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The Podcast for Agency Leaders

Join Kelly Campbell twice a month as she goes deep into what it means to lead a creative agency, with interviews discussing leadership, culture, mindset, and more.

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EP 46:How to Pivot Toward Market Opportunity, with David Title

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly chats with David Title of Bravo Media. In a world focused on “data versus delight”, opportunity might mean creating market demand instead of responding to it.  

 

TRANSCRIPT

 EP 46: How to Pivot Toward Market Opportunity

Duration: 22:48

 

Kelly: Welcome to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we’re talking about pivoting toward market opportunity. We might want to call it pivoting toward humanity in a way. I have my friend David Title here. He’s a Chief Engagement Officer at Bravo Media, an experiential agency in New York City. They have found a ton of success in staying nimble. There's probably no other way to put it. So, David, I'm really excited to finally have you on the show. I know we've been talking about it for a while.

 

David: Yeah, it's great to be here Kelly. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited.

 

Kelly: Of course! So let's just jump right into it. Maybe start out by talking about how, what Bravo media originated as and then what the evolution of the service offerings and all of that has been over the course of its time that you've been a partner.

 

David: Sure. So it's definitely been, I guess, a nontraditional path in terms of when you think about agencies and how they come about. We really came from the production side of the street and the entire operation grew up around a single sound stage in Midtown Manhattan, very small little green screen stage, that at the time in the early 2000s, were sort of too small for film, not doing great. The two original founding partners took over the space, cleaned it up.

And when I started hanging out there, starting around 2007, 2006, we had gotten the place up and running. And there had been this sort of amazing technology evolution that had happened where we'd gone from a place where almost all kind of commercial media was still being produced on film and it was mostly destined for television.

And all of a sudden we got to a place where digital video was a legitimate format that looked great. And then YouTube and streaming video happened in December of '05 and all of a sudden you have this mass democratization of one of the most powerful marketing tools in the world.

And we happened to be nicely positioned to service this brand new marketplace of essentially small to medium size businesses that had not traditionally been able to use the power of video and animation as part of their sales and marketing collateral because it's just too expensive to make and to distribute. And the traditional commercial production companies and commercial agencies weren't looking to get into the $10,000 home page video business. Didn’t even know that was a business.

 But we saw an opportunity to build out a kind of all-in-one facility to help produce these explainer videos, and thought-leadership material, and home page videos, and YouTube channel build-outs, all these brand-new content formats that hadn't existed twelve months before. And again we thought of it really going into it as a production job. We make these things. We have our animators, and we have our shooters, and we have our editors. But we realized through processes, we’ll also helping to develop all that creative because we were working direct with those clients. There was no creative agency partner.

 

Kelly: No middle man. Nothing.

 

David: Nope. And so, we were helping to develop both the creative side of that to whatever degree the client needed it, but we're also physically producing it, editing it, delivering it, distributing it in many cases. And that really gave us an interesting perspective on that emerging business area and got us thinking a lot about what is the nature of this content, and what its purpose, and how does it work, and how does it affect people. And how do we make it more effective, because that means more people will come and wanna buy it from us.

 

Kelly: Make sense.

 

David: It made perfect sense, and we were also able to build sort of a production pipeline. Immediately when we- I had come from a very traditional large commercial production called Crossroad Films and 89 editorial, and we had avid suites in plain systems and all this really expensive stuff and these very expensive people that did those things.

We’re like, you know what? There's Final Cut, there’s After Effects, there's top-rated off-the-shelf Macs. We can literally set up a production studio for a few thousand dollars. And we are able to really tap into this emerging workforce of younger, creative folks that- Our lead animator when we first started out learned After Effects by using a cracked copy that he had gotten from a pirate page starting when he was in the seventh grade.

You are never going to get someone that learn that way. And so it’s always been this sort of bottom up, use what's available kind of thing to get the job done. And at the same time figure out how to make it good and-what was cool about doing it in that space is there was no one telling you what was wrong. Coz no one had done it before. You can’t tell me my home page video is wrong. You've never made one before.

 

Kelly: So that was like 2006, 2007.

 

David: Right. Through that, and because of the nature as we all know in this world, pharma and financial services like to have budgets, and they liked what we were doing because we were helping them looking feel cool in a way that the big agencies were helping in Adidas or Coca-Cola feel cool. And so we got to get involved in their conferences and trade shows. And that's really, that was our first big evolution and that's what brought us into what now I think of as the beginning of us entering into experiential. Which again is one of those terms I think may go away. Experiential marketing reminds me of new media.

 

Kelly: Or digital marketing.

 

David: Yeah, I think it’s maybe it's only just marketing.

 

Kelly: Yeah. Or some other word that no one’s using.

 

David: Yeah. But we started doing things like projection mapping, and large form ad animations and graphics. And then also seeing a desire for more interactive experiences especially on the trade show side, got us to bring in our personal developers that we could start building that stuff in house. It never occurred to us just to come up with idea. We were always like well we have to know how to make it. And so, I think we've always been a good combination of proactive, in terms of hey this is a cool thing, let's try to do it. And reactive in terms of seeing what our clients are interested in.

And trying to understand how to provide that and then how do we get ahead of that to some degree. And so we were doing these really cool things for really uncool places. So like I'll never forget my five days at digestive disease week in Chicago Illinois. But you can learn so much about experiential, walking around a Pharma trade show and see all the missed opportunity because we’d like to think about this special audiences, we are all just people like those doctors are just people, they are just like you and me. They just happen to do some very gross things that I'll never un-see in that trade show floor.

How do you make engagement there?  How do you make it interesting? How do you make it compelling? And again it was a great environment because nobody there was going to tell us we were wrong. Nobody was telling them to do anything but keep putting up posters. And so through that we really got a lot of on the ground experience and some very difficult environments with some very uncool products and messages that we had to make fun, engaging and dynamic.

So that when we finally started beginning to meet a few people on the traditional agency side, which was really our only way to get entree into consumer brands. Especially five six years ago, very few brands were looking outside of our agencies for a whole lot of consumer-facing anything. And that is softening for sure now. But they started to come to us because this bubbling up of what this experiential thing that everyone sort of wanted. But agencies have been making commercials for fifty years and they are great at it.

But that's very different than creating an experience, whatever that is, an activation. And if your activation isn't just handing out product, what is it? And so we began to take what we were learning in that sort of weird offshoot world of trade shows and conferences, and begin to apply that to more consumer-facing. That let us play in some bigger arenas and begin, one for us is an education around kind of the agency side. Nobody at Bravo have spent the day working for a major agency.

 

Kelly: Yeah, that was going to be one of my questions.

 

David: We come from a sort of diverse group of backgrounds whether it was theater or traditional print production, the art world.

 

Kelly: Your background is in video production?

 

David: Well originally my formal degrees are only in theater.

 

Kelly: Okay.

 

David: And directing, that was my prior life.

 

Kelly: That doesn’t surprise me.

 

David: No, it fits in there somehow. And that was always, directing is the combination of thinking and making so it does all mesh together.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so my question is always going to be somehow I'm gonna get positioning into the conversation as you know.

 

David: Yeah, let’s do it.

 

Kelly: You know me. So your positioning statement for a while now has been- and you say the straight up on your website right on the hero image is we make wow, which to me it’s a memory maker. It's definitely something that has stuck and it is very true, but it's not really a positioning statement.

And so my question is: as Bravo has evolved and you are seeing these different market opportunities, and you're being nimble, and you're following, and it's all working, how has that led to this sort of what you call like a primary challenge, maybe one of your only challenges at Bravo, which is the positioning statement, or the positioning itself. I mean a lot of people have said to you, "Why haven't you just chosen one vertical, why don't you just- you're great a projection mapping. You did the Sistine Chapel for Steven Colvera. Why don't you just do that because you're great at that? And what is your response typically?

 

David: Well for us like projection mapping was just another means to an end. Because we started really around content and video animation so we're like well now we need to make this bigger. What are things that make this bigger? Oh projection. So let's learn how to do that, so that we can make it bigger. And oh people want things to be able to play with them, so we have make them interactive. Let's learn how to do that and make that part of it.

We've always struggled, one with the finding ourselves as a production company or an agency. We know we're not a consultancy. That is really clear on. Just because, if we're not doing, if we are not making, then it feels sort of like spinning my wheels. It doesn't mean we won't help ideate and conceptualize and do all that kind of creative thinking, but we like there to be a real point to it, like to be engaged in that part of it. But where we, I think our biggest positioning challenge is that production versus creative. And I don't know to me it seems like an unnatural split that you have those happening in completely separate functionary worlds. Because why you do something and how you do something are so intrinsically connected. So internally in our minds we don't have a positioning problem. Public facing…

 

Kelly: It’s everybody else's problem.

 

David: In my mind it makes perfect sense, but we try to say the sentence, even alone in the shower, it's just garbage. So it is definitely a challenge but we do our latest sort of evolution into the world of what we're considering kind of long-term display in creating experiences that are going to exist for months or years.

 

Kelly: Whether they're interactive or not, doesn’t matter.

 

David: Responsive or just a living breathing part of the environment in some way. That's in this whole new world for us where we're bringing this service that one kind of like you're doing back in '06, '07, the service nobody wanted or needed a couple of years ago or thought about.

 

Kelly: But now they see it and they want it.

 

David: And there's this growing, just like in the corporate office world and the corporate lobby world, there's this incredible competition going on that's driven by ego, which is not a bad thing when it comes to getting people excited to do stuff. But people want their offices to be an experience. They want their lobbies to being experience, and that's a brand new thing.

But there's a whole world of businesses and services, AV integrators and building operations managers and architects and designers that we've never worked with before that now we're coming into that world. And then we're like, "So who are you, and what's your place in this? And they're like, "Hmm, we're gonna have to get back to you on exactly how we are doing that, but let me find out what you do! Okay. We don't step on your toes. I can tell you that. We're not gonna supply hardware, we're not architects so okay we can do it by elimination a little bit..." But this is our new positioning challenge.

 

Kelly: Right. So it's really navigating who you're partnering with. You know that ultimately the service or the product, I guess is a better word for you guys. The product is something that they never knew that they wanted before, now they wanted and they actually believe that they need it so it's like plugging that in. It's just really interesting because so much of what you're saying honestly goes against like the facets or the foundation of positioning. So it's a fascinating conversation to me because it shows me that there are many different sides to this and many different ways to find success, whatever you measure success as and that kind of brings me to what we talked about a little earlier, which is- Bravo media, it's a private self-funded firm. What are sort of the pros and cons from that standpoint when it comes to being this nimble and sort of pivoting towards market opportunity.

 

David: Well, obviously because we do self-finance the whole thing, I don't have an extra, sort of side pot of money to try to ramp something up super-fast as these opportunities are popping up more and more in the sort of long term display. Would I like to unleash a twenty-person sales force on to the world? Maybe, that might be interesting. The ability to sort if give these rapid scalings around some of these opportunities is more challenging. But at the same time not having to be beholden to outside investors, not having to carry debt means that we can make our own decisions without any feeling of either creating conflict or creating disappointments and that has really helped us I think grow but it also makes it really physically responsible.

 We keep way fewer people. I mean one of the number one things people often will say when they visit the studio after they get them looking and saying how cool everything looks which it does, it's like, "Is this everybody? Yeah, pretty much this is it. Like you make all of this with just these people?"

"Yeah," We say completely seriously, "We've been receptionist-free since 2004." Because anybody, someone go up the elevator say hello and ask what they want. You don't necessarily, I understand you get to a certain type of scope and you need someone there to crowd control but I'm not a Disney world here. We don't have a receptionist, and little things like that that seem weird or crazy.

 

Kelly: Anti-agency?

 

David: We work with a lot of these companies that are either start-ups or get purchased by a WPP or whoever and get this huge influx of money, and the first thing they do is they start hiring people and like, what are they gonna do with all those people, what are they gonna do all day. And so it creates a different mindset internally. I think our culture whatever that is.

We haven't given that a whole lot of extra thought either. We don't do retreats. We don't do group bonding exercises but everyone from the founder to the intern sits at one big table, which is still a luxury for us that we  will outgrow but it does engender a certain mindset that we're all in this together in these moments together and we all have a voice. We also need to contribute and some of the best ideas come from the junior developer that's like, "Oh you know what would be cool if we did..."

 

Kelly: Yeah, well what's interesting about that is you say you don't do team building exercises or bonding exercise and whatever, it's kind of interesting that you have this almost like an anti-agency model like you don't even use the word agency a lot of times but it's almost like you don't need that extra external force of going and doing these things and creating these experiences for your team because every single day what you're working on automatically does that because of the way that you're sitting and the way that you're allowing everyone to have their voice and you don't have separate rooms for each. It is just interesting that you don't really need that external stuff because you kind of live that every day. So that's also super intriguing to me.

So as we wrap up here, what's your bumper sticker takeaway for other agency leaders who are really struggling with, or are just trying to figure out like what is the market opportunity, what's next for our agency, how do we even figure out how to get there or what it is?

 

David: Sure, well one constant sort of refrain here, sort of a topic of a lot of discussion both internally and with a lot of the other folks that I work with, is internally we talk a lot about this notion of data versus delight. And in the experiential world especially where we are in a time where you can collect so much data. And get so much feedback and information and metrics and KPIs and all these numbers, and data is really seductive and it feels like it's giving answers and solutions and all this great stuff.

And you can point out and say, "See!" But there's not enough focus on the light and experiential is the light, like it's the experience and all the data in the world will never, Disney didn't create his stories based on data and I think it's easy to get lost in all the data and letting data drive a lot of your thinking and a lot of your decisions and not trusting your own basic kind of gut humanity around what do people want to experience?

 

Kelly: Right, like you said before, when we spoke earlier about the fact that you have to ask some of your own clients like would you actually enjoy that?

 

David: Yes, "Do you want to stand in line in the hot sun for your turn to do that?" And they're like "I would never do that!" You are not different than your consumer. Again, it's back like our trade show flow with the doctors. They are just guys that go home at night and watch TV or play Xbox or hang out with their kids or whatever like we're not, just because you're on this side, we have access to all these data and all this information, don't lose sight of the importance of delight.

 

Kelly: Yeah, yeah.

 

David: That's my driver.

 

Kelly: Well I love it. I think we should make a, "Delight versus Data" bumper stickers like tomorrow.

 

David: I love it.

 

Kelly: It will probably be interactive and holograms and whatever if we love Bravo do it but…

 

David: Absolutely.

 

Kelly: Awesome. So thank you so much David. This is really a great conversation. I knew it would be and I really appreciate you coming on the show today.

 

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EP 45:Training Your Digital Project Managers, with Ben Aston

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly covers the importance of training your project managers with Ben Aston. They discuss the courses, resources and thought leadership articles for DPMs who are involved in waterfall, agile or hybrid methodologies at digital agencies.   The Digital Project Manager:https://thedigitalprojectmanager.com/ DPM ...

TRANSCRIPT

 EP 45: Training Your Digital Project Managers

Duration: 13:43

 

Kelly: So today, we’re covering a topic that is really on the minds of a lot of digital agency owners in particular. How can I ensure that my project managers are best supported, best trained, so that my agency can run and fire on all cylinders.

So my guest today is Ben Aston, founder of The Digital Project Manager platform for thought leadership, training, jobs and more. So he is going to go in all of that. But welcome Ben, it is such a pleasure to have you on the show today.

 

Ben: Thanks for having me.

 

Kelly: So you founded the The Digital Project Manager in 2011, right? What was the inspiration or the impetus that led you to recognize that there was a gap in the market and then actually create a solution for it.

 

Ben: Well, you know what? I think back in 2011, I had been in the industry for 7 years or so, and I think in the early parts of my career, I’d realize that there weren’t any resources online that I could draw from, to try and find out how to do my job better. What was the best practice and what could I learn from other people?

I could learn by the people in my agency, but it didn’t really feel like I was learning from the wisdom across the board. So I started this project, which really the idea started as an eBook and I blogged around it. I never finished the eBook. But the platform The Digital Project Manager exists. And it was based on that idea that I wanted to help people, prevent people from going through that pain that I experienced early on in my career where having I guess impostor syndrome or not feeling like confident in what I was doing. So there that was the goal really.

 

Kelly: And your background was you started out and became an actual scrum master, so you are very, very involved in digital project management and agile methodology and all of that.

 

Ben: Yeah, at the beginning of my career, actually I started in above the line ad agencies, and I’d say prior to that, I was a developer myself. But I started in account management and then realized that yeah, based on technical background that I had actually lent itself quite well to begin to lead teams of people trying to deliver digital projects. So yeah along the way, I picked up some letters after my name as well, but really it is that kind of experience of having a love for technical and having a love for leading teams of making things happen that kind of gets me excited about leading projects in the digital world.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so talk a little bit about the platform itself. And what it actually offers for the PMs at digital agencies.

