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EP 8 - Marketing Origins: Ad Guy Turns Entrepreneur

March 15, 2018

EP 8 - Marketing Origins: Ad Guy Turns Entrepreneur
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Marketing Made Sense EP 8 - Origins: Ad Guy Turns Entrepreneur - In this Episode Ryan gives the synopsis of his marketing career. From ad agency life to the challenges of being an entrepreneur Ryan shares his unique perspective and what he learned along the way. Ryan also shares his car business background and how he was doing digital retail for cars before it became cool.


Marketing Made Sense EP 8 - Origins: Ad Guy Turns Entrepreneur - In this Episode Ryan gives the synopsis of his marketing career. From ad agency life to the challenges of being an entrepreneur Ryan shares his unique perspective and what he learned along the way. Ryan also shares his car business background and how he was doing digital retail for cars before it became cool.

Transcript

Ryan Alford [00:00:07] Hey, guys! What's happening? I thought I would do something a little different on today's podcast. I have a little break here. I've been traveling a lot for work and had a little downtime traveling back from a client TV shoot. It's still TV being produced, believe it or not. It's still medium, folks. As much digital work as we do at the agency we still do a handful of TV shoots and traditional clients as well. I am doing some stuff for Audi and being an Audi fanboy it is right up my alley. The RS7 is on my wish list and so it was cool making that happen. But I wanted to do something a little different today with the podcast and talk a little bit about the title of the podcast.

The title is Marketing Made Sense. Why did marketing make sense to me? Why did I go down this path and what was that journey like? I've walked several paths in my marketing career which started pretty early. I was an advertising major at Clemson University and right out of school, I started at the ad agency Erwan Penland in Greenville, which is now EP and Co., a very successful southeastern agency. We were the largest agency in the state of South Carolina when I started, even in two thousand and one. I started on Verizon Wireless. We had a very small portion of Verizon's retail business. They divided their business into areas and regions. And we had part of the retail business, which essentially meant store-level marketing support, grand openings, outdoor, everything that supported the local store level marketing. And I came on as a junior account executive for that business and did that for a couple of years, doing and learning the ropes of really how to manage clients, how to manage marketing budgets. I wouldn't even throw in strategy into that as it was more a very tactical marketing role right out of school. I learned a lot and kind of got my feet wet, so to speak, on what it meant to be a professional. What it meant to do marketing for a living and have a client rely on you. And I think if I learned anything, it was really about the relationship between client and agency and this service mentality. And I think that's where I found the sweet spot.

I've always been a service-driven marketer. I take great pleasure and interest in serving others and making those marketing needs happen. I started at a tactical level and I was promoted probably five times over my thirteen years at Erwan Penland. I had several roles there and also a lot of opportunities. Ewan Penland is a very entrepreneurial and very organically driven company, and I took advantage of the opportunities that were available there. We made a lot of great client relationships at Verizon Wireless and we were lucky enough, with the help of several key individuals, to grow that business from about four million dollars in agency revenue over 12 years to about forty-five million annually. Revenue was probably actually higher, but agency fee alone was in the forty million dollar range at its peak, which is just incredible for a small southeastern agency that grew and you don't see that kind of agency retainers come around any longer. But having relationships and being service-driven and we were a very service-driven agency. And if I harp on anything it is, and I talk about this; as is many things that have changed it is still about relationships and I've done some talks and podcasts and some things on the anchor talking about relationships. But relationships still are what drive business and spending that extra time earning the trust of your clients. It will get you just as far as another tactic or another idea or things like that. 

Some of that stuff is becoming commoditized, but great service. And ultimately where I'm headed with this strategy is what separates the cream from the crop within the advertising business. I spent 12 years at Erwan Penland. I moved to Manhattan in the late two thousand and nine and spent three years there working on larger pieces of the Verizon business- point of sale, NFL business, and sports sponsorship activation. I had a team that did all of the in-store merchandising for Verizon Wireless’s national footprint. And we did retail. At our peak, we were one of their secondary agency. Verizon spends a billion dollars a year on advertising. They have probably 20 agencies on their roster. And we were one of several agencies that were involved. We were always pushing the brand agency, which was McCann at one time, then became McGeary Bowen. I think that's changed hands several times, but we were always pushing on them and getting opportunities, whether that was with the Droid launch or Tessman, if anyone remembers, he's now with Sprint. The irony there of working with Tessman and seeing him now at Sprint is humorous. 

