But did you also know:
- The question he asks every job candidate?
- What he would do differently if he were starting Media Two today?
- Where he sees the industry going next?
I interviewed Michael last week via email while he was traveling. For more insights, watch his video interview with Cord Silverstein, or attend Michael’s upcoming Search Engine Marketing panel at Triangle AMA on Thursday, June 17.
Marketing Trends: Past, Present, and Future
Since he started in the industry 15 years ago, I asked Michael about the biggest changes he’s seen:
“Whether you ask me about 1995 or about five days ago, the answer is the same… So many things have changed that we stop keeping track of what changed in the past and focus more on what we’re evolving to in the future. In the digital industry, you have to be a forward thinker or you’ll be left behind.”
I asked what he reads, follows, or attends to keep up with the latest trends. Michael replied:
“I get a lot of my breaking news through social media, but I still rely on the good old-fashioned trade publications for more details, along with trade shows where I’m able to interact with peers. When I find items interesting enough, I’ll turn to the search engines for more — but there aren’t any one or two people or groups of people that I turn to for trends — it’s really more of an aggregate of everyone in the industry.”
I asked Michael what he sees as some of the biggest marketing trends in the next 5-10 years:
“This may come as a shock to most that know me as a media guy, but I see a huge digital push to make creative a bigger part of our industry. I know that we have the IAB pushing for more standard ad formats and sizes, but realistically, they represent the publishers in the industry — and the agencies need to go back to doing what they do best — which is creative thinking.
“If a user is on a website engaged with that content, why in our right mind would we want to extract them from that page and drop them into a sales cycle? Dream big. Let’s find out how to get them all of the content and interaction they need right on the same page. Rich media is a start, but there’s so much more that can and will be done.”
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Running the Company
With his title as CEO and Media Director, I asked Michael how he’d describe his position, and how he got to where he is today:
“Media Two is really a unique group of people, so being the CEO is not at all what you’d expect. My biggest role as CEO really is finding the most talented people and bringing them under one roof, giving them the tools to do what they do best, and then diving in in a support role where needed.
“When I started Media Two, I really thought it would only be a 2-5 person consulting firm and my focus would get to be on analytics, numbers, data, and marketing research. As we dug deeper though, there was such a huge opening in a fast-paced industry that our clients basically dictated our growth.
“It has pulled me more into the CEO role and less into the day-to-day, but I still hold the dual title of Media Director as well, which keeps my hands in all of the clients’ top level strategies.”
Aside from ‘hire Media Two!,’ I asked Michael for his advice to a company that’s trying to choose an interactive advertising agency:
“See through the bull shit. Media Two is not the perfect digital agency for everyone, and we know that, but for the ones we are a good fit for, we want you to be able to see our passion and knowledge in the space and know that it can and will translate into ROI for you.
“We want you to know that we didn’t just add the word ‘interactive‘ to our name a few years ago — we have been living and breathing digital media for 12+ years, and that means we will not be learning on your dime. Experience and expertise will win out every time.”
Considering he founded Media Two in 1998, I asked Michael what he might do differently if he were starting the company today:
“Begin with a sales team first… When you’re not VC-backed, you have to rely on growing your business organically and within budget. For the first 10 years, we relied on word-of-mouth referrals only. Had we brought on a sales team earlier, I have no doubt that our hiring capabilities would be ten-fold what they are right now (and we are actually hiring).”
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Looking back, I asked Michael what his most memorable project has been. He replied:
“Our first ever Microsoft project here at Media Two is really one of my most memorable projects for a number of reasons (other than the obvious that we got to work with Microsoft!).
“First, at the time it was deemed one of their most successful online campaigns for MSN Messenger ever, and our budget was rather minuscule.
“But the bigger portion to this equation was that the success was due to a lot of hard work aggregating smaller sites onto the media plan. Most agencies don’t look at sites with less than a million unique visitors, but this plan had some sites on it that may have had only 25 uniques.
“It has molded a lot of the media thinking we do here at Media Two, to make sure we focus exclusively on content regardless of size.”
Earlier this year, Inc. magazine described a 2009 situation where two ad-serving companies complained to Michael. A new Media Two employee had criticized the companies on the Media Two corporate blog, and Michael stood behind his employee. I asked him to describe his approach to social media policy. Michael replied:
“We have a formal social media policy in place — but at a high level, social media is about common sense. Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, and you’ll never get in trouble (well, almost never).
“The other thing to keep in mind is that whether you’re tweeting, posting, liking, etc. as yourself, or as part of your company’s brand — it does not matter — you are still representing your company.
“There’s a great blog post about this at MediaTwoPointOh, if you’re interested in more conversation on the topic…”
I noted that Media Two was named the Small Company winner in the Triangle Business Journal‘s 2008 “Best Companies to Work For” list. Amazingly, the company reported zero full-time employee turnover during the publication’s four-year measurement period. I asked Michael why turnover was so low. He said:
“In a