 

Ben: Yes, it’s becoming a quite popular platform, so we get more than a quarter a million views every month. And people are really interested in the how-to guides that we provide, so each month we’re trying to teach people how to do something, whether or not that's how to write a great communication plan, how to kick off meetings properly, how to kick off projects properly, how to create a project plan.

And also just beginning to unpick, I think some of the antagonism between traditional project management and digital agencies. And the reality is the world that we live in, the digital agency we kind of describe it as the digital wild west, because lots of these traditional project management methodology seems like- hey that’s way too heavy and way too much for a digital agency.

So what we try and do is try to show actually that there is a lot synergy there. We kind of learn a lot from the traditional project management approaches. And yes agile is exciting and everyone’s excited about running agile projects. But what we try and do is show actually have some of the traditional PMBOK best practice, PRINCE2 best practice. Yes, which is traditionally waterfall but a lot of that we can apply to projects to help deliver better, more successful projects.

 

Kelly: Right, and it is not just about projects. I mean, that even crosses over into retainers and ongoing work that the PMs are overseeing.

 

Ben: Yeah definitely. And yeah I think that's what yeah one of the challenges in the agency world. We’re dealing almost with products, like if you think of a retainer as a product where there's a backlog of things that the client wants to have priorities, they're all priorities, how do you manage the conflicting priorities, and help them, guide them through that process of making the best decisions about what they spend their retainers on.

I said that they get value at the end of it and I think that's why the kind of agile side of things come into it like how are we delivering value, and delivering value incrementally, so that we don't just do these huge big projects by the way incrementally delivering value to our clients.

 

Kelly: And I know I mean you touched upon some of the topics and some of the things that you cover but I know that you actually author and oversee some of the content itself on the site. So can you talk a little bit about the breadth of topics that are available for PMs in the form of the articles and some of the other, you mentioned how-to guides but specifically maybe with the articles. What's the gamut of that kind of things that people are learning?

 

Ben: Yes, so we could try and position things across the entire project life cycle. So from project initiation, project planning, which is a really key part of this. I think there's a lot of mistrust of project planning especially within an agile world but project planning is really important. And then managing and controlling projects- so in that middle stage where things go wrong all the time how we how we deal with that and then closing projects as well.

So the complete project life cycle and there's things in that, everything from how to run projects using a hybrid agile waterfall methodology right through to kind of softer things around leadership. And actually we just published something on mental health and burn-out so if anything, it is content really that's applicable for anyone who's leading projects in a digital world whether or not they’re called a project manager or whether not they’re just by de facto project lead who hasn’t got that title, that one when this kind of picks up the slack so yeah it's for people who are managing projects.

 

Kelly: It's funny that you touched upon mental health and balance wellbeing and things like that. Are you starting to find that that's becoming more of what the audiences actually asking for? Are we talking more about emotional intelligence and those softer things that you're talking about? Because I'm seeing that in my world as well.

 

Ben: Yeah, I think that I mean obviously it's vogue right now but I think also there's, if we kind of yeah think about that progression through our careers, I think at the beginning you'll just focus on trying to get your job done and I guess Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in terms of hey, I just need to know what I'm supposed to do and then I think through that process you can get burned out and that’s why this kind of yeah…

 

Kelly: The human side.

 

Ben: The human side becomes more important and we actually run a webinar on how to run projects with emotional intelligence and that was massively popular. We got some great feedback on it and I think if people are having this realization that actually it's not just about getting the job done but how we do it is important as well.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I love that. So for the agency leaders that are considering sending their PM's to some type of professional development or training, can you share a little bit about the DPM school in particular?

 

Ben: Yes, like we've been talking about, we published a whole bunch of content, but what we kept hearing time and time again was actually people just want to learn, okay, what is the best practice and to learn in a short amount of time, and to kind of get up-skills and give them confidence in their ability in the way that they’re leading and managing projects.

So yeah last year, we launched the Digital Project Manager School. And our first course on that is called mastering digital project management and it's a seven week course that covers the whole project life cycle. Like I was saying before it is right from, actually we talked about methodologies and how we approach agile and waterfall and this kind of minefield that it seems to be currently with- clients want agile, but does it really work in the native environment? So we tackle that.

We tackle how to kick off projects with clients and your teams. Then we go through the project planning process, creating timelines, estimates, and statements of work and then we talk about managing, controlling projects and what happens when they go off the rails…

 

Kelly: How we get them back on.

 

Ben: How we get them back on, how we approach these difficult conversations. And then finally in week seven we talk all about project leadership. And really I think that's kind of fundamental of what I'm passionate about, which is leading not just ourselves but our teams and being not just project administrators.

But I think the role of the project manager, the digital project manager, is changing to be more of a strategic role in steering this ship of the project, which is all about thinking about how am I delivering value, how am I delivering that for my agency, for my team, obviously the clients, but thinking about the end user as well. And so, there's a UX focus to this as we think about, okay, what does project leadership mean, and how do I lead myself and my team through that so that we get to that place where we’re delivering projects well.

 

Kelly: Right. And I think it's so important to talk about this, because I think the role of a digital project manager is one of the most important roles at an agency. I mean it's almost like a central hub, or like if you think about it in a restaurant term it's like the expediter. You have to make sure that your cooks in the kitchen know exactly what they need to prepare, you need to get that out in a timely manner, you need to make sure that the clients are happy or the customers are happy.

It really is such a critical role, and I feel like there is not enough emphasis put on the training, which is why I was super excited to connect with you. And just bring this to more people, because they don't think that a lot of agencies understand how important it is and the fact that there are these resources like yours out there. So just appreciate that. And as we're wrapping up, I know you also have a DPM podcast and I’d love to hear a little bit more about that, where can we find it, what kind of things are covered in that?

 

Ben: Yes, so if you go to the digitalprojectmanager.com, it's just the primary. We unpacked different things. So we often talk about the articles that we've published. So in the podcast we kind of get the story behind the story. I talk to the authors to find out about what lead them to say what they said and trying challenge them a bit to get different perspectives on that.

We've also started a video class recently as well. We have two and a half thousand people in our slack community and what we try and do is tackle some of the tricky questions the people in the community are asking us. So it's kind of just tackling some of those thorny issues or questions that kind of remain a bit unanswered. So we're trying to provide a resource to the community and this community is growing really fast.

We’re growing probably like ten percent month on month so our growth is really quick and it's just interesting as more people are becoming, I mean, they might not be called digital project managers by job title, but effectively that’s what they’re doing and they’re looking for guidance on how to do that well. And I think with the pressure on budgets, clients are constantly trying to get things done. But how do we manage projects in that kind of environment, while still having integrity to ourselves and helping the people around us I think is really key.

Kelly: Well said. So I will definitely post the digitalprojectmanager.com in the show notes and is the webinar that you mentioned earlier, is that also available online somewhere?

 

Ben: It is online. We have a YouTube channel and you can check it out on there.

 

Kelly: Okay. I'll post a link to that YouTube channel as well, because I think that would be a really great resource to add into the show notes as well.

 

Ben: Yeah.

 

Kelly: Yeah.

 

Ben: Awesome.

 

Kelly: Thank you so much Ben. I really, really appreciate your time. Very grateful for it.

 

Ben: Oh, thanks for having me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EP 44: How Team Trust Inspires Innovation, with Jay Melone

  On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly talks team trust with Jay Melone of New Haircut. Jay and Kelly discuss the impact of team dynamics, and how shame and vulnerability push us toward true innovation on behalf of our clients.  

 

Transcripts

EP 44: How Team Trust Inspires Innovation

Duration: 00:20:08

 

Kelly: So today, we're talking about innovation at agencies but we're going to focus on the role that team trust plays in pushing our work further on behalf of our clients. My guest and good friend today is Jay Melone, partner at New Haircut, a digital project product strategy group based in New Jersey. And Jay, just like every time we get together, I'm really, really excited for the discussion, so welcome.

 

Jay: Thanks Kelly. Thanks for having me. This is a good discussion. I'm glad that you put it on the table for us to talk about today.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so let's start with I guess foundational question. Why do you think teams at agencies or consultancies, even in-house teams, why do you think that they lack trust to begin with? I think that's a good place to start.

 

Jay: So I'm of the 50% of people that believe that everyone is doing their best so I don't think that people are untrusting. I think their environments cause them to put up walls just like in in our personal lives, in relationships that we have at home with our kids, with our partners. I think the same triggers happen to us in the work environment and agencies, in-house teams, any kind of team that's working together where trust is required for groups to come together and to create together is very vulnerable, and requires trust and accountability and all these things. When that's broken, people start to put their walls up and then I think trust becomes a really a limiting factor.

 

Kelly: Can you share a quick example of sort of how you've witnessed this and some of the work that you've done with other brands or groups or agencies or whatever it is?

 

Jay: Yeah. Well, almost all the time I get asked to join an organization and like all human beings, they're reaching out to me because they are ready to move the ball forward and create something, bring something to market. And sure enough, time after time, what will happen is we'll be in the room trying to think about what it would look like to bring that solution to market and we get into this creative space where people are asked to put their best ideas forward. And what happened with me is over the course of many, I run a process called the design sprint and the goal of design sprint is to move from an idea, a group of understanding of an idea and put something in the form of a prototype so you can test it and bring it to market thereafter. And the groups that I work with are typically excited about the process and the methods.

 

But what I've seen happen either in a training format or even in a live environment with groups that are trying to work on a business priority is that their ideas tend to be safe. So they'll be super excited about that we're working together, that even that they're in the same room as someone that they're not used to being in the room with. So a designer being in the same room as an engineer maybe not so crazy but the designer being in the same room as an accountant as a lawyer, someone that works in the finance team, bringing those people together doesn't typically happen and so the process is supposed to put them together so that they can just create but what happens is some of those ideas that they've had in the back of their heads or that have been on the road map for a really long time requires the company in a cultural all together to decide to invest in that.

 

And if you have these groups of people in these organizations that are untrusting, then people start to submit ideas that they know they’ll be safe, that their head won’t get chopped off. They raise it up. So it's come about in so many different scenarios. Typically what I've learned, I read Riley's book a few months ago and he is a great way of he called out a process for categorizing organizations with pathological and generous being on the outset and most of your typical corporations are pathological in a sense that it's untrusting. Power resigns in a few corner offices and ideas get kind of disseminated down. And when you have working environments like that, the people that are in the room they’re expected to innovate and create together. They're kind of looking, they're kind of side-eyeing how those decisions got made without a true understanding of will my ideas be inspired, entrusted, backed, and supported.

 

Kelly: Right. So it's interesting to me, you actually started your career out as an engineer then you began as you've put it sort of to appreciate or started to appreciate design and you ultimately landed in product management. So what's been the biggest insight that you've derived from your own path, from when you started your career to what you're doing now?

 

Jay: Well, so once in a while get phone calls from people that want to become a facilitator or they look at folks that are typically working in strategy or research or design altogether and they might come from this sort of engineering background or the people that are the finish line let's say. So when I came from an engineering perspective, I also thought like what do I know about strategy and testing and research and great ideas in general and how to have those discussions because like most engineers I was fed with requirements and product specs.

 

I was asked to bring it from the sort of well documented but still rough ideas and bring that out to market. So when people that are coming from that product background whether they’re a technical product manager or an engineer. A lot of them have that same fear and hesitancy, can I do this work? And I always tell them, your superpower is that you know what the finish line looks like.

 

And so, like the success of my career has been to be able to bring what the finish line looks like and what it requires to build products and all the feasibility questions that go into that to almost act like a crystal ball to say this is where we're gonna end up. And I've been fortunate enough to be able to string a process and roles and experiences and backgrounds together to move from the finish line all the way to the starting point to be able to connect those pieces along the way. So I've been fortunate to be able to do that because now I can speak to many different folks and challenges and different kind of things that groups are trying to experience.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And then a lot of our past conversations you referenced Doctor Brene Brown's work a lot and especially her care to lead. Can you share a little bit more about her research, how that's kind of impacted, how you really show up in your role now and especially on like the shame and vulnerability and how that sort of pushes teams forward.

 

Jay: Yeah, so she's totally a hero of mine. I'm trying my best to get into her workshops but I have to get some coaching credentials first.

 

Kelly: Okay.

 

Jay: But I told a story recently where I was listening to her Dare to Lead book and she started using words like training and research and innovation and things that I thought only existed in the world of product and service design. And she has always talked about this armor that we have that we use and all of our lives where we kind of armor up to enter into any kind of conversation. And so, she was talking about leading teams but before they get into the work of deciding what they're gonna work on for the year, if this is an executive group really trying to stop and understand the problems that they're working through. And most of the time, the starting point was in the form of trusting one another and then she connected it to these pieces about how innovation becomes inspiring and exciting once there is that trust and accountability. So some light bulbs went off as I was reading her Dare to Lead book.

 

Kelly: I could imagine.

 

Jay: Connecting it, yes, and connecting it to the same kind of hesitancy that I saw in the workshops that I either teach or lead. I was like man, it doesn’t matter who's in the room. The whole point is that it's human beings and we're scared and we're vulnerable and we're not sure if we want to stick our neck out. And it doesn't matter if the outcome for you is executive alignment or doing some kind of offsite retreat to rebuild the company culture or if you're trying to build an act for the next feature. All of that requires a commitment for the team to get together and trust one another so that you can do it together because as we all know the greatest products can’t be designed built from one person. It requires a team.

 

Kelly: Right. And I think that's a really important point that you're making that innovation, we're not just talking about innovation from the standpoint of product development. We're really talking about innovation in terms of culture and addressing maybe some of the problems or thinking more creatively about solving a problem at an agency. It doesn't have to be innovation in the way that we kind of take that term and we apply it to product development or the other things that we often apply it to an agency world. I think that's a really important point.

 

Jay: Yes, so whenever I use terms like design thinking or innovation, you're totally spot on. So group, the people that recoil from that, they could be engineers, they hear design and they're nervous to enter into that discussion but you could also have groups that are into finance, legal and what not and they think that's not. But what the greatest thing is that design thinking or innovation or any kind of like innovation process can totally be engineered to help you do your job better so just because you're brought in maybe your introduction into design thinking and innovation is to help a product team create a new product.

 

But what's really amazing is when you take those tools and you apply them to your job. So salespeople applying design thinking to build empathy into their sales process and understand what's important to their customers. It is only going to help them and it's going to slow them down to speed up the whole process all together instead of just adding volume to the number of calls. They're making really truly understanding the problems that their customers are facing. It could be applied to any kind of team, any kind of outcome that you're trying to get to.

 

Kelly: Right. And you recently authored a piece on something very similar and you quote out Brene Brown's work, vulnerability in design thinking and you published out on boxes and arrows. Can you talk a little bit about that piece?

 

Jay: Yeah, it kind of go back to what I was saying before. It came from the inspiration of listening to Brene and connecting the pieces that, really kind of connecting my story to her story and seeing that where she gets groups to understand, I think what I was excited about is that she gets groups to the point where they have that foundation of trust. And my work requires that work. But without my work, once you're trusting, there's not really this regimented process to move from a team that trusts and can create together to actually getting to the finish line. So it was kind of this, thought piece that said, man, if we can actually create these cultures of trust and then bring together some of the structure and co-creation of design thinking or design sprints that's a really powerful combination.

 

But I'm hoping that more groups are open to experimenting with and sometimes it's just taking really small pieces and introducing them into the front of an innovation practice. So even just starting the discussion, like stakeholder interviews and kind of understanding what some point to everybody, that's great but once you have the team in the room and everyone's armors up just asking them, why is this important to the group, what are we trying to achieve. And there's some really great questions that Brene has mentioned that you can see the discussion with and I talked a little bit about those in the article. Really just letting the group feel that they can be safe, that this is a safe place for them. And I think the biggest push back is that groups are there to deliver and to get a job done and innovation requires results and outcome and speed and action and all these things. And it's amazing that it you just start and spend 15 minutes at the beginning of such a program, if you're in the room for two or three days that fifteen minutes, the return on that is exponential. You’ve laid the foundation for the team to spend the next couple days really kind of trusting one another, leading into the process.

 

Kelly: And I would also imagine that even though you're starting at the very beginning with that fifteen or twenty minutes and this might be a multiple day process. When they come in on day two, it's not like you have to go back to that. It's just all of these is compounding like we started with this fifteen minutes, we all understand we're on the same page, we're starting to trust one another that we have this whole day together. We come in the next day, we’re even more excited and even more energized and feel even safer to be able to put our ideas forward.

