Episode 53:

Greg Verdino is a highly regarded authority on “the digital now.” He is known for his uncanny ability to get ahead of trends, spot the difference between fads and the future, and apply his understanding of the rapidly changing global landscape to solve pressing business challenges.

Greg’s perspectives have been shaped by more than 25 years spent working at the forefront of change, during which time he has advised hundreds of organizations including more than 50 of the Fortune 500; has served in senior leadership positions at a half-dozen technology start-ups; and has launched innovative products, lines of business, and divisions from within traditional companies. Through his work speaking, writing and consulting on digital strategy, transformation and innovation, he helps business leaders build thriving 21st century companies.

Greg is also managing partner and chief strategist at VERDINO & CO, the consultancy he started with his wife to help companies create the content-driven digital experiences their customers demand.

Before VERDINO & CO, he was Executive Vice President at social business firm Dachis Group, where he worked with clients including BIC, Citibank, Fidelity, GE, Michaels Stores, Nestle and others to formulate and execute best-in-class digital strategies. He joined Dachis Group (now Sprinklr) through its acquisition of crayon, the social media consultancy at which he served as Chief Strategy Officer and in which he was the second largest shareholder. Previously he was digital strategist and head of emerging channels for Digitas, and served in media, marketing, sales and general management roles at ROO Group (now Piksel), Akamai Technologies, Arbitron, Wunderman, and Saatchi & Saatchi.

Greg is the author of microMARKETING: Get Big Results by Thinking and Acting Small (McGraw-Hill, 2010), and a contributing author to Reinventing Interactive and Direct Marketing (ed. Stan Rapp, McGraw-Hill, 2009). Throughout his career, he has served as a go-to expert for a wide range of media outlets including Advertising Age, Bloomberg Business, CNN, Cablevision News12, Fox Business, Investor’s Business Daily, the New York Times, Newsday, and the Wall Street Journal. He has given speeches, led panel discussions and facilitated workshops at more than 100 corporate and association events throughout North America, in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

He lives on Long Island with his wife, tween daughter, baby boy, and the world’s most disobedient cat.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • What has changed since the beginning days of when agencies began to do social
  • Why content needs to expand past “content marketing” and must be infused into every single interaction inside and outside your organization
  • How to help clients understand the value of content
  • The importance of analytics and content metrics that Greg uses with clients
  • Why Greg and his wife decided to go it on their own instead of taking positions inside other agencies
  • How Greg differentiates his agency from other agencies
  • How Greg has been able to recognize trends that matter and ignore the ones that fade
  • Tips and tricks for getting everything done that you want as an agency owner
  • The shift from pipeline business to platform businesses
  • Why it’s so important for agency leaders to stay on top of trends
  • Why small agencies are often the best at adapting to change
  • The rules that agency owners should never break

 

The Golden Nugget:

“Change happens at an exponential rate.” – @gregverdino Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits to? Welcome to Build a Better Agency where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody, welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency where we spend an hour or so talking about the topics that matter to agency owners. And today, I think you’re going to love the conversation. So let me tell you a little bit about our guest and I need to sort of foreshadow this with guests, my guest is Greg Verdino and Greg and I have known each other for almost a decade now. We were sort of on the front end of agency folks and marketers jumping into the social space and blogging and all of that. And I’ll tell you a little bit more about Greg’s background, but we’ve sort of kept track of each other through the years and stayed in touch and so this’ll be a great conversation, I’m looking forward to it. But let me tell you a little bit more about Greg in case you are one of the few who is not familiar with him.

Greg Verdino is a highly regarded authority on the digital now. He is known for his uncanny ability to get ahead of trends, spot the difference between fads and the future and apply his understanding of the rapidly changing global landscape to solve pressing business challenges. Greg is also the managing partner and chief strategist at Verdino & Co., the consultancy he started with his wife to help companies create the content driven digital experiences their customers demand. And we’re going to dig into the structure of that company a little bit and why they built it that way. But before they started their own company, he was executive vice president at social business firm, Greg pronounced that for me.

Greg Verdino:

It’s Dachis Group.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, Dachis Group, where he worked with clients, including Bick, Citibank, Fidelity, Nestle, and all kinds of other companies. And he has also served in other agencies big and small throughout his career.

He’s also the author of MicroMarketing: Get Big Results By Thinking and Acting Small, which was published in 2010 and a contributing author to several other publications. But throughout his career, wherever he has worked, he has served as a go-to expert for a wide range of media outlets, including Ad Age, Bloomberg Business, CNN, Fox Business, Investors Business Daily, all other places, Wall Street Journal. He’s also given a ton of presentations, led panel discussions and facilitated workshops over a hundred corporations association events all across the globe, North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. So Greg, welcome to the podcast.