I spent several years working as a retail agency doing the store driving activity. Doing the things that we like to say ultimately kept the doors open, selling more phones and plans. And it's one thing to be the brand agency and come up with all the big TV shoot ideas and all that. And then we did retail television on a more tactical level and we officially put the demise on the newspaper business. We were spending fifty million dollars at its peak in print advertising across the nation and media buys if not higher. And that was probably in six months. It is well over one hundred million dollars in print advertising. And with that alone, I think we probably put the dagger in, as that faded and went away over our tenure. We did radio and out of home and all of those mediums started to roll a little bit towards the digital spectrum. As much as everyone thinks that is happening and the pace has been fast, it was a slow burn for a lot of those medium changes.

I did that and worked on some other businesses periodically with the agency. I did new business pitches as was needed. It was so interesting when I told the story of my background. Verizon was so large with so many budgets and so many clients, it was almost like having an agency within an agency that worked on that business. And the client and the variety of work that we did for them was almost like having different clients and different business units because what you would do for retail advertising and print and all of the radio or a TV spot. And then when you would work on sports sponsorship activation or an NFL activation or everything that came with contract negotiation and leveraging all of the assets that Verizon had, it was really like wearing completely different hats and doing almost like a completely different line of client or business unit. I really kind of grew up and learned within all of those. But being in an agency, you would get pulled into different pitches and different opportunities. I had teammates and I worked with some local stuff like Greenville Drive, which is the local minor league baseball state team here in Greenville. That has been terrific for the city and has been highly successful. I worked on their account and had a couple of teammates that reported to me at the time who also worked on firehouse subs.

So I dabbled in that just a little bit. And then again, you never knew when a pitch or something you'd get your hands dirty, on any number of clients that would come along, primarily over the 12 to 13 years I was working on Verizon business. In two thousand and nine, they requested that someone move to Manhattan or the New York area or the New Jersey area. At this time Verizon had rolled up all of its marketing resources to Basking Ridge. And so with my relationships, I was tapped to go there. I did want the opportunity and was appreciative of that and moved to Manhattan for about three years, always keeping a home here in Greenville. I got to do the Manhattan thing for three to four years and I cut my teeth there among some of the best talents in the ad game. I was working with the likes of McGeary, Bowen, AKQA, RGA Momentum, and the who's who of agencies. We worked with them on Verizon’s business and we partnered with them on different initiatives. I got to see the New York side of advertising working with those agencies and working with clients on that level.

That was probably three to four years, leading up to about twenty thirteen when I left Erwan Penland. After which I had a couple of opportunities directly back in the agency world. Once you're in the agency business it's hard to leave because you enjoy it and you have that pull. And you also have opportunities because agencies want to hire agency people. I had several opportunities but I wanted to get back to Greensville and that's when I started talking with a friend, who would soon become a business partner, about a concept of digital retail for the automotive space. And thus I was born in late 2013 and early 2014.

I Drive on Demand was essentially an online platform for shoppers to come and custom order the exact pre owned car they want. It was skewed towards luxury. This is all the rage now. I am working back in the automotive space and this is all I hear about and I'm like; “I have been doing this since I was twenty thirteen”. It was fascinating. I'd always been a car guy. I'd always loved cars, but never knew I would do business in the car business. I started it from scratch and opened a store in Greenville. My business partner had a store in Jacksonville and we brought this concept to life. I did everything from the original branding, to the technology and the marketing side. A lot of what I felt at the time were forward-thinking marketing initiatives. I started a radio show around the concept called I Drive Live, as well as doing a call-in show. It was a radio show, but it was also a call-in show, and people would call in and ask questions. And so I try to blend that content of not only cars but trying to provide education and road-building off the brand. 

Being the epicenter, we felt like we were changing the game in the car business. And so we wanted to leverage that position into being helpful and providing transparency for customers to learn about the ins and outs of the business. So I built a media platform around that called ‘I Drive Live’. We did a podcast. We did a weekly radio show and it was successful. I learned a ton about building content and building media. This was in twenty fourteen and that was my first real go at a podcast. And so the discipline there and what you have to do to build content and leverage and atomize it in all the places that you can distribute it. And so did that while building the brand for I Drive on Demand and at the same time I was selling cars and servicing cars because we did both.  I learned the car business has a lot of acronyms, the DMS and the CMR to everything in between. I learned all of those while also learning how to lose my rear end on car deals. It was rough going at the start.  You always think you're a good businessman and get in the car business and suddenly everyone becomes a shark when they're between houses and cars, and people want to negotiate. 