 

Jay: Yes, that's kind of the holy grail of how design thinking could work and it's really a shame where if I coach people or I mean teams at the really starting point, they’re so beaten up because it's typically, I work with an organization that I'm working with one person and you think about groups like Google and Spotify and Nike and all these huge groups and you always assume that there's these masses of people that are all in sync holding hands, building products together, and typically there's so much frustration around policy. 

 

And who is allowed to talk to who and who's brought into a group to do the work together and it’s trust. Trust is at the center of all that. And so, sometimes you can't start with innovation. You have to start with getting people out of the building and just kind of understand that you're in it together so it's a little bit of symbiotic stuff but that's why I am such a fan of coaching and the whole realm, what coaches can do and the reason that I actually got into coaching very recently is because I've seen the benefit what coaching has done for me, to open me up to new ideas and make me curious about things and that's the starting point.

 

Kelly: Yeah, as we start to wrap up, I would love for everyone to kind of just hear a little bit more of your evolutionary story with New Haircut like I know what New Haircut started out and what it is today is vastly different and I think that's a good wrap up for the show.

 

Jay: Cool. So New Haircut, I start it with my former business partner in 2010. We started as a product development studio so building, anything that we can get our hands on, building e-commerce sites, animated videos. And for six years, our process was meant to get to the point where a customer told us what they wanted us to build. And after many, many products bringing them to market being really excited about the speed at which we can get those things done, spending all this time on lean, and agile and making process really home.

 

What we realize is we were rapidly really building products that had no fit and we're really solving more important problem so we started teaching ourselves design thinking in the form of design sprints and that really kind of opened up a realm of possibilities for us. We always thought that strategy and user experience and customer experience in design thinking was just for another type of human being and what we realized it just required a curious mindset, just being able to go out and talk to people, understand their problems connect it to business outcomes of what the company is invested in making.

 

And so, over the last three years we've retreated away from the delivery aspect of product design and into all the discovery and the strategy and the curiosity around why is this an important thing for us to be working on. It's pretty cool. And research, I had a total respect for people that spend their days and nights doing research in getting clear on the challenges that people face in their current experiences and so we've gone all in on product design but more importantly, more specifically really asking why does this problem exist and what's the right way to solve it.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And just for my own curiosity, how has that changed the way that you personally feel about the work that you're doing and kind of like who you are in the world in your purpose?

 

Jay: Well, I always tell people that there is a type of human being that can sell whatever they're asked to sell and for me, my job in the company has always been to sell and I had a real struggle selling for six years in New Haircut because quite honestly, I didn't really believe in what we're doing. I didn't believe in the value of it. I thought we were all really smart folks in the group but I didn't think that we are delivering ultimately value. And it's highly commoditized business to be in the world of product development.

 

Today, I get to go into all sorts of groups that are asking what's next for us. I mean, to be someone that is seen as some of that you would trust answer that question for your company, and there are pretty exciting companies that are doing really great things that millions of people are using their products and services. To be trusted that I can go into a group and help them answer that question of what's next and to build the trust with them and then to demonstrate that trust so that they can build it for the rest of their organization. Definitely keeps me going everyday. It's really exciting.

 

Kelly: Yeah, it's a beautiful story and you could just tell, it kind of shines through. You could just tell that you are so much happier just in the fact that you believe in what you're doing and you're connecting with people on that other level.

 

Jay: Yeah, it's been fun. Still lots to do but I'm having a lot of fun.

 

Kelly: Yeah, that's great. Well Jay, thank you so much. I always love our conversations and this one's no exception so thanks so much for coming on the show today.

 

Jay: Thanks Kelly.

 

 

 

 

 

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EP 43:The Future of Voice Technology in Marketing, with Matthew Gillen

  On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly talks voice technology with Matthew Gillen of Voxion, an app development platform for Alexa and Google Home. Matt and Kelly discuss the future of marketing and how agencies can more easily adapt to the emerging needs and demands of their clients’ customers.  

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 43: The Future of Voice Technology in Marketing

Duration: 00:15:11

 

 

Kelly: So welcome to another episode of Thrive. Today, we're talking about the future of voice technology in marketing and I want you to meet someone really special. This is Matthew Gillen, CEO and co-founder of Voxion. And Matt actually happens to be the youngest guest we’ve ever had on the show and I'm not going to reveal his age maybe until later on but I was so impressed and really, really excited to talk about the future of voice technology. So welcome Matt and I'm really, really excited to have you on today.

 

Matthew: Yes, thank you so much. It was an honor when you invited me. I'm so excited to be here as well.

 

Kelly: So let's kind of set out or start out by setting the stage. What is voice search? Let's kind of level set first. And then talk about how it's evolved maybe over the last let's say five years.

 

Matthew: Yes, so voice search, what we consider voice search would be searching for content websites and stuff like that through the internet by using your voice rather than typing. So the way you search for voice is different than the way you would type a question. So that's something to consider when you're searching for voice. The leading ways people search for voice is either on their phone. They press the little microphone on their keyboard when they're in Google or actually interacting with voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or even Siri. So those are the main methods of navigating voice search and kind of trying to find content through voice.

 

Kelly: And so how has that really involved over the last five years because we've all had voice search capabilities on our phone for a while now but I would imagine that the evolution of that has really, really accelerated  in the recent history.

 

Matthew: Yes, definitely. Siri was one of the first kind of voice assistance to come out when Apple acquired them. They integrated in into their iPhone and through that you could do basic. You could call so and so, and look basic stuff up or ask for the weather. It was very limited in its use case. It was an alternative to just opening up an app and kind of navigate like that. So it's a faster way to gather information but since then more voice assistants have come on to the market such as Google Assistant and Siri’s features and capabilities have been constantly evolving. So now instead of just asking for the weather, you can write a message to someone. You can email someone. You can order and eat or you can even order in Uber all through the voice assistant without having to open up an app or type anything. So the way we see voice going is like integrating, we see voice e-commerce going rapidly. So shopping through voice as well as integrating more visual aspects to voice so either be like a carousel of products you might want to purchase, things you can say to the voice assistant to kind of get a more personalize result and that's kind of where we see it going. So voice on mobile growing a bit more as well as the spark speaker in the market such as Amazon Alexa and the Google Home smart speakers. We see that growing rapidly as well.

 

Kelly: So can you talk about the data that actually gets generated from the usage of these apps and how that might be beneficial to brands from the standpoint of informing a customer experience on the back end and then also improving the customer relationships on the front end?

 

Matthew: Yeah, great question. When you build an app for voice, the two primary platforms are Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

 

Kelly: Right.

 

Matthew: Yeah, so when a user interacts with your app, it would be like, “Alexa, order me an Uber.” And then from there, you can say, I need an Uber to the airport. They confirm the cost. You confirm that you want to pay with your regular card and then the Uber set your house basically. So within that conversation, brands can see you the exact dialogue that the user has with their voice app. So word for word, they can see like exactly what they asked for. They can see that, oh, a majority of the people are wanting to go to the airport in this area and kind of stuff like that. So the information we can gather is really deep because we can see exactly how people are talking to your brand and your service.

 

Kelly: Now you mentioned two platforms, Alexa and Google Home.

 

Matthew: Yes.

 

Kelly: What about Facebook portal? Is that sort of on the radar as well for the applications that you're talking about?

 

Matthew: Yes, so Facebook portal is definitely kind of on the platform but that's more built for a text based chatbot than a conversational chatbot so like Amazon Alexa and Google Home maps. So that's the biggest difference between them.

 

Kelly: Yeah, and so what are some examples of some of the applications specific to each of those platforms and how are they actually developed like give me like the backstory or the background of like how does this all work.

 

Matthew: Yes, so Amazon Alexa and Google Home, about two years ago, development really started to pick up in that it became a lot more accessible to people. Starting off the only real way to develop was through with SDKs, sitting down in programming and no J. S. And you had to be really technically inclined, know how to program to really build good voice apps and even then development was still costly, it was lengthy and it's just really complex. But over the past 24 months, we've been seeing a rise in no code to low code solution. So flat online platforms that support both Amazon Alexa and Google Home like the Voxion platform that allows anybody to go on and start building for voice without writing a single line of code.

 

Kelly: Okay. So we'll get into Voxion itself in a second. But I think just to bring this back to real world applications, do you have a couple of like your favorite, what you would consider good voice applications? And then maybe, share one that you feel is not as successful.

 

Matthew: So like a successful voice application we would consider would be like something similar to the GEICO application. So within the GEICO application, you can enter your information, offer like a quote for auto insurance and then from there it'll provide you with an actual like quote which they can email to you or text you and stuff like that. So within that application, they give good user interface so they're able to deliver information to the user concisely without wasting a lot of time and there's not a lot of confusion within the app. The users once they open the app, they kind of know what they're doing. They know what to ask the app without kind of confusing and checking it up. So I think the GEICO voice app is a good example of a voice app.

 

Kelly: And does that app also allow some insight like let's say insurance quotes, does it also enable you to quickly like submit a claim and things along those lines or is it just specific to the insurance.

 

Matthew: For now, it is just specific to insurance because once you start building into claims and stuff, then there's some confidential information or more confidential information which can kind of be risky to have sent through speaker almost I guess. It's still kind of unexplored in that area.

 

Kelly: Okay. And then, is there an application that you've come across that you just felt like kind of missed the mark a little bit.

Matthew: Yes, so a big thing right now is that almost over half of all the applications on the Alexa store right now have no reviews at all. They’ve almost like never been used. So out of these applications are kind of just thrown together in an hour or even a couple minutes and they don't really perform any good voice user interface practices so I'd say like a lot of like the quo apps almost in a lot of the trivial apps don't really practice good use cases but they are good examples of what you should not do and try to avoid.

 

Kelly: Alright. So let’s transition a little bit toward Voxion and I definitely want to kind of go into this a little bit. So for agencies that don't have voice developers in house, talk about what some of the options are for these agencies whether they’re brand agencies, they’re PR firms, they’re media, whatever they are. They just don't have the tools and skill set in house and maybe they haven't found a great external resource to be able to bring that to their clients. Share a little bit more about the solution that you've developed with Voxion.

 

Matthew: Yes, so we saw a need for agencies and brands, that one just start building it for voice but didn't know where to get started or development was a little too complex, too expensive and didn't really want to divert their engineering resources when they build their voice. So if an agency or anybody wants to start building for voice, you do need to know how to program. You need engineering resources to do that and so with our platform it's similar to WordPress in that anybody can kind of get on and just start building, if you're  a marketer, a programmer or anybody really. So we're kind of trying to increase the accessibility of building for voice to kind of grow out to anybody who wants to circle with through voice.

 

Kelly: And is that considered a low code or no code solution?

 

Matthew: Yes, o we are a no code solution so there's no programming required at all. You just drag and drop certain blocks out and kind of build a conversation within the platform.

 

Kelly: And what are the, I guess, I get it, the way that I would ask it is, are there any limitations because it sounds like such a modular system, are there limitations to how you can customize it from an aesthetic standpoint and then also from a content or actual application standpoint.

 

Matthew: Yes, so within the platform, we have the ability to pull your latest tweets, Facebook posts, and API's. So if you have a database of information, we can pull information from there. Some limitations within the actual platform we would see would be integrating kind of paid media and paid content that's kind of hard to build out within the platform itself and even in general kind of integrating that, oh, you need a paid account to access this app from the beginning. So that's one thing that we're working on actively developing around as well.

 

Kelly: And you have sort of, not to put you on the spot but sort of like at an ETA on when something like that would be rolled out?

 

Matthew: Within a month or two will have it ready to go.

 

Kelly: I thought you’re going to say like a year.

 

Matthew: No, no, no. Our year goal, we would like to begin support for like Apple Siri, and other voice platforms. However those platforms aren’t really open to developers like we would like them to be. So that's kind of like a year goal for us.

 

Kelly: Okay. All right sounds good. So as we start to wrap up a little bit, what should agency leaders be considering in terms of voice technology as part of a more integrated part of marketing in general? I feel like this is a space that a lot of people have been talking about. I think it was actually one of the first podcast episodes on this show where we went into voice search and then we’ve had other people on talking about prospect intent as it relates to voice search but as people, consumers are using voice search more and more, the brands and the agencies have to cater to their clients and to the end consumer. So what kind of thing should they be considering as agency leaders with regard to voice technology?

 

Matthew: I think they should be considering where their audience and target audience are going. So three out of four US households will have a smart speaker by 2020 and half of all searches through the internet will actually be done through voice by 2020 as well. So this is where we see a lot of the traffic and the audience going is to voice so we think agencies and brands should start building for voice now and developing strategies around voice as it's going to be the future of where their audience is going to go.

 

Kelly: And I know you generously put together a landing page for our audience, which was great thank you very kind. So do you want to talk a little bit about that, how the structure of Voxion works and then what the offering is for the one month free trial.

 

Matthew: Yes, we’re launching a free version of our platform, which allows anybody to come onto our platform, build some voice apps and prototype them but not launch them. So within the platform you can build out a conversation close, how you want the app to interact, how do you want users to interact and then so that's coming out for free. Multiple people can collaborate on the same project and kind of just use it to learn about voice, how to build for voice and explore the platform within our analytics as well. And then once you have an app that you want to publish live or to go live we're offering a one month free trial with that in which the app will actually be live on both Amazon Alexa and Google Home for a month for free.

 

Kelly: Oh wow. So the free trial is not just accessing, building out what you'd like to build out but it's actually going to be live.

 

Matthew: Yeah they’ll be hosted.

 

Kelly: Wow.

 

Matthew: They’ll be hosted and then from there, they can get feedback and kind of see your analytics.

 

Kelly: That's fantastic. That's great. I love the model. So I will put this in the show notes but that landing page that Matt was talking about is going to be at voxion.us/thrive. And Voxion just by the way if you're listening to this and not watching the show it's voxion.us. So this is such an interesting conversation because I almost feel like we were talking about this stuff maybe about, I don't know seven or eight years ago in a similar path and maybe even longer than that, maybe eight to ten years ago where websites where needing to become mobile. We had this whole need to understand that people were moving off of their desktops or using mobile devices. So all of our websites, all of the things that we were developing typically for desktop how to become responsive. First it was adoptive then it was responsive and we got to this point where we hit the threshold of like more than fifty percent of people using their mobile phones and I feel like this is sort of like the next phase or the next level of where we need to go. So it's a really, it's not futuristic. It's already here. Like you said before, three out of four households are going to have these voice assistance.

 

Matthew: In a year.

 

Kelly: Next year. So this is not futuristic. This is here now. I think it's a really, really important conversation because agency owners and agency leaders are constantly looking for what's the next thing, what can I bring to the table to my client, what can I bring to the table just to add more value and I think this is a really, really great solution. So just curious if you have any other thoughts as we’re wrapping up here.

 

Matthew: No, we definitely see voice becoming the next mobile almost the next coming of web in just in that. It can deliver information and services a lot quicker than a traditional website or app can, because you just have to ask for the service, the question and it just delivered to you instantly essentially. So there's no navigating websites, opening and downloading apps. It is just asking you, receive essentially. So we see moving existing content or even developing new content specific for voice kind of being the next big wave of content development or agency.

 

Kelly: Yeah, fantastic. This is awesome. I think this will really resonate for sure with the audience. So thank you so much again. I really enjoyed our conversation and I'll post everything in the show notes. Definitely check out voxion.us and thank you again Matt.

 

Matthew: Of course, thank you so much.

 

 

 

 

 

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EP 42: 5 Non-Closing Reasons to Follow Up, with Dan Morris

  On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly talks again with Dan Morris of Mindracer Consulting, a B2B sales enablement consultancy in NYC. Kelly and Dan focus on the top five reasons to reach out to prospects in order to add value; and adding value is what leads to the close.  

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 42: 5 Non-Closing Reasons to Follow Up

Duration: 00:18:11

 

Kelly: So welcome back to another episode of Thrive. I do want to point out that someone recently called out the fact that I have traded in my wine rack in the background for a yoga mat and a meditation pillow. So thank you for noticing my background and the things that are changing in my life, everyone. So my first repeat guest on the show today is Dan Morris of Mindracer Consulting in New York City and that's B2B sales consulting firm. Today we're diving into a favorite topic between Dan and I.

And I think I want to get very specific about this because as business development people, we often think about I want to check in but I don't want to send like that standard check-in email. So I want to follow up with my warm prospects but I really want to strike that balance between staying top of mind and providing value. So what kind of messaging should I reach out with? And that's why Dan is here today because he is the expert at this, so welcome back my friend. I'm definitely ready to dive into this conversation.