Greg Verdino:

Thanks for having me, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

So let’s talk a little bit about, let’s go back in time and when we were all sort of launching our blogs and I think there were 25 of us marketers back then who were blogging-

Greg Verdino:

Think 20, 23.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it was sort of the wild, wild west. And at that point you were working, I think at that time you were working at a small sort of digital agency, right? Isn’t that where-

Greg Verdino:

I think when I first launched the blog, I was actually working at a large digital agency. I was head of emerging channels, which meant department of one focused on something other than microsites and banner buys and Digitas.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right. You were at Digitas then, yep.

Greg Verdino:

Although as the blog took off, I had by that point, I had made the move from Digitas and had become a partner in Crayon, which was a social agency, as you remember certainly.

Drew McLellan:

And really one of the first social agencies that emerged as the bubble started, right?

Greg Verdino:

Yeah, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So look back over that landscape and talk to me about then versus today. So what’s changed and what are you focused on today that was just a glimmer back then? What has emerged to you as one of sort of the big trends that you’re facing every day now with your clients?

Greg Verdino:

Sure. So, obviously a lot has changed since then. Even if you look inside the landscape of social media alone. Back then social was in effect organic conversation. Today, social is a phenomenal paid channel, but if we all know we’ve seen the organic conversation sort of drip dried almost nothing. So even things that have remained with us over the course of that decade or so have fundamentally changed in terms of where they fit into the overall marketing mix and what the approaches are today versus yesterday. Clearly in that time, I think over the course of that time, we certainly heard that this is going to be the year of mobile. We heard that every year for 10 years. And then all of a sudden mobile, it was no longer the year of mobile, mobile had been here all along and mobile needed to be a core element of every brand’s, I wouldn’t even say marketing strategy, customer and consumer engagement strategy.

And even today, it’s interesting, I know you had Joe Pulizzi a few weeks ago, and I know that he briefly spoke about his intelligent content conference, the one that’s focused on the future of content. And I had spoken at that event when he had it, I don’t know if it was, I guess earlier this year. And I spoke about the mobile now basically and what I even discovered in the course of putting that speech together was how shocking it is that so many brands still approach mobile as an afterthought, and they tack their mobile tactics onto a core digital, or sometimes even analog strategy and think they’ve gone mobile, but end up delivering such a fractured user experience that just misses the reality that content and experience and customer engagement needs to seamlessly flow across devices, and the value you deliver needs to be equal across all devices. It’s not good enough anymore to say, well, we’ve got this subset of what we offer available to our mobile customers because everyone’s a mobile customer.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. We’ll give you the dumb down version on mobile.

Greg Verdino:

Yeah. So certainly that’s something that’s changed over the 10 years. I think the big thing that’s changed certainly, and I don’t know that it’s changed, but it’s become much more apparent is we are used to kind of thinking about change in an incremental fashion when in reality change is happening at an exponential rate. And I think that’s where a lot of brands and frankly, a lot of agencies get in trouble because they either are too slow to act on the changes that are happening around us, or they’re too quick to jump on today’s flavor of the month. And they don’t think about how today’s flavor of the month has larger implications or not, and where it fits into a truly integrated overarching market strategy. So I’m sure somewhere today there is an agency that does nothing but Pokemon Go activations.

Right? And nobody’s thinking about, well, what does augmented reality mean? The big picture they’re thinking about how do I cash in quick on Pokemon Go or fill in the blank, Snapchat, whatever, and I think that’s a challenge that marketers still face is chasing the shiny object. And then obviously I think the last thing I’ll say before I ramble too long is clearly content has gone from something that kind of pecks around the edges to something that has to be at the core of the entire company. I would even say this is something we talk to our clients about in our consultancy is that content marketing in a way only scratches the surface of the power and the potential of content as a strategic asset for the business.

Drew McLellan:

So talk a little bit more about that, about the idea that content marketing scratches at the service. Tell us what you mean by that.

Greg Verdino:

Sure. And I don’t by any stretch of the imagination mean that content marketing isn’t an important piece of the content puzzle because of course it is, but I think there are a lot of applications for content in the company that you might not normally think of as content marketing. So content is an incredibly powerful tool for sales organizations, whether it’s as a vehicle for sales people to build credibility, establish authority and better engage their prospects throughout the traditional sales cycle, content is an incredibly powerful vehicle for a customer support.

Content is incredibly powerful for engaging the employees in your organization or for connecting with the partners in your ecosystem. Content is essentially every piece of every story that comes out of CEO’s mouth. Right? So we almost in a sort of half joking way, we’ll sometimes say here, we talk about companies creating content and how important it is for companies to create content but we’ll sometimes flip that when we talk to our clients, companies don’t just create content, content actually creates companies because content, the story your business tells must be infused into every single interaction with every single person inside and outside your organization.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and in fact, we create content whether we mean to or not. So it’s also about intentional content versus the consequences of unintentional content too, right?

Greg Verdino:

A hundred percent. And that’s where getting serious about content strategy, whether you’re an agency or an agency’s client and not just getting kind of opening up your wallet and just start creating stuff, but getting serious about your strategy for content is critically important because saying owning a content consultancy, this almost sounds like an anathema, but the world does not need more content. Right? Nobody’s asking for your content, what they’re asking for is better information, education, or whatever to help them make better decisions or be better at doing what they do.

