Delivering Value to Clients

guest: Brad Wilke, Co-Founder & Owner
company: Smarthouse

On this week’s episode of MYOMB Tim is joined by Brad Wilke, Co-Founder & Owner of Smarthouse – a full-service digital media and audience engagement agency. They discuss the evolution of Brad’s career, some facets of leadership, and delivering value for clients. They close with some real world stories regarding building your social audience and maximizing Facebook ads.

Episode Transcript


Introduction: Through the creative world Mind Your Own Marketing Business. Explore a variety of trends in a creative landscape, getting inside of knowledge and advice from the industry’s bests. fjorge is proud to present Mind Your Own Marketing Business, host, Tim Barsness.

Tim Barsness: Thanks for joining us on the mind your own marketing business podcast. I’m Tim Barsness, founder of web and mobile development team, fjord. Today in our show, we will be speaking with Brad Wilkie about his full service Digital Media and Audience Engagement Agency, Smarthouse Creative. Welcome to the show Brad.

Brad Wilkie: Hey, good morning? How are you doing today?

Tim: I’m doing great. How are you doing?

Brad: Not too bad. I really appreciate you having me on the show, and am looking forward to this conversation.

Tim: Absolutely. I’m glad you could be here. Brad, you’re a co-founder at Smarthouse Creative. Can you tell us a little bit about what the company does?

Brad: Yes. Smarthouse was co-founded by myself and Ryan Davis, who is a publicist, and I at the time was working primarily as a digital marketing strategist. We were both very deeply embedded in the independent film world, especially here in Seattle. I had been programming films for the Seattle International Film Festival, prescreened a couple years for Sundance, and then had also been writing and directing short films and writing feature screenplays as well.

It was sort of the in the Zeitgeist at the moment, and both of us realized that the hardest thing for us to do in our entrepreneurial start ups was business development. We thought maybe if we combine our complimentary skill sets, we could also gain some advantages with business development and reaching out to our different networks and slowly building the the company in our client roster.

That was four years ago, and now we have two employees here in Seattle and a number of other contractors around the country that we use for specific projects especially in Los Angeles and New York, which are where the majority of independent film clients come from.

Tim: Brad, tell me about your background. You said you are a digital marketing specialist, how did you get started on that?

Brad: I’m going to try to keep that to the 30 to 60 second, the time limit that you mentioned before because it is a little bit of a connecting the dots after the fact makes sense maybe but not really. I actually started off in the Army. I went to West Point for my undergraduate and got a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering, which honestly I have never applied in my professional career.

That’s one thing like college, what does it– I put off going to graduate school for a long time. I was in the army for five years which is when I started making films here in Seattle because I was stationed at Fort Lewis, which is just south of here and just outside of Tacoma Washington. I lived in Tacoma for five years. I was in the Army Engineer Corps, and for a brief time in the protocol office at the first Corps headquarters on Fort Lewis, which is now Joint Base Lewis McChord. If anybody has any familiarity with that, that’s how long ago this what it feels like.

I got out of the Army in 2003, bounced around for a little bit, did some freelance editing, kept working on film projects, and then eventually wound up at the Head Start program here in Seattle as the operations manager. I actually found it quite difficult to find a job after getting out of the Army. Strangely enough, I thought it was going to be a lot easier but it was sort of post 2001 recession, and I think the job market was still slowly recovering.

When I was at the, the place is called Denise Louie Education Center, primarily refugee and immigrant families new to the Seattle area. While I was there, I was doing volunteer management and came up with the idea for an app called Flash Volunteer, which was real-time, real-world volunteer engagement platform that was mobile-based that was sort of a mash up of typical volunteer, Bolton Board, social media, and then maybe a little bit of Foursquare.

It won a couple of awards at different pitch contests but never was able to achieve the vision, if you will, that I had in mind of volunteers being able to pop in to a nonprofit or a community group that needed help or to create their own projects outside of the more formal channels and do a part clean up. It was all open source, so eventually we wound it down, and then there turned out to be an organization in Louisville that was trying to do the same thing a few years after us.

