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Paul Roetzer is founder and CEO of PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency specializing in public relations, content marketing, search marketing and social media.
PR 20/20 was the first partner in HubSpot‘s value-added reseller (VAR) program, which now includes more than 500 certified firms. The agency also was the inspiration behind Roetzer’s book, The Marketing Agency Blueprint (Wiley), which serves as a handbook for building tech-savvy, hybrid agencies that are more efficient and consistently deliver greater value to clients.
Prior to launching PR 20/20 in 2005, Roetzer, a graduate of Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, spent six years as a consultant and vice president at a traditional public relations agency. In 2010, he was recognized by Smart Business with an Innovation in Business Rising Star award.
MO: What influenced you to launch your own marketing agency instead of staying with established firm? Why take the risk?
Paul: In February 2004, I came to the life-changing realization that the marketing-agency model was broken. Although I was only four years into my career, a number of contributing factors had become obvious to me:
• Billable hours were inefficient at best. Professionals were more worried about meeting hour quotas than delivering the level of service and quality needed to produce measurable results for clients.
• There was little differentiation between firms, and a lack of innovation within the industry.
• Training and education were stagnant. Firms and universities were teaching the same systems, principles, and services that had been applied for decades.
• Request for proposals (RFPs) were a waste of time and energy, for both clients and agencies.
• Standard measurement systems, such as press clippings, impressions, reach, ad equivalency, and PR value were meaningless, and they had no real connection to bottom-line results.
The industry was ripe for disruption, and I was young and motivated enough to take a chance. In essence, I believed there was a better way, and I refused to let myself live with the regret that I was not willing to fail.
MO: Why did you feel it was necessary to alter the set pricing structure traditionally used by marketing agencies? Have other companies started to follow your lead?
Paul: There is a certain mystery to billable hours and agency services. Clients are not always sure exactly what they are getting or what it costs. This works for agencies because billable hours are an imperfect mix of art and science, and as long as the agency produces results, clients are happy.
However, there are times when things do not go so smoothly. Invoices are more closely scrutinized, and the agency scrambles to demonstrate some meaningful and measurable impact they had. Even though both sides entered the engagement with the best of intentions, the relationship becomes tenuous, and time and energy that should be focused on producing outcomes is diverted to saving the account.
This scenario, which played out continuously over my first five years in the industry, was a primary motivating factor in my desire to create a different agency model.
I became obsessed with the idea of making services tangible with clearly defined costs, features, and benefits, almost like buying a product off a retail shelf or signing up for a software service. My theory was that if clients understood exactly what they were getting and agreed ahead of time what it was worth, then we could remove the mystery from the equation and focus on delivering value and results.
My solution was to standardize services, and apply set prices based on a number of variables. I believed it was possible to achieve economies of scale in the production and delivery of services, much like a manufacturing company does with products. If we could lower the cost of services over time by improving efficiency, then, in theory, we could increase profits, possibly even above industry benchmarks.
The guiding principle was that set prices had to be value based, meaning they were to be determined based on perceived and actual value rather than the number of billable hours something takes to complete.
While we always tweak and evolve the pricing model, it has worked well for our clients, and we are starting to see more marketing agencies move to alternative pricing structures.
MO: How did your company serve as inspiration enough for you to write an entire book about your insights and experiences working there?
Paul: The first five years of the agency’s existence I spent most of my time trying to stay under the radar in the industry. We were experiencing strong growth (nearly 500% from 2006-2010), in large part driven by our unique approach to services and pricing, and I had no desire to share what we had learned through our years of trial and error.
Then, in October 2009, I wrote a blog post titled, Does Inbound Marketing Really Work? It was one of the first times I publicly shared intimate details about what we were building at PR 20/20, and how we had partnered with HubSpot, a fast-growing Internet marketing software company, to evolve our services and drive greater results for clients.
As I said in that post, there are times when all of us have to step outside of our comfort zone in order to advance an idea.
Writing the book was a continuation of that philosophy, which has become a way of life for me. The book was a daunting undertaking, and quite honestly, not something I had planned to do at this point in my career. Plus, giving other agencies the knowledge and tools to build stronger, more competitive businesses seems somewhat ludicrous on the surface.
But it was the right thing to do. I believe the book and supporting resources will help entrepreneurs build their agencies and futures, stimulate a more open and collaborative agency ecosystem, and contribute to the inevitable transformation of an industry.
MO: Can you tell our readers a bit about The Marketing Agency Academy Blueprint series that you’ve just launched?
Paul: The Blueprint Series is an interactive five-part webinar program built for agency leaders and freelance professionals who are looking to transform and thrive in the coming age of marketing services.
The series was conducted live every Wednesday in February 2012 through GoToWebinar. Registration included live webinar attendance, access to on-demand recordings, session resources (slide decks, worksheets and template forms), and a signed copy of The Marketing Agency Blueprint. Each session is a deep dive into concepts and processes from The Marketing Agency Blueprint. The five sessions are as follows, and are available on-demand for $495.:
• Session 1—Hybrid Professionals: How to Recruit, Train and Retain Top Agency Talent
• Session 2—Agency Infrastructure: How to Build to Scale and Prepare for Perpetual Change
• Session 3—Services & Pricing: How to Grow with Integrated Services and Value-Based Pricing
• Session 4—The Agency GamePlan: How to Market Your Brand and Sell Your Services
• Session 5—Performance & Purpose: How to Deliver Results and Unlock Your Agency’s Potential
MO: What keeps you motivated and inspired?
Paul: In chapter 10 of the book, I talk about how it is purpose, not profits, which defines an agency.
To me, success is not about money, or at least it should not be. We all have basic financial needs that must be satisfied, but no amount of money, fame, or power will bring happiness. In fact, my experiences have shown me that they often have the opposite effect on people. In order to find happiness, we must be a part of something greater than ourselves, something that we truly believe in.
The same holds true for businesses. Although for-profit companies exist to make money, the most important organizations, the ones that have the potential to change industries and our world, are often started because the founders believe they have a higher calling.
They build, out of passion and an undying belief that they can create something of great and lasting significance, what others are not willing or able to. True entrepreneurs will never be satisfied with riches alone. They have to affect change and will risk everything to make their visions reality.
That’s what motivates me, the opportunity to build something that matters, and to affect change.
MO: What are some key elements of giving customers the content that they crave?
Paul: Content marketing is one our core service areas, and an essential element of an integrated marketing strategy for businesses.
As marketers, our job is to know our prospects and customers. To match our knowledge and expertise with their needs for products, services and information.
To put a face and name to the individuals we want to reach and influence, we have to understand what makes them unique, what drives their passion, and where they find their inspiration.
And we have to be able to connect with them in more personal ways by sharing information and resources that help them achieve their goals. We have to take time to understand what matters to them, and then adapt our marketing efforts to reach them in more authentic ways that create long-lasting connections and relationships, in other words, loyal customers.
We have to understand how they consume information, and we have to deliver the information and value in ways that improve their lives.
To stand out from the competition, we have to be remarkable and memorable, take chances, put our audiences’ needs and goals ahead of our own, bring value to their lives and help them find success and happiness.
And that’s where content marketing comes in to the mix. We are all publishers, and we all have a unique story to tell. Great content—blogs, eBooks, webinars, podcasts, and white papers—gives businesses the ability to differentiate and connect in meaningful ways through story.
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