Drew McLellan:

When and where I want it thank you very much.

Greg Verdino:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So when I hang out with agency owners, one of the challenges they’re having, and I’m curious if you’re having it too, is getting clients to value content in the broader scope and getting to allocate budget. So I’ll have agency owners say to me, I know this client needs more content and we could do it in customer service, we could do it in sales, we could do it in marketing, but I can’t get them to pay for it or what they’re willing to pay for it I can’t produce anything other than crap because I’m hiring a ghost writer for $40 to create some generic content. How are you guys helping your clients understand the importance and value of content so that they are willing to invest? And by the way, I don’t think it’s just money. I think one of the other challenges agencies are having is getting clients to give them the time that they need to produce good and meaningful content. How are you getting around that?

Greg Verdino:

So, I can answer that in a few different ways. I can give the short answer, which is going to sound kind of flip, which is that-

Drew McLellan:

Start with short and then we’ll dig in.

Greg Verdino:

Yeah. So the short answer for us quite frankly is we don’t go after everybody and we don’t pitch content to everybody. We are a specialist agency. Content is all we do. And we tend to either attract clients who already have somebody in charge of content who’s already beating the drum and or somebody with a budget for content. And at our stage and our size attracting the right people is plenty enough. We don’t necessarily need to preach to the unconverted. That said, there is a struggle between kind of what I guess I would loosely call quality content, selling the stuff that’s actually excellent against a perception that either a client can do it themselves, which sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t, just because they have subject matter expertise doesn’t mean that they have storytelling expertise and against the $40 blog post or the $70 white paper. And I think the thing that we use to distinguish that kind of commodity content from what clients and core companies should be created really is strategy.

And when we’re working with or even speaking to a new potential client, we really kind of sell this idea that, and which is true, of course, that strategy needs to come first. And we know from studies from Content Marketing Institute, there’s another organization called Ascend2 who released a study on content marketing recently that the vast majority of companies producing content are doing so without an effective strategy in place and surprise, surprise, the companies that are doing it without strategy are finding their content to be increasingly ineffective and the minority of companies who are taking the time to actually set content strategy are finding that their content is getting more and more effective. So if we can sell the client on this notion that we need to start with strategy, not with stuff, we can be effective in kind of getting out of that commodity content get up.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right. So in terms of getting them to value it enough to invest time and money, what kind of metrics, or what kind of outcomes are you talking about with them in the strategy? What are you tying the strategy of content to that makes them recognize the value of it?

Greg Verdino:

So, a lot of our work is with B2B clients and there are some soft goals and there, or objectives, and there are some hard objectives. Certainly some of these B2B organizations are looking to establish a thought leadership position in their sector and they’re looking to stake a claim. In instances like that, and usually there is a content champion in the organization, it can be almost enough to tie content effectiveness to those sort of softer kind of content consumption metrics. I don’t want to say engagement, but engagement might be among them-

Drew McLellan:

But being invited to speak at conferences and other things like that.

Greg Verdino:

Exactly. Next step up or down the funnel, I guess, would be a fair enough way to say it is subscriptions. So, as I know you certainly believe and understand, and I know some of the other guests on the podcast like Pulizzi, and I’m sure Anne Hanley said it too when she was on, the consumption of content one time isn’t incredibly valuable, but getting somebody to become a subscriber to content is incredibly valuable. In this day and age with all of the channels and choices we have still to this day and probably for every day for the rest of our careers, if not lifetimes, the ability to grow a customer database, that customer database is one of the most valuable assets your company has.

So we’ll often tie even an individual content asset to its ability to trigger a subscription event. And then because we do a lot of B2B, we also tend to work at that blur between marketing and sales. So we’ll also work with our clients to make sure that they have the right tracking in place so that they can actually attribute marketing qualified leads to the consumption or the download or the subscription to some kind of content program or asset.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I’m surprised both on my agency side of my life and also on the AMI side, when I talk to agency owners, I’m both surprised and now used to the fact that most clients, no matter how large they are, really have inadequate tracking internally.

Greg Verdino:

It’s incredible. You don’t like to badmouth the clients, but it’s shocking in 2016 how poor the implementation of analytics is in so many of these organizations. And I feel like in some ways, even though content is held to a high ROI standard and digital, of course, is held to a high ROI standard, and even social in many organizations is held to a high ROI standard, but there’s still this hangover from traditional advertising, where if you ran an ad, then it must have been effective. And I think that still colors the way a lot of organizations are approaching data, which is obviously a big achilles heel for those organizations.

Drew McLellan:

So you’ve worked for large agencies, small agencies, you’ve been a partner in other agencies. What was the sort of tipping point for you of deciding to go out on your own, as opposed to, I’m sure you’re often courted, both you and your wife, are often courted by agencies, so why take the risk of doing it on your own?