They asked, somebody told them about what we were doing, so we gave them the code which they are at this time building into their own system. It’s good to see that and the guy a great compliment, in my mind, he said, “You guys were really ahead of your time when you were trying to put this out.” I think that’s somewhat true but it doesn’t really, I don’t want to say it was a failure but the reason I go into such depth is because I was basically product managing the platform in the mobile app as well as doing fundraising, and directing the volunteer board, and I had the role of executive director.

That also happened to be when I went back to graduate school, so I went back to get an MBA at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. While I was there, I also really got interested in what at the time was called the MCDM program, which was Master of Communication in Digital Media and now it’s changed to the Com Lead, so Communications Lead. Leadership I think is what it fully stands for, but that’s a great program. I ended up getting both of those graduate degrees and then started work at Path, which is a global health nonprofit here in Seattle, NGO actually, does a lot of work with the Gates Foundation. I was hired as their first digital engagement strategist.

I had to get a handle on all of the social media channels around the world actually, and run the digital marketing plan, the strategy, got the CEO up and running on Twitter. It was fun. A lot of different things went to the UN with a delegation and ran the social media there for– I can’t remember what it was called but it was it was fun. It was a lot of high level kind of stuff.

Then I got laid off after 10 months because they had a budget, a big budget cut which led to– No, I actually turned down a job that I got right after that because I realized it would take me too far away from what I thought my passion was, which was movies, and storytelling, and sort of the digital world. I turned down this job with the University of Washington, and that actually empowered me in a certain way or gave me more confidence in a strange way because I felt like now I had the control and a more agency in my career, which led to the founding of the time it was called Catalyst Digital Strategies, and which eventually became Smarthouse and it’s changed the name and the LC designation and everything.

That’s minus is an escop, which we don’t have to get into but it’s more of a tax kind of thing with a new tax bracket, like all that stuff. That’s something else that beyond just like the digital marketing and publicity and everything. Ryan and I are really front and center when it comes to all the business and legal decisions that go into running a company, which I think a lot of people don’t consider when they’re starting a company is that they really the buck stops there, but I like that. I think that stems from my time in the Army, I like being where the buck stops.

Tim: You said that you like that, why do you like that?

Brad: For me, it’s a transformational leadership thing, I would call. I think you see a lot of management and “leadership” that is much more transactional and it’s really based on a reward and punishment system in a lot of ways, I think that works. I worked in the Army, and I think it works for large corporations. When you get more to the small business level and the mid-size business level, I think a lot of the success of a company and at the large scale as well but really stems from how willing the leader is to get out in front of problems and to shield employees from not throwing people under the bus, I think is what it comes down to.

I think you see a lot of that in corporate America these days like the Wells Fargo CEO, for instance, blaming the frontline tellers for the scheme that they had cooked up at the top for increasing the number of accounts that each customer had because that was something that was measured. I think when you’re incentivizing employees, I personally think if you have the time that those.

Intrinsic motivators, the pride in workmanship, and the ability to take ownership of projects, and to feel empowered within boundaries, I think is– I take a lot of pleasure really, like I enjoy being in there. I don’t enjoy firing people, but having to fire people is part of the role, part of the job when you’re running a company, and it’s very difficult, but each time I’ve done it, it’s been luckily so, but a very positive experience I think even for the person who is fired, because it wasn’t like they were ruined out or something like that. It was more just like, “This isn’t working”.

I feel like those were some of the biggest leadership challenges, is figuring out when to make that decision, if it was just to fire them, and then how to present that really potentially negative information and decision to the employee. I really enjoy that element of running a company is being responsible and taking the responsibilities for the good and the bad. When it comes to the good, I think that’s always the best when you can distribute that praise among everyone if you can, because that’s just going to continue to build that foundation, which I think is essential for successful business especially at a smaller scale, like under 10 employees.

Tim: Totally. What is it that Smarthouse does really well?

Brad: Yes. That’s a great question. I think over time, we’ve really refined what our focus is. That is really, in the high-level sense, it’s delivering value to our clients, which is what a lot of company say, but I think what we really do and what makes our huge difference is that a lot of our clients don’t have big budget, and they’ve got reasonable budget. In the beginning, we did a little bit of work for free to build some case studies and some work samples, but now we can’t do that anymore, because we have a payroll to make, and all sorts of other responsibilities when it comes to running a company.

