Whitney Lee, founder of Soicallee PR and Digital Media, partnered with our co-founders Mollie Kehoe and Lynn Browne in a conversation surrounding How to Maximize Paid Media.
The Sociallee relevant podcast is a resource to give listeners clarity, ideas and inspiration that they can actually apply to marketing their business. We’re breaking down all the details of the conversation in a way that’s fun and easy to understand, giving listeners tangible ways to take action.
What is your zone of genius?
[Mollie] We’re a tech platform that has an agency component. We focus on paid media, so we really help brands and clients with their media strategy, everything from understanding how to get into paid media, execute, and then we run and negotiate and then optimize all paid media for them. Our expertise really is e-commerce, retail, CPG, and we do everything for these guys from paid search social all the way to influencer podcasts, TV, radio.
How did you guys meet and get the business started?
[Lynn] Instead of meeting in our professional lives, we actually met on the first day of college on the same dorm floor and became best friends since then. We serendipitously found ourselves on opposite sides of the advertising industry in New York. I spent my career on the buying side, doing agency side, media buying and planning, while Molly was always on the sales side so we worked together in that capacity. We found we were both complaining about similar aspects of our industry and of our job so that’s really what caused us to find the technology in the first place. That tool we use to run the agency side of the business day in and day out, made the process for buying and planning media much, much faster and cut out some of those pain points that we both were experiencing previously.
Do you guys use the technology you created or do you sell that out to other people to use it themselves?
[Lynn] We do both but initially it was built for others. So the way it works is it’s a marketplace for media owners or publishers who are selling. They pay a small subscription fee to list what they have to sell, who they are, sort of think of it as a marketing channel for sales organizations, and then buyers and brands can use it pretty much for free. You know, for them it’s an on demand resource. Rather than needing to send out a bunch of emails to figure out who the right partner might be, they can log into our platform and find potential partners within a few clicks, learn more about them, send a message, and book a meeting instantly. What we found over the last several years is that there were clients who weren’t ready for super big agencies that are used by brands that have millions of dollars in media spend, but weren’t big enough where their budget needed additional expertise from someone in the media space. They needed to have someone with that expertise around negotiation and around media channel strategy and how different channels impact others, which is where BrandVerge steps in. There’s a lack of transparency when it comes to the agency and client relationship that we’ve completely broken down. Our model is to always work with our clients as part of their team. We want to do things on their terms rather than doing things on our own terms so that it will be a little bit more scalable.
So if somebody came to you today and said, Hey, I own this whatever company, an HVAC company, and I need to bring in more people, like where do you even begin?
[Lynn] The first thing that we would do is ask a whole bunch more questions, right? What we’ll do is we’ll take that initial information and then on our end, we’ll internalize that, write down all of the questions that we have in order to be able to give a sound strategy and then have a discovery meeting. From there, we’ll map out in several steps everything from foundational strategic framework all the way to tactical planning. I think in terms of getting started, the biggest piece for us is always doing a really deep analysis on what that client has already done to date, making sure that we are learning and absorbing all of the learnings they already have on their own or from historical partners they’ve worked with in the past. That way we’re building off of the same base. We’re not burning things down and building totally new. Instead, what we’re doing is helping them evolve into the next step based on what their goals are.
How does BrandVerge and other PR groups work together?
[Mollie] We work with PR groups along with organic social branding agencies so we’re really big on collaboration in terms of leveraging other forms of marketing to help raise brand awareness. We believe marrying other forms of marketing along with organic social or community outreach is crucial because PR can only do so much as can paid media. Paid media and certain aspects can lead to more organic search. Organic social can lead people into stores to purchase PR, and can make people aware of the brand which drives them to your social pages. So they all really are important components that need to play together and we do a lot of that for clients and then lean on partners like yourselves who can help in areas that we do not have the expertise totally.
What are your thoughts on leveraging client expectations and their desire for so-called “instant gratification?”
[Mollie] I think a lot of brands and clients who are new to the space are weary of spending money, so they just want to spend a little or no money to hope to get large results. And in marketing, not only is it one of those things where it might take several months to see the results of the output that you’re putting from social or PR or paid media, but it’s also one of those things where we strongly feel you have to spend money to make money. So I think that’s a lot of education. You obviously don’t want people to be spending without seeing results but there is sort of a threshold where you need to spend a little bit to see those results versus expecting miracles. So I think there is a lot of education that sort of goes with time. It takes as well as putting the necessary money behind it to see the results you want to see.
Do you think that there are any forms of media that you think are dying?
[Lynn] That’s a really tough question and I think the answer is yes, but it’s sort of situational, right? So in broad terms, I would say certain aspects of print, like magazines, are tricky. There’s just not a lot of traction in the way there has been, which is interesting because I did a lot of magazine buying and planning. When I first started my career, that was a big component for a lot of my CPG clients. That has waned big time and the reason for that is because people aren’t choosing to get magazines at their home anymore. That’s why I think it’s hard to say that any given media is totally dying because there is a world in which you’re sitting in the doctor’s office, you peruse a magazine here and there. So maybe there is strategically a time period or a specific client where magazines do make sense but I would say in broad terms, that’s one that, for us, has kind of fallen off our radar in terms of importance. Back in the day, magazines and newspapers were seen as very high reach vehicles. I would say now they’re a little bit more specific. So it’s going after a certain demographic who still value those media types rather than going after the masses which has been replaced by things like social media and search, which is just so much more of a day to day place where consumers are going to consume media to find answers and ideas.