Greg Verdino:

So I feel like this sounds dopey, I suppose to say it this way, that would at least it in my head before it comes out of my mouth it does, but I’m much more of an entrepreneur than I am an employee. So that’s sort of at the core. So I’ve been in and out of big agencies, right? I’ve been at Sachi, I’ve been at Wonderman, I’ve been at Digitas. Those are 800 pound gorillas in traditional direct and digital, right? But I also spent seven years inside venture backed technology startups in between sort of before Digitas, which is kind of what I think what attracted Digitas to me was that I didn’t just have an agency background, but also had a tech startup background. So I think having been bit by the startup bug during the essentially the dot com bubble, it was actually very difficult for me to make the choice to go back to a big agency.

But what I liked about the role at Digitas was that it was essentially an entrepreneurial role and even so I think the grind of sort of big agency lifestyle and work style wore on me very quickly. So it was very easy for me to make the choice to join Joseph Jaffe as a partner in Crayon. So to me that was almost the best of both worlds because I was doing agency work, and I love agency style work and marketing and working with clients in that way, but inside a startup. And as you may know, I’m sure you know, but your listeners for the most part probably wouldn’t, we sold Crayon to a company called Powered and then Powered was acquired in turn by Dachis Group, who you mentioned when you introduced me. So we kind of went through this double acquisition.

And by that point I had felt that what I loved about being a partner in Crayon, the ability to kind of control my destiny and build a firm that was doing work I believed in with clients that I believed in and that believed in us and all of the stuff that kind of every agency lo owner loves about being a small indie agency, over the course of two acquisitions, we became a tiny piece of a 300 person management consultancy basically. And there were good things and bad things about that, of course. But by that point I felt like, you know what, it’s time to go out and do it myself again.

And when I left Dachis, I kind of could be frank made a number of missteps so I left and I figured I’d go it solo for a while and I turned myself in a way into sort of a digital Jack of all trades and found myself for probably three years or two years of time doing everything from social media strategy to digital marketing strategy, to digital transformation, to innovation, helping a large company set up an accelerator, doing lean business canvas work with another client. And I was kind of all over the place, all with the running thread of digital, but it was kind of like the solo consultants equivalent of the full service integrated agency of two. So to the extent, and believe me, I was making money, but it was very much that sort of up down rollercoaster ride and it got to a point where I almost couldn’t explain to the next client what it is I do and why they should hire me.

Drew McLellan:

Because you were too much of a generalist.

Greg Verdino:

Exactly. And of course content had always been a piece of what I was doing. So there were some content strategy projects and content marketing projects and certainly even at Crayon as a social agency, content was the fuel to that fire. And I had even at Digitas way back in the Digitas days, I blurbed Joe Pullizi’s original content marketing book. So I had been connected to the content community and I believed in the power of content and I liked the idea of the focus of content. You can clearly explain to a client what it is you do, where you do it, what value you bring to the table and it’s something that they either do or don’t have a line item for.

And Amanda had been working inside a large corporate managing a content operation. So when she made the decision to leave that organization, it was just an obvious choice to take her expertise in content, my somewhat lesser expertise in content, but all of the sort of the, I don’t want to call it baggage, but I guess it would be experience in business strategy and marketing strategy, plus my work with content and the fact that I had been through that agency kind of life cycle, build a shop up and then sell the shop, not that we’re looking to sell this shop just yet for sure, but I guess it was a good opportunity for us to kind of join forces in more than just life and become business partners as well.

Drew McLellan:

If you were talking to a prospect and they were talking to you and a couple other agencies, how would you differentiate yourself from other agencies? Because I think one of the things that all agencies struggle with is how do I stand out from my competitors? How do I look and sound and smell different so that I am either the right choice or the wrong choice in terms of buying.

Greg Verdino:

For me and for us, it’s still very much a work in progress as I think it is for many agencies but to me there are [inaudible 00:25:07] full elements. And it depends on who we’re going up against. I think today we still find ourselves more often than not going up against more general agencies. And I don’t mean general as in traditional advertising, but the full service integrated agencies, whether they’re truly a large entity enterprise level agency or the small shop that says they’re full service. So in instances like that, we have a very simple and specific value proposition, which essentially I wouldn’t necessarily say it this way to every client every time, but yeah, sure, they quote unquote do content, but content is all we do. And we essentially play the specialist card.

If we’re going up against other content agencies, we’re going to probably trigger a set of other value proposition points. So one of our key value proposition or our key differentiators within the universe of content agencies is sort of the further specialization. Certainly we have clients in other sectors, but our core sectors are B2B technology and even probably more specifically FinTech. So if a client is in one of our sweet spot sectors, we probably have better experience and deeper expertise in those sectors than any other content agency, despite our small size. And to back that up and support that we’ve got my seven or eight years inside technology startups, running both sales and marketing organizations, and the fact that Amanda’s actually built a content operation and content program inside a FinTech company. So we’re able to talk the clients talk, we’re able to build a lot of rapport because we’ve walked in the client’s shoes.

