Visions of Success

Lisa Vielee, President, Well Done Marketing (Indianapolis, IN)

Lisa Vielee is President at Well Done Marketing, a 15-yer-old full-spectrum, strategic, creative, and technical agency that provides design, branding, content marketing, public relations, and digital strategy services . . . but not traditional media-buying. 

Lisa claims this small, independent agency is unusual for its size in that it has a full web development team and can “go straight from web design to UX, UI, and development, testing, and then continue with ongoing maintenance web development. Lisa explains that “design to development” can be a rocky handoff – but keeping everything “in agency” eliminates this problem. Today, websites, which used to be one-and-done “catalogs,” require constant updating to make sure they provide great customer experience, enhance and support the customer journey, and align with changing customer needs.

New business comes into Well Done in one of three ways—through referrals, through “the dreaded RFP process, and finally, and through outbound sales. Dedicated service managers serve as primary points of contact for clients, represent the agency’s team for the client and the client internally, and bring in the staff with required skill sets as they are needed. Lisa believes the agency’s small size of 30-some employees promotes nimbleness and the ability to maximize budgets.

The agency’s clients present the agency with “problems to be solved” but solutions now are far more comprehensive than they were in the past. Lisa says it is important to “not just focus on the initial creative strategy” (which tends to live short term inside a campaign) but to take a wider view and develop marketing strategies aligned with long term business and brand goals. She says marketing, is “more than just distribution channels and the4 Ps” (product, price, place, promotion)—marketing needs a seat at the C table. 

Lisa feels it is important to mentor younger people and asks them to define their “end goals” and “their visions of success.” She explains that some people may want to create a company, sell it, and become millionaires. Others may want a tight, small, focused team that provides meaningful service and personal satisfaction. Still, others just want to come to work and do a good job, day in and day out. Lisa says these are all valid and that, no matter what each individual is pursuing as success, Well Done will work to keep them challenged. 

Lisa, who refers to herself as a “communications generalist,” did not start her career at Well Done Marketing. After earning a degree in journalism, she almost immediately went to the “dark side,” and worked in a variety of public relations positions. When her political candidate/employer lost an election, Lisa started her own PR firm . . . which grew until she had a choice, she either had to start saying “no” or add employees. She met with an old friend, Ken Honeywell, to ask him to mentor her and help her grow to the next level. 

But Ken Honeywell had other ideas. He and a fellow freelance writer had started Well Done Marketing by outsourcing their services to other agencies. As they grew, they added visual and strategic skills and data management. Now, Ken wanted to add public relations to his firm’s offerings. He brought Lisa on board to add PR and with the intention of grooming her to take over the agency’s leadership as he started his 5- to 8-year journey toward retirement. 

Six years in, Lisa understands the culture, knows where the agency excels and has developed her vision for the agency’s future. Ken will be retiring at the end of the year. Lisa says the hardest part for her in stepping into the role of president has been giving up day-to-day client interaction. Her focus now is on agency-level problems and issues, expanding the agency from a regional to a national “marketing force,” and making it a legacy that lives beyond this transition in leadership.

Lisa is available on her agency’s website at Welldonemarketing.com.

Transcript Follows:

ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m joined today by Lisa Vielee, President at Well Done Marketing based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to the podcast, Lisa.

LISA: Thanks, Rob. It’s good to be here.

ROB: It’s excellent to have you here. Why don’t you give us an introduction to Well Done Marketing and what you do that is so well done?

LISA: Well Done Marketing is a 15-year shop here in Indianapolis. We’re a full-service marketing agency. We like to say that if it’s strategic, creative, or technical, we probably do it. That’s everything from design, branding, content marketing, public relations, digital strategy.

Also, kind of unusual for an agency our size as a small/mid-size agency, we have a full web development team. So we can go straight from web design to UX, UI, and development, testing, and then ongoing maintenance for our clients, which is really great because sometimes that handoff from design to development can be a little rocky and some things can get lost in translation. That’s part of the reason why we brought it in-house. For the most part, unless it’s traditional media buying, you can find it here at Well Done.

ROB: That’s an interesting evolution, because for a time – and this may be part of your transition – web development used to be kind of one-and-done. It seems to me now that a website is never really done and needs to be adjusted alongside everything else that’s going on with the brand.