What we’ve been able to do is work with independent films that we believe in for the most part, and then really find a way to deliver value, because that’s what build word-of-mouth referrals, and get people talking about, like, “Wow, Smarthouse, they didn’t charge me $300 an hour”, which some agencies in our species are harmful of them, but not a lot. They have really high prices.” It’s something that I think delivering value, and then, bringing to bear a true bottom-line perspective.

Some of that derives from my time spent in business school, and we don’t do anything that is kind of– and also from running Flash Volunteer and Smarthouse, and I also have another company is complementary to Smarthouse called Wonderstream, which is like a social live-streaming platform that is going through it’s final face of development right now, and we should be launching that later this summer.

As I was saying, it’s really about delivering that value, and then, providing the expertise that doesn’t just result in, “Oh, that was a cool thing”, it builds a lot of “awareness,” but it really delivers, and now we are $5000 in the whole because we wanted to do something that was trying to leverage user-generated content to support an independent VOD release, which really doesn’t work. For as often as you see, like, “Oh, yes”. Hunger Games, they dominated social media with only a 10 billion dollar budget. That’s because they’ve got a built-in audience space.

We employ a lot of the same strategies for independent clients at a fraction of the price, and I think that combined with a focus on the bottom-line, and are you actually building a sustainable creative career for yourself through the monetization of your content. Right there, I mean that sounds so cooperative, so like business focus, but that’s what a lot of creative entrepreneurs, filmmakers, they need that perspective, because they often times don’t think about it, or they reject it, like I did when I was younger, that that’s for the suit or the squares, or something.

I think we do a good job of straddling that line, because right now, both filmmakers, we produce films. Like I’ve got two short films in production right now. Not in production, one is in post-production, and one is about to shoot this weekend. That’s something, but that’s not a revenue generator for our company, that’s more of a goodwill generator, if you will. I think what we do best is, is really combining the right brain and the left brain, so to speak of people’s projects, and where they should be going in the future.

Tim: What does a typical client engagement look like for you guys?

Brad: Usually what happens is, we get an inquiry through– I often ask people, I think that key for anybody that’s listening out there is when you get a new client that comes through some channel, it’s always great when you’re on the call with them or sorting phone timeout through email. It’s to find out how they discovered the company. A lot of times it’s through Google search. I make sure that our Google adds words are always in display, advertising are always running. The same with Facebook, not so much on Twitter, but Instagram, because that’s where a lot of our audience spends its time.

We promote posts and create ads that really appear to be more Iconic Clastic attribute audience profile or a potential customer profile because those are the people that we end up working with. They will come through one channel or the other, and then we will have a 30-minutes phone call with them, we try to keep those as short as possible, just because, again, that’s not really generating any revenue for us, it’s basically a free 30-minutes estimate, so to speak, like what we can do for them.

We talk about what their project is, what they’re looking for, a brief discussion of some of their goals. Then what we do is within, I’d say like 36 to 48 hours, sometimes quicker if we can do it. We get a proposal out to them, which gets the next face of the discussion started, and then we kind of whittle it down based on their budget or add things if they see something on there that they don’t see on there that they want, and they have the budget for it. It’s a little bit of negotiating at that stage.

Without overselling it, I feel like once we have a proposal out to somebody, once we reach that stage, I’d say that we’ve got a pretty good chance, I would say better than 50/50. I’d say like probably 80% of the people that we send proposals out to wind up working with us because– Again, it’s like the quality of service offered, the scope of service, like we try to be as– We’ve gotten comments from clients that have signed up with us, just how refreshing it was to see our proposal broken down in the way that we do it, instead of just saying, “Yes, it’s $8000 dollars, and we will do publicity for you,” which again, a lot of people do that because they can. I think even if we’re ever able to be in that position to be so seemingly cavalier about it all, I wouldn’t want us to, because I feel like, again, that customer care, that customer satisfaction, because we’ve got to have a number of customers that we’ve worked with for years on multiple projects, and they come back to us. I think for a lot of it, it’s because our bedside manner.

Tim: Why do you think they come back?