I think some of the other things that we use to differentiate is, content is a very big space. And I think for us, the fact that we focus I would say more than half of our businesses in content strategy, and we know from the research that I was talking about before certainly content strategy is a big achilles heel of most organizations, even those who are investing heavily in content marketing. So the fact that we are strategy specialists and we approach content strategy, not from the perspective of marketing strategy even, but from the perspective of business strategy gets certain clients to kind of raise their eyes and go, well, wait a second, what’s that all about?

But at the same time, we’re different from a lot of the content strategy shops who frankly over-engineer the strategy process and are so divorced from the production process that they don’t really know what’s practical in a lot of cases. So we have this, it’s almost like we’re a two person consultancy with two lines of business. One is around strategy and the other is around what we call strategic content creation. We’re very clear with clients, you’re not going to hire us to write your tweets and do your Facebook posts. You probably won’t even use us to write your blog posts, but when you have an evergreen strategic asset that has to kick ass, that’s us.

Drew McLellan:

Huh. So what I’m hearing in that is couple things. One, that you have a specialty in terms of industry. Two, you’ve got, even though you’re small, you’ve got a broad base if we come at it with experiences from working on the client side and the agency side. And three, you’re very specific about what you do and don’t do, which allows you to be brain surgeons versus nurse practitioners.

Greg Verdino:

That’s exactly right. And I know obviously that’s a key theme, common theme across all of your podcast guests and your AMI work. And it’s not, just because of your podcast obviously, but that’s something that we believe in firmly, and I think that was one of Crayons key advantages in the early days of social was we were an early social agency back before agencies were brave enough to say social is all we do. And we were predominantly a social strategy shop as well.

So again, we were kind of mopping up after a brand had gone tactics first at social media and had been disappointed in what they got out of it. Crayon could come in and mop up and bring order to the chaos for some pretty big clients so it allowed us to punch well above our weight and to an extent, there’s a lot of lessons I learned through the process of being part of and then selling Crayon that I would certainly not want to repeat, but there are certain things that I would repeat over and over and over again, and one of those is the importance of being as tightly niche as you feel comfortable with.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah. Right. Absolutely. I think one of the gifts that you have and I’ve had the good fortune of reading a lot of your writing and reading your books and hearing you speak, but you have an uncanny ability to look at the landscape and go, that’s going to be important in a year or five years, and that’s just a blip in time, ignore it. I know it’s sort of like asking the magician to show you the trick, but how are you able to do that? What do you look for, or what information do you gather to sort of make that sort of determination?

Greg Verdino:

So I think there are a couple of sort of overarching themes I think that I can provide that wouldn’t tell you how I cut the lady in half, I guess. But also some specific things that I think are very sort of practical and actionable. So one of the things that I think has been sort of a constant friend to me in this regard has been sort of a recognition and a sort of commitment to figuring out what, kind of like focusing on the big picture, which sounds, I guess, sounds very overly simple, but I think that a lot of people have a tendency to get mired in the specifics of something that’s happening right now, and don’t necessarily step back. And it’s essentially they’re looking at the trees and they don’t see the forest.

Drew McLellan:

So you used Pokemon Go as an example earlier. So would you say that that’s an example of that?

Greg Verdino:

So Pokemon Go is absolutely an example of a tree as opposed to a forest. The blur between digital and physical realities or environments might be more of the woods if not the forest and that blur is not even just about augmented reality, and it’s not just about virtual reality. That blur between physical and digital is a trend that’s been unfolding for decades, right? The blur between physical and digital is essentially at the heart of social media. It’s in gaming, it’s in mobile, it’s in the fact that we’ve outsourced our brains to our mobile devices. Right? We’ve seen essentially all of these boundaries begin to disappear between the two, so when you begin to think about, well, okay, well, we’ve got Pokemon Go and we’ve got Oculus Rift and we’ve got Microsoft HoloLens and we’ve got all of these and we’ve got social media, we’ve got teenagers or not teenagers, 20 somethings in Japan marrying video game characters, and we have Chinese dads hiring assassins to kill their son’s World of Warcraft character.

And we’ve got all these things that are happening from the ridiculous to the sublime and the question for marketers in a practical sense, of course, you want to be the agency that goes in there with the really cool Pokemon Go idea and wows the client and gets some new piece of business. But at the same time, the bigger story is, well, wait a second, in a world where the boundaries between digital and physical disappear, what does that mean for a brand? And what does that mean for the experience of the brand? You pull that lens out even further and I’m sure you’ve seen and many of your listeners have probably seen articles in a variety of different places from trades to the New York Times about a generation of people who are more inclined to invest their money in experiences than in objects.

At the same time you’ve got this parallel move towards access versus ownership. And you end up which essentially in many ways, it’s a digital versus physical blur, right?

Drew McLellan:

So in all of that, how do you know where to pay attention?

Greg Verdino:

So I think a lot of it for me, and this is some of like the very kind of practical stuff is, you kind of have to be a polymath. You have to read widely, you have to kind of put yourself in places and expose yourself to people that might be of differing opinions and bring different things to the table. It’s certainly in my personal case doesn’t hurt that I travel quite a bit to speak at events and I find myself meeting people in industries that I know nothing about and getting to have conversations with lots of really interesting people. And you essentially look for patterns. And when you see something pop once or twice, it’s interesting and you maybe make a note of it.

