Developing and Strengthening a New Agency

guest: Tim Brandt, Owner

On this week’s episode of Mind Your Own Marketing Business, Tim speaks to Tim Brandt of Murray Road Agency, an agency focused on the outdoor industry/space. They discuss the effort of starting a new business – the benefits of corporate experience, the unique struggles of the first few years, among other things! They delve into the value of various digital advertising and content. Lastly they look at some real world situations involving micro-influencers and advertising.

Episode Transcript


Tim Barsness: Thanks for joining us on the Mind Your Own Marketing Business podcast. I’m Tim Barsness founder of the web and mobile development team Fjorge. Today in our show, we will be talking with Tim Brandt about his full-service marketing and content agency, the Murray Road Agency. Welcome to the show Tim.

Tim Brandt: Hey Tim how are you today? Thanks for having me on.

Tim Barsness: I’m doing great. Thanks for being here. Tell us a little bit about the Murray Road Agency.

Tim Brandt: Sure. Well, we’re about to celebrate our first year in existence, which is fun. You know all about starting your own company, and certainly you have a great story and path to success. I did the marketing communications, public relations, anything else related to that social media on the corporate side for about 12 years, and I worked for a couple different companies, one of them up in the Minneapolis area, a conglomerate in the outdoor space called ATK, which is now Vista Outdoor, then a firearms manufacturer down here in South Florida, and then decided to open my own company.

Tim Barsness: Tell me about when you made that decision to start your own company. What was going through your head at that time?

Tim Brandt: Well, one of the things is corporate is great. It teaches you a ton. I was fortunate to work for a lot of great people, a lot of great brands, organizations, companies, but as you know corporate has some hurdles, or some restrictions. I just felt like there was some experience that myself and some people that I know and work with, and my network, could offer to brands and organizations, and seeing that I had been on the inside for a while, I wanted to go on the outside and bring some of that knowledge to a few other corporations.

Tim Barsness: Very cool. Did you find your experience in corporate to be valuable as you started an agency?

Tim Brandt: Yes, unbelievable. Like I said, I really think very highly upon my time at corporate. It was a great progression on the marketing side. I started out technically as a PR person, but my job was probably like 80 to 90% marketing. In those first few years, I really had some great mentors and great teachers to learn how to set up a marketing department, become scalable, and get really efficient, all while achieving some pretty amazing growth and success.

Tim Barsness: Having a corporate job is something that I never did. I’m curious. If you didn’t have that opportunity, what would you do to try and learn the things that you did learn while in a corporate environment?

Tim Brandt: That’s a great question. I think today dating myself a little bit, I mean the emergence of digital, that’s why we’re here today, that’s how we’re speaking today. The beauty of that is people can get a lot of great exposure from that and do some initial research, but I think it’s really about trying to surround yourself with a network of people that have done that and been there, and so maybe just speaking to, meeting with, learning from people that have been in a variety of roles and situations.

Tim Barsness: Now that you’re off on your own, you don’t have that network within your company. Are you intentional? Do you deliberately try and create that network for yourself?

Tim Brandt: Yes, absolutely. That’s one thing. I’ve worked in the outdoor industry, the hunting, shooting industry my entire career, and I’m blessed to have a lot of great mentors, and friends, and competitors and that’s actually one of the fun things, is working for such a big company within the outdoor space, as far as corporate America is concerned it was still a smaller company, but I built a great network and knew a lot of these people, but there were things that we couldn’t do just from competitive issues and so when you’re out on your own, and when you’re starting out, being able to tap into that network is unbelievably valuable.

Tim Barsness: I’m curious. After you made the leap to your own agency, what were the feelings you had? As you’re looking at your first project, what was going through your head?