Brad: Well, I was going to say it because of our bedside manner, sort of way to described it. Just that, we check in with people, email, or on the phone as often as reasonably possible, especially when we’re in an engagement with the customer or a client. Then, every once in a while we’ll just see how things are going, or if there is something that’s going to happen down the road, a lot of times like with a film released, for instance. We’ve got very specific segments of each campaign.

Here is like the prerelease when it’s up for pre-sell, and then, here is the release, which is going to be two weeks from the day it’s out. Maybe it’s day and day, so it does the theatrical combined with on-demand or VOD, or maybe it’s one or the other, they stagger, who knows. If the next one is not starting for two months, we don’t just like where the customer kind of chill out for two months. We will be in touch, saying, “How is everything going? Are you checking into this? Are you checking into that?”

What happens is, then we get referrals from clients who have talked to friends and

to whoever, and then they get in touch and say, “Oh, we heard such good things from so and so. We’re wondering if you could do this or does this make sense.” We’re pretty open to everything. Right now, in addition to a large number of independent films and some by arts organizations like we also work with film festivals and presenting organizations, we still work with Flamenco companies in New York City for a number of years. I lost my train of thought there on.

Tim: That’s okay. Let’s move into a couple news stories here. Our first news story, I guess both are coming from the Smarthouse blog with the first one is titled Driving iTunes Movie pre-orders with Facebook ads, it’s written by you Brad. Can you tell me a little bit about the article?

Brad: Yes. This is something that we put together, we had a client that had a movie called Adele and everything after about a service dog and a woman’s relationship with a dog especially as the dog transitions out to another role and she brings in a new a new service animal. It’s a really powerful documentary, played a lot of film festivals. Then when it was ready to release, they got in touch with us.

We supported them with strategy, and publicity, and marketing, basically the whole shebang for their release, which is a big deal for filmmakers because it’s basically like your big public moment. If you get out to a good start, it can be really beneficial, especially on iTunes or Amazon. That’s going to help provide additional visibility, put you up toward the top of the chart.

In this case, we wanted to really come out strong during the pre-sale period, which can be anywhere from 30 days to two weeks before release. I think it’s always good to have a presale because that helps you build a sales record so that when the film becomes available, on the day it becomes available, all of those presales get counted toward it’s ranking, its popularity based on sale. We really wanted to hit that hard here with Adele. The point of this article, so I wrote this after everything had taken place and I wanted to make this into a very robust case study about how we did this. Because if you scroll down, I’ve included screenshots of step by step with screenshots about who we targeted, what we targeted, what the audiences look like. Then I had a section on the AB testing that we did, and what worked and what didn’t work, and if we had different copy versus creative, how we targeted things.

Then I put in the ad metrics showing the number of link clicks, the reach, the impressions, the cost per click, the budget for each of those and how many. We’re looking at 20 cents per click, there were almost 2500 clicks for a $500 expenditure, and I thought that was notable. Then with the outcomes, one of the screenshots I took was from the iTunes store, how Adele was coming out on January 30th. If you look at the list in the pre-sales ranked by best seller here, the screenshot you’ve got, the first one is a movie starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. The next one is a movie starring Denzel Washington, and then you have the Florida Project which was an “indie darling.” Then two other well known independent dramas, Tyler Perry film that one. I think the top prize at Cannes the year before. Then right there at– This is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Adele was number six for its release date, which we often don’t even have that level of good result. That is a really good outcome with [inaudible 00:24:26]

Tim: In the article, you state that you spent $500 in, I believe those Facebook ads. I’m curious what the impact on the film was. How did getting to number six impact the film?

Brad: Yes. Well, it allowed them to debut in the top 200 on the the primary iTune.

Tim: Do you have any insight into how it impacted them financially? Brad, I lost your audio again. Have you maybe unplugged your microphone? Maybe it’s loose. Now, we’ve lost you. Let me go ahead and do the ultra here just in case. That’s it for today on Mind Your Own Marketing Business. You can find Smarthouse online at or on Twitter and Instagram @teamsmarthouse. You can also reach Brad on Twitter and Instagram @JB Wilkie. Thank you all listeners for joining us on Mind Your Marketing Business Podcast. You can download episodes of the program by going to, or subscribing to the show on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and iHeartRadio.

[00:26:25] [END OF AUDIO]

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