But when you start to see something that a pattern that shows up consistently in multiple contexts across multiple industries with multiple applications, you then start to go, wait a second, this might mean something. And then within that, you then can begin to place some bets. And not every bet, you almost have to have a VC type of mentality where nine out of 10 things you bet on are going to be busts, but you’re getting valuable experience and you’re learning something that can be applied to the next thing down the road. But one of the things you bet on of course could be a big win.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. So one of the things that you’ve always done is you’ve always taken sort of your insights into these trends and fads both and generated a fair amount of content. One of the challenges that all agency owners struggle with is the pragmatic, how do I get my work done? How do I spend time with my family? How do I get a couple hours of sleep a night? And then I’m supposed to be well read in this broad sense, and I’m supposed to create content. Do you have any tricks or tips of how you get it all done?

Greg Verdino:

I schedule in terms of things like staying on top of things and writing and all of that, I schedule the time. It’s that simple. It sounds, again, this is like one of those flip short answers, but this is I think it’s easy to say an agency or a consultant needs to essentially treat itself or himself or herself as his or her or its own best client. When it comes to things like content creation, of course we practice what we preach. We have a, I’m not satisfied with it because I’ll never be satisfied with it, but we have a content strategy for the agency and we have content calendars and we schedule the time and we have workflow and governance and process in place despite being so small to make sure that the newsletter goes out every Thursday at seven o’clock in the morning, that kind of thing and we just have to make the time and I see content creation as part of the learning process really.

It’s learning new ideas and exploring ideas and getting inspired in ways that allow us to kind of not just put content out, stick a blog post up or write a white paper or put something on LinkedIn or whatever, but as a way to explore ideas and crystallize our thinking around topics or themes that we want to bring forward to clients. So in a lot of ways, for me at least, the act of writing is an element of delivering excellent client service. Plus of course it’s a key piece of the business development process. It would be disastrous, not that we have a perfect business development process by any stretch of the imagination because I’m sure you know better than anybody else, no agency does, but if we didn’t make the time, it would essentially be tantamount to saying we’re not any time to attract new clients.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right. Well, and unfortunately many agency owners get caught up in doing the day to day and they talk about doing… We say scheduling the time to do these things is simple, but the reality is if you look at most people’s calendars, it’s not there. So it’s not the act of putting something on your calendar that’s difficult. It’s the discipline of putting it on there and then honoring it, right?

Greg Verdino:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Greg Verdino:

Yeah, exactly. Right. It’s one of those deceptive [inaudible 00:39:40].

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So what trends are you, besides the sort of that blur between the physical and the digital, is there another something that you’re keeping an eye on right now that you think is going to play a role in the work that you do with clients?

Greg Verdino:

It’s interesting because as much as I talk about focus and believe about focus, I feel like in a sense I’m leading a little bit of a double life in that I’ve built up a reputation around digital transformation and I do a lot of speaking on digital transformation, but from a consulting standpoint, we don’t do digital transformation consulting. And that was a deliberate choice to focus specifically on content. We believe content of course plays a role in driving transformation, but it’s one of the things that plays a role. Digital transformation is a very broad field, right? But in terms of the things that on that side of the business, if you want to call it that essentially my speaking business, other things that I keep an eye on are the sort of the emergence and the shift towards platforms from pipeline businesses to platform businesses, meaning all of these companies that essentially exist to connect one party with another through some kind of thin interface layer, all of the Ubers and Airbnb’s and the Amazon marketplace and so on and so forth.

I think that’s a key trend. I don’t know how agencies per se capitalize on that, but it’s something that I think more and more we’re going to see clients scratching their heads over and wondering like, well, wait a second, do I need to actually rethink my entire business model?

Drew McLellan:

But don’t you think part of an agency’s role is to have those conversations with clients, regardless of if it generates a new PO or a project, one of the things that, we do a lot of research directly with CMOs and that type of person so we can inform agencies about what CMOs are thinking. And one of the things, one of their beefs with their agencies is that agencies want to talk marketing and what our clients want to talk about is business.

Greg Verdino:

Yeah. Yeah. We’re agencies of every ilk and I’m not saying we’re any less guilty of this in some ways. We’re great at talking about the things that matter the most to us.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right.

Greg Verdino:

I think you’re absolutely right. And that’s where certainly being understanding shifts in business models and understanding why disruptive innovators are gaining the traction that they’re gaining, whether they’re platform companies or something else, understanding the blur between digital and physical, understanding even things like the rise of automation and artificial intelligence and what that means from the perspective of everything from increased efficiency to systematic unemployment, right?