LISA: Absolutely. Websites have gone from brochures online to really more of a customer experience. It’s the first thing people see and learn about your company, so keeping that content fresh has really evolved from being just updating blog posts to updating everything on your site and making sure it aligns with what the customer wants.

The customer journey is paramount, and I think that’s where having data and content and having that come together makes a lot of sense, and being able to change that in real time helps us as an agency, and we think helps our clients be really competitive in the market.

ROB: Right. It turns it from this big event into just part of the cadence. I totally understand that. Can you maybe give us a picture through the lens of a particular client? What’s a walk-through of a typical-ish client engagement for you? Who are you working with? What are the touchpoints?

LISA: For any advertising agency, there’s probably no such thing as a “typical” client. The clients that we love to work with are the clients that come to us with an overall problem to be solved. It used to be that was always an agency of record, but now it tends to be a project comes in and they recognize that marketing partners such as ourselves can help them do more than put a piece of content or an advertising campaign together.

One of our philosophies is to not just focus on the initial creative strategy, but to really take a step back whenever we can and focus on the marketing strategy. That’s really more aligned with business goals and brand goals, whereas a campaign – creative strategy tends to live in that campaign, that short term. For a lot of our clients, they’ll come to us for a project and then find that we’re asking questions and going outside of our lane, giving advice to them that goes beyond the campaign. Even if they don’t continue with us, our hope is that we can help that marketing person or that marketing director really understand why they need a seat at the table in the C-suite, and that marketing is really more than just distribution channels and the 4 Ps.

ROB: Right. As you talk about the range of services that you work with clients on, how are you then structuring the client engagement and the team around them? How are you establishing the primary point of contact and how do you bring people to the team around them? What’s that structure look like?

LISA: We have dedicated service managers responsible for all of our clients. They’re the primary point of contact. Then we bring in people as needed. Again, as a small independent agency, we can be a little more nimble. We can maximize budgets that way. So we’ll tell clients, with the exception of the initial kick-off meeting, where you want everybody at the table – other than that, you will see people when you need them at whatever stage of the process you’re in. That account manager’s responsibility is not only to represent our team for the client, but also to represent the client internally.

ROB: It’s such a key relationship and it’s always interesting to think about how to structure it, because it’s really make or break. There’s a lot of stake there in that role.

LISA: There absolutely is. A lot of agencies get started with the trifecta. You’ve got a creative person, a writer, a designer, and an account service person. For us, that’s not really how we started. Our two founders were both freelancers, so they started with this loose coalition of freelancers. The two people were writers, and they started an agency based on providing good content. Their first clients were typically other agencies.

Along the way, our founder decided that we could do more, that it really was about how he and his partner were thinking as well as the content that came out of it. So as the agency evolved, we found it made sense to show how that thinking works visually, strategically, through buys, through data management, and ultimately – my background’s in PR, so also in how we were communicating to different stakeholders.

ROB: Absolutely. I think you bring us to an important part of the conversation. You mentioned the founders of the firm, you mentioned those older parts. You’ve taken us through a little bit of the origin story, but let’s talk about your journey into the firm, what you were up to before, and what it looked like to dive into Well Done, and now you’re the president.

LISA: I am a proud communications generalist. I graduated with a degree in journalism, went over to the dark side and started working in public relations almost immediately, and over the course of my career, I’ve worked in internationally recognized nonprofits; I’ve done a stint in two or three different agencies of different sizes. I worked in state government, and then, as is typically the case in government, eventually your candidate loses. When my candidate lost, I took some time to think about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to balance my work and life.

I decided to hang my own shingle. You get to a point as a freelancer where you have to decide if you’re going to start saying no to preserve your own sanity or if you’re going to add people. I have trouble saying no, so I started adding additional people.

Ken Honeywell, our founder, and I have known each other forever. Indianapolis is known as one of those “small town” big cities. Everybody seems to know everybody, and in the marketing and advertising space, we all have tended to work with each other or for each other. So Ken and I have known each other for years. We came to a point where I actually asked him to go to lunch because I wanted to ask him how to take the next step. I was under five employees; he at the time had about 20, and I wanted to ask him to be my mentor and really help me grow.

