This series was hatched when I wrote if I were an agency today. That's when I set out to discover notable agency blogs. Among the many practitioners I met in the last couple of years, a few stand out for their consistency, generosity, and good work.
I met Lee Odden when the PRSA conference was in Philadelphia a few years ago. We had a chance to get to know each other better when I was speaking at the MIMA 2008 Summit and, most recently, at SxSWi.
How did you come to the decision to start your own company?
Lee: In late 1996 I transitioned careers and started working for a web development company in Minneapolis where I had the opportunity to grow the custom web development and search engine optimization practice to a substantial share of overall revenue. In 2001 I decided to move on and became a partner in a Marketing/PR firm - Misukanis & Odden.
Because I marketed, sold and often times made and supported the web development and marketing services we offered, I realized that I could be doing those things for my own company - even though 2001 was not the best time to start a company with the dot com bubble bursting. Now we have a great team of specialists that I get to learn from and collaborate with every day.
Lee: Yes, Top Rank Marketing was developed as a SEO product from Misukanis & Odden Public Relations, but went on to become the entirety of our current consulting services. We now operate solely as Top Rank Online Marketing. Our digital PR and SEO work folded so well together we decided to merge the staff and practice areas for each into one, unified company and set of services.
As for services we offer today that were part of our consulting mix at the start, Search Engine Optimization was the focus for Top Rank and M&O focused on media relations, direct mail, email, web design, branding and other print work. At that time we did use certain kinds of online PR tactics such as optimizing press releases. We've been using PRWeb for example since 2001 and now we're their SEO agency.
When combining everything under Top Rank Online Marketing, we focused entirely on the digital marketing and PR mix that served our clients best. Traditional PR & media relations isn't a big part of our business as much and we've discontinued any kind of print, design or branding work. Everything we do is focused on pull marketing and PR.
The tactical mix we offer today emphasizes the value of
search marketing including: social media and blogging, online public relations
and email marketing. The direction we've evolved into is a result
of a structure that allows for expertise to continually evolve and change
according to client needs, technology and market trends.
You have been an active participant in many social networks and have direct experience with social media. How much did your direct involvement help you feel you understand its dynamics well enough to explain them to your clients?
Lee: "Walking the talk" with social media has been
instrumental in understanding many aspects of what clients need to know when
undertaking social media efforts. Developing a strategy, tactics and what
to measure along with where to start, how to start, gaining internal support
(budget and hours) and what to do if you fail or succeed are all part of the
insight that comes from in-depth personal social media participation. Being
able to empathize with clients about their concerns and offer advice based on
both personal and consulting experience is invaluable, in my opinion.
I've also found that some clients appreciate that I'm willing to put myself out there and be an industry resource. The blogging I do at Online Marketing Blog and other social participation has helped position our agency as a thought leader and that kind of visibility brings a certain amount of credibility when advice is given.
Lee: Yes, that's right on target. An informed client will get a lot more value from the kind of consulting we provide because they'll appreciate the value of what we're offering, but also because they're better prepared for implementation. Some companies we work with have full time digital marketing teams with SEO and social media staff. We can be very strategic in those situations and offer a mix of roadmap consulting, oversight of implementation and creative insight based on monitoring and analytics.
Most companies do not have the luxury of an in-house digital marketing team though, so as part of our online marketing consulting services, we provide training to help clients perform as many of the day to day SEO and social media marketing tasks as possible. For companies that want to be completely hands off with their SEO and online PR, we're just not a good fit. The client must "own" their social media participation and be involved in the implementation of their content strategy in order to realize the real benefits.
Lee: Even though internal resources may be right on track with social media recommendations, an outside perspective is often useful for validation. It's also beneficial to provide insight as a customer. We've been hired by several companies where we were a customer which brings a perspective very different than from an agency that isn't involved with the client's industry at all.
Building an online marketing strategy that helps build better relationships with customers must involve clear goals and an understanding of what it is that customers need outside of the company's own product or services being sold. Social media listening, network participation, content and feedback mechanisms are key for building meaningful relationships online.
Lee: I think there's a real blending of disciplines that will emerge that is different than "full service" or "niche" agency models now. Also, I've seen networks of independent agencies start to form that provide some opportunity to leverage the collective resources of high touch/service models that may be worth watching.
Lee: Passion for our work, our clients and the industry we work in.
Lee: We work with companies that have a sincere interest and appreciation for digital marketing and PR programs. They are often leading mid-market to large companies in the technology, financial services and health care industries. For some of our specialized practice areas like corporate blogs and online reputation management we've worked with a variety of small businesses.
They primary factors we consider with new clients are:
1. Can we hit a "home run" with the project? Can our services and culture match the client's objectives in the most meaningful way possible?
2. Does it make sense for the client to invest in our services and expect a significant return? Small companies that sell big ticket items are a much better match than small companies that sell low cost consumer goods, for example.
3. Does the client have the resources and perspective to make full use of our services in the long and short term?
We offer client case studies and services information at Top Rank Marketing.
What questions do you have for Lee Odden and Top Rank?
[Lee Odden at SxSWi 2009]