 

Dan: Thank you Kelly. I am really happy to be back and this is coming from years of building up experience of having to do that check-in but really finding that people just checking in, just done thinking about it. And so, that actual phrase, just checking in, is something that I'm always telling people, let's not use that. Let’s not say let’s just check in because it really haven’t taken any thought and it hasn’t separated you from anyone else, just circling back is another one that’s used a lot that I happen to have in my inbox and I just think, oh hang on, do you care at all?

And so, when I was building a concept marketing agency and building a team around me, the things that I know that seems work, let’s invest a little more in what we just talked about with the person. And when we actually went ahead with a proposal or not, we learn a lot about their business and we start a relationship with them. It's probably just timing, if it is something that solves that problem. So let's find a way of keeping in touch with people. But actually now, especially in business development we got a lot of our leads from referrals and from our personal network. And so, we don’t want to push too hard. We don't want to be too pushy but at the same time we do need to keep in touch.

And so, I developed the top five reasons that I’ve used and yeah the first one, after any sort of meeting is just to make sure that they actually receive the information I sent out over. Now I expect that you do and others do. There’s lots of tools out there right now. They’ll tell you whether somebody's opened your email. Let us ignore them for this purpose. It is a good indicator for you but it is also a good reason for us just to reach out and say, create an opportunity for another discussion.

So I wanted to make sure that you received the info that I sent over because sometimes the attachments don't get delivered. This is true especially if you are pitching on large organizations. People are open to receiving that email and I'm just right back and then go, yeah, I got it, no problem at all. And that often starts, yeah, I meant to mention something to you. Or starts another dialogue where you say, oh great, did you get the change to read through it, come out any value to any of the conversations that happened on your side. Such a really good way of making sure often the next day or that day after, still keep that dialogue going. 

 

Kelly: Yeah, so even if you have something where your proposal system or whatever your email program, even if it gives you the indication that they opened the email, even if it tells you more finite metrics that they've gone through the proposal, how much time they’ve spent on the proposal, I mean that's what my software does. Even if all those things are true, you're saying reach out anyway the day after.

 

Dan: I think that's right, yeah. Now many more people are adapting those kinds of tools. I use it myself. I think they are absolutely awesome. But hope is not a strategy. Right? So what we want to make sure is that we are creating that human touch as often as we can. Because just checking in emails can be automated and sent out. They do work a bit but the real business development is relationship management and making sure the efforts to reach out and create a conversation. Here is a good excuse to do that.

 

Kelly: And so, your second reason for following up is really to establish next steps. So walk us through that approach a little bit.

 

Dan: Yes, so I always like to think that I'm getting a lot of information in the discovery phase and before I put a proposal together. Communicating that is the next challenge that we’ve been through, right? We try to give a good explanation of how we're going to solve their problem and why we’re the right people to do that and so on. Sometimes there are gaps. Sometimes there are gaps that just naturally occur. Now during the meeting they'll come up with a question, during the meeting I will forget to ask something.

And so, I like to frame it with, during the meeting I forgot to ask, for example, who needs to agree with the proposal as well as you or when is our internal meeting going to happen or are you working to a target date to getting started? And if I’ve forgotten to ask that, I’ve got to own up and say, hey I forgot to ask that. But it also creates a great opportunity for me to be human and just reach out and say hey, just make sure on the same page what is the next step, what is the next target meeting that you're going to go for and that lets them then have a conversation with you, yeah I am actually planning to talk to my business partner tomorrow. It gets you more information and also keeps the dialogue going.

 

Kelly: Absolutely. Yeah. And so what was interesting about that to me is most people would say well establishing next steps I would think of that as a follow up email after I’ve delivered the proposal and I am starting a conversation before a proposal is signed to say, here are the next steps. I mean, you're not really opening up the discussion. You're saying have this conversation or send this email whatever the communication is, send that before you can go through the process of writing the proposal so that you're aligned on expectations and you're getting more information and you’re facilitating that conversation even further deepening that relationship so I love that. I love that.

 

Dan: Yes. It works to that. But also, remembering that we're all human, sometimes they do get forgotten and just acknowledging that sometimes you are actually gonna forget to ask the question. Going back and asking that question is just a way of making sure that you’ve got the information back and the result that they need. And I find all of these best summarized by not wanting to bother people. And the reason I made this test is because allowing yourself to have a list of reasons to reach out is a great way of just enabling the action rather than going, why would I ask the question, I’m a bit embarrassed about that. Getting the information and moving forward is the key to the progress. That's why I put the list together and it can be used in either one of those situations.

 

Kelly: Right. Now what about sharing key studies or even the latest whims of clients that are in a similar vertical to the prospect that you're reaching out to.

 

Dan: Yeah, it's a great value list and the longer the decision-making process is, the more valuable this gets. You all know it. As I've seen case studies that you’ve helped people create and build an agency owners that have built their own case studies, you got care studies that solve a particular problem but you’ve also got case studies around into that businesses like them. And you use them in a few different ways. If you’ve got a time that seems to be ticking away, since you’ve heard from somebody used in a case study and go, actually we’ve just published this especially who is new. Or this is something that we didn't talk about but I thought you might be interested in. Let me know if you’d like me to talk you through it. And provide some more resources. People do that because you're thinking about them, you are thinking about something that illustrates how you solve their problem. And it gives you a great value along the way.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I love this one and I actually use this a lot in the business developing strategies that I create with agencies because I think the more relevant that content is and you have the ability to showcase your deep expertise I think that's a win. And like you said, it's also just I thought of you because this is relevant to and similar to maybe a challenge that you’re struggling with or what you told me about. I heard you. And now I'm putting something in front of you to show you how we strategized and executed and solved that problem. So I absolutely love that one and I use it a lot. And I don't know that I would consider that, really content marketing but I know your fourth one is much more specific to content marketing. So how do we position content marketing in the context of the follow up?

 

Dan: My context with this was as a business development professional, I'm always looking in the verticals that I am working in, to news and information that’s relevant. I actually used this last week. There was a particular agency that I am in talk with. I sent them information and I was expecting something back. But I needed to reach out to them and ask, hey, I would to follow up this information but I didn't want to say that. I would send them some info instead. So I found an article that was actually a good sales lead for them. And I said, hey, you guys have seen this? It might be a good opportunity for you to reach out.

And the response that I got was, “Wow that’s really great. Thanks very much. Oh I just read your email. I'll get back to you later today.” And who knows what happened next. A couple of hours later I got a response to the email that I was looking for. So I’ve reached out to them and I got the response I was looking for. So if you see an article and you think of them, not only it is showing them that you are thinking about them and caring about what they were doing but it is a trigger, perhaps they got distracted like we all do everyday and they meant to get back to you but they just needed to see your name and oh actually thanks. That was helpful. And then they get back to you with what you needed from them as well.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so I also love this approach because what you're doing is you're actually stripping away anything that could be focused on you or meeting your own needs and your entirely focusing on supporting them, adding value, maybe even putting a business development opportunity in front of them. There's no way that any person, no matter what kind of client you're working with, when you go out of your way just put something in front of someone that's just about them and it shows that you actually took the time out of your day to do something for them that would be incredibly value, could even lead to a new piece of business.

Of course you're going to get a response and it doesn't take that much time. I think that's kind of what I want to hit on also because a lot of people watching or listening might say well that's all well and good but I need like a full time staff to be able to go through headlines and look through the things, if it comes across passively or you do a late searching, you can find these things very easily. So I'm curious to hear your thoughts on how you go about that.

 

Dan: Absolutely. So setting up with Google Alert keywords that are relevant to the industries that you are prospecting into is really a brilliant way of doing it.

 

Kelly: Perfect. Yeah.

 

Dan: So it minimizes your research time, keeps you relevant to what you're talking to your prospects about any way and you can share information with them that they probably don't have a process for creating. It just went and it really refines styles of positioning which is I know you are huge.

 

Kelly: Just a little bit.

 

Dan: Yeah, just a little bit. If we're talking about people in the same sector, and we are working meet people who met that persona, let us look at things that will be interesting to them because that is who we are talking to all the time. So yeah that is how I do it. Things I'm interested in, on behalf of the research I am doing in that sector, are things that they are gonna be interested as well. So there is really no extra work if you are actually focused in that area anyway.

 

Kelly: Do you use LinkedIn sales navigator or any other tools that give you daily industry news or anything else like that?

Dan: I like those tools. I like LinkedIn sales navigator research capabilities. I'm able to look into in more detail who else is gonna take part in the decisioning, not being able to discover that in the conversation. That is a helpful way of doing it. Sales navigator got brands that do publish. So established companies yeah, for sure.

 

Kelly: Yeah so we’re starting to wrap up here and getting to the fifth reason for following up, I think this is probably one of the most difficult ones if not the most difficult and it's specifically addressing a prospect’s objection either in your pitch or something that came up in the conversation. How should agency leaders frame those types of communications because those could get a little hairy and those are probably the ones that bring up just that fear of conflict that we also always try to avoid.

 

Dan: Yeah absolutely. Well this is part of having the humility to say let me ask my team and come back to you with an answer rather than feeling like you have to know everything at the same time. And also being able to go actually let me gather some more information and come back to you. I know we solved this problem for someone else before. Let me double check the details and come back to you. So you are leaving yourself with a series of reasons why you would follow up with somebody or get back to them anyway. If that’s a non-spoken thing and you've made some notes and you haven't said, this will be part of the next things that I give you as information, that gives you a door that's open anyway.

So as somebody who always looks back at what I just did, I have been able to identify. Actually, I didn't answer that question completely. I only found people love it when I go back and say, I had a conversation internally about that. Here’s the cliff notes version, would you like to have a chat just to talk it through? And I found a really strong response right from that because people love it when you close the loop. And if that is how you are going to be as a partner, and making sure that they get complete answer to what they’re looking for, then they’re gonna wanna do business with you. And so, ask insert question. I wanted to share what my team said or I did some more research and I found people love that. As a recipient of that, and I find that people love it and respond.

 

Kelly: And so, here specifically what I heard there, I loved all of that but what I heard was that you're setting that up in the email and then asking for a phone conversation because now you've probably had a couple of email correspondences up to that point right or maybe you’ve picked one or two from this list and now you're transitioning not into let's get on the phone because obviously there are tiers of interaction. A text is like the worst and emails second, a phone conversation is third and in person is fourth.

We want to try to level up these tiers so now at this point it is really difficult or what could be construed as a difficult conversation you're setting it up, you're framing it in the email and asking for a phone conversation. So I just wanted it touch on that specifically because that's important when you're going to have those more difficult conversations, getting someone on the phone or being able to meet in person for those in particular I think that's really important.

 

Dan: Yes, it is creating the opportunity for that next stage of discussion, even more than actually asking for it, is if you would like to discuss in more detail, I'm here available. And I find people want to do that unless they're already bullet point is all I need. Let’s just get it on. The higher the value of the deal, the more they like to discuss the ways how you are going to approach things. Always creating opportunities is the goal.

 

Kelly: Well, I also want to leave the audience with the fact that Dan has generously put together this entire discussion into a downloadable PDF, so if you head over to mindracerconsulting.com/resources/thrive you'll be able to download that. And of course I will post that in the show notes so you don't have to jot that down while you're listening to this in the car or what not. We want to keep everybody safe. So yeah head over and grab that out of the show notes. Thank you so much for joining me today Dan. I love our conversations, every one of them and I always appreciate your enthusiasm.

 

Dan: Always a pleasure Kelly. Thank you very much and I really hope agency owners get a great deal of value from this. The take away I hope that they have is if you can just make a list of reasons that enabled you to reach out, it makes it so much easier to get past yourself and just get on with carrying the conversation forward so I really hope that resource is helpful for them and hope you all have a great day.

 

Kelly: Thanks Dan. Take care.

 

Dan: Alright. Bye.

 

 

 

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EP 41: Using Social as a Closing Tool, with Adam Brown

 

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly talks with Adam Brown, founder of Sircle Media, a social strategy firm in NYC. Kelly and Adam discuss how agencies can use different variations of content across their social media channels to attract prospects with portfolio work, enabling conversion prior to a conversation.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 41: Using Social as a Closing Tool, with Adam Brown

Duration: 00:18:00

 

Kelly: Welcome to another episode of Thrive. If your agency has any hand in creative or content development as a service offering to clients, we might all assume that we know how to sort of do social for our own agencies. But let's be honest, I think that most of us really don't know what we're doing when it comes to social media or we look at it maybe as a talent attraction tool, right? So my guest today is Adam Brown, who’s the Founder and President of Sircle Media here in New York City and Adam has a little bit of a different philosophy so I thought it would make a great show. And I just want to welcome you Adam for being on the show today.

 

Adam: Thanks for having me. The pleasure is all mine.

 

Kelly: So let's kind of start at the beginning. Seven years ago you founded this agency Sircle Media. How did you get involved in it and what was sort of the market cap that you felt that you could sort of close?

 

Adam: Yeah, so in my former life, I worked with a lot of different agencies in all different capacity and I found that most of the agencies I was dealing with I really didn’t love, either they didn't have their act together and so I thought that their model was broken or it was very siloed. I always thought there was like one piece that they covered but then they're like if you didn't integrate with everything else, there was always a problem. And so, part of my brain was, why can't there be like a four seasons type service agency out there? So I sort of like put that on the back of my brain. And then specifically with social media, around that time, you're talking like 2011, 12, there were SMBs. I was SMB. I was talking with a lot of SMB owners and most of them just did not know how to navigate social media at all. It was such a black box. So I thought okay, agency with four seasons all those service with social media offering built for SMBs? This actually could be something. It was just like an easy transition. It just made so much sense to me. It was so obvious and I just felt, it wasn't being covered.

 

Kelly: Right. And so, now I mean we'll talk a little bit about that transition from SMBs but you're actually working with a lot more household consumer products brands and things like that. So what was that transition like?

 

Adam: Yeah, it’s funny what I've learned over time is SMB is a broad scope. It used to be this really tiny little businesses and that's definitely where I started literally, dry cleaners and restaurants. But it seems like the spectrum is like anywhere from like one to a hundred million in revenue so all of our clients, I should say most of our clients phone there, there's definitely some that are north of that and these days probably very few that are south of that. So the transition has been very seamless like a lot of brands at different sizes and different stages in their life cycle, they have similar issues. Generally a lack of understanding especially when it comes to social media, usually understaffed or wrongly staffed internally. So it wasn't much of a transition. It was more of a transition going from the client side to the agency side than from agency side for really tiny to bigger but it was pretty fluid. It just sort of business 101 but just articulating in a social media mindset.

 

Kelly: Right. So let's kind of dive into social media for agencies. I feel like from my perspective most agencies view their own social media channels as really just I don't know either obvious self-promotion but not in a strategic way or they're solely using it for talent attraction kind of a behind the scenes view of what it's like to work at the agency. You actually use it more as what you call a closing tool so I'd love to really dive into the discussion and talk about that.

 

Adam: Yeah. And so, I think it goes with my framework that I recommend to clients or even people that I just know in the world. They come to me because I’m the social media guy now. It's you don't go so smart, you go stupid is my recommendation, right?

 

Kelly: I like that.

 

Adam: So it's like just think about the context of what these things are, like if anything else like social networks represent scale like reach and scale. So for me I came from a sales background. I was in the mortgage industry for eleven years and I ran marketing and sales and when I came up in the business I was cold calling people. This is like in the early 2000s.  So having platforms like LinkedIn especially LinkedIn right now. Twitter, Instagram, DM, it provides cold calling in a much nicer friendlier package and you have so much more contacts. You know who you're communicating with. And coming in leading in as a social agency, you have a little bit more credibility than just someone calling you on the phone. And so, it's just such a powerful tool not only to go out and get the business but I find putting out content and being a thought leader it's the most powerful conversion of business. And so I do see what you're talking about. A lot of brand, a lot of agencies are putting out we have the best culture, it's so great to work here.

 

Kelly: Happy hour.

 

Adam: Yeah, happy hour and bean bag. And we work in an agency in New York City so I have all that and we definitely have some of that too. Our agency is great to work at too. But I just think if you want to put out, first of all, I use it in two ways social media. Primarily Instagram I used to push out the work we do. So just like here's the assets we make. We definitely over index on content creation so go to my Instagram, you can see the videos, graphics, photos that we create. Most businesses these days see that and they're like wow, like I want that kind of stuff. But more importantly I use it as a fishing rod to go and get business, start a dialogue and then they see the content I put on social as my conversion tool.

 

Kelly: So you're using it, if we were sort of contextualize that, you're using it as a little bit of a portfolio specifically on Instagram, like a portfolio on Instagram. But then also on other platforms you're using it as brand awareness for the purposes of business development.