Tim Brandt: Great question again. A lot of things. Pretty much everything. It’s the old, “The grass is always greener. Be careful what you wish for. This is really exciting. Wow, this is really hard”, and, “I haven’t done this before in a while”. To summarize, it’s like a lot of things. It was a total dynamic shift. `One that I wanted and created, but at the same time it brought some challenges both personally, strategically, and then from an execution standpoint, because quite frankly there were a few things that I was starting to do for people that I hadn’t personally done in several years, or maybe not done a hundred percent myself, ever.

Tim Barsness: It’s been a year. If you could go back 12 months ago, would you do it again?

Tim Brandt: Absolutely. 100 out of 100.

Tim Barsness: Great. Like I said, it’s been one year. How big is the team now?

Tim Brandt: We’ve got a couple of people here. We’re three strong right now. Like I said, we partner with some other people, and so we’ve got kind of complementary agencies, if you will, so they’ve got another couple three people. It’s a good network and a good team that we’re building.

Tim Barsness: Very cool. Where are you guys getting new business?

Tim Brandt: We’re staying really to kind of where our experience is and where our network is and that’s in the outdoor, hunting, shooting space for manufacturers of outdoor products.

Tim Barsness: Is the market there pretty big as far as marketing and advertising?

Tim Brandt: Yes, relatively. It’s no Fortune 500 or things like that, but for this space, there’s companies of all different sizes, hundreds of them. We’re actually getting ready for our largest trade show of the year, and I should know the stats, but it’s a convention floor over a mile long if you were to walk it start to finish, for sure, you need two days and so — There’s companies that probably do a couple hundred thousand dollars a year in business all the way up to several billion. It’s a wide open spectrum, and of course, the needs of those companies are very wildly, so it’s all about finding the right mix and match.

Tim Barsness: What’s the trade show that’s coming up?

Tim Brandt: It’s called, “The Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show”. It’s called “Shot Show”. It’s in Las Vegas every year and has been for quite a while and so that kicks off in January, and that’s kind of the big showcase piece where companies are showing their new products, displaying new initiatives, new brand, creative — everything that you can think of that’s kind of relative to our space.

Tim Barsness: How many of your clients have booths there?

Tim Brandt: I think right now we’ve got three clients that have actual booth space there.

Tim Barsness: It’s a big week for you.

Tim Brandt: Yes, very big. We’ve got three that have booth space, and then a couple others that don’t have booth space, but we’ll be active there. Yes, the holiday season in this industry, Thanksgiving, it sounds really far away. The third week in January sounds pretty far away, but you wake up from Christmas dinner, and you’re like, “Oh, I got less than a month to get ready”, so no doubt we’re in full crunch time.

Tim Barsness: What is your approach to the show? Are you focusing on client work? Are you focusing on your agency, or are you doing a mix of both?

Tim Brandt: The nice thing is really, this year it’s all about execution for our clients. We’ve grown to a level that we feel very comfortable at, and we want to make sure that we can deliver and service the accounts that we have, so I’m happy. This year it’ll be 99% focused on clients that we already work for and helping them. Now, last year when I went, we had literally just started to make the leap on my own, it was a hundred percent the other way.

Tim Barsness: Got it. Where do you want to take the agency in 2018?

Tim Brandt: Like I said, I think I’d love to just really round out the services that we offer for our existing clients, continue to learn. Obviously, when you do something new, I look at a 12-month span, and the learning’s been unbelievable. Some things that I knew I’d learn, some things that I thought I knew, some things that I should have known, keep naming the categories, but it’s just really building that foundation. Now, we have the clients, but now let’s make sure that we solidify what we do for those clients, and then use that to champion our name and our brand moving forward.

Tim Barsness: Is there anything that you’ve learned that might be relevant to the audience?

Tim Brandt: Oh. [chuckles] Yes, definitely. Where do you want to start, and do we have a couple of hours? The elevator speech, would really be — I kind of started out, and fortunately and unfortunately in my corporate career, I got exposure to a lot of different areas, and with that comes the ability to be able to speak relevantly on some subjects, but obviously there’s some subjects and topics that we know better than others, so to the audience, and I’m sure everyone’s could email me this at length, but it’s really just making sure that what you’re offering aligned with what you know you can deliver and what that company needs, because there’s a lot of great opportunities there, but even when people kind of have their priorities lined up, and are high quality on both sides, if there’s a misalignment there’s a lot of struggles there, and you can really get bogged down quickly.

