The Art of Growing an Agency

guest: Bryan Shetsky, CEO
company: Lamark Media
On this week’s episode of Mind Your Own Marketing Business, Tim is joined by CEO of Lamark Media - Bryan Shetsky. They on touch on many topics regarding full-service digital agencies - from white labeling to culture to noticing trends. They also talk about some real world stories like becoming a $1M+ agency, and blockchain.
Episode Transcript

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Voice Over: Enter the creative world Mind Your Own Marketing. Explore a variety of trends and creative landscape and getting insider knowledge and advice from the industry’s best. Fjorge is proud to present Mind Your Own Marketing Podcast. Host Tim Barcenas.

Tim Barsness: Thanks for joining us on Mind Your Own Marketing Podcast. I’m Tim Barsness, Founder of Web and Mobile Development Team Fjorge. Today on our show, we will be talking with Bryan Shetsky about his full-service digital marketing team Lamark Media. Welcome to the show, Bryan.

Bryan Shetsky: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

Tim: I’m glad you could be here, can you tell us a little bit about Lamark Media?

Bryan: Sure. Lamark Media as you said, is a full-service digital marketing company focused really on leveraging digital channels to create some tangible results. Our history is really much around white-label for other agencies, but we’ve blossomed especially over the last three to four years to become really a full-service marketing partner for a number of brands and companies across many different verticals and industry areas.

Tim: Let’s go back and learn a little bit about Bryan. What is it, how did you get started, and how did you found Lamark Media?

Bryan: Sure. I’ll try to keep it a little shorter than longer, because the story could be long. Really myself and entrepreneurism has been something that’s always caught my eye since I was a kid. Whether it was drawing greeting cards at the Art Fair, or buying sports cards at the mall and reselling them on eBay before you needed a credit card and an actual account for eBay. Through other entrepreneurial history in high school at a car stereo and car customization company in high school.

Then, I went to college at university of Florida for Finance. Also, got my real estate license when I was 18, so I did real estate and mortgages through college. Also Bartended to try to get a little more of the people side. Then left college and started working at a database marketing company, focused really around consumer profiling and modeling. Really got introduced to marketing as a whole and how deep and how broad marketing really is, and noticed a couple of major opportunities and pain points.

One; this was 10 years ago, probably 11 years ago conceptually when Lamark was founded and we weren’t digital. Digital was a new up-and-coming kind of channel. There’s obviously some advertisers digital at that time, but it really wasn’t anywhere near what it was today. My company; although it was very large agency didn’t really have any digital in their future or at least in that time.

Also saw how integrated marketing really should be going back to my finance roots in college and portfolio theory, and looking at ways to leverage a multi-channel strategy tomitigate risk and support upside. That thought process of this portfolio style to digital really was what I wanted to achieve. After three years at another agency decided to take a leap and start Lamark media.

Tim: You worked at an agency and then started Lamark?

Bryan: Yes, I worked at a direct marketing agency focused on customer acquisition for three years. My last year there I was in a Director role overseeing channel partnerships, and really our goal was to go out and find other marketing companies who could leverage our data insights. That really exposed me to how large the marketing platform is, and how many different channels there are, and how consumers are engaging with media and how that was changing, and that really gave me a fire to do something more comprehensive.

When my boss didn’t see that path I decided it wasn’t for me.

Tim: It sounds like digital marketing was reallY the core of how this all got started. I’m curious when you went to found Lamark, what was it about digital marketing that told you this was it?

Bryan: Just the trend. I mean the usage of the Internet has been up. Even in college and even in high school there was the internet, and even before that there was Prodigy and Netscape and all these other things. You see the evolution of the web as we went, and all the different activities that were going on. Facebook, I’ve actually was a– I got my Facebook birthday of 13 years about three months ago. I’ve been on Facebook pretty much as long as Facebook’s been out.

Just seeing the trend of the usage and how people are consuming media and how digital was starting to become some so much more ingrained in every aspect of life, e-commerce was starting to blossom, things were starting to happen. 10 years ago where you could see that path, and I said to my boss, I said, “This is like a dinosaur to land a Jets Man, they’re flying by, and we’re sitting here on the ground looking at the gap.” To me it was it was evident, starting to build and I knew that at least I felt that would be the future.

