If you’ll indulge me, I am inclined to be personal today. On one hand, this is not a particularly personal blog. On the other hand, it’s a blog. And in any case, perhaps my personal notes will somehow be a useful or interesting view inside the digital marketing world.
Coming and Going
Last summer I left MyHeritage, an online genealogy company based in Tel Aviv, and with offices in Los Angeles and in Lehi, Utah. They moved my Internet marketing job nine time zones eastward to company headquarters, without me. I had been managing large PPC campaigns for them, and for FamilyLink, before MyHeritage bought that company in 2011, for almost four years. The change made some sense from a business perspective; they have a larger PPC team in Tel Aviv (more precisely, in Or Yehuda, a suburb). In Lehi I was the whole PPC team.
I was hoping for at least one more trip to headquarters, though not for headquarters’ sake, I admit. I have seen Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Old Jaffa, and other notable sites, but not yet Galilee or Masada. And I left behind some fine colleagues, with whom I had worked for years. Alas.
I landed at 180fusion in Draper, Utah. 180fusion is focused on the SMB (small-to-medium business) market and specializes in PPC, SEO, and related things. They have a Los Angeles office too, but I did all my work in Draper.
After seven months, today was my last day at 180fusion. I have left to pursue an opportunity at Axis41, a digital marketing company in Salt Lake City. Yesterday I had my exit interview. One of the questions there was, Would I recommend 180fusion to potential clients who need PPC or SEO? (Would I, not will I; the latter might be a conflict of interest, after today.) Either I was asked or I imagined a related question — I was so tired from working to smooth the transition that either is possible — Would I recommend 180fusion to potential employees? The answer to both questions is:
Yes. In a heartbeat.
Awards, Partners, Sound Finances
It’s not so much the awards that have been piling up, but there are plenty of those. Five years into its corporate life, 180fusion is an Inc 500 nominee (#176) — that is, one of the fastest-growing private companies in the US — and one of the top 20 places to work in greater Los Angeles. It’s the fastest-growing private marketing company in Los Angeles, too. All of that is nice, but I’m not sure how much it tells us.
I’m more impressed that the company has grown significantly every year since it began — without venture capital — and has no debt. Having seen 180fusion from the inside, I can begin to appreciate how this has happened: with intelligent, cautious, frugal management — something we would wish to see far more often than we do in the world of business (to say nothing of government).
That sustained rate of growth poses all sorts of challenges — good problems to have, I like to say. I don’t have a detailed schema for making such judgments, but my considered opinion is that 180fusion is ahead of schedule in the maturation of its culture, policies, compensation packages, processes, and other essentials.
It gets better. I worked with multiple levels of management there, from my PPC team leader to the CEO, Scott Cohen. They’re smart and they’re driven, but they’re not driven by personal ego. And the customer-centric ethos that is alive and growing there goes all the way to — in fact, comes from — the top.
180fusion is also one of a relative handful of “elite Google agency partners.” That’s not just a string of fancy words. It’s a useful, productive relationship, which perceptibly improves 180fusion’s ability to serve its clients.
It’s about Helping Businesses Succeed
That effort to serve clients well is concerted and ongoing. Here’s a sample of my evidence — essentially, four similar illustrations of a healthy attitude toward customers. It’s easy to imagine a company where some or all of the following would have landed me in hot water with management, but at 180fusion the following efforts were welcomed:
- We were generating lots of leads for one of my clients through PPC, but the client was having trouble doing anything with them. So I, among others, provided some advice on managing the client life cycle, including generating some effective, properly-timed e-mail messages. (180fusion doesn’t do e-mail marketing, but some of us there had done it before.) We helped the client develop one or two of those first life-cycle e-mail messages. Some managers would have been upset that we didn’t negotiate a higher fee first, but the focus there really is on helping the client succeed.
- One client’s web site was particularly poor at converting clicks into customers, but we were having trouble convincing the client that the problems were serious. Over a period of a few weeks, I spent dozens of hours — mostly on my own time, after hours and on weekends — analyzing the client’s web site in comparison to dozens of other web sites in the same industry. I prepared a substantial presentation to document and explain what we were seeing, and to teach the client to see it. 180fusion has a Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) service, which this client had not purchased. It’s easy to imagine my getting spanked for doing that much work simply as part of a PPC management contract, without an additional fee for CRO. But again, the emphasis at 180fusion is on doing what needs to be done to help the customer.
- Developing product feeds and creating shopping ad campaigns (or PLAs, product listing ads) is also an additional service at 180fusion. If an e-commerce client doesn’t buy the service up front, we try to up-sell eventually. I had a client for whom nothing else was working, so I requested information for ten important products at a time (from a much larger inventory), and I built a feed and the necessary shopping ad campaigns. I agreed to add ten more products every week or two. Ideally, this would lead eventually to an up-sell. In the meantime, it was part of an ongoing effort to help the client’s business succeed, and management encouraged the extra effort.
- I’m an experienced writer and editor. Sometimes we see web sites where the writing is actively harming conversions (leads or sales), or at least constitutes a missed opportunity to increase conversions. 180fusion has a team of content writers and sells their services to clients, but again I was welcome to do some of this without an additional contract, because the emphasis was on doing whatever we could to help the client’s business succeed — even if some of what we did was beyond our official job descriptions, beyond the terms of our current contract with the client, and technically part of services the client had not purchased.
You and I both know that some businesses try to do as little as possible for their customers; I have worked for one or two of those, unfortunately. (I have not named them in this post.) And we know that a lot of marketing is just hype. By contrast, one of my favorite things about 180fusion is that focusing on the customer is not just talk. There is an ongoing effort to help the client’s business succeed.
Granted, it’s not altruism. In the long run, companies which treat customers exceptionally well tend to survive and flourish.
At 180fusion there is also a welcome emphasis on transparency. Some digital marketing (SEM) consultants and agencies keep their strategies secret, thinking that they’re better off if the client is in the dark. Some lock the clients out of their own accounts. 180fusion takes the opposite approach.
Sometimes this comes back to bite them. I developed a strategy for a client which was virtually certain to increase revenue and profits considerably over the next several months. Shortly thereafter, the client cancelled our contract. I believe — I cannot prove — that the client decided to execute our strategy without us. But I — and most other serious professionals in the field, I think — would much rather work for an agency which values transparency and other sound and ethical practices. There are too many black hats in PPC and especially SEO, using bad practices to produce quick results, irrespective of long-term harm to the client. 180fusion spends a lot of time helping clients clean up their marketing and their reputations, after they’ve hired and fired agencies like that.
There are some PPC and SEO gurus at 180fusion, and that’s important. It’s even more important that they wear white hats to work.
The Heart of the Matter
Leaving 180fusion for another opportunity is the right thing for me to do at this point in my career. But it’s not easy to leave a healthy, intelligent, customer-focused company. And there’s something that has made doing so even harder in this case.
When people ask me what I value most in a job, I tend to answer that I love working with smart, interesting, hard-working professionals who are driven to serve and learn and improve. My colleagues at 180fusion, including my PPC team as well as other departments, have proven to be as delightful — personally and professionally — as any group of colleagues I have encountered. They are smart, creative, hard-working, and collegial, with the expert’s devotion to continual learning. They’re also fun and interesting.
My new colleagues are similar in these ways, I think, so I am fortunate indeed. But as to the old, one does not separate oneself from such associates eagerly or with a light heart.
All of the above explains my answer to the two questions with which I (more or less) began. If I were a PPC professional considering attaching myself to an agency, or if I were the owner of a small business who wanted to find a team of digital marketing experts to help my business grow, I would do well to ally my interests with 180fusion.