 Tim Barsness: How do you know when things are aligned? How does that feel to you, compared to when they’re not?

 Tim Brandt: Well, I’ve got a crash course in that too, but obviously, all of us that have been around this and done this in our areas of expertise, in our conversations, introductions, monitoring the things that I can do before, obviously, help me identify what I think would be a good fit, and then getting to meet with the teams and those teams very wildly. Then, once you jump into things, I think it’s really important to be strategic and have process, but also building that flexibility to cater to that client.

 Tim Barsness: Got it. Let’s get into the agency a little more. What types of work do you guys really kick butt at?

Tim Brandt: Our strength is in content, and over the years my personal involvement in content and company’s needs in content has changed. Of course, social media, everyone needs content. We do a lot of public relations, which, in the hunting and shooting industry, might be considered a little bit more marketing, but that’s doing everything from being the interface between journalists and the company, or facilitating interviews, or getting exposure opportunities.

There’s a lot of testing and evaluation that goes on in the industry, so hand-holding that process, pounding out news releases, but then if you’re going to do that for a client, or a group of clients, how do you make that content relevant to other areas of their business?

We want to use that content to fit into their content schedule, and sometimes people use PR to kind of leave their announcement, and sometimes PR might fall through at third, fourth, or fifth in the priority level, but if you can own that area of content and provide input, it can help you be relevant in other areas.

Tim Barsness: Are you guys typically owning content overall or are you generating content? Do you do a strategy or you’re more on the execution side?

Tim Brandt: We actually do both, and it’s fun because we’ve got a little mix of clients right now, but we always want to have that mix. To your question, sometimes we’re just outlining the strategy, and putting together the high-level plan.

There’s a team in place that can execute or that we can work with, more or less, but then others were handling the strategic part of it, the execution, everything from writing the content, getting it approved, and putting it where it needs to be, whether that means social media, online, on companies web-sites, hitting different distribution lists, picking up the phone and calling journalists, so kind of the wide variety again.

Tim Barsness: Sure. It’s 2018 budget season right now. When you get questions on the value you are providing, how do you explain or justify that to a client?

Tim Brandt: Sure. I think that’s one area that I was very lucky in even 12 years ago when I came in. If you looked at PR and marketing, a lot of it was just, “Hey, look at these headlines that we got”, or, “Look at this great featured story”, and maybe it was, “Hey, we had five pages worth of editorial”, but there wasn’t a lot of quantification back then and I was lucky to grow up in an environment in corporate where we quantified our marketing and public relations results.

We did that with a dollar value mainly, and that dollar value was arbitrary, but as long as you had a baseline, it was relevant. Those are the things that we’re trying to kick off with clients now. We say, “Hey, this is our proposal. This is what we’re going to do for you, and we’re going to put numbers and or metrics to it to make sure that it’s working, and we’re holding ourselves accountable”.

Tim Barsness: Got it. Could you explain a little more detail, what you mean by the dollar value being arbitrary but as long as you have a baseline?

Tim Brandt: Sure. I know there’s a wide variety of audiences out there, and I’m sure there’s a ton of people with a ton of experience in this area, but what we used to use, and what I still use for my clients is something called add equivalency. Of course, it’s a comparison to, “Hey, here’s what we obtained by quote free or public relations efforts, and here’s what it would have cost had you bought advertising space”. Again, one method of showcasing that and quantifying that might be completely different.

For instance, one of my clients, if we used my method, they might have got $300,000 in the corridor worth of ad equivalency, but if some other agency was doing it, they might have called it three million. No one’s wrong, it’s just making sure that you’re consistent. You could call them apples and bananas, but if you started out and said, “Hey, this month we got you two bananas worth of coverage, and next month we’re going to get you four”, well you’re going to double it.