 

Adam: Yes. That you articulate better than me. But I'm old school in case you can't tell by the gray hairs. I am in my early 40s.

 

Kelly: I got them too.

 

Adam: Okay I don't see him. But so I came up during like late nineties, it was like websites were brochure website. It was basically literally your brochure. So to me I use them around the same way like here's the great content we created, like you want to see it? Here it is. It is gonna be better than my deck. I'm posting there every single day, take a look. So that in and of itself is like a smorgasbord of like here is what you can get and since I usually lead in with content, actually going back to your question before about working with bigger brands. Our original thesis was you need a social media manager, it's a full time job, it can't be an intern or receptionist or your cousin Sally, like it's a real full time job. And that was in 2011, 12.

So fast forward to now, that these has only gotten stronger and it's really multiple talents, multiple personalities. They need to do it. So that piece is in and of itself makes a lot of sense for SMBs and growth companies but then there were bigger brands that they have a huge team. So my thesis of you have all these different people on it. You can't get them in one salary. You need someone like us for then they have the seven people so they don't need it but we became a very attractive option for brands looking to create social first especially video content outsource because most brands don't have that internal, even bigger brands. It's just such a luxury to have like a really good video guy or girl on your team. And then especially when you're bigger to outsource that, it's very expensive. You go to an expensive agency. They see you your name. They charge you a big price point and so you know you need video but its cost prohibitive so you don't create it.

So anyway long story short, it is like that's a great way for me to lead in and say look, everyone needs video and it's sort of equalizes the little guys and the big guys. You're not doing it internally so here's a representation of half of what you can get done externally with a company like mine and that gets them in the door and then the conversion tools just longer form of content. A lot of the stuff I'm doing, I am like, you don’t mess around on I do TV that it seems like nobody watches but the three people that watch it for me had been helpful. I have had marketing directors take a look at it because it's kind of a new frontier. So in order to earn their stripes, they’re on that new frontier looking around. And so, I found it's actually a very good place for cheap attention to get your message across to convert sales. That was my long answer. I am very sorry for that.

 

Kelly: No. That’s great. It's really valuable content into kind of going into that depth is really insightful. So I guess my question would be since your objective across the board is portfolio and brand awareness leading to conversion and closing, is there a different strategy per platform or since the objective is similar, is it the same strategy across all social platforms?

 

Adam: So yes and no. So yes, content across all platforms. So trying to get creative, I just got my new Yeti microphone as I told you like figuring out ways to like better record your creative that maybe transcribes to written and maybe capture audio. I've been dealing my Anchor podcast for the last year plus like so yes lots of content and then different per platform. I find when I post on LinkedIn that my written does well. People I guess just read there so they’ll read a little bit longer. I post on my blog. No one reads it. So what can I do? But I keep that as a home based platform in case someone's on my website looking around maybe they'll see some of that stuff.

 

Kelly: Oh that’s great for organic search also.

 

Adam: Yeah organic search. I don't get much traffic. Again different than other companies and other agencies for sure that are spending a ton on marketing, I really use my own call calling 2.0 soliciting, just getting referrals and word of mouth. I don't really focus a lot on keyword management and search optimization. I think there's a lot of players in my space. Some not that great, some that are great that are doing that and I'd rather not chase those dollars. I don't focus on that although it's an ancillary benefit but it's really more when you get to my website and your poking around, I'm hoping you might look on the blog and maybe search whatever category you're considering using me for and then you'll see a lot of thought pieces that I've already written. What I find more than anything is I'm a New Yorker. I've been in sales my whole life so I have gift of the gab. That can take you so far. Sometimes that is a disadvantage coz that’s discounted because they think you're gonna sell them and most people in it we don't want to be sold. So when they see it as a thought piece on my website, they're like oh he's talked about this before and it is just stronger than me actually articulating on a phone call.

 

Kelly: Right. Can you share a story with us about when sometime when a lead came in from any other channel other than social, whether it was a referral or organic search or whatever it was, networking and then how you feel like the content on your social platforms acted as the exact objective that you were hoping it would and sort of close the deal for you because they love the content so much.

Adam: Yeah, so I would say from a macro when I started I was vertical agnostic. I would work with everyone and I still think that a lot of the principles and just understanding how to navigate the different platforms can apply to any verticals B2B, B2C, what have you. But really in the last two years I focused on healthy CPG and beverage like those are the verticals that I believe in, that I consume. It is just a market that's growing so makes a lot of sense for me. So having very deep roots on all my platforms and content in those categories obviously helps. They see me as a thought leader and somebody who understands the market.

In addition to that, most of my business comes from investment firms, private equity and venture capital firms in this space. So by having this display of great content that I already produced for other brands in the portfolio above and beyond the referral they gave me, makes them think, oh I'm a new investment of a portfolio of this company, they click around and they're like oh my God you're already working with so and so. These guys are killing it, why I went with the with the finance team, this is amazing, you're already working with them and so it's like literally a hundred percent close rate for business. So that's been very, very helpful and I continue to go about that. What's even more important is even though that portfolio that we've been talking about, in Instagram it's visual so it's more like art than science. I really bring it home with science.

So the science there, going back to my blog is we’ll use the examples of how those assets translate into sales, whether it's like supporting velocity at retailers, we're driving traffic and sales to Amazon or their website. So when I'm able to like bringing them with the visual and show the data with like hey here's a fun blog or look at my last LinkedIn post or look at Anchor, I'm gonna send you over five recent podcast recordings about why Instagram followers don't matter and I take that whole package and send it over. The selling does itself. It really brings in I would say fifty percent of the business I brought in the last year has been through that conversation or DM-ing people on Instagram. DM-ing a hundred, this is simple math, but a hundred people we hear back from 20 of those 20 times 5 days, like it's starts to add up. You convert five percent of those people, fifty percent of my business has come through those vehicles outside of me like going out and soliciting new business so it’s been very powerful.

 

Kelly: And for those hundred messages that you're sending out per week on Instagram as a DM, are you using any type of automation or you doing that pretty much all manually?

 

Adam: Got to do the work. Yeah I do it all manually.

 

Kelly: Ok. Great. So for the agency leaders that are watching and listening to this, are getting some really in depth details about how strategically how you do this for your own agency, what's the first thing that you would advise them to do if they kind of want to take a page out of your book?

 

Adam: Do the work and it's really served me well. I'm a salesman who's been a marketer who now owns an agency. I think a lot of agency owners are great, or maybe they're more creative than I am. I'm not a creative and or whatever it is; however we all got here as the head of an agency or as decision-makers, an agency, won’t specifically talk about sales. It's sort of hard to fake the sales unless you do it. My high school basketball coach used to say you can't teach tall. If you’re tall, you're tall and that puts you ahead. I'm not so tall so I wasn't such a great basketball player at least not on my team.

But the point is you have to be able to put in the sales work. And I think a lot of agency owners don't do that or they don't see social network in the context like we're talking today as like that is how I am selling. It's more going to networking events or putting out an email newsletter and I think those are great ideas too but I think if you want to really go out and solicit business, you have to have the hustle to do it and then get told no, a thousand times which could be very aggravating. If you DM someone constantly and never hear back after a couple days, you're probably like that doesn't work. I am going to move, my expectation is if I hit thirty percent, I am an all-star like a baseball player. So I just had that in my brain and I think it's hard to manipulate or make that muscle become something you have but I think it's mission critical.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And the other thing I was just going to mention is that from the context of, if you are an agency that is delivering or offering social media management and the creative concepts and all of that for your clients, it's not a stretch at all. It seems almost natural to use social media as a tool like this because that's the space that you plan. If you're supposed to be an agency that has deep expertise in this particular service offering, you should be using it as a sales tool, as a business development tool.

 

Adam: Totally.

 

Kelly: So that makes sense to me.

 

Adam: Super obvious. I think most agencies, definitely majority wouldn't, or are not thinking that way.

 

Kelly: No way.

 

Adam: Yeah they're just like oh Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, like this is, I would even argue some aren't even thinking this way or like this is how you use it now, which is a problem. I think in general they have a playbook. It sort of formulate in this is what they do. But very few are thinking about it and like the hand to hand combat micro work blocking and tackling stuff that you need to do, but not only does it produce business. As you’re point, it literally is an example of how to leverage these with your own efforts and you think it would be happening, it just doesn't.

 

Kelly: Right. Well this has been a great conversation Adam. I’m really, really appreciative for you being on the show today. Thank you.

 

Adam: Any time. I've been a bit fan for a while as you know. I appreciate that you made some time for me. Thank you.

 

Kelly: Thank you.

 

 

 

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EP 40: Matching Brands and Agencies, with Robby Berthume

 

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly is joined by Robby Berthume, co-founder of Bull & Beard, which is actually an agency collective . Kelly and Robby talk about the business model for pairing vetted agencies with client needs, and how creative, media and technology agencies can learn more about this unique business development opportunity. 

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 40: Matching Brands and Agencies, with Robby Berthume

Duration: 00:18:40

 

Kelly: So if you're like most agency leaders, most days you just want to know how to bring in new ideal clients. Right? Well, I want you to meet Robby Berthume, co-founder of Bull & Beard, which is actually an agency collective, or what he calls an agency list match-making firm based out of North Carolina. Robbie, thank you so much for being on the show today.

 

Robby: Thanks for having me Kelly.

 

Kelly: So let's start with, why did you start Bull & Beard and what was the reason for your recent repositioning as this agency collective as you call it.

 

Robby: Yes, certainly. So we started 5 and a half years ago, and before that I had a ten year history running an agency leadership position at agencies and I really felt there was this need for sort of a real estate agent that knows the neighborhoods and knows the schools and can come kind of navigate down the path and connect brands with the right resources and the right agency partners. And kind of realized this agency environment in an agency setting.

 And that's when my business partner and I kind of looked at each other and said, “I think we have a business model here where we can be a little bit different from traditional agency search consultants and that we're not going to necessarily lead the whole dog and pony and bring on ten agencies or twelve agencies for a review and a pitch and kind of go about it that way, but we're actually going to leverage real relationships and real vetting that goes into those relationships and make one to one matches. And so, our model has always been very different and that we learn as much as we can about what the brand, what the marketer is looking for.

 

Kelly: So deep discovery.

 

Robby: Deep discovery with a lot of experience and dirt under our fingers, having kind of been there, done that in the agency world ourselves and then educate them as far as okay, you're asking for something but your budget is maybe not aligned with what you're asking for. This is the type of service, you’re gonna be able to…

 

Kelly: I’m sure that never happens.

 

Robby: Never happens at all. That's a frequent discussion, trying to get budget level set but basically qualifying the opportunity and learning more about the opportunity and then looking through our database of agencies that we've done an agency review with, which is our way of vetting and determining who is the best fit. So we basically do a shortlist ourselves and then decide where do we want to make a one-to-one match and an introduction, set up a call.  

But we don't stop at that point. We don't just make an introduction. We actually kind of facilitate the whole process. We're on the calls, we’re understanding kind of both sides and after that first call, we're talking to the agency, we're talking to the brand. We're getting both of their honest feedback and I think they're really honest with us, because we’re a third party that they don't feel like they're insulting the agency or something like that.

 So they could be really candid and open and say, hey this is what's going on and here's what we're looking for and then we just facilitate the process all the way through to a contractor completion. And our model is a bit different in that we don't charge a fee or a commission to the brands and there's no obligation on the brand side either. And so, it's free for them to work with us, procurement and buyers don't need to add us to their system. There's no contracts to be signed. It's very easy to work with us on the brand side. Agencies pay us a commission for a two year period. It staggers down after the first year, and then you pay as a business development sales commission basically for that and then repeat business.

 And so, that's kind of morphed. Then the collective question is we were referring to ourselves as agency matchmakers and really kind of placing our flag in a stand in terms of, “Hey we’re matchmakers, this is what we do.” And I think that the term matchmaker can be sometimes confusing in that context. On the matchmaking side, we did some research and a little bit of focus groups and I determined that the concept of an agency collective, just resonated a lot more with brands, with marketers in particular as well as agencies may really understood better what it is that we do. Collective as a term is being used more and more often times for we have a collective of freelancers or that sort of thing.

 Our model is more we’re an agency of agencies. We’re essentially an interface into hundreds of vetted and vouched for agencies and that's where we embrace the collective aspect and I think that the next evolution of the collective is we also have a community for agency owners who are working on a directory platform for agencies that size, really advertorial listings. And so I think the collective will become sort of a membership model with agencies that want to work with us and so then they can be in the community, they can be connected to opportunities that we have as well as in the directory getting exposure on that level so kind of a try factor of value on that side.

 

Kelly: So let's dive into the business model itself a little bit because I love how unique it is, how out of the box it is, and you touched upon already that you have these various offerings for the agencies. Can you kind of dive into that a little bit more and like what the audit looks like and even to the point of like how you determine which is going to be the best agency for the fit.

 

Robby: Yes, certainly. I mean so really from a vetting perspective, we typically start with an agency review and that's essentially a one-hour deep-dive discovery call. We have an interview, a questionnaire that we refined over the years and got better in asking the right questions, but really learning about the agency's positioning, their vision, their values, of course, category experience and capabilities, their weaknesses, really going from the inside out to learn as much as we can to kind of paint that picture for us from a matchmaking perspective. 

We have a higher level called agency evaluation. And with the agency evaluation, we actually do a little bit more vetting when it comes to doing a SWOT analysis, a competitive analysis. Some more pieces of that puzzle to give us a fuller picture and really the more vetted the agency is, the higher they essentially rank in our database, in our system. And we go towards trust. We gravitate towards trust, and that's what built up that trust as the vetting process. And so, when we're doing a search, when we have something comes in. 

And for instance, there’s a PR search, they want a PR agency for a specific project in mind. We're gonna look at the variables in the project and those components but they were gonna look at a lot of different factors and some of those factors are certainly capabilities, certainly category experience, but also things like their character, their culture, their communication. Different factors like that, they really just give us a better sense for, are they gonna have chemistry when it comes to the relationship with the brand. And a lot of times, I think really the center of it is capability in category but the IF factor is just their communication capability. Their ability to sell themselves to talk, to explain, to articulate, make them feel comfortable- that sort of thing.

And so, even though we have the vetting, we also have, I think the more matches that we make with agencies to brands, we become more and more comfortable with those agencies because we see how they run their sales process, we see what kind of materials they put it in front of the agency and get a good comfort level that they're going to be able to come in and really make a strong impression. And there are other agencies where on paper, everything looks great, and I'll make an introduction and then you get on a call and it's like- oh my gosh, like how is it, how is this happening?!

And then I have to be careful to consider, okay well next time around, are they gonna be the best match because it's not just the best agency for the projects or for the retainer, the opportunity, it's the agency that can sell themselves. It’s the agency that can get on the call and actually make a sale and grow the relationship. The other side of it is: we have a two-year commission structure and so we're looking at agencies that can come in, maybe with a project opportunity and turn that thing into a retainer and then grow incrementally, and we’ll support them in that, that's part of our role but that's definitely important to us as well.

 

Kelly: So a couple of things that you noted there. It sounds like your vetting process and your evaluation and assessment of an agency is pretty holistic. I mean it's not just the service offerings and maybe who is in their client roster but it really comes down to: can they develop rapport with the client, are they going to be that good personality match, are they really aggressive when they sell or did they take a low a softer more consultation approach. So I love the fact that you're not just looking at it as hey, this agency does x so they would be a good fit. I think that's really important and it's something that I think probably sets you apart from other, there aren't that many other agency collectives but there's certainly people who refer agencies to clients a lot and I think that makes, that is the IF factor like you called it. And I think that's incredible.

 

Robby: And I think part of it is I think there is this intuitive ability that we've developed and honed not only over the last five and a half years but just in the agency world in general where you get this level of gut instinct around relationships and around what kind of people are going to match with other kind of people. And so it comes into play even when it's I'm working with a Fortune 250, for example, I'm looking at- okay the marketing director, what is their age, what are they about, what’s their personality, who's the decision maker on top of them, that’s maybe the VP of marketing and really trying to determine what's going to be a good fit from a personality level because the bulleting category experiences is not that hard to find but chemistry is hard to find.

And so, finding the right kind of dynamic for the marketing director sometimes might even be different, might be a situation where the marketing director likes one choice and then the VP OF marketing likes another choice, maybe more conservative choice that makes them feel a little safer because risk is a big thing and B2B decision making and the Fortune 250 level special risk is a big factor. So I think that's a big part of it is the profiles and the vetting that we do but there's also this level of intuition where we have to kind of trust or got some say that somebody that I'd work with and not somebody that this personality is not gonna go well together because I think at the end of the day people want to work with people they like, they enjoy working with, that shares our values and sense of humor.