Tim: Sure. A lot of agencies when they talk full-service, they mean specifically something more than digital, something more than TV, something more than radio. I’m curious what is involved in being a full-service digital team?

Bryan: Sure. We do traditional as well; although, it’s not our bread and butter. I mean we have really good rates on how we buy traditional, we have some great partnerships with very large traditional agencies who outsource digital to us and even some of the publishers and networks direct me to a business with. We actually do some traditional radio TV print Direct Mail, so we have that in our arsenal it’s just not really what makes us super unique because digital is such a larger landscape.

When you take full service digital from our perspective, that’s really everything from idea to execution, from creative to web, to organic content creation, search optimization, paid media, whether it’s search social, display, email, et cetera. Full-service for us is being able to take concept create that concept of something tangible and then put it out into the world. It used to be we used to say idea to shelf, now it might be more of ideal to mailbox, but really just taking a concept and bring it to life.

Tim: You mentioned transitioning from primarily white-label loop work to working with direct clients. I’m just curious how that transition went for you?

Bryan: That’s a great question and it’s still something that we have somewhat of a dichotomy here. We have both our agency partners who we service a number of different areas from complementary services to overflow work to giving non-digital agencies the ability to have a digital arm, or digital agencies more depth in areas that they are not necessarily an expert in, and that’s something that we’ve pride ourselves on.

Having those best-in-class deliverable units here within our company that agencies can then turn to as a resource, but transitioning on to the direct side has been interesting, because obviously there could be some inherent channel conflict. First thing we had to do was add a lot of agency functionality that we never really had as a production suite count services, project managers, creative director, content generation, things like that that other agencies generally would handle. Then the side part of that is making sure that we work with direct clients who don’t inhibit our agency partners, so kind of living in different worlds.

Most of our agencies are either complementary businesses, very large agencies who are fishing in different ponds. Or agencies, or media publishers who have a lot of small or local business who are able to go out and get smaller opportunities and sum them up to the to the total of the whole, where those relationships aren’t really in our wheelhouse either. We’ve been able to kind of live in the middle, but really our focus is on I’m being complementary to our agency partners instead of necessarily going right after the same clients and working with them as a partner versus an adversary.

Tim: Totally. Was there a point in time when you decided to make that transition?

Bryan: Yes, it kind of just happened naturally. We were happy being an agency partner and being a production focused company. I mean, end of the day we live by results, we’re in a service type world, they’re only as good as you serve and as long as we can continue to generate tangible measurable wins, then we always you know have opportunities to grow. That part of it was good and the agencies keep us extremely efficient and effective.

We have to get things done at lower cost and shorter timelines that can then be pushed forward. That’s been an interesting part of our DNA. About five years into the business, we’re now nine and a half years old. Started looking at the model and saying, “Wow, this portfolio theory concept is starting to compile,” and now we have really strong competencies and email, and social, and search.

In these other areas we’re able to add those into the mix and if we add the front end of the agency we could actually go direct to clients. It kind of just it was an ethos, it just happens, where we started building these core competency practices in silo, and then looked at it and said, “Wow, we have this inventory, now we have to tie it together, now we have to synergize our communication our strategy. Now we have to bring a front-end on and allow that group to go out and talk to clients direct and give them the quality of service they deserve.”

It just was an evolution and necessarily wasn’t a specific plan; although, that was part of the idea of starting Lamark in the first place was, work for agencies, get really good, learn, and then one day we can be a player in the direct space as well.

Tim: What was the biggest challenge you faced as you made that transition?

Bryan: I think just getting the culture internally to understand the change, before when we were strictly agency, it was really built around results, performance, efficiency. When you go direct to client you start getting a lot more of intangible components to your performance with performance marketing and production it’s very easy to measure. We get paid X, we deliver Y, we have KPIs and minimum of levels of return we have to hit, or certain types of conversion, or delivery on email or whatever may be. When you go direct, now, you have a whole another side of the world with a lot more human capital resource management, where we have to be a good partner, we have to be proactive. Reporting has been robust, conference calls have to be met. Meetings have to be done, strategy sessions. A lot of things that aren’t part of production, but really part of relationship.