Tim Barsness: I’d love to get four bananas. [chuckles] What’s the minimum you spend on content and still getting value or some ad equivalency value, let’s say?

Tim Brandt: Well, that varies widely by the industry, and to put a dollar value is really tough, but you know the beauty of the Internet these days, something can get widespread exposure, both for good reasons and for bad reasons. You can measure the cost of the content and the effectiveness. Those examples out there were — The cost was probably tens and twenties of dollars, but the exposure was monumental.

Tim Barsness: Now, it seems like something like that is not necessarily repeatable. Is that fair?

Tim Brandt: Yes, definitely. That’s the other part that comes into this, and that we’re learning, and there’s definitely that in the corporate side, but now that we’re our own agency that’s kind of part of the expectation setting, and definitely a great point that just because it happened once doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again, and it’s important to make sure that people understand that.

Tim Barsness: Right, exactly. You could spend 10 or $20 on something, and let’s say, a hundred thousand times and still not get value out of it.

Tim Brandt: Yes, and that brings up a great point. I think the beauty of digital, and quantification, and instant feedback, and to take it another point, instant gratification in our lives, data is very powerful, but the other thing is I think it can be a curse and there’s people that think it’s magic or it’s overnight. I’ve watched people in this industry.

The sales, the actual sales with the consumers are done at brick and mortar stores, and they see examples of online selling and e-commerce done in other industries, and they say, “Okay, I should be able to put in this, this, this, and this, and spend this much money, and then the e-commerce platform will just take off”. What’s important to understand is e-commerce has its challenges just like selling through brick and mortar. They just look different, and just because you can get immediate feedback doesn’t mean that that’s like your magic ticket and things are going to be a huge success.

Tim Barsness: Right, totally got it. If you were to spend money on content in 2018, what is the one thing you should spend it on?

Tim Brandt: I think it’s got to be authentic, and I know that’s very cliche, but I think if you look at how many messages we as consumers or potential targets for a business get every day, I don’t even know what the latest stats are, but there’s a stat that’s been floating around that everyone has the attention span of less than a goldfish, and a goldfish has nine seconds, and that’s probably true, so building authentic content that’s visually engaging and there’s an immediate tie to your brand or your company, I think is the most important.

Tim Barsness: How does your agency do that affordably?

Tim Brandt: That’s another great question and another great challenge. That’s where our network and our ability to capture that varies, and is important, so, for instance, we grew up and we participate in the hunting, shooting, tactical industry. There’s some things that we’re able to curate, or procure ourselves, or create ourselves, but unfortunately, we’re a small agency and we don’t have a award-winning photographer on our staff.

If a client is looking for social media work, or things that can be done quickly, and not holistically and high budget, we can turn some of those things out, but on the other side, we’ve worked on some huge projects and done some great things, but it just takes a different budget and a different type of approach.

Tim Barsness: Sure, of course. What are these challenges that marketing departments — that your clients are facing today?

Tim Brandt: I think, it’s just staying relevant with a consumer that is changing rapidly. How they consume content, how they make purchase decisions, all the things that we read about and strive to succeed on every day, but then the other thing that I’ve learned over my years in corporate is ensuring that marketing efforts align with sales, because as much as we like to give the sales people a hard time, and say how much money they make, and how big their bonuses are — We could have the best campaign in the world, it could look the best, it could get the most engagement, people could love it, it could even go viral, but if it doesn’t sell products then it doesn’t matter.

As much as we give them a hard time, the company has to sell product, if that’s what their goals are and that’s how they drive their revenue. They have to sell product for all of us to be there, otherwise everyone has to go home.

Tim Barsness: Sure. If there were one thing that you wish you would have known before you started your agency, what would that be?

