diluted focus yields diluted results.”
Matt has created a free tool, Smylelytics.com, which he compares to a car’s “check engine” light. (It won’t tell you what is wrong, but it will tell you when to take a look.) Twice a month, Smylelytics evaluates a company’s Google Analytics, translates the information into memorable, themed photographs, and emails the company with the (good/neutral/bad) “news.”
Matt serves as a national trainer for the Grow with Google program, where he presents small- to medium-sized businesses with a one-day class that covers Google My Business, Google Analytics, and Google Data Studio tools. He also speaks at conferences, frequently on the topic of, “5 Things Your Website Is Trying to Tell You but You’re Afraid to Ask.” Here, he provides a brief overview of those 5 things:
Does your website, as a salesperson, feel confident in selling your business? Is it effective in turning leads into sales?
Where should you focus your limited time and budget?What do the analytics show you about which efforts are paying off and which are not?
Is your landing page making a good first impression? What does your landing report say about what your first-time visitors do on their first visit?
Who likes you best? Focus your efforts on communicating with those who like you the most.
Are certain pages repelling your customers? Stop serving the bad pages.
Mayt is available on his agency’s website at: RoarontheWeb.com or on Twitter @BestWebDesignFL.