All of these things which are key trends and things that I’ll weave into a speech and things that in some cases will inform a piece of content we create for a client even, absolutely, every agency I think aims to sort of achieve a position of sort of strategic advisor to the client. So I think being on top of these kinds of trends and kind of having that broad perspective and understanding the business implications are critical for agency leaders. And you’re absolutely right, CMOs want to hear those things because nobody else is bringing them those kinds of insights. I think the thing that many agencies struggle with is, okay, that sounds fantastic, but how do I tie that to what actually pays the bills, my bread and butter and it’s not always so easy.

Drew McLellan:

No, I think sometimes it’s more of a retention strategy than it is a funds acquisition strategy that by being someone who can talk about trends and how that impacts business and asking clients questions like, have you thought about how this X will affect Z and helping the client think about something differently? No, you may not get a project out of it, but what you do become is you become sort of this thinking partner that the client becomes reliant on because you are able to think about things in a bigger picture way than they are because they too are in the weeds day in and day out.

Greg Verdino:

Yeah, absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I think it’s just a bigger picture. I guess maybe that’s the theme of our conversation is the whole idea of finding a balance between the forest and the trees. But I think that’s, from an agency owner’s perspective, that’s the bigger picture thinking of, I’m going to invest in this conversation with my client, I’m going to get paid for it today, but it’s going to ensure that I keep getting paid tomorrow.

Greg Verdino:

Yeah. And that’s right. And I think that’s a good insight and I think there’s maybe a parallel insight that runs alongside that, which is agencies I think under are under, even no matter how specialized you are and how niche you are, agencies are under a pressure to evolve, right? I look at Verdino & Co. and we are very clearly unabashedly content is all we do. We’re a content consultancy, that’s all we do. And within that, we only do specific kinds of content for specific kinds of clients, but the market evolves quickly and we may need to be something very different in three years, right? So being tuned into how the world is changing and having a perspective on what that means for yourself and for your clients also helps you to kind of future proof your agency a bit so you’re not the agency doing pay stub in 2016, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Exactly. Exactly. As I’ve been listening to you, I’ve been thinking, you’ve had this vast array of business experience, both on the client side and the agency side, and you’ve consciously made a choice, and again, I know you’ve had lots of choices, so it’s not like it was your only choice, you consciously have made a choice to be this small, nimble agency.

And I think one of the things that the listeners forget about, I think sometimes agencies get apologetic about their size and they feel like if they don’t have a hundred people FTE’s in their shop, they’re not a big shop and fill in the blank. And yet I think the way the industry is moving and certainly the way other experts have been talking is I think it’s pretty tough to change direction of a big ship. And at the rate of change that our world is going in, I really do believe that the small nimble agency is the one who is best suited if they’re mindful of constantly evolving, as you say, to be able to keep a step ahead of clients and client needs so that they keep being of value.

Greg Verdino:

Yeah. I think that’s right. And I think there’s a couple of things in what you just said. Number one is the sort of the natural reality, if you want to call it that, that small and nimble tend to work better together than big and nimble. It’s nice if you find an organization that’s big and nimble, but there are very few of those, more power to somebody who can build an agency a hundred staffers strong. Absolutely, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Nothing wrong with that either. No. Right.

Greg Verdino:

There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s number one. Number two is there’s sort of no size to expertise, right? So if you’re specialized enough and you have deep enough expertise in your sweet spot, you don’t need a hundred people to be an expert, right? I think that the other thing that I see a lot of is the small agency pretending to be big. And that’s not about punching above your weight because of course a small agency should look professional, should look like it’s got kind of the credibility, the authority, the ability to handle a client, whether they’re a Fortune 5 or a five person startup depending on where their focus is. But we made a very explicit choice to not kind of hoodwink the clients to be uncharitable about it.

The one person or the two person shop who passes themselves off as having a 20 person team, that’s all basically freelancers. We’ve been very clear. It’s like, hey, we’re two people. We’re only two people. For two people, we bring something pretty special to the table and yes, of course, we’ve got a freelance network and we’ve got partners that we bring out. And we actually, we are proud of the fact that we don’t have butts on benches. That may change over time. We would love to have a butt or two on a bench, which is another problem in terms of finding the right talent. But we’re actually proud and we’re very explicit about the fact that at this stage in our evolution, when you hire us, you’re hiring us, and that’s a differentiator too that you’re getting the people whose pictures are on the homepage.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. Right. You’re getting the people whose name is the company name.

Greg Verdino:

Yeah, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Okay. Parting thought. So we’ve got agency owners of all sizes listening to us. And I think some of the themes that have been recurring in our conversation is this idea of being nimble and keeping an eye on the future and sort of tracking and investing the time in making sure that you are aware of what’s going on and what might be forthcoming from what’s happening today. Because as we’ve all experienced, it’s not five years down the road anymore. It’s six months down the road.

Greg Verdino:

Five minutes.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right. It’s crazy. Any advice for agency owners? Again, you’ve started an agency, you’ve built it, you’ve sold it. You’ve worked in big shops. What’s Greg’s absolute will not violate rule of agency ownership?