 

Kelly: And some really intimate relationship.

 

Robby: It is.

 

Kelly: So they have to enjoy, like oh, we’re working together.

 

Robby: Right for sure.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so if agency leaders who are watching and listening they're interested in being a part of your stable or getting involved in some way, maybe going through that audit process, where do they start first?

 

Robby: Yes, so the Agency Stable is our private community on Facebook. It's a private group and we’ve got a few hundred agency owners, it's primarily agency owners, there are some coaches, and consultants that I think really contribute to the conversation but that's a great first step. There's no cost. It's free. You can find the link by going to our website bullandbeard.com, scrolling down and there's three communities that we run the Founder Salon, the CMO Rodeo, and Agency Stable. And so, the Agency Stable, click that button, there's a little application just to make sure you’re an agency owner, and get your URL, that kind of stuff and then join that community. And there's a great vibrant community there.

 

So I’d say that's step number one and then step number two, I think is really looking at our website and looking out what we're doing, what we're about and I think deciding, hey, is it worth it to be a part of the collective, the entry fee or the cost essentially is the agency review is the vetting, we charge 250, which is a one-time fee for the vetting process, the initial vetting process. And that said, it's not a recurring fee. I mean once you're in, you’re in, and that's kind of your ticket to the rodeo and that allows us to do that one hour deep dive discovery call, schedule an agency review.

 

And then the next step I mentioned is something that we're working on now which is called the Agency Match, which is going to be editorialized directory of agencies in our collective but written from our perspective, kind of an Ebert and Rupert style directory where it's just third-party point of view and that will be another kind of way to get involved. We’ll have probably a listing population to write that editorialized listing, small fee to do that in our monthly listing fee but that will be a way for us to essentially reveal our black book to brands that want to kind of choose their own adventure and look at agencies that are in our collectives and maybe not necessarily use us as real estate agents. So kind of like a real estate agent or broker might have a website with listings and same concept here where we have our listings and then you can work with us if you actually want more of the hand holding and support from our side.

 

Kelly: So how does that work from the directory standpoint benefit? Is it sort of like more of a D. I. Y. model for the brands or for the clients? Are they getting access to this private listing so you know that they've found that particular agency or a couple of agencies through that or is it just sort of the honor system or how does that work from your standpoint?

 

Robby: Yes, so basically the directory is a bit different in that we're not going to have a commission structure in place. And so, agencies will pay the listing fee and the setup fee to get their listing started and that'll help I think also with agency struggle oftentimes with their own positioning and their own elevator pitch essentially. And so part of the listing will be that, will be their positioning statement elevator pitch and things like category experience, clients, character, and all that good stuff in terms of our review, our profile on the agency.

 

And every agency has to go through the agency review vetting process and then be approved to join the directory, and so there's definitely some barriers to entry to make sure that it's very high quality. From then on, for brands, it's literally a matter of browsing agencies by category, by capability, that sort of thing and finding agencies that they want to talk with. We’ll probably have a mechanism where they can input RFP style budget scope stuff like that and then we could step in and help with the search and then that's when a commission would apply. But if they're just navigating the listings on their own and want to reach out to the agency on their own, they're going to be able to do that, and that'll be the benefit of having a listing and then paying that listing fee for the directory members.

 

Kelly: Right. Okay. So as we start to wrap up, I did want to ask you about something. I read an article recently that it was positioned in a way that Bull & Beard is essentially you're the bull and Jason's the beard. I have to ask you, where did that come from? And like how true is that?

 

Robby: Yeah, it's pretty true. I mean, it's interesting because we came up with the name. I actually came up with the name before meeting Jason. I was down in Tampa with some agency buddies and we were having drinks and just talking about agency names and what we wanted to do, what the next chapter is, and came up with this name together. And I said, I want that I'm taking a guy's and he said, okay you got it. And it was Bull & Beard and the idea was at the time this kind of play off the last name. A lot of agencies the way that they do it it's a letter deed, it's easy to spell, it's alphabetically correct all, that good stuff. And that was it. We went running with it and developed out the first side and then we launched the business.

Jason and I partnered up, and basically we went to our first meeting at an agency to conduct a review and to learn more about them and their first comment was, "Okay so who's the bull, who’s the beard?" And we just looked at each other like okay I guess we're architects of the print, like we're gonna play this role, but definitely I would be the bull in the China shop, kind of charging and getting things done. And then just maybe sometimes a little too brash but more out there and then Jason is the beard, just kind of reflecting, is this a wise move, is this a good decision, likes to think about things and ponder.

And so, we have a good balance. I think as far as our business goes and our partnership goes, because we’re coming at it from two very different perspectives. And the other thing is I'm a millennial. I'm younger than he is. He's I think Gen X borderline baby. No, he’s late Gen X, but it's enough to kind of give us two different perspectives when we're looking at agencies or looking at brands or look at projects. Oftentimes, we'll both kind of see it from two ends and meet the middle, because we tend to see things in common, but I think catch things from a different perspective. I'll be the first person maybe to be like I don't know about these guys. I am very skeptical and he’ll be like, let's just give them time, that kind of thing. So definitely a different relationship.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And in a business partnership whether it's an agency collective or an agency, that dichotomy in having that balance is so important so that you have somebody who's a little bit more gung-ho and a little bit someone who is more conservative. So I would imagine that dichotomy. Actually, it works really well for you.

 

Robby: If it was Bull & Bull, this would be crazy. It wouldn’t work out. I mean there's no way and then he's a lot more just stable and quiet and supportive and just things that I'm not and that certainly helps from a business perspective, balance each other out and I think ultimately make better decisions and more balanced decisions for sure.

 

Kelly: That's what it's all about. So I will post links to the specific service offerings and different things that you have for agencies in the show notes and just want to thank you so much for coming on the show today. This has been great.

 

Robby: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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promo-ep-39-WMJ

EP 39: Podcasting is the New Networking,  Matt Johnson

 

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly is joined by Matt Johnson, host of the YouX Podcast and CEO of Pursuing Results, a podcast production agency. Matt and Kelly discuss the power of pods for thought leadership, business development and more for creative agencies.

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 39: Podcasting is the New Networking, with Matt Johnson

Duration: 00:16:58

 

Kelly: So if you're wondering what's next for your agency's thought, leadership, and business development, my guest today, Matt Johnson says that podcasting is the new networking. And Matt is founder of Pursuing Results, which is actually a really interesting niche. It’s a podcast production agency and he works mostly with coaches, consultants and creative agency owners. His own show which I was actually a guest on that not that long ago is called the YouX Podcast and I had such a great time talking with Matt about that. So welcome my friend. I'm so happy to have you on my show.

 

Matt: Thanks Kelly. I'm super pumped to be here.

 

Kelly: So let's kind of start talking about how you got your start in podcasting and how that led you to actually creating this really, really well positioned podcast production company Pursuing Results?

 

Matt: So well, and thank you by the way because I'd love the how we're positioned, and it's something that didn't come easy. It was a couple of years in the making and took a lot of throwing mud against the wall to see what stuck; unfortunately, something stuck that was profitable. And so the basically the quick story is I was working for another agency, I watch them scale up from a little over a hundred clients to now they're over five hundred and the founder is now a client of mine and still one of my best friends.

So I watched that whole scaling process. They were extremely well positioned and essentially built the category king in their niche and so I was doing business development for them and started up doing live webinars on YouTube back when Google Hangouts was a thing, and so we started doing some of those with industry influencers in developing this kind of relationship based partner program to grow that agency.

So about a couple of months into it, I was doing- one of their partners essentially pitched me on the idea of starting a podcast, and I'd been thinking about it already, because I was a fan, and that we're already doing all these webinars and things like that, so we jumped in. I had no idea what we're doing. All we knew is that he was a coach. And we thought well we can probably coach some people together, we'll figure out how to monetize this later, which is we'll put that on the back burner we’ll figure that out.

 

Kelly: Like all good businesses are bridges.

 

Matt: We’ll start doing it now. We'll figure out how to make money later. So that's exactly what we did. We committed the cardinal sin. But actually all good things that have happened in my life over the last four years have been a direct result of that one podcast, which I still run that end up being named one of the top five podcasts in our space and still very successful to this day. We publish about three days a week a new episode. But what ended up happening at least from the agency owner perspective, because I didn't really set out to be an agency owner. I was a marketing consultant and yeah I was going to get into like coaching and business consulting and stuff like that.

And what happened was the people that I was doing webinars with and bringing onto my show started going, “Hey, how in the world are you producing so much content?” And so, I told them a little bit about the team that I built behind me to do the backend work and essentially I built it in such a way that I just showed up into the podcast like the fun part and then my team like did the rest behind me, did all the backend work of editing and writing the show notes and stuff like that. So these people went wow that sounds amazing like how do I do that. So I told them how I did it. And they said well that sounds exhausting like can we just pay you to do it.

So essentially, I started like just letting them rent my team so that the people that were working for me part time I just essentially let them work with other people then I started kind of managing everything. And then of course, eventually turn into an agency, turn into a real business. And then you start coming up against all the fun challenges, okay now what's our real niche? Like if I'm gonna turn this into a real business, how do we do that and so that started the whole process of going down the road of positioning, specializing, and packaging.

 

Kelly: Yeah, music to my ears, my friend. So what is it really about a podcast that works so well for agencies in particular?

 

Matt: Well because I think for most agencies, even if we want a lot of clients, there's always a core set of really deep relationships that we want to be the center of our agency. I know I do. Even as I scale up and even as I watched my old agency scale up, the real foundation, the thing that stood the test of time was the core group of relationships with the top people in the industry that no matter what happened, they were going to last and no matter what market ships came, they were the ones that figured it out. They'd been in the business for ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years.

And so, what's interesting right now is what's going on is podcasting is kind of the new way that people are building those relationships. So it used to be, for example the guy I used to work for the only way he built his agency is he literally got in on a plane flew all over God's creation, went to Vegas, bought bottle service for all his potential clients. Basically in a race to try to figure out okay how do I take enough in initial client fees to cover the costs that I literally already put on my credit card to get them signed up as a client. Well, I didn't have to do any of that. So the only events I've really ever been to for the most part ones I got invited to speak at, and I got invited to speak because I was a podcast host but I met all those hosts and I met all the people that were going to the event before I even showed up at the event.

So I had meetings lined up at these events because I'd already met them, and the interesting thing about it now having gone to both events and on podcasting is, and I'm sure you know this is true, of a five minute conversation you have on the hallway outside and in between a conference session is nothing compared to what we're doing right here, like a half hour conversation face to face even though it's on video and even though your two thousand miles away. The connection is even deeper than if we met in person but only got a chance to talk in between a session at a conference.

 

Kelly: Right. Absolutely. And I've had the exact same experience. One of the things that came out of this and it's sort of an answer to this question just from my perspective. One of the things that I had never thought about what a podcast could do for me in terms of business development and just building those relationships was once I started working with an agency, the agency owner would actually just distribute the podcast or a link to the show to their leadership team.

So when I walked in to start doing agency growth consulting, the whole team was like hugs instead of handshakes and it was like hey we feel like we know you already because we've watched seven of your episodes, and so I'd never thought about that, how that podcast could actually benefit in that way and I think that could also be just another extension. I feel like there's a lot of legs to this question.

 

Matt: There really is. Yeah because you've got the people that you build the relationships one on one and then yeah you've got those scalable relationships where you might not even know they exist but they feel like they have a relationship with you, especially I saw this a lot with me and my co-host on my main show when we will go to an event, we’d have people come up afterwards and go, hey like I've been listening to you for a year, I’ve been listening to you for two, like how's your kids, how's the course. I have no kids.

We’re talking about the imaginary fake kids, my co-host made up for me and makes fun of me for. And so like they’ll ask me about like my fake wife and kids that we joke around like they're asking about inside jokes that we tell on the show that the only way to even know those is to listen for a long period of time. And so, yeah those are always really fun because you don't realize who you're impacting until you kind of meet them or they reach out on social media.

 

Kelly: Right, right. So as you're developing these podcasts and producing these podcasts for agencies in particular, what are some of the challenges that the agencies come to you with that you're helping them to solve through the podcast?

 

Matt: Well, so the most difficult job that I have when I'm launching a new podcast is if I'm working with an agency or a coach or consultant who themselves are unclear about their positioning. If they're very clear, the podcast actually flows very easily, and it's actually it's very easy position in the marketplace. The only question is who are your early adopters that you're going after, who are the people that you think are going to be wildly enthusiastic about the show right off the bat.


And so the people that I have the easiest time helping are the people that come with really great intellectual property and they're not super well known in their niche, but they have the potential to be right. So as soon as people find out about the content, they’re blown away. So the mission or the goal is just to get their content out there, get them and their personalities out there and bring other influencers, other thought leaders into contact with them on their podcast, and then those other thought leaders can't shut up about them because their content is that good. And so that's really the sweet spot.

If you don't have those elements of really of good positioning or you come and you just don't really have your own opinions, you don't have your own point of view about anything, or you don’t have a point of view that's different in the marketplace, that's when my job becomes exponentially difficult. So the for the most part I don't work with agencies and coaches like that coz the podcast won't be as effective for them and so the things that you teach in terms of positioning the agency is the same types of conversations that I would have to have if I didn't already have people coming to me that were well positioned.

 

Kelly: Right. And so for those agencies that are well positioned that you do take on as clients, what do you coach them through in terms of the content, the format of the show? Is there sort of like an equation, or is it really specific to the ethos of that agency or what they're trying to do?

 

Matt: Well that's the interesting thing. So it could be really, really custom on one off. Obviously that doesn't work for a package service agency that I offer. So I do have a formula. I do have an equation. That equation is to run predominately like a conversation or a dialogue podcast where two episodes a month are with thought leaders and influencers, one episode a month is somebody internal or a successful client. And then one episode is just a solo of you speaking directly to your ideal client and just delivering the message, whatever that is.

And what I like to see from clients, and I've really been hitting this hard over the last few months of new clients have signed up is to not just convey your point of view and not just talk about the things that you do well and just give opinions and things like that but to get a lot more targeted. And what I mean by that is going after especially in your solo episodes where you're speaking directly in the audience, going after the very specific things that you want people to believe before they show up on your doorstep and want to hire you.

So you take your ideal client and you walk it back from okay, so they're in my industry, they’re my space and that's fine. But what do they believe? Okay well they believe that a podcast is the new networking, they believe that it's going to be effective. They also believe it's a long term strategy. So those are some of the things that I look at when somebody shows up on my doorstep. I wanna know what their beliefs are so what do I do? I talk about those things on my podcast.

So if you listen to my podcast you already get my point of view and if you don't agree with it, you're probably not even showing up and booking a call with me. So if you're booking a call and you've been listening to my show, I already know and I can get a sense within the first couple minutes of talking to somebody. Do they believe the things that I want them to believe that I know will make them ideal clients? So that's what I really encourage people to hit. To me, that's the formula.

 

Kelly: Sounds like you're a big guy, Simon Sinek fan.

 

Matt: Not necessarily.

 

Kelly: No? Oh.

 

Matt: No. I know. I'm not a huge, I've actually never read the book, Start with Why, which is it makes me terrible.

 

Kelly: No, it doesn't make you terrible. It just makes it really interesting because a lot of what you're talking about is very aligned with attracting clients that believe what you believe. That's why people buy from brands or buy from agencies or work with them.

 

Matt: Yeah.

 

Kelly: Yeah interesting, okay.

 

Matt: Yeah, ain’t that funny?

 

Kelly: So what would you say are the most important things when it comes to distributing the podcast? So let's say you have an agency leader, they say okay we want to bring you in Matt, we want you to produce this podcast for us, help us kind of walk through the entire thing. Now you have the first two, three, four episodes kind of cued up, how do you coach them in terms of the ideal distribution? Is that also formulaic or is that different?

 

Matt: Yes, so for formulaic because obviously everything that we do is very systematized and packaged and just based on the best practices of what I've done in my own show and what I've noticed that work for clients over the years. So what the interesting thing is that my agency is completely done for you. So for the most part I work with the clients initially on the branding and things like that, and then my staff gets involved and we just do as much as we can for the clients. There’s a lot less about coaching.

But I will directly answer the question like this. So we do all the distribution but you basically want to hit them air, land and sea. So if I wanna see emails going out to their list, I wanna see a social media blitz, ideally we want to put them on other podcasts that release or at least record around the same time as their podcast hits because being a guest on other podcasts is what I found to be the most effective marketing method for somebody starting a new show because you're hitting an audience of people that already listen to podcasts. That's half the battle. It is just appealing to people that already know how to get a podcast on their phone.