Since we are always really relationship driven with our agency partners and really looking to be an extension of them, that DNA carry through. I think it was an adjustment in how much time do direct clients need and how many different pieces of strategy and relationship have to be managed on top of just getting results in performance where the agencies would handle the relationship.

Tim: Did you find the other rework a significant portion of your process?

Bryan: Yes, we definitely did. Again, the DNA was there, we’ve always gone deep for our clients, we’ve always looked at our clients as if they’re family, and that’s a big part of why we’ve been able to grow and maintain our partnerships, and why we’ve been able to have this dual business model. Because we’re here just to get wins. We really care about our clients, we really care about the results and at the end of the day, the win is what we care about.

For us the DNA and the mentality and the honest and the forward thinking was there, but adding steps of process to keep clients on timeline, and manage clients better, and move them through that process, was definitely a change. Because the agencies did a very good job of dropping those deliverables and saying, “Here’s what I need and when,” where clients need to be coached and worked with to ensure that that fluidity exists.

Tim: What is that Lamark Media does really well?

Bryan: I think we get it. I think that net is I think we just understand business discussions. We look at things very different than most agencies and that may be part of my finance background pushing through. We’re here to accelerate business, we’re here to accelerate growth. That’s what it’s about for us, we’re results first. I think looking at digital and being able to decipher how we mixed media, looking at things like we have a tremendous email platform, and we have a social competency in search and all these other areas. How do they work together to create that common goal, and having the ability to be somewhat agnostic to tactic.

Because we have all these different production channels, but they’re all synergized from response and return perspective, we’re able to go through and move things around the system very much like that portfolio theory concept of where we started. I think what we do well is we just understand our client’s goals and we have a lot of resources and we can figure it out from a practicing standpoint, or from skill set standpoint, that’s a different question. I think the overarching thing that’s driving our growth is that our passion, our dedication, and our resources allow us to be very strategic for our clients.

Tim: What do you do to create the culture that allows you to scale something like getting in, or caring or understanding client’s goals?

Bryan: I think it’s just an open transparency business where we have a great relationship with our employees and our clients. It’s really a family component. The first thing we do, we bring a new client on is we do an immersion meeting. We either go in person or via phone, we generally love to do them in person to our clients so they come down for us. We just immerse each other and each other’s businesses. We really want to be an extension.

We don’t want to be looked at as, “We’re the agency, you’re hiring us.” It’s much more of, “We’re your marketing department and we’re partners.” That mentality is something we breathe every day, our clients demand, it’s part of what’s made a successful and I think our employees understand that from day one. Even when we interview, we explain to them that we go above and beyond much more than what our contracts say.

Because at the end of the day, our clients are depending on us to win, and we’re depending our clients to keep growing. I think it’s a mutual relationship that we look at it, and I think it’s the culture piece where we really care about our clients. We understand the risks they’re taking in business and the trust they’re putting in us as an agency or as a partner and we have to fill that, we don’t have another choice.

Tim: What are some common myths about work in your field?

Bryan: Myths in general, I think is that everyone– A lot of clients we talked to who aren’t digital first, or are just starting to get in the digital, they think it’s easy. Like, “Oh, everyone’s online, everyone’s shopping. Amazon’s huge, look at the market cap, look at the revenue,” that it’s just plug and play. The truth is, it’s getting harder. At the end of the day, more people are moving to digital, which means that demands going up and the supply is starting to catch up to it.

Consumers are shifting to digital for purchasing but so are the advertisers, and so are the brands. It’s getting harder. Three, four, five years ago, Google AdWords was a whole another planet, now we have a whole team of people who literally do this all day and that’s all they do. Inbox and email was different, SEO was different, the algorithm keeps changing.

I think the market continues to become tougher and a lot of clients who aren’t digital, expect just dramatic response because everyone’s talking about how Amazon’s taking over as a top retailer and all these things. I think the biggest myth is that it’s digital, it’s fish in a bucket, it’s actually getting harder every day and we’re investing more and more in our platform for really talented smart people to figure out how to keep beating these trying curves.