What is BrandVerge’s competitive advantage compared to larger media agencies?
[Lynn] One of the benefits that we always say to working with us is that we’re highly specialized, highly bespoke agency. Obviously there are media agencies out there who are so huge and manage so much budget that they’re for things like broadcast TV so it’s just going to make more sense to go with a bigger agency once you have a certain budget level. But the benefit that you get from us is we embrace the gray. In order to get the work done and out the door it needs to be simple and things need to scale. At a small agency like ours, we can take a super bespoke approach to each and every client that we handle so every single strategy that we do is an extension of that client’s business thinking less than it is us taking stuff we’ve done for other clients, or taking frameworks that we have internally and then applying it to a new client. It’s really something that we take those areas of uncertainty, those areas of sort of nuance and lean into them for each of our clients.
Are there any words of advice you would give somebody that have never engaged a paid media agency before and/or maybe are trying to do it themselves at first and don’t have the budget to hire a big agency?
[Lynn] I would say if you’re within an organization and you’re looking to start diving into paid media and you do have a bit more wiggle room to work with someone like us, for example, we’re a small agency who’s rates are pretty affordable and we also take a really flexible approach to how we price. It’ll really be based on the scope so reaching out to an agency like us, typically that first meeting will be pretty informative and it will give you a sense of whether or not it’s going to be a fit for you to work with an agency or whether or not you should go the freelancer route. The other thing sort of more grassroots that I would always recommend is if you have a sense of what type of marketing you’re looking to do or what type of media you’re looking to invest in, whether it’s search ads or social media or let’s say you are a hyperlocal brand and you’re looking you’re considering newspaper advertising, get in touch with the sales people. It’s their job to help educate their potential customers and get them up to speed on the benefits.
[Mollie] I also think another good thing to consider is looking at other brands that you admire and what they’re doing from a paid marketing perspective. I think when you enter into a space that you’re unsure of a lot of times people gravitate towards buzzwords. I should be doing search, I should be doing Facebook, I should be doing, you know, whatever it might be. But really, at the end of the day, you’re selling your product or you want people to become aware of your brand, right? You’re selling to people. So think about what you like and what has caused you to actually go through and research a product or purchase a product. What was that touchpoint for you? And then also looking at brands that you admire and understanding, “hey, what touchpoints are they using to get a customer through their cycle to lens point?” An agency is going to then be able to help you say, okay, that being said, we should start here and then layer here. But at the end of the day, you’re a person and you kind of know what has caused you to buy a product or what has made you think, “hey, this looks interesting.” So it’s also kind of taking that into consideration whenever you’re thinking about marketing, not doing something because you’ve heard it, but thinking about what’s worked for you in the past as a consumer.
Is there a mistake in paid media that you see businesses making a lot?
[Lynn] I think in the last 10-15 years, there’s a lot of what started as Challenger direct to consumer brands that embraced digital first performance based paid media and grew exponentially because of that approach, so that established brands started to lean into the same tactics and same strategies. What’s interesting is that as those companies evolve they now need to start folding into and breaking out into not just prioritizing the low funnel. Changing the way that you do things is really uncomfortable. So the mistake I would say is having companies that are focusing too much on the results, in other words, companies that are thinking only of paid media as a way to go by customers. But another aspect of it is to go make your category bigger. Go make your brand bigger. Go make the people who are going to consider purchasing bigger and infuse volume into your business. You have to put enough emphasis on the full funnel and really support each phase of it and really just focus on that bottom funnel and the performance base piece of it.
What percentage of a brands income should be spend on paid media?
[Mollie] I don’t know if there’s a black and white answer for that, but I went to a conference a couple of weeks ago and one of the speakers said 40% of net income and I was like clutching my pearls. I was like, that’s aggressive. I mean, again, I don’t know what business they’re in. So I think it depends on a lot of factors, which probably isn’t the answer people want to hear. But right now, for example, we’re working with the client in the CPG space, and this is exactly what we’re focusing on. It’s understanding the budget for paid media for next year and I think one of the big things you have to look at is what are your sales goals. So if you have a sales goal of 100 million, what do we need to spend to get to that revenue sales pool? A lot of that’s going to come into understanding where we’re spending the money, how many impressions we can get, and understanding of all those impressions. So it is super nuanced for some clients, it might be 40%, for some clients, it might be higher, or for some clients it might be lower. So it all really depends on what your goals are and then where are we spending money to reach those goals?
Is there a specific industry you see the most success with or you like working with the most?
[Mollie] We like working with all clients, but historically where we’ve found our niche has been e-commerce and CPGs. So a lot of clients who are DTC, a mix of data, theater, and retail tend to be in the CPG space as well, sort of like the product space.
If somebody wants to connect with you guys, what’s the best way?
Our website is gobrandverge.com and you can reach out to us through that site. We have a ton of case studies that showcase success we’ve had with past clients across all different types of verticals. So if you have any questions or looking for advice, just reach out and we’ll close the loop!