If anything turned me gray over my three years in the car business, it was dealing with people and negotiating over cars. Dealers historically get a bad name. But I tell you what, versus just the average consumer and what they expect and what they want in the car deals, I got a new appreciation for the average car dealer, having been on the other side of it. Having always been a car guy owning a lot of cars, I now understood the trials and tribulations of being a dealer and trying to make consumers happy. So those were the things I did not enjoy about the car business and what I did enjoy was bringing to life and being that true entrepreneurial spirit. A lot of the stuff in the content that I want the podcast to be, is talking about family businesses, about entrepreneurs. I think the fine line between entrepreneurism, marketing, and sales and, I lived and breathed it. 

I started the LLC and I turned it into an S corporation. I did it for three and a half years and learned a ton about automotive and systems. I learned about the process of going to an auction. I did all of my buying personally, through online auctions and Manheim and ADESA, and brought a lot of the forward-thinking tools to life in a smaller dealership network. We were doing seven figures in revenue, selling just about one hundred and twenty cars between both stores per month. It was successful. And it was a really interesting period in my career from blending all that I had learned from marketing with all the education that I had had in real-time in the agency world and then kind of learning about businesses as I went over that three and a half year period. I ultimately landed that plane in all transparency and it was a rocky landing. We had a slow fourth quarter in twenty sixteen and I was kind of worn out. It was a lot of running your own business. I needed to take on additional funding to kind of keep the plane afloat and to bring to life some of the technologies that you're seeing now from companies. I could have gone out and gotten money and loans and different things but I decided I didn't want to be an operator.

I was a marketer first and a car dealer for about 50 seconds. I did not enjoy the transactional nature of the business. And if I had a partner where I didn't have to be involved in that and could do the marketing and had the right investor at the right time, it might have been a different story. But I was anxious to get back to my roots, which is when I met Robert Donovan through a friend who was working there, and our creative director, Mike Weston. So I met Robert and he hired me. I became the chief marketing officer, which is what I am now, the CMO at Dom369. We are an automotive-focused, full-service agency. We started digital 11 years ago and now we serve clients in and out of automotive. And what's interesting, having been on the agency side, most agencies started traditional and in the last five to 10 years are adding in digital but if you try to hire a couple of folks, they will say they are full service. 

What's great about Dom360 is we started digital. And with people like me and others, we've added in traditional capability to be full service. And I think that's the sweet spot because digital comes naturally to us and that's where the budgets are moving ultimately. So it's been a national trend and a natural transition for us.  I am the chief marketing officer at Dom360, what does that mean? Well, I do business development. I do all the marketing that we do, in inward and outward content, as well as overseeing the strategic pillar for several of our large accounts. We are a seventy-five-person agency between an office in Greenville and an office in Boca Raton. And when you have a medium-sized agency and you're in a senior leadership position, you wear a lot of different hats. And I do.  I'll get pulled in to be a strategic thought leader for a client issue. I'll get brought in if we're doing a TV shoot and we need an extra. I can run a television shoot. I've worn creative hats. I've worn strategy hats and my bread and butter, what I grew up in, on the account management side. And so I kind of leverage all of those. I develop some content of my own. If you're following any of my other stuff, you've probably seen that. So I can do graphic design and video editing. I am self-taught on that so I wouldn't say I'm at the professional level, but I know enough to be dangerous.

I think in today's world where content development and content management and content deployment are at such a premium, I think having that skill set is really what I would encourage people to do. If you're out there listening and you fall into one of these realms, whether it's sales or marketing or you're great at business or accounting, I would encourage you to learn the creative side and the content development side. Teach yourself those things because they will come in handy. Being in an agency role it has come in handy for me, but it will also come in handy from your branding standpoint. 

 I think that's where I'll close today's podcast, bringing it full circle with my content and what I ultimately do, which is now working. I've got a full-time day job, but I'm also doing content development for my brand. And I think as we all think about ways that we can do personal improvement and we can learn more and do things that will ultimately help us both in work and outside of work. In your projects, I would encourage you to learn about what it takes to develop your brand and the tools that are available to you. Whether that's starting a podcast like this. Whether it’s learning design and having a killer Instagram page. There are so many mediums out there and so many tools available to us. I would encourage you to kind of learn those. I will be bringing those tools to life throughout the podcast and talking about more of them.

I wanted this to be more concise on my background. I didn't want to get too micro. I wanted to keep it on a macro level at least. So everyone knows who this guy is and what gives him the right to talk about marketing. Well, I've done it and I  did it from many levels. From the agency side to my business, my brand, and then agency stuff and multi-level clients. I appreciate everyone listening and being a part of this journey. And I look forward to some of the great guests that are going to be coming up on some of our newest stuff. I'm excited about the content. I will announce that here in days and weeks to come. 

Thanks so much, guys.