Greg Verdino:

I would say, and this is my, maybe it’s a will not violate rule of agency ownership. It’s also, to the extent that it’s even possible in a big agency, there’s a few of them. One is utter accountability, meaning obviously an agency owner can’t and shouldn’t do everything themselves. But knowing the things that you absolutely must own and owning them outright, not expecting somebody else to represent you as well as you could represent yourself, for example, a new business, not expecting somebody else in your organization to be the person that you assign to keep on top of trends, to tie it to this conversation for example. The other thing that I would say for me at this point in time that is an unviolatable rule for a small indie agency like mine is specialize, specialize, specialize, and stick to your knitting.

We would be gone today if we couldn’t stick to our knitting when we think about the variety of agencies and agency types we need to collaborate with on a daily basis, because we don’t do everything. We are proud that we don’t do everything, which means we have to have lots of good partners and we need to play well in a sandbox. So I think that’s to me an unviolatable rule. And this is something that I think maybe every agency’s says, but believe me, having worked with many agencies, I don’t believe many agencies act on this, which is no shit clients, right? And that means everything from clients who don’t view you as an equal, right? You’re different, but you’re no lesser, right? You’ve got a different kind of expertise and a different set of skills. And we just flat out will not work with clients who don’t value what we bring to the table. And we won’t work with clients that treat us like crap.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Really isn’t that one of the privileges of owning an agency, right?

Greg Verdino:

That is. To me, that’s one of the big privileges of owning an agency-

Drew McLellan:

It should be.

Greg Verdino:

It applies to the idea of we won’t work with clients that aren’t in our sweet spot, right? We’re not going to take a project to produce some TV ads just because the money looks good, because we’re going to end up regretting that. And I think the other, I had one more idea now I’ve totally forgotten it. There was three though. Three is good.

Drew McLellan:

Three is good because I only asked for one. So you’ve over delivered already. Beautiful.

Greg Verdino:

You’ve always got to over deliver, right?

Drew McLellan:

That’s right. Okay. So we are at the hour mark and I want to be mindful of your time and the listeners time. So any last parting thought for the listeners in terms of tracking trends, building an agency that is going to survive the future, any final thought on that?

Greg Verdino:

I feel like I’ve kind of covered it in terms of I think it’s ultimately it’s a key, maybe it’s not the first thing, but in the top three things in any agency owners job description, so to speak, to me is really is curiosity. It’s making sure that yes, we have to run our business day to day, yes, we’re accountable to clients. We’re accountable to ourselves, we’re accountable to employees. We’ve got numbers to hit and we’ve got deliverables to push out the door and even as a specialized agency of course we have that sort of deep expertise in one particular area and we deliver in that area only, it’s still important for the agents, the owner to kind of stay curious, to have a broad perspective, to keep a broad perspective and certainly to then tie those broad perspectives back to the things that really matter for their business and for their clients.

So to me, that’s a key piece of what it means to be a successful entrepreneur and an innovative agency owner in a lot of ways.

Drew McLellan:

And to your point, it’s not a job that can be passed off to someone else. It’s part of the new business responsibility of the agency owner, I think.

Greg Verdino:

Absolutely. I think so too. Yeah,

Drew McLellan:

This was awesome as I knew it would be. If listeners want to track you down, if they want to sign up for your newsletter, if they want to read more of your writing, if they want to contact you, what’s best way for them to do all of that?

Greg Verdino:

All right. So getting in touch with me, I’m Greg Verdino every place, right? Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, et cetera. So consistency is key, right?

Drew McLellan:

And it’s as it sounds, it’s V-E-R-D-I-N-O.

Greg Verdino:

Correct. And I’ve certainly got my personal site, which focuses mainly on digital transformation and futures trends, which is gregverdino.com. And of course the agency is at verdino.co, no M at the end. And that’s where obviously an owner can learn about what my agency does and how we position and all that kind of stuff and also sign up for our newsletter if that’s something they’re interested in.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and it sounds like you’re open to collaboration too. So if there’s listeners out there who are feeling like maybe that the content strategy part of that what they offer clients isn’t their strong student and is looking for a great partner, you would be a great one to reach out to.

Greg Verdino:

I certainly would not say no.

Drew McLellan:

Yes. Awesome. Greg, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. Thanks for sharing your expertise and your experience so generously. I know the listeners have been frantically taking notes and nodding their heads and probably sort of looking at themselves in the mirror and shaking their heads a couple times. So it was time really well spent. Thank you.

Greg Verdino:

Great. Thanks for having me, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. Okay guys, that wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. I will be back next week with another great guest who will give you some insight and thoughts about how to do it bigger, better, stronger, and in a way that benefits you more because as Greg said, there’s really no reason to do this if it’s not in your own best interest as well. So I will talk to you soon. If you need me, I’m [email protected] Thanks for listening.

Speaker 1:

That’s all for this episode of Build a Better Agency. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. While you’re there, sign up for our e-newsletter, grab our free e-book and check out the blog. Growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money attracts bigger clients, and doesn’t consume your life is possible here on Build a Better Agency.