It was a fun conversation because his answer was, “Well, sure, I’d be happy to help you, but I was hoping we could take this conversation in a different direction. I think we need to add PR, and why don’t you come on board? And oh, by the way, I think you’d be a great successor and a great leader for Well Done.” Really, it was one of those I was looking through a door and he opened the window, and we started having that conversation.

From the beginning, we were very intentional about not only how to add that service line and that different way of approaching a customer’s communication needs, but also how we were going to approach the internal management of the agency. The staff immediately knew that it was a sign that Ken was going to retire. We always said it was a 5- to 8-year journey so that I could learn the culture, I could really come in and understand where we did our best work and what that meant, and also put my vision together for the second generation of leadership.

And now here we are 6 years later, and it’s bittersweet because Ken is retiring at the end of the year, but everyone is ready. Not ready as in “Get out of here,” but ready in terms of we know where we’ve been, where we’re going, how our story is evolving.

ROB: What I’m hearing you say is first day in the door, you were going from around five people in your organization to maybe around 30 or so? What was that jump in responsibility?

LISA: Yeah, I was employee #24. In the last few years, we’ve added people. I think we’re now at mid-30s. I’d like to think that bringing my company in was a good addition because we’ve been able to add clients and add people.

But the other thing that I’ve realized, again, as that communications generalist, is I was well-positioned to understand the agency from a business perspective. A lot of agencies that are started the way ours started don’t necessarily have the greatest business structure.

I take this role of president really seriously in that I’ve given up being involved on the day-to-day – which was really, really hard. That was probably my biggest challenge at first. I didn’t want to give up that day-to-day client interaction and being involved in solving their problems. It took me a couple of years, but I realized after time that my job was to solve the problems and issues of the agency and working on the agency.

That’s really set us up for success going forward because my leadership team, we have big dreams. We want to grow from a regional company to a more nationally recognized agency. And having someone at the helm of that is a really important part to making that happen.

ROB: Was that the hardest part to let go of? The last responsibility you wanted to give up was working directly with the clients, then?

LISA: It’s been a 5-year journey. To be fully transparent, I am turning over the reins for my last client next month.

ROB: That’s progress, right? I think you highlight a neat opportunity for the entire services industry. There’s seemingly always room for the next wave of companies to rise up from nothing to regional player to national player. Some of them get bought along the way and some of them stand strong. It’s a great journey to be on.

LISA: Yeah, I think so. It’s exciting, for sure. In my experience, from the places where I’ve worked, a lot of agencies, especially in the Midwest – we’re very humble people. It’s kind of scary to share that big goal. But again, to have a founder who is so willing to help his baby get to the next step and bring on someone that can really make it become a legacy – because that’s the other thing. Agencies tend to come and go as the founders come and go. It’s been a real gift to have this opportunity to really work with our leadership team and envision where we want to go and make it something that can be a legacy for our founder.

ROB: When you start to think about growth, there’s lots of struggles, but there’s a couple that constantly come into play. It’s sales and execution in the services business overall. I think one of the hardest things to get predictable for an agency can be seeing a lane to predictable growth beyond – I think sometimes we just feel like we luck into business, we get referrals, we grow organically. How have you thought about scaling growth? I think that can be very intimidating.

LISA: That’s an interesting question, because we’ve tried several different models for that. We have had a couple of new business directors and have found – and maybe it’s just my poor hiring, but we’ve had people that are great networkers and can open doors, but are not salesmen, and we’ve had people that are great salespeople but don’t necessarily understand the agency business.

We have now made business development a responsibility of our accounts team and really have encouraged anyone that has that dream client or that industry that they bring some expertise or they want to grow in, to bring that to the table, and we’ll start looking for connections. I might be dating myself here, but it’s a little bit like seven degrees of Kevin Bacon. Eventually we sit down and realize that there’s no such thing as a cold lead.

ROB: Right. What I hear you saying is that the accounts team function in an opportunity identification mode, and then it’s more of a team sport after that.

LISA: Yeah, it is. Let me take a step back. New business comes in in one of three ways. We’ve mentioned referrals; that’s always a primary source, especially from clients who believe in what you do and think you’re a good partner. There’s always the dreaded RFP process. [laughs] It’s a necessary evil of our business and can result in really good work. Then the third piece is that outbound sales. I think this is a place where ecommerce, SaaS companies – obviously, you get into the retail and consumer market, people do really well. But professional services tend to have a struggle in carving out time for that.