Tim: What do you do to inform your clients of that issue or get them to understand that?

Bryan: I think it’s expectation setting, I think that’s one. How you start these relationships often determines how they can end. Setting the stage and explaining what it’s like, but if you think about it, going back to that same question that ties to this, marketing is becoming a lot more multi-path, multi-screen. People are consuming information on numbers of screens on going basis, you have your phone, your tablet, your computer, your TV.

Your office, there are all these different places that you’re getting information that’s becoming harder to really map that journey and being cohesive is super-important. We walk through that journey map and that path with our clients upfront, we explain to them how they see an ad on social, then they get moved to search. Now they’re on display, then they get an email and how that path works.

I think that’s a big part of being successful with non-experienced brands that are going digital. I think the life cycle is changing because there’s so much information available online, that with one click of a button and one Google search, you can learn anything you want about a product. Research has become such a huge part of purchasing now that if you’re running a very rudimentary digital marketing strategy, it’s probably just not going to work.

Tim: Sure. Do you think that there’s more opportunity in digital from big brands or small brands?

Bryan: It’s a good question. There’s an opportunity for both because big brands have the equity and the name, people understand them. People may also have conceptions of what those brands are. Whether they’re misconception or the reality, is another discussion. I think big brands have a different chair of trouble, because consumers digitally, want to connect to brands especially millennials and the new age shopper.

They want to have a connection to the brands, they want to have a lifestyle relevance to the brand, and they want to have a relationship with the brand. In the end of the day, I think some of the bigger brands are being overlooked for smaller more boutique and specialized brands where consumers feel connected. Whether it’s a good cause or whether that brand has the unique or fresher different, but at the end of the day, there’s brand equity in a larger brands names. I think the strategies are different, but I think there’s room for both.

Tim: Got it. If there is one piece of advice that you could give people about how to get started in digital, what would it be?

Bryan: I think the first step is to understand your customer. Going back to my roots in consumer profiling and database building is really, “Who’s the customer, what are you trying to solve, what’s your unique value proposition, or what makes your brands interesting to someone who’s never heard of you?” I think understanding the value of your brand and who the customer profile is, that persona, is step one, then understanding how those people consume media.

If your product is focused on young parents for early childhood products, where these people live, where they engage in? Is on social, is it Facebook, is it Instagram? Are they on search on Google looking for tips for their new children? Where are they living, how are they engaging? Then using that logic to differentiate how that initial strategy will go. Then, also have some patience. I think that brands expect to go digital and click overnight, snap of a finger, it’s a multi-million dollar business.

It’s just not that way, it takes time and you’ve got to put the work in and get people to believe in you, but digital gives you the access to millions of millions of people with a mouse. It’s a lot of opportunities and it gives you a great platform to scale, but you have to really understand your customer, know they have a lot of choices, demonstrate why you’re better and then put the time in and have the resolve to get there.

Tim: Totally. Let’s move on to a couple new stores. Our first show today from Forbes is, 12 tips to help get your agency past the million dollar mark. I’m curious, Bryan, was their a tip that stuck out to you or was very reflective in your journey?

Bryan: Well, I like this article because I’m the first tip, but it’s actually good article in general outside of me, all kidding aside. The Forbes Council and Forbes does a great job, at spotlighting different people in different areas and stages of careers. I think everyone has a different approach. If you read through the 12 tips, they are all quite different. Some are about being dedicated to testing, some are about having timelines and providing value and being consistent.

My tip was really, again, going back to some of the things we’re talking about today is about showing dedication, and care, and treating your customers not transactionally. Because marketing is not transaction, it’s a relationship, and all these channels, digitally, you’re only proving that point. So why my quote in this article for Forbes is really about thinking like an owner of a business. I am an owner of the business, so it makes it easier for me but even if I wasn’t what would that owner want?