So to me, that's what I want to see. I want to see that blitz, and then there's certain clients I’ll work with if they've got like a live event coming up and they have the ability to stand up on stage and say, hey we're launching our podcast, put it, get out your phone right now and go to Apple podcast and download and subscribe to the show. They’ll instantly get two hundred new subscribers, like that can literally put you at the top of your category in iTunes, just like that, just from this. So if you can coordinate with like a live event or some other type of kind of lightning strike public relations strategy even better.

 

Kelly: Awesome. So as we're starting to wrap up here, what would you say are your top two or three best pieces of advice for an agency leader that's been thinking about doing a podcast maybe it's on the road map for 2019 or they want to put that strategy together this year and then launching in 2020, what would be some of the foundational pieces of advice that you would give them?

 

Matt: Well so if they work with an agency like mine, we would take care of all the backend work and so the one thing I would say is that people have a hard time doing two things. So what I found- and I have to wall things off even within my own agency. So the person that handles some of my own podcast isn't the same person that does all of our clients stuff because it's hard for our staff and team members to be working and have two different competing priorities. And so, like I've run into agency owners including the agency I used to work for who I assume I've got the staff, we've got overflow labor though just in their spare time they'll do our marketing; sadly it almost never works.

And so, whether you wall it off internally or you hire it out, like when you do something radically different from what you do on a daily basis, it's almost impossible to get your staff to do it consistently at a high level. So at the very least, if you don't hire it out at least wall it off.

Second thing is to make the actual podcast conversations as effective as possible. There's one key thing that I picked up a couple years ago that's made a huge difference, which is this. Anytime I end the conversation whether I'm the host of the interview whatever, I always ask one key question after we've stopped recording, which is like hey I had an awesome time, this is a great conversation like how can I help you, like who can I introduce you to, who can I keep an eye off for, who's that one type of person that if I connected you, would make a huge difference in your business. And not everybody has an answer but the reaction that I get is most of the time people are absolutely floored.

 

Kelly: Because nobody does that.

 

Matt: No. It's sad but it's true.

 

Kelly: Yeah but I completely agree. I think that's amazing and it's all about giving and supporting and how can I help you. I think just maybe it's like a little karmic or whatever you want to call it but it definitely works. I think those are really two incredible pieces of advice especially starting with the first portion of what you said, making your own agency a client. We've seen that in previous episodes with whether you’re launching or overhauling your website for your agency, whatever you're doing for your agency, making yourself a client, whether you do that internally as you said or you outsource it. You have to do that. You have to really make that commitment so I think that's an incredible a piece of advice.

 

Matt: Yeah. Thank you.

 

Kelly: Well, Matt thank you so much for coming on the show today. I really, really appreciate it, and we'll chat soon.

 

Matt: Thanks Kelly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EP 38: Agile Agencies + the Importance of Culture, Andi Graham

 

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly chats with Andi Graham, CEO at Big Sea about taking on business partners, transitioning from waterfall to agile development, and the importance of culture on multi-location expansion. Lots of holistic insights and valuable takeaways from this show as Andi shares her story.

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 38: Agile Agencies and the Importance of Culture, with Andi Graham

Duration: 00:18:35

  

Kelly: So today, I’m really excited to have a new friend with me on the show. Andi Graham, is CEO and Managing Partner of Big Sea based in St. Petersburg, Florida. You can actually check them at Big Sea.co if you want to jump over there while you are listening or watching to this. Andi and I actually met back in October, just a few months ago at a conference called AgencyCon in Breckenridge.

I was keynoting the conference and we ended up sitting together, struck up this conversation, and everything that she was saying was really interesting to me, in terms of how much transition and transformation her agency was going through. And I thought that would be a really, really great topic to bring to the audience. So really looking forward to talking about transitioning from a single ownership to a partnership model. I know a lot of you are thinking about that and are always asking me questions about that.

Transforming an agency from  maybe typical web development methodologies to an agile firm, that’s also something that comes with a lot of change, and we did that at my own agency. So I have a lot- that resonates with me for that. Opening up maybe a second location. And then how the culture of an organization impacts all of these things and vice versa. So I know it is a lot to cover in a 15 to 20 minute show, but I think we can do it. And Andi thank you so much for being here.

 

Andi: Yes, thanks so much for having me, Kelly.

 

Kelly: So let’s start out with the origin story. Big Sea. How did you found it, what was the sort of the backstory there and then how did you go from single owner to where you are today with the partnership.

 

Andi: Sure. I think like a lot of agency owners, I was an accidental entrepreneur. I just happened to be responsible, accountable. I’d answer the phone when people would call me and I do what I said I was going to do.

 

Kelly: Oh my God!

 

Andi: I know. Trust me it still doesn’t happen. Yeah, I know.

 

Kelly: I know.

 

Andi: And it’s so funny how many clients you hear that from. "Well, the last people I called wouldn't even answer the phone when we…" So it kind of started as I had a lot of freelance work and I was doing a master's degree and I was working half-time at another agency and I kind of just happened to have some projects fall into my lap at a really opportune time in my life, happened to be the week that I gave birth to my daughter was the last week of paid income of any other, on anybody else's dime.

So all those things kind of conspired. I hired a couple employees that first year, and then it's just kind of grown organically through that. There's no outside investment. I have no debt. There's none of that. And three years ago, 2015, we had a really rough year, 2014 and 2015 were kind of rough. I was introducing marketing into the agency, but it hadn't taken off yet. I knew I needed some retainer based income.

 

Kelly: So it was all project-based before that?

 

Andi: It was all project based, which is feast or famine, and so there's a lot of I don't think I was making smart hiring decisions. I was quick to hire and slow to fire, which is exactly the opposite of what you're supposed to do. So I would hire just for workload and then have to support folks because I have an incredible indebtedness to the employees that we bring on. I'm figuring out how to do this, and so it was a tough couple of years. We did great work and we stayed afloat but I wasn't feeling really comfortable about where we were.

So at that point, I was attending some agency owner events around through a company called the Bureau of Digital, and I was just loving the interaction I had with really getting some of the hard, the difficult things I dealt with off my chest and talking to people who understood what I was going through. Something I hadn't found here in the area. When I got back to town after one of the conferences, I actually reached out to another agency owner here, and he and I started having, we called it co-commiseration lunch where we'd talk about clients and projects and employees and running the agencies and how we did that.

And after a few months we started saying, well, this sounds really strange but why wouldn’t we do this together. We kind of dominate our regional market anyways. Why wouldn't we merge? And so, after quite a few conversations, we ended up deciding to merge the two agencies. It was really seamless. We kind of put our team structures next to each other in it and they've just fit together like a puzzle. We knew exactly whose, would fill, which role and where they would go.

 

Kelly: It never happens by the way. You know how rare that is.

 

Andi: Yeah, it was very rare. We had, just I don't even think, we had one situation, one bit personal situation where there was a conflict. So it really merged very well and it just had a lot of it to do with like who is more senior versus the others and things like that. Luckily I have a team who support me completely, and they were skeptical, but they went through it with us and it was that sort of storm norm form thing that everybody talks about. We thought we wouldn't go through because everything fit together but looking back over the past three years, it was definitely what happened. So I went from being a sole owner to having two business partners. So 100% percent to 30% percent, 33.333 %.

 

Kelly: And we will touch on definitely the culture and the team and how important that is toward the end today but let's kind of transition a little bit to the work flow and the methodology because around the same time, you went from, you basically said to the team, I think we should become an agile shop. And so, bringing in these new partners, having like this cross-section or merge team structure and now all of a sudden we're going to change everything about how you do what you do every day. So tell me a little bit about why you did that and what was it that clicked for you that this is the approach that we should take.

 

Andi: Sure. I had been doing a lot of research around how this might work for a marketing based agency, so we do traditional WordPress development, start to finish waterfall, whatever that is. When I was at an agency with 10 to 12 employees, it was easy to kind of throw work wherever anybody had time. There wasn't a lot of accountability around, here was the estimate and here’s how much you're working, here it is, the smaller tasks, things like that. It was whoever was available got things done.

Now with 20-some employees, we realize there had to be a lot more organization around the work flows themselves. We wanted more accountability in our marketing retainers and have been doing a lot of research into agile marketing specifically and how those things work. And so, we had been merged six months at this point when we decided to just pull the trigger. I have a partner who is our C. O. O. so he's our operations guy and he was just planning and planning and planning and planning. And I finally said, "That's it. We're just doing it. It's starting August 1, we're going all in."

And so we literally just set up some boards. We had a sprint planning meeting. It was a complete cluster. But you just have to do it, and so it's amazing how quickly, we sat down, we did a huge leadership retreat on Friday, and everyone around the table sat down and said how did we ever get anything done before this was how we did it? Because we have so much accountability now for every task that happens, where it's at in the process, who's in charge of it, who's leading it, which team is working on it, we have just so much more insight into how we work, why we work and where our money's going as well.

 

Kelly: Yeah, and like I said at the beginning of the show, that resonates with me tremendously because we were an agile shop until probably 4, 5 years before I sold the agency and looking back I feel the same way. I don't know how we did what we did for almost 10 years before that, but you take it to the point where right now you sort of positioned Big Sea as an agile digital marketing agency. I mean, you put it right up front there.

 

Andi: Yup. And it's important to us that people understand because what that does being agile as a marketing agency allows us to pivot very quickly. We're not tied into, here's your annual marketing plan, and ops, sorry, in May, we're going to be doing this even though Google just changed their algorithm and you’ve dropped all your rankings. We didn't have an SEO plan in place right now. That's not until June. So we can pivot, we are really data-driven, we’re constantly watching metrics and changing what we're doing based on what we're seeing.

 

Kelly: And clients are getting a ton of value out of that because of that ability to pivot.

 

Andi: Yeah. And the other big thing we did we went to agile in August but then in last January, we actually transitioned to cross-functional teams and so instead of having one agency that still, even though we're organizing the work in an agile fashion, we actually went into the cross-functional teams model and so we have two separate teams that work side by side. So the client gets the full, I mean, our developers set up the table just when we're making decisions about what to do with our accounts and they're looking at conversion rate optimization and site structure and page load and all those different things.

 

Kelly: Which is the way it should be, because you have to have all those people who know their specialties to that degree all sitting at the same table because you don't want someone in marketing or an account manager making a decision that the developers like, "Why did you tell the client that?" That's not how it works. So talk a little bit more about the team from the perspective of how you, as a leader, give them direction but also balance that with equal parts of autonomy so that they can figure out the nuances themselves.

 

Andi: Sure. This has been really interesting for me because I'm a little bit of a control freak, which I'm sure a lot of your agency owners are. So yeah. So watching two teams take off and then, so we have fairly good processes. So we had gone through about a year of really heavy documentation of what we do and how we do it. And so, we have this whole process docs folder in Google and you can look at like how do I onboard somebody, how do I do this, how do I do that, it's all very sort of written down.

What we've had to do is kind of consider those as frameworks versus tried and true bibles. So each team has really started working together in very different ways based on each team's personalities and strengths and weaknesses and things like that. So each team has their own variations on those processes as long as the clients are happy, I don't care, even though I did care a little bit.

So we're working this year on, they've kind of grown apart a little bit and so next year, one of our goals for 2019 is sort of bringing them back together to share successes. So we've set up some structure around how are we gonna start it, work together to talk about what's working across their different client accounts and account managers can work together and what's working for their account stuff and things like that. So we're trying to build a little bit that into the process.

 

Kelly: And do they get excited about that? Like are they are into that, or does it feel like we're finding our own way and leadership is saying, you guys have to come back together or they?

 

Andi: No. Yes, so they wouldn’t be in our team if they weren't excited about that. We have really high levels of low ego and high collaboration so it's really about putting the best for the client first always. And so, if we had somebody risk this into that, they wouldn't be on our team. So yeah they're great about it. We have a disciplined director for each so we have a design director and a marketing director and so those people are in charge of the disciplines and so they work on leveling people up across their teams, making sure the standards are met for our agency in a general sense, that type of thing.

 

Kelly: And with all the change and directions that you're being pulled in, having this new presence in Colorado, how do you sort of balance your own time and manage your own time, what does that look like for you?

 

Andi: I'm really strict about maintaining time for my…I have a child and a husband, with like my family is very important and it's important for our entire staff so we’ve just a year where some of our staff have gone through some crazy health things or their spouses have or whatever that is. And so, I think it's something we really value highly and so I value it for myself. I'm gonna be leaving at 4:30 today.

My daughter has a chorus performance and it's just, that's number one. Number two is my work. And I can do my work at 10 PM or 4 AM or whatever it is. And I think that's the example that I set in that they see as well. We have required everybody has to put in billable hours just like any other agency. They meet those, some of our, we have some moms so leave at 3 and come back online at 8 PM after the kid goes to bed and then finish their day, that type of thing.

 

Kelly: So it’s just about being flexible.

 

Andi: It is, yeah.

 

Kelly: One of the other questions that I wanted to ask and sort of end the conversation with a wrap up, with was, with all of this change happening at one time, I would imagine that the core, the foundation of your team had to be so rock solid. It's kind of like, I don't know, introducing something new into a relationship. You have to have a really, really core foundation before you can sort of take things to the next level. So talk a little bit about that. How vital was it that the team was already to that, really, really strong foundation with the sharing of goals and shared values and all of that. Just talk a little bit about that.

 

Andi: Sure. So we have shared core values, which I'm sure a lot of people talk about. We have them painted on a wall, which I'm sure a lot of people do. Different to us, is that we use them to guide just about every decision that we make so while we're having a discussion between two people about how should we handle this, what should we do, somebody throw a core value out, and say well this is what we believe in so here's why we're going to do it this way. Our people really adhere to them and trust in them and we have rewards for them every year and we talk about them on a constant basis. We build them into our hiring and firing and our process improvement, everything that we do.

So I think that's a big piece of it- that we all kind of have that one thing we align behind but another piece of it is everybody, if you were to go down and interview everybody on our team and ask them what's unique about the Big Sea culture, they’d all say it’s a weird family. And they'll say I'm the dad, they'll say that my partner is the mom and they will say that there's a weird uncle here or there and it's we are a big weird family. We all support each other in our highs and lows. We hang out together on the weekends. We know which- our kids are here in the office all the time. It's just a strange weird little family. So bringing new people in, we have to know that they're going to fit into that family in the same ways.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And one of my favorite stories that you shared when we met in October was about the controller, I guess coming to you and saying "Hey, Andi, what's this charge, why did you take like 500, 600 bucks out of the ATM for?" And you told them that you took everyone to the tattoo parlor. You have to share the story.

 

Andi: We have an anchor that we've used for a long time as our logo and we have since discontinued the use of it so it is a retired logo. But one of my employees was talking about she wanted to get the anchor tattooed on her and so I said I'll go with you, in fact I'll pay for it and I happened to say that in the work area. And so about 10 other employees heard me say that, and they're like wait, you're paying for us to get the logo tattooed on us? And I said, "Sure!" So we literally called around and found a place that could get us in that afternoon and we ten or eleven of us went down to the tattoo parlor and got the logo tattooed on ourselves. I don’t know if you can see it.

 

Kelly: It’s awesome.

 

Andi: Some people it was their very first tattoo ever, and their parents are not very happy with it. And some people with their first tattoo in say ten or twelve years. People got them on their ankles, on their wrists, and everywhere. I didn't realize it was cash only. I thought I could pay it with credit card but no, and nobody would find out about it, but I had to go to the ATM and pull out 600 bucks to pay for everybody.

 

Kelly: There's so many things about the story that I love. I think first of all when you talk about strength of culture, I feel like that same type of thing would have been something that my team at my agency would have done because we had a very similar family oriented, weird family oriented situation. But just the fact that they wanted to get behind it and they wanted to like codify something on their bodies. I mean that's granted, young people don't make the best decisions all the time, but in this case I think that there's something really special about that, and you have to feel that I as or have to imagine that as the agency leader, that's got toreally warm your heart and moves you in ways that other things may.

 

Andi: Absolutely. That was definitely one of the highlights of owning this business and doing this and this being my life for sure. And I should know that they weren't all that young. Most of my employees are in their mid-thirties. They knew what they were making decisions.

 

Kelly: Yeah. Absolutely. So as we wrap up, is there anything that, we've covered so many different things in this conversation, and it's been great, but is there anything that you would sort of pull out as I don't know maybe the one take away or the one thing that you might hang your hat on when talking with other agency owners if they're going through any of these things? Whether it's opening up a second office location, thinking about developing a partnership, maybe moving into agile methodology, whatever it is, just something that you can kind of pick out and say this is what I would do or this is what I would suggest.

