The Fundamentals of Marketing & Sales
On this week’s episode of fjorgecast, Tim meets with Rodger Roeser of The Eisen Agency. Rodger’s agency is centered in Ohio, specializing in selling marketing & sales services to professional services businesses. Tim and Rodger discuss various facets of the marketing industry, from the constant disruption within the industry to white labeling to project management! They also touch on some real world situations, such as choosing between in-house or outsourced marketing, and the interesting migration of important CMOs to emerging ad-tech companies.
Tim Barsness: Parsons thanks for joining us on the floor cast, I’m Tim Barcenas founder of web and mobile development team Fjorge. Today in our show, we will be talking with Roger Roaster about his sales and marketing agency, the Aizen agency. Welcome to the show, Roger.
Roger Roeser: Tim, thanks for having me on. It’s a real pleasure to be here, and I appreciate it.
Tim: We’re happy to have you. Can you tell us a little bit about your agency the Aizen agency?
Roger: Sure. We have two offices, we’re headquartered in Greater Cleveland, and Greater Cincinnati in the great state of Ohio. We serve clients really all over the country, and in some cases all over the world, and have clients in Europe and in Canada. What we specifically do is provide a combination of marketing and sales services. Typically to professional services businesses, if you’re in the financial arena, accounting legal, health, real estate, were a really good choice to coordinate and get your marketing and sales online.
Tim: Tell me a little bit about– Roger, how did you come to found this agency?
Roger: The most boring topic ever [unintelligible 00:01:23]. I started off as a journalist, I was a broadcast journalist in the Greater Cleveland, Greater Akron Market as in the beginning of my career, moonlighted at a radio station as a news newscaster, or news reporter then worked in print for several years. I had an opportunity to go to work for at the time a startup NASCAR team in Ohio, and I didn’t know a lot about NASCAR those cars that kind of went around, and turned left a lot. It was really a wonderful experience, it was my first foray into really a public relations, and marketing arena.
Learned a lot, grew a lot, moved to New York, worked for a fortune 500 company out there in the professional services industry, had the opportunity to come back to Cleveland to head up the agency in Cleveland. I went to Cincinnati head up the division in Cincinnati firm, and then after I had been doing it for at that point about 15 years, I just decided that it’s time to take a chance and see what happens, and I hung my own shingle, and out came the Aizen Agency which was originally called the Aizen Management Group. It has really flourished and thrived, and here we are 15-16 years later.
We’re one of the larger marketing and PR firms in Ohio, and we’re having fun, and helping our clients make some more money.
Tim: I notice you have offices in Cleveland and Cincinnati, can you tell me about how that came about?
Roger: Sure. When the company was originally founded, it was right after 9/11 which was a terrifying situation. The business was odd if anybody remembers what marketing an agency life was like right after that. We had our offices in Cincinnati, actually a suburb called Newport Kentucky, and we were there for about 15 years, and about two years ago we just made a determination that I wanted to move back home to my hometown of Cleveland, but I certainly didn’t want to close the shop in Cincinnati, it’s strong and thriving. We’ve got a good business and a good reputation there.
The decision was made to keep Cincinnati as our main headquarters, and then we would establish Cleveland as sort of the satellite office which had a whopping three members of staff at the time. We’ve been able to grow Cleveland maintain Cincinnati, and it’s really been the best of both worlds. That’s why we’ve got those two spaces.
Tim: What is it about your agency that makes you want to get out of bed every day?
Roger: I’ve got a great staff. I love working with the team that I work with. It really is like working with your best friends, and colleagues. I love the creative process. When a client comes to us with a challenge or an issue, and it’s fun. It’s like being one part detective in one part cheerleader, and one part psychologist I suppose. You’re able to really dive in, and sink your teeth into maybe some areas where a business is deficient or not necessarily optimizing their marketing, and their marketing communications and their sales.
After doing it as long as I have it’s pretty easy to diagnose some of those situations, and where a company is kind of off the rails or not doing things well. Typically, a company can sense it too, I mean their overhead is too high, they’re spending a fair amount of marketing on their business and such and they don’t seem to be making any significant headway or gaining market share.