I think that’s the difference. That’s where the lead really happens for a small agency to become more of a mid-size regional player: by recognizing that you have to sell yourself a little bit as well and go after some of those big fish. For a long time, we talked about how we were punching above our weight class. I’ve really challenged our team to start thinking, maybe we’re in our weight class. Let’s just punch where we are because we can do the work and we bring a special kind of strategy and thinking to the table that helps distinguish us from some of our larger competitors who may have scaled to such a size that the process is there, and it works for their clients, but we’re a little bit scrappier.

ROB: Right. There’s an extent to which I think unless an organization is very intentional about seeking a particular size of opportunity – I know very small consultancies that pursue very large clients, and we’ve talked to a couple of agencies on the podcast that are 800 people and they’re working with local plumbers. Those are the exceptions. Everything else seems like, to an extent, the right size opportunity ends up matching your speed. I can’t quite explain the serendipity of it, but it seems the size of opportunity comes to you when you’re ready for it, to an extent.

LISA: Yeah, I completely agree. Serendipity is a great word. I have always referred to it as karma. One of the things any company has to do, in my opinion, as they grow is have the ability to say no. That’s the local plumber thing. It’s really hard to say no to business, especially – we’re a 15-year agency; we lived through the recession. We’re currently living through COVID, and third and fourth generation of COVID. There’s a tendency to just take any work as it comes.

I’m a firm believer that if you say “No, thank you” with a referral – “Let me hook you up with someone that might be a better fit” – that’s karmic, and people remember that. They remember that you’re good people, and when the time is right, that’s going to come back around and it’s going to serve you.

ROB: Something I think you alluded to when you mentioned the SaaS companies, the startups, the software companies – it seems that sometimes service companies, agencies, will try to borrow maybe a little bit too much from those playbooks, and in the process they’ll try to act like a SaaS company that’s trying to sell $500 a month widgets, which is never going to feed the business sufficiently.

How have you thought about the right granularity of sales? It sounds like by surfacing the leads through a thoughtful process with the team, you’re avoiding this kind of “Let’s blast the universe and everyone who could be our customer.”

LISA: You couldn’t have said it better. On my drive in to work, I listen to marketing podcasts much like this one, and I wish I could remember where I heard it so I could attribute it correctly, but I heard someone talk about issuing a challenge to agencies to decide where they live on a continuum. Are you an agency that makes things, or are you an agency that thinks things? So a true consultancy, which has become a bad word, or that widget-maker?

I like to think Well Done leans more to the thinking things side. We’re not a good fit for people that need widgets. We’re going to be too expensive, or our process is going to be too frontloaded, or frankly you’re going to get frustrated because we are interested in creating your brochure or your website. We’re really interested in understanding not only how to find a solution for your problem, but why is your problem a problem?

So we tend to really look at context as well as content. Our model is very audience-centric, and that means our client – we get that our clients have 1,000 things to think about. For us, we’re thinking about them 100% of the time we’re working on the account, but for them, our work is only a part of it. If we can ask smart questions, help them consider things outside of our little part of it, and take some of that off their plate simply by understanding the context in which they’re working, then for us, that’s really when we’re successful at our job.

ROB: That makes sense. You’re going to naturally match pace with some of those clients that look like where you are as an organization and where you’re comfortable. In the startup world, they talk about – not that we’re hunting animals; people won’t like that metaphor – but the question, are you hunting rabbits or deer or elephants? You need to know, because those tasks all take specific tools, specific teams, specific tactics, and you’re going to have to build the whole organization around it. Or you’re just going to wait around and see what falls into the trap, I guess might be the metaphor. [laughs]

LISA: [laughs] And it requires some strength of character as an organization as well. When you hunt elephants, that’s a longer play. It takes more people. You’ve got to see the elephant from every side, and there’s some risk involved with that. So it’s building some of that internal trust that this is going to be the right fit for us; this is going to fit our mission. For Well Done, our mission is to do good in the world and work with clients who are doing good in the world. That’s not a fit for everybody.