 

Andi: Yeah, I think one of the biggest things for us has been alignment, and it's really knowing that we are aligned behind the same things, not just goals but values, core focus, the things that our vision for the agency. We just went through a divorce with one of our partners and so that was a big thing. We were just misaligned in what was important and what our priorities are. And so, I think when the whole team is aligned and know those things and truly believe in those things, not just hear the talk.

 

Kelly: Not just painted on the wall.

 

Andi: Yeah, exactly.

 

Kelly: Live by it.

 

Andi: You can make anything happen, yeah.

 

Kelly: Awesome. Thank you so much. I really appreciate this.

 

Andi: Thank you. It’s good to talking!

 

Kelly: Me too. Alright, talk to you soon.

 

Andi: Alright bye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EP 37: Applied Empathy for Agencies, Michael Ventura

 

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly talks with Michael Ventura of Sub Rosa about his new book, Applied Empathy, and its extension of Q&E Cards to foster deeper conversation. They discuss how an empathetic approach to problem-solving creates the most effective outcomes for clients, as well as how his agency’s culture is rooted in understanding human behavior at every level. 

  

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 37: Applied Empathy for Agencies, with Michael Ventura

Duration: 00:22:00

 

 

Kelly: Welcome to another year of Thrive, your agency resource. So to kick things off for 2019, we've got a great discussion for you today, all about applied empathy for agencies and my guest is Michael Ventura, CEO and Founder of Sub Rosa, probably one of the most sought-after strategy and design firms in the country and Michael who's actually recently authored his first book called Applied Empathy, and so that’s what we're gonna dive into today. Welcome Michael. I'm really, really grateful to have you.

 

Michael: Yeah, happy to be here.

 

Kelly: So, let's dive into this a little bit. I really like that you start out with a book saying, "Let's be transparent about this. People think of empathy as this squishy word." And it's the perfect word for exactly what people have the stigma around empathy for. So just to kind of set some context, what is empathy really in terms of life and business?

 

Michael: Yeah, it's a great question to start with because I think empathy is often very misconstrued. Some people hear it and it triggers, "sympathy," or "compassion," or "being nice to people." And what I often tell people is that those are all side effects of empathy, but they aren't empathy unto itself. And really what empathy is for me is a self-aware perspective taking of someone else in order to gain richer and deeper understanding.

And I say self-aware because we have to have some awareness for our own biases and our own ways of thinking and being and doing. Otherwise when we go try to take perspective of someone else we’re clouding it with some of our own baggage. So it does require a little bit of some interior evaluation in order to be a good empath because you have to know, "no, that's just me talking." As opposed to, "I'm aware that's me talking. I'm stepping outside of that and now I can really see it from your vantage."

 

Kelly: Yeah and that's probably the hardest thing for human beings to do, is to have that self-awareness.

 

Michael: Absolutely, yeah, and it's not something that is like you get it and then it's good forever. It's something, it's practiced, and I often say it's like a like a muscle you train. The more you work it out, the more you use empathy, the more depth you get with it, but if you don't use empathy often, it starts to atrophy just like anything else.

 

Kelly: Right. So let's talk a little bit about the applied empathy origin story. How did you really come to develop these like empathetic archetypes and the whole self within the whole applied empathy methodology for your agency?

 

Michael: Yeah, so I've been running Sub Rosa or a version of under different banner for fifteen years. So this has been a long process in the making. About six years ago, our team came together and we said, is there really any special sauce? Like are we just a good shop who can do good work or is there something actually under the hood that makes us different, or that makes us differentiated, or unique, or what have you? And so, we made a commitment to become our own best client and so we actually built a project team around this and we said let's go investigate this like we would any other problem for a client, and let's see if there's something really there.

And what we came to find as we start to look at the work that we flagged as some of our best projects as well as some of the work that we flagged that some of our less successful work. We said well what was happening in the in the successful stuff and what wasn't happening in the unsuccessful stuff? And as we started to look at that, we realized, it was when empathy was being employed, when we were really making an effort to understand whoever it was we were solving the problem for. The work was great and when we got a little on our high horse and we're like we invest and that's a tendency of every design.

 

Kelly: Absolutely.

 

Michael: Yeah. Like they don't know anything. We have the answer. That work never did as well and so we came around to this idea of empathy and we asked ourselves well what about that is meaningful or helping us and what we realized was it isn't just empathy unto itself because empathy unto itself is inherently passive. I could have a lot of empathy for you. I can understand you deeply but do nothing different with the way I engage with you or the way we work together. And so, what’s the point? So it was in the application of empathy that things really started to switch on.

So we created a talk, like a 45 minute talk and I went out and started giving it in different industry events and I got invited to go down to Princeton University and give it there and came off the stage, and the Dean of the engineering school was there and she said, "I think that this is exactly what we've been looking for, for our entrepreneurship, computer science, mechanical engineering track and that we think empathy would be a really valuable skill to teach in that program. Would you create a twelve week curriculum and teach it down here?"

And so, we said yes, because we didn't know any better, and we didn't know what it entailed. And we started to teach a class and in doing that, because you've got twelve weeks and because you've got IV league undergrads who are going to kick the tires on everything you say, we had to start really thinking about methodologically, what are some of the things we could develop that but you sink your teeth into it a little bit more? Because if it stays up at ten-thousand feet, it's hard to really embody it. So we created first these seven archetypes, and the archetypes were designed to help people realize that there are a lot of ways of the listening, understanding. There's not just like this you hear empathy, and say oh, be more empathic.

Okay. Well if you don't understand empathy, how are you going to do that? So we gave them these different archetypes to play with. So an example is they're all have sort of different names. So one is the convener. A convener’s behavior, the way they get understanding, the way they get information is by creating the circumstances that people will convene around in order to share so they know how to set the room, how to set the tone, how to host, how to be a good facilitator, how to kind of create all the soft science around interaction so that people can drop in and feel comfortable and be willing to talk to you in a way that maybe they otherwise wouldn't.

 

Kelly: So just open up.

 

Michael: Exactly. Like a good convener knows how to do that, and that's the way they get at empathy. A confidante is a great listener. And inquirer is a great question asker. There's all these, we have seven of them. And what we tell people is you are all seven in in-equally distributed ways so it's not like a Myers Briggs where you're any ENFP and I’m something else. We are actually all all seven but we have to learn our strengths and weaknesses and when we start to do that and I learned, I'm really good at these two but I'm actually pretty shitty at these two, then I can focus on my strengths but also improving my weaknesses a bit.

 

Kelly: Sure. So one of the things that I thought about when I was reading through all of that was I'm curious, like so you take your own agency on as a client. You develop this whole system. How influential do you think your own work in mindfulness and self-development and just inner self work, how influential do you think that that was in creating this whole methodology?

 

Michael: It played a role for sure. I mean since my twenties been very wrapped up in self-work and I went on the buffet line and tried literally everything you could. And, like any good buffet you go back for seconds for the things you like. And so there were certain things that I tried and I was like, "Cool, get it, not my thing," and then there were others that were more meaningful for me. And so, as we sat down to build applied empathy, a lot of that ancestral wisdom came into that process, and I am pretty candid about it when people say like oh it's amazing you guys created this whole thing, and I would say, we didn’t actually create anything. We just kind of re packaged a lot of stuff that is already in the world into a format that is now in a systems-thinking, design-thinking mode.

 

Kelly: Just kind of like took Sub Rosa and did what you did for other clients and just basically repackaged it in a way that people could understand and could really digest. And that's right meaningful so it makes sense.

 

Michael: Yeah, I mean like a quick example of that is so the other thing you asked about a moment ago was the whole self and so yeah we have seven aspects of the self. Those are based on in Chinese medicine there are three dantians or places that we store our life force and we sort of work with energy. And so, we looked at those. We looked at chakras. We looked at how Kant talked about the self and how Jung talked about the self and we looked at all of that sort of stuff and we said okay there's nuggets in all of this that makes sense. But we talk about it like I just did in the past thirty seconds. It's gonna scare a lot of people off because it is gonna sound woowoo and it's gonna sound new age, or it's gonna sound too academic, and we didn't need more of that. What we needed was practicality and so we kind took what worked for that and we re-applied it in a way that would make a strategy and design practice find its utility.

 

Kelly: Right and I think that's probably why I personally resonated with the books like beyond anything you can imagine because that has sort of been my path as well, kind of exploring eastern medicine and then getting into mindfulness, so I understood that but what you said is really important, because if people don't resonate with that, if that's not been in their journey or their history, they're not gonna get it, so taking the spin on it, and I just thought it was really, really brilliant. And one of the things that came out of that was this whole deck of Q&E cards. Can you talk a little bit about that and maybe share one of your favorite applications or stories about how that was implemented?

 

Michael: Yeah, for sure. So Q&E, Questions and Empathy, is a deck of 49 cards that we developed, and the initial thinking for it was how do we create a gateway drug for empathy?

 

Kelly: Right. That’s my sound bite.

 

Michael: How do we create this thing that will let people trial it and feel safe playing with it. And so, 49 questions in the deck. There are seven archetypes and there are seven aspects of the whole self. Seven times seven is forty nine. So what you get is for each archetype, let's say the convener, there's a convener question that corresponds to the physical self. There's a convener question that corresponds to the mindful self and so on and so forth. And so, what we wanted to do was create a way to kind of poke at all of those different overlaps between the interior empathy and the exterior empathy and give someone an opportunity to really play in that space.

So the cards are a permission granting tool in many ways. If someone walks up to you at a bar and sits down next to you and looks at you and says tell me about one time you failed. You’re like "Who's this creep, and like why we are going so deep so fast?" But if the card asks the questions, there's a third party at play. It's like okay like if you're not being creepy, the card is just probing deeper than I would ordinarily let social graces allow for it. So let us go and do it. And so, we've used the cards in a couple contexts.

I will tell you two quick anecdotes. One is I got this one, this is like the warm and fuzzy one. So I get a note from a friend of mine who lives in San Francisco, had been dating a woman for a while. They were driving down LA, down highway one. They were on like a long road trip for the weekend and they took the deck of cards with them.

 And I get a text message with a photo of both of them and she's got mascara running down her face and his eyes are like bright red puffy and they're pulled off in like Big Sur, somewhere on highway one. And he's like we just like level jumped our relationship in the past three hours riding the car with these cards, because these are kinds of questions that social graces often don't let us ask or they don't feel always appropriate to poke and prod into. Even with someone you're close with like a significant other. And just like that, that made me feel like there was some alchemy at work in these cards that was doing a good thing.

Another example that is in a different context is that actually next week I'll be going to run a workshop in Downtown Manhattan here with the 9/11 memorial. All of the staff who had been working there since it opened, because one of the things that their team has learned and they reached out after having read the book was they said, "we have a bit of a like sort of empathy challenge here because there's so much emotion that runs through this place every day that we have some people who are like burned out on empathy. We have others that have as a counterpoint to empathy built such a suit of armor that they're not prospective-taking at all anymore because it was too much for them. And there are people who kind of calibrated the right way.

So we'd like to run an hour long session with you in the cards to help people remember that there's multiple ways of being empathic, and that if this is uncomfortable for you, you can try it this way and if you want to play with empathy in a different context, here's a way to do it. And also a way to bring them all together in one moment where they can share some of the things they've been going through over the past few years running the memorial. So I'm excited to see how like it plays out like Big Sur's Highway 1 as much as in a context like this as much as in a board room with other execs and it kind of resonates in the right way.

 

Kelly: Right. And I think one of the, to add sort of like a third anecdote from the book, one day you get, you see on your caller ID the U. S. government, and it's a captain from West Point which is not that far from where I am in Rockland and he wants you to train the army coaches and the cadets. I'm curious to know what do you think like recalling that experience, what do you think was your "aha" moment between seeing that answering that phone and kind of getting that challenge coin from General Jeb. What was that moment for you where you're like oh my God, this is this is amazing.

 

Michael: Yeah, I mean it was amazing from the first phone call to be honest because I never imagined the military wanting more empathy.

 

Kelly: Yeah. I was blown away when I read that. I was like what?

 

Michael: Yeah, it seems super incongruent, but then I get there, and I'm walking around the base and the thing that was the most abundantly clear the fastest to me was that these cadets and the administration there are genuinely wired as lifelong learners, and they want to scale up in everything. They want to be really as capable in as many ways as possible, more so than, way more so frankly than the interactions we had at Princeton. And no knock against them, but those students were in in their path, in their track, very vertical, at the sacrifice of some widths, some real horizontal exploration. They knew what they wanted to be and they dove deep into it.

And at West Point, they're a leadership development academy when you really think about it, they're breeding leaders. And so width is critical and just as critical as depth and so I got to sit down with the coaches. The coaches actually were first because of just timing and scheduling so I had something like fifty or sixty of the coaching staff across all the sports sitting in a room and these are athletic coaches at the army. You have an archetype and many of them are ex-military themselves. And, I know what I look like. I mean I look like my hair is tied back today but it's even worse usually and I'm walking around campus and I look like who let the hippie on campus.

 

Kelly: Check him for drugs.

 

Michael: Yeah, exactly. My ID does get checked quite a bit there.

 

Kelly: That’s awesome.

 

Michael: And so I get up there and I do our initial presentation and then I said does anyone have any question. 15 hands raised like simultaneously and everyone was leaning in and asking questions. How do I use this, this way and could I think about it this way and then we disseminate the cards. And they start having their conversations and they start using them with each other and people are laughing, people are giving each other high fives, people are trading cards with each other. "Oh ask yourself at this one, this is a good one."

And I saw in that ninety-minute session with those coaches how learning, and how self-discovery, and how inquiry is such a core part of the DNA of West Point that as I went on and then met students or cadets, other members of the faculty, I actually also got to train fifty career military officers so three star, two star, one star generals and sit in a room with them. It was the same across everybody like curious, hungry, and desirous of learning, believe empathy is a critical leadership skill and wanted more of it. It was amazing.

 

Kelly: Such a cool story. So as we start to wrap up a little here, I'd love to leave our fellow agency leaders with a little bit of information on one of the ongoing rituals that you have implemented at Sub Rosa, Sub Rosa Days. And just kind of talk about how important those twelve days per year are to the success of your agency.

 

Michael: Yeah sure, so we had this obvious epiphany I guess, if that's kind of oxymoronic but if we said we only have finite amount of time in the year, and we spend all of it, spending our time on our clients, couldn't we take a day a month for ourselves? Couldn’t we take one day a month to turn the lens inward and look at us? And if we can't spend twelve days a year working on our own business, we're really selling ourselves short. So we decided to create Sub Rosa Days which are sort of like mini onsites if you will. There are some things that still have to happen, because we're in service business, and sometimes someone needs to take a call with a client, totally fine, but what we structured into that day are a couple things.

One is always going to be a workshop where someone from the team will run a workshop in something. It doesn't have to be one-to-one relevant to our daily work that we do for our clients. We've had people do everything from an improv workshop, a whole host of stuff, just kind of flexing your muscles, learning a different skill, playing in a way you haven't played before. We’ll always have one presentation. So someone typically someone who's maybe not getting up in front of clients as much gets an opportunity to really get up and give a thirty or forty-five minute keynote on something they're passionate about and share with the team in a way that A it builds them up a little bit as a presenter, but also B, to really kind of celebrate something they love.

We tend to have a couple breakout sessions to focus on our internal efforts. So for example, that might be updating case studies for our website, or credentials decks, or having an opportunity to onboard new hires who maybe haven't had a chance to go deep with some of the leadership team since they’ve started, so they get to like sit in a room with us for an hour and ask questions that they want to know. We also have a thing we call Fresh Eyes, which is we take everyone who's been here for less than six months and use that as an opportunity to ask them, "What are you seeing with your fresh eyes here that we are probably blind to at this point because we've been here for too long?" Because if you’re here more than six months, you lose that perspective.

 

Kelly: Very true.

 

Michael: So that ritual is something we run every month and it's something that people look forward to, but it's also something I really look forward to as an opportunity to learn more about our business.

 

Kelly: And I think that's really the reason why I wanted to wrap with that question, because I think that is probably a really large gap in most agencies, and most agency leaders they aspire to have things like that, but their own work just gets pushed to the back burner, but you're saying the takeaway here is don't push it to the back burner. It's only a day per month and again try to get a hundred-percent participation but if it's ninety-five or ninety, it's fine. The point is that you're keeping that continuity and you're bringing in fresh perspectives and all of that. So I love that and I hope that some of the agency leaders that are listening and watching today really, really take that to heart.

 

Michael: Thanks.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so thank you so much Michael. I really, really appreciate it. This has been awesome, and I can't wait to talk again soon.

 

Michael: Same here. Thank you very much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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