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Outside Insight: Take Your Own Advice and Cut Fluff

Kate Morganelli of The Morganelli Agency.

Getting into national trade magazines like Nation’s Restaurant News and QSR Magazine means plumbing depths of the restaurant industry you didn’t know existed. Public relations people at the restaurant companies can either be your best friends or your worst nightmares.

If you want to get more press coverage, you should know that we journalists do remember who was easy to work with and who wasn’t. I met Kate Morganelli when she was working at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit and was completely impressed. She was friendly, responsive, and worked behind the scenes to set up interviews with principals so I could get my stories filed. Not only did I end up including Dickey’s in more stories than I would have otherwise, I could tell Kate was going places. When she left for the Fossil Group and then started her own agency I had the feeling it was going to be successful.

And how. What she started with her husband as a “side hobby” turned into a full-fledged agency with hundreds of clients ranging from small shops to national businesses. The Morganelli Agency covers industries from chiropractic to dentist to milk producers to childcare. Kate and I talked the other day about marketing and she had some strong insights that I want to share with you.

Take Your Own Medicine

Can you really trust a fat fitness coach or a barber with bad hair? Kate says that even though word of mouth has become her agency’s primary source of businesses, they also practice the same techniques they use with their own clients.

“Everything we offer to our clients is something we believe in ourselves,” Kate says.

Only 3% of B2B companies use marketing automation, which drives a 451% increase in qualified leads. You can count the Morganelli Agency among that 3%. Their customized program, TMA360, helps with lead scoring, behavior tracking, automated email and more. They use it internally and also allow their clients to use it.

With print, social, web and in-person, this campaign outperformed single channel campaigns.

They also use targeted print campaigns. Kate says that print really isn’t dead, and for some segments of the market it’s still a powerful lead driver. Attached here is a campaign for a school client that had social, online, in-center, and print components. The print portion went to homes with the right age and income for the client. It directed people back to the landing page specific to the campaign with a unique offer.

Total traffic and average length of time on the specific landing page was the largest the client had ever seen and even beat out the client’s own homepage for the duration of the campaign. Interest in school tours went up during the campaign.

Kate believes not only in a multi-touch approach, but making it very clear to clients what the results are so they understand why it makes sense to retain her agency.

“There are tons of us out there,” Kate says. “What we’re doing is going to make [our clients] successful, and [we] make sure they understand it.”

Outsource The Lean Way

Having full-time employees provides for stability, but outsourcing can be a more cost effective way of getting the best people. I personally prefer the flexibility of scaling up and down project by project. I was a contractor for PureDriven, a digital marketing firm that works with Play It Again Sports, Plato’s Closet, Music Go Round, and other franchisees. It’s a booming company and nearly all the work is done by subcontractors.

The Morganelli Agency is similar in that it only has 3 employees but has a large number of contractors. I think Kate’s hiring strategy is interesting and I’m not sure if she’s even conscious of what she’s doing. She says it’s “all about personality” and wants people who are determined, goal-driven, entrepreneurial and do “everything 150%”. Essentially she’s hiring mini-Kates! She says that after someone has worked with her for a while they may want to launch their own agency. Sound familiar? It’s obviously a good strategy and it fits the natural bent we have towards hiring in our own image.

In my agency I hire mini-Roberts—people who take ownership of projects, get the work done, resolve roadblocks on their own, and report back to me with the results. It’s how my first boss (who herself probably liked to hire mini-Wendys) thought so naturally it’s how I ended up thinking.

This really does show how important an executive’s personality is in shaping a company, because you end up hiring, firing, and promoting on your values.

Cut Through Fluff and Watch The Red Flags

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Even though the competition for market share is fiercer the large a company gets and it’s harder to organize a large group than a small one, I’ve noticed less defeatism and more efficient meetings at $10 million plus companies compared to their smaller peers.

Kate caught something I haven’t been on the conference circuit long enough to notice, and I’m glad she told me because now I know what to watch for. (I am going to the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit in New York City this March 21 and 22 if anyone wants to grab coffee!)

“These bigger conferences can be a little fluffy,” she said. “I honestly believe in local first.”

The way she explained it there’s a bit of a conference complex, where you have the charismatic speaker who hits the road and repeats the same spiel over and over. It makes sense you’d see this with national speakers because in the coaching and consulting worlds there are a LOT of hammy, pre-packaged platitudes that don’t really bring you much value. In contrast, Kate finds local events (she lives in the Dallas area) are filled with business owners and entrepreneurs who actually have to produce results if they want to stay in business. It’s a “feet on the ground” perspective that is easier to work with if you’re in the business of making tangible changes.

While we’re on the subject of puncturing bubbles, Kate is also wary of those businesspeople who think they don’t need marketing to begin with. At discovery meetings she’s particularly leery of anyone who makes comments to the extent that they don’t really “need” to market, or who is dishonest about the state of their business. She’s turned away business from people with those attitudes, which frankly is their loss rather than hers.

I think the takeaway here is that if you don’t have your marketing nailed down, you should take a humble approach. Prima donna clients self-select for bad agencies because the good ones don’t want to work with you. Once you end up with a bad fit, it will further sour you on agencies, and the dysfunctional cycle continues.

You have the right to results, and good agencies will be transparent. But when you start off with the posture that everyone’s out to rip you off, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Make sure you’re getting your money’s worth but don’t start out with a chip on your shoulder!