Yeah, sure, we could – what’s the other analogy? – shoot fish in a barrel, as long as we’re on the hunting theme here. You could shoot fish in a barrel and get all of those little projects pretty easily, but it doesn’t help an agency grow, and frankly, in my experience, I don’t think it is satisfying for people that really have a passion for this industry.

ROB: Lisa, as you reflect on your tenure with Well Done, but also leading into that, what are some lessons you’ve learned along the way that you might want to go back and tell yourself to do things a little bit differently if you were starting over?

LISA: Some of it is really personal to me and my personality, so I’m not sure how helpful this’ll be, but all the personality tests I’ve taken, I’m a driver, I’m a high D, Type A. One of the things I’ve learned along the way is the bull in a china shop method is really not effective. It really, really is not effective. It really is about listening and learning and creating a culture of mentorship. Up, down, sideways, we all have something that we can teach one another.

I think when I stopped moving and sat and observed this agency – and that was really a gift, to have that time to do that – that was when I recognized that the sum is greater than the parts. I know it sounds kind of cliché to say that, but you’ve got to focus on people as well as profits.

I get a lot of questions from our team about “How big is big enough? How large are we going to grow?” It’s really hard to put a concrete number to that for someone like me. It really is about we will be too big when we can’t focus on our people and also maintain a profit that allows us to grow. That’s the best answer I can give. That’s when I’ll know that we’ve grown too large: when our culture and our mission start to suffer.

ROB: That is so much the answer that I think is hard to learn and hard to articulate. Start with the mission. What is the mission? We actually had a situation where our team said, “We’re too small to be the partner that we want to be for clients right now in every respect.” But that’s part of the goal of the mission: to have a place to go to. If you’re not doing it anymore, then you realize you’re not on the mission and it’s too big.

LISA: That’s really interesting. I know several companies here locally that have actually decided to downsize because they weren’t able to provide what they felt was best. I applaud that. I’m at a stage in my career where it’s really important to me to start giving back to younger professionals, and one of the things I tell the people that I mentor is to really understand how you define success. Success doesn’t have to be creating a company that gets bought and you’re suddenly a millionaire. For some people, that’s exactly what success looks like. But for other people it really is having a tight, small team and staying in your lane and providing the service that is meaningful for you and allows that personal satisfaction.

I think generationally, that is starting to change. I think the younger generation gets the fact that there needs to be some personal satisfaction and that the career ladder is not maybe as important as it used to be, and the focus on personal growth. That’s something that, again, talking about listening, we try to understand as people come on board. What is your vision of success? What is your end goal? If you want to go from production designer to designer to art director to creative director, if we know that, we can help provide a better career for you and also know that you are interested in growing with us.

But you know what? If you want to come in and do your job effectively, day in and day out, there is absolutely room for that as well, and we’re going to try to keep you challenged. That’s something as an industry I think marketing and advertising needs to come to terms with: people that just want to come and do a great job every day are still so valuable to the organization.

ROB: Yeah, it’s a very timely both challenge and opportunity. In this time, I think a lot of people have reconsidered what kind of role they want to do, and when and where. People who want to max out compensation can play that game, and some people who want to do meaningful work can play that game, but they might want to do it differently from how they were doing it let’s say two years ago.

LISA: Yeah, it’s a totally different way to think about business, and that can be a challenge, to be that kind of flexible organization. And again, there are very large agencies that are doing it really well. It just depends on where you want to go and what your definition of success is. But I think to your point, it also is really important that we change the business mindset to fit the people that are coming into it.

ROB: Lisa, when people want to find you and connect with you and Well Done Marketing, where should they go to track you down?

LISA: Well, they’d better go to the web, because I just said that’s where everybody starts. [laughs] The nice thing about our name is it’s really searchable. Welldonemarketing.com is our address. If you’re in Indianapolis, we say our door is always open. We’re right next to a Mexican restaurant with great margaritas, so you can come and see us too.

ROB: That’s wonderful. I do recommend a visit to Indianapolis. I’ve enjoyed some time there, for certain. Thank you so much, Lisa, for coming on the podcast and sharing your journey and the story of Well Done.

LISA: Thanks, Rob. It’s been a really great discussion.

ROB: Be well. Thank you.

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 info@convergehq.com, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.