At the end of the day, if they’re paying us for a service what are they looking to achieve? You could be interested in making revenue as an agency and that’s pretty transparent. That’ll come out, but if you’re interested in really building that brand and being a partner for that client that may not always align with revenue from day one. We’re always looking at longevity, where we’re going to be with this client 12, 24, 36 months from now?

If that means some things have to change today in the beginning to achieve that long term partnership, that’s a that’s a risk we’re willing to take. Treating our clients like partners and looking at them as family members, and what would you want to do if this was your money and the shoes are reversed how would you want your agency to handle this relationship? How would you like them to treat you. What kind of transparency would you look for?

I think that’s the first piece, because if you can connect with people on a human level and just let them know that you care you’re already in a better place, where a lot of agencies are super-transactional and they’re thinking about fees, ‘think about results and the fees will come’, was really kind of what my quote was about. I like what I like about the articles, there’s a lot of different angles. People took it from all different directions and you get a nice nice mix in the 12 quotes. You probably have five or six different ideas that are unique in this article.

Tim: Right. Our second story today, can Blockchain solve advertising supply chain transparency issues? Comes out of Adweek? I’m curious Bryan if you can give us a summary.

Bryan: Yes. Blockchain it’s pretty exciting. I mean there’s a lot of hype around blockchain with all the cryptocurrency and these ISOs, which in my opinion is not really the goal, or the end all be all this blockchain. I think blockchains here to stay. I think the ability to have transparency and security in a number of different applications, including digital marketing through this technology where you can reduce middlemen and you can kind of get out of this managed service and be able to go right into the source.

I think this blockchain technology is going to be impactful across a number of categories and industry verticals if not almost all of them. I like blockchain in general. I think a lot of the Bitcoin and all these cryptourrencies are a byproduct of the blockchain technology and there are ways to trade on those movement movements and things like that. What I like about block chain is for digital is right now you’re using a lot of different networks like Google and platforms that have credibility because you can’t trust the inventory.

There’s a lot of Ad fraud issues, so blockchain puts it potentially gives us solve for that by allowing us to have more transparency and more security in these Ad buys. It also allows you to remove middlemen, which are kind of brokering these inventory units for different websites. Like a Google DoubleClick Network or someone like that who’s managing the transaction to give it that transparency, and to give it that credibility and trust but you’re paying for it.

I think block chain can help transparency. I think it definitely can help reduce a lot of middleman issues that are existing, and potentially allows us to go direct to the website, or to the area of opportunity and work directly with them with a very safe and secure transaction. I don’t think it’s there, but I think there’s a lot of opportunity.

Tim: Let’s say someone is able to solve supply chain transparency issues with block chain. How does that impact the market?

Bryan: Well, I mean you can look at a couple of ways. There’s going to be lot of people who are in-between that are potentially losing revenue. In the end of the today, if you can reduce expenses and “waste” in exchange for security. So if you could still have the security without all these these overlays, I think there’s a lot of money that’s going to come back on the table for advertisers.

Some of these channels are at the point where the return on investment just isn’t there, and a lot of it has to do with all the markup that’s being carried through each platform. If we’re able to remove a lot of middleman and still have the trust I think you could get a better result on a less spend, which should translate into a better return, which should then fuel more spending. So I think advertisers may make less but get more volume. I think agencies need to be more transparent, but from our perspective that’s okay.

As long as you’re providing value clients should be willing to pay a fee in exchange for that work. If that works bringing more value than its costing then you should continue to have a job. I think net Blockchain could help produce a lot of the overhead costs and a lot of the pass-through costs that are tacking on and potentially making a lot of these digital platforms nonprofitable and potentially make them profitable again.

Tim: Totally. We’re out of time, so that’s it for today on Mind Your Own Marketing Business Podcast. Thanks for being on the show today Bryan.

Bryan: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it and hope to be back here soon.

Tim: You bet. You can reach Lamark Media on social at @LamarkMedia, or by email at info@Lamarkmedia.com. Thank you to our listeners for joining us on Fjorge Cast. You can download episodes of the program by going to fjorgedigital.com/mindyourownmarketingbusiness, or subscribing to the show on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and iHeartRadio.

[00:25:17] [END OF AUDIO]

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