Tim Brandt: Another great question. Just that the challenging nature of dealing with so many opportunities, and finding a way to create a niche and create a focus, and again the marketing PR communications, social media space, is so segmented or even fractured, it’s easy to say, “Wow, there’s just an insert on an unbelievable amount of opportunity here. Let’s go after a ton of it. Let’s throw a wide net because we know we’ve got examples of doing all of this”, but when it comes down to it, the old adage of picking a niche and an area of expertise, and just solely focusing on that and putting some blinders on in other areas, is definitely very important, something I wish I would have done a little better job out of the gate at.

Tim Barsness: Totally, focus is a huge challenge, and every time you think you’re focused, it’s probably time to start realizing you need to focus again. Let’s get in a couple of news stories here. Our first news story from How three brands found success within micro influencers? Can you give us a brief summary of the article?

Tim Brandt: Yes, definitely. This is just a high overview of — For years, decades, centuries, brands and companies have used celebrities and spokes people to sell product. Now, there’s this tactic and approach to using people that aren’t celebrities.

They don’t drive race cars or they don’t hit home runs, and quite frankly they might not even have that big social media network, but kind of the residual and the complete combined effect of partnering with a lot of these people can really turn some exposure opportunities into huge selling opportunities or ways to champion a new product, or a new campaign. There’s a few examples in this article.

Some bigger companies Sperry, Daniel Wellington, Lacrau or Lacroix, depending on how you pronounce it, the sparkling water, and just there’s some great examples of how they partnered really with everyday people and looked past, “Oh, they don’t have a hundred thousand followers. I’m not going to work with them”, and they found a niche there.

Tim Barsness: How do you identify a micro influencer?

Tim Brandt: I think it’s all about that brand connection, and making sure that it fits your need, and I think as marketing department challenges change, one of the biggest things that they can do is, they can provide content. We talked about earlier is, how do you deliver that content, or create that content. Well, we’re in here working every day at our desk for clients.

Unfortunately, we’re not at lunch break in the lunch room, or down in the food court, and we can’t snap a picture on our phone of the product being used at lunch or with people socializing. It’s a great way to get turnkey content, and then– I think that’s a good place to start, is just finding people that really align with your brand or your message for that time.

Tim Barsness: Sure. Our second news story today from Adweek. Why Brands Should Be Ready For Alexa Ads, Despite What Amazon Says. I’m curious Tim, for a summary on that article.

Tim Brandt: Sure. I think this is a fun one, because obviously it talks about the emergence of the opportunities for advertisers to be there, and monetize Alexa but what goes into that, I mean, just like, Tim, your company, and hundreds of thousands of other companies, we know the challenges of SEO and all the things that come there. Well, this is kind of a new iteration of that. How do brands become voice relevant?

It’s not like the radio of years past, but it’s different and some of the layers on how monetizing or advertising might work, but what’s fun is there’s some pillars here that we can see that have been relative to marketing since the beginning of time, and a few of the things that they point out there is make sure your brand and your products are easy to pronounce, and easy to say, and are relevant and can be described shortly, are short and effective.

Tim Barsness: Sure. His voice relevancy something the Murray Road Agency thinks about as content strategy?

Tim Brandt: Right now, we’re not there, but this article definitely opened my eyes to that, but we do those pillars. We’ve had conversations and continue to when people are coming up with new product names, or new initiatives, or new campaigns. We do stress, obviously, some of those things that are nicely relevant to this new emerging space.

Tim Barsness: Totally. We’re out of time, so that’s it for today on Mind Your Own Marketing Business podcast. Thanks for joining us today, Tim.

Tim Brandt: Thanks a lot, Tim. I appreciate it.

Tim Barsness: You bet. It’s been a pleasure. People can reach Tim by visiting that’s M-U-R-R-A-Y Thank you to our listeners for joining us. You can download episodes of the program by going to or subscribing to the show on iTunes Stitcher SoundCloud and iHeartRadio.

[00:26:27] [END OF AUDIO]

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