Our team comes in, we do a nice forensics audit, we take a look at that, and I just really like that detective research part, then coming up with a nice go-ahead plan that says “Hey, we’re going to help you out, we’re going to fix you, we’re going to lower your overhead, and increase your market share, and that’s really gratifying.
Tim: Take me to there through your thought process when you decided to start a business right after September 11th.
Roger: Obviously, September 11 hadn’t happened yet, the business I think we officially opened, I think the exact date was June 1st. It was June 1st, 2001, and I had a handful of good clients, it was a two-person operation at the time. We were rolling along and then 9/11 happened. If everybody remembers what was going on, basically all advertising ceased for months. Marketing pretty much stopped, because it was looked at as kind of gauche. I’ll never forget it. It was probably, I want to say November right around Thanksgiving and all of a sudden Chevrolet ran an ad, and basically, things started to normalize, but that was a little scary few months after that.
You just hung your shingle, you got a handful of clientele, and as a PR firm, marketing firm, there wasn’t a lot to talk about, and there certainly wasn’t a lot to market at the time and most of my clients at that time were B2B a little bit more on the industrial or technology side and there was truly nothing to say or do. You’re starting out, you’re newly married, and you got a brand new business, and that was a scary couple years.
Tim: Yes, and you had was it a partner an employee that along with you for the ride?
Roger: It was, in the in the very beginning. Yes, it was myself and a designer, web developer in the beginning. And not a partner though I owned it, and I she was a salaried employee. I made zero sometimes negative zero, but that’s the reality of starting up a business, and I’m pretty sure that every agency owner out there is shaking their head, and nodding and going. Yes, that’s what I was like.
Tim: Yes, totally. It sounds like you’re healthy size now, what is it about how you started the agency that led you to where you are today?
Roger: Well, part of its just sheer determination and personality. It’s one of those things where I’m probably not the smartest, I’m probably not the most talented, but I’m the hardest-working. We just hustled our butts off. We work hard, and I think that we established a really strong niche, in the beginning, with the types of businesses that we were working for, and we did really good work. Our clients appreciated that we grew a lot through referral, in the beginning, showcased a lot of our work, and our clients would say “Hey, these guys are really doing a bang-up job for us.”
I think we’re a lot of agencies, especially, the behemoth agencies. There’s just so many layers, and so much cost and we just really cut through that and create such a level of transparency that we establish a high level of trust with our clientele, and I think they really appreciate that. When I had worked for other agencies, I didn’t know that they were as honest and transparent as I thought that they should be. I think clients really appreciate that transparency, and that honesty, and how we do our billing, and how we do our work, and who’s working on their account, exactly what roles everybody has, how much everything costs.
To me, that really made a big difference, and a lot of other agencies were so enamored with their own creative, and creative process, and in some cases, even the people. If you’ve ever watched Mad Men, you can see kind of that. I think that it was us that was really honored to work with the client as opposed to the client who should be honored with to work with us.
Tim: Sure, makes sense. Roger, what are the next steps for the agency, where do you want to take it?
Roger: Well, at the ripe old age of 48 that I am now, it’s one of those things, Tim, where I kind of want to back away and slow down a little bit. I think that there’s so many interesting things that are going on, and in the type of work that we do, and things that I really love doing, and things that after all these years I don’t like doing as much. I’ve got a great team that I trust, and that I value. For me, it is trying to find that successor and somebody that’s going to pick up where I’ve left off, but the agency itself, we work in an industry that is ever-evolving, ever-changing in the ’90s. If you would have told me, that I’d have entire divisions devoted to things like Facebook, and Pinterest, and Instagram, I would never have believed such a thing. I don’t know what’s going to come necessarily in the future, but I know that clients are always going to have a need to grow their business, and increase their market share, and do more with less.
I think that whatever those new tools are going to be, our firm’s always been on the leading edge of new ways to go about marketing a business in the most efficient and effective way possible. Right now to me, that content development, that native advertising is really attractive, and we’re really making a strong push in that arena. That’s probably where we’re going to be in the in the foreseeable future.
Tim: Absolutely. Let’s get into the agency a little bit. What types of work are you guys really good at?
Roger: Once we lay out a strategic plan for a client, our project management skills are in my opinion second to none, because we’re so clear, we’re so transparent, it’s so easy for a client to follow along. Five years ago, I would have said we were one of the top media relations firms anywhere around. The landscape of the media now is just wildly different than what it was even five years ago, where editorial is confused for news, where news is confused for news so much of it is pay-to-play in this realm, and folks can appreciate that getting placements, and getting publicity for their clientele, or other stuff, in my opinion, has never been more difficult.
I think right now, we are just exceptional marketing strategists, and tying it into the sales team, because we always believe what’s the point of marketing. If you’re marketing so your agency can win an award well that’s just stupid. You’re marketing so you can gain market share and sell more widgets. I think more agencies are waking up to that, but it makes my eyes roll every now and again when I ask an agency, or I ask a client what would you rather have your agency win an award for how creative this ad is, or would you rather gain 50% market share. Every one of them says they want again market share.
The way our agency specifically ties in and integrates marketing to sales is exceptional. If you want to grow your business, you hire my firm. If you want to some agency guy to come in and show you a portfolio of awards, then I hire another [unintelligible 00:12:56]
Tim: Hire someone else.
Tim: You’ve alluded a couple times to the amount of change in the industry. I’m just curious, have you seen the rate of change increasing?
Roger: Yes, I have. It’s bizarre. Every time I think that I’ve got a decent handle on what’s going on, and what’s happening in the industry as a whole something else comes along, and disrupts it. At some point, disruption I think is good, and that’s important to shake things up, but I’ll use even today as an example. I do a podcast as well for the public relations agency owners association, I use this platform called Spreaker, and you’re on this thing called Cast which is totally cool. What I’m seeing right now is just a mass splintering of platforms.
Back in the day when I was a kid, you either had a beta, or you had a VHS, and pretty soon they just kind of just figured out a way to consolidate it beta went the way of the dodo bird and VHS became the standard platform, but think about it now, there’s just hundreds of different types of platforms that can do the same thing or different things, but think of all the different CMS platforms, the marketing automation platforms, the web development platforms, I mean it’s just bizarre. What has ended up happening is people are becoming specialized in these individual platforms, and for an agency to keep up the size of the agency would have to be like a million people.
You’d have to have an expert in every little one of these. It’s just not possible.
Tim: What do you do about that?
Roger: Yes. Well, it’s you have to pick your battles, and say “This is what I think it’s going to be.” Just like designing websites, I don’t know how many people out there still use HTML, but we certainly don’t. Whether you’re going to be using X social media platforms, we try to stick to three, four, maybe five different platforms for a client in the agency, but I do think there’s going to be some consolidation where you’re not going to have all these different Skype, and GoToMeeting, and that it I think at some level they’re going to start gobbling each other up and become a single platform.
Tim: Yes, I could see that as well. I think the nature of software is that when you put something out there, it kind of creates an annuity revenue stream that is fairly attractive, and people go after, but I agree that there’s so much fragmentation it almost gets confusing.
Roger: It does, and I think the older I get and again business owners other executives at some level it’s like good lord, I don’t even have any desire to even learn this anymore. I’m not sure I need a Google mini– I even know what all those things are. Those little speaker echo thingies [sic]. I’m not even sure what they do, but the minute I buy one, I’m pretty sure there’s going to be another one that comes along that somehow does it better.
Tim: Isn’t that frustrating?
Roger: It is a little frustrating. That’s why I think our agency is really hunkered down to the core basics of good sales and good marketing because I don’t think those tenents are ever going to change.
Tim: You’re doing the core basics. If somebody has a need that maybe goes outside your capability, what do you typically do to meet their need?
Roger: Yes, great question. We alluded to that a bit earlier when we talked about our expertise, and project management, and transparency. If there’s a level of expertise that’s needed outside of our capabilities in-house, we always look to partner with a good solid provider, strategic partner that does that certainly better than us if we even do it at all. What I tend to see too many agencies do is they’ll try to white label that stuff which creates all kinds of havoc, and chaos, and awfulness. It’s just– If you’re partnering with an outside firm, you’re going to want to share that with your client because if they believe that you are the ones doing that, it creates a project management nightmare.
Not just for the agency, but for the service provider that you’re trying to partner with. If we don’t have that expertise, I’m not going to claim that we do, but at the end of the day there’s nothing wrong with subbing, contractors do it all the time when they’re building a house, they don’t claim to be the electrician or the plumber. They’re certainly bringing somebody in, but you got a single source that’s managing everything.
Tim: Totally. What is the motivation for an agency to white label something? Why are they doing this?
Roger: I think they think they can make money. I guess at some point that’s true, it gives them a new whiz-bang tool to markup, whether you’re looking at I mean any number of the marketing automation software, whether it’s percolate, or Marketo, or HubSpot, or good lord, I mean go on and on about that kind of stuff. It’s like claiming that you do, you have your own email marketing service, when in fact, you’re just using Constant Contact, or that you’ve got your own proprietary, media relations distribution service. When you’re just using Cision or MyMediaInfo, or any of those things.
I think it’s disingenuous to a client. If you’re a client of an agency, you should ask them that. What tools are you guys using? We’re all using some kind of tool. A master carpenter needs wood and chisels, and hammers. I think there’s a false motivation to white label some of these tools claim them as your own, put a mark upon it, and the minute something goes wrong, or the minute somebody needs to get in contact with the actual client that’s doing things or some customer service kind of stuff it really puts yourself at a disadvantage, and I think it makes you look dishonest.
Tim: Totally. What types of issues of you run into with white labeling service providers?
Roger: Again, I think the biggest issue is project management. Let’s pretend that my agency needs– I have a client that needs a mobile app developed, that’s certainly not something that we do, but let’s pretend I claimed that I did that. Well, the person that’s actually creating the mobile app is a service provider, they’re not an employee of mine. They might go on vacation, they might quit, they might have any manner of issue that I can’t control, because they report to somebody else. They have a completely different employer, and when you make it appear to a client that that’s an employee of yours, or that’s a service that you’re providing it puts you in a pretty significant pickle, if for some reason you’re not able to get that completed when the client thinks it should be completed, if you’re making any manner of rounds of changes with that sort of thing, or from a billing standpoint. Let’s suppose that you’re making changes, and the invoice comes back significantly more than what you estimated to the client. Good luck justifying that.
Tim: Right, yes, good point. So, let’s move into a couple new stories here. The first one is by you, Rodger was in prnewsonline.com. Agency or in-house. The fiscal and pragmatic truth, can you tell us a little bit about your article?
Rodger: Yes, basically this wasn’t a discussion where I think we’re headed toward the trend and you look at the new RSW servery. I don’t know how many folks out there familiar with RSW but they’re an agency lead generation service. They are actually new business firm for agencies. A lot of agencies are really struggling right now because folks are trying to bring more and more work in-house or creating in-house agencies. By the way, the average tenure of an in-house marketing person is nine months by the way. If you want to keep changing people and personnel in-house just keep hiring that.
What we’re arguing here is by outsourcing this is not only are you significantly lowering your overhead, so fiscally it should be a much more fiscally sound move especially if you’re a small business. Why are you going to pay somebody 30 grand is absurd but why are you going to pay somebody 40, 50, 60 grand in-house when you got to turn around and still spend another 30, 40, 50 Grand on software and ads, it doesn’t make sense.
That is also assuming that that one single in-house person or even two or five have all the capabilities that are necessary which is just absurd. Companies are taking on more and more overhead. Unemployment is at a 3% or some like that. Businesses are trying to find this unicorn that simply doesn’t exist. Whereas they could lower overhead and gain a tremendous amount of flexibility and expertise by outsourcing some or all of their marketing to an expert.
Tim: Do you think that agencies have a reputation issue where the perception is that they’re more expensive when really they are not?
Rodger: You bet, yes absolutely. I think that the agency’s PR, SA, and AAF and all these organizations have really done a lousy job of marketing and sharing that message where this could be a better option. HR immediately their knee-jerk reaction when the boss says, “We need marketing help.” is put an ad out for some magical marketing person. I consult with companies all the time on developing these, what the job application should even say. So often I’ll look at these ads that are posted for a marketing person, and either skills that they are asking for and the salary are just absurd. There’s no way. Then also the assumption that somebody that’s more senior now also magically possesses every skill that is ever existed in marketing ever. Asking somebody like me to not only be a web developer and app developer and understand Adobe and Illustrator and HTML and everything else but also be an expert in the 15 dozen other things that are involved in marketing.
That’s a real issue and I think that the professional organizations in our industry need to do a better job of explaining some of the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing that. Agencies have largely done this to themselves because of that lack of transparency. Coming in and presenting the agency leadership when the interns are doing 90% of the work, so to me, those are those are definitely issues that the industry needs to confront.
Tim: Our second article is from Adweek, why so many CMO’s are leaving major brands for Ad: tech companies? Can you tell us a bit about this article?
Rodger: Yes, when you look at a chief marketing officer and again we alluded to the average marketing person in-house have a lasting nine months. The average CMO was lasting a little bit more over a year and a half, so about 18 months is the average tenure of most CMO’s. I’ve done interim CMO work for clients and businesses over the years and mostly you’re walking into what you just you inherited just a mess. It reminds me of being a GM for a football team where you come in, you’re looking at the personnel, you’re looking at the practices and you’re inheriting all this stuff that the person did just prior to you. Now you want to put your own spin on it and by the time you got it to the point that it’s in action the board is looking at the CEO’s looking at it, you are looking at your staff a lot of it getting pooh-poohed, so that just an incredible level of frustration by these marketing executives at the very highest levels of brand.
It’s is a lot more attractive in my opinion because these folks are creative, they are entrepreneurial, their go-getters, they are hustlers, what a great opportunity to sink your teeth into some of these innovative tech companies and really do some things that create change and in my opinion it’s a lot more fun.
Tim: So, would you say that there’s anything be done about that? If you’re major brand what would your approach to this issue be?
Rodger: At some level, I think just inherent to a big business, to a big brand. There are cautious. They have to be, I mean they’ve got to be very careful. But when you look at certain organizations that have been really creative with their marketing and really done amazing things and let these CMO’s spread their wings, because at the end of the day you don’t want to be taken out of the success fail equation. If you were never allowed to fail how on earth can you succeed? Because basically, `you’re just implementing somebody else’s ideas and at the end of the day even if you’re doing that and it doesn’t work they’ll blame you anyways.
Best to stand up for what it is that you believe in. I think of these boards most boards, most boards and most CEOs are not coming out of the marketing chair, they’re coming out of the financial chair. That needs to shift because if everything revolves around the bottom line the stock price et cetera and then the legalese the financial side it’s really a disservice. The smart brands, the smart big brands are creative with their marketing. They do really clever things and they let marketing lead the charge in establishing trial and establishing brand and that’s how the businesses coming through. You going to see more CMO’s moving into CEO chair.
Tim: Yes, absolutely. We are out of the time. That’s it for the day in Fjord cast. Thanks for joining us today Rodger.
Rodger: Absolutely my pleasure Tim, I appreciate it.
Tim: You bet. You can reach Rodger’s company at theeisenagency.com that’s T-H-E-E-I-S-E-Nagency.com. Thank you our listeners for joining on Fjorgecast. You can download episodes of the program by going to fjorgedigital.com/fjorgecast or subscribe to the show on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and iHeartRadio.
[00:27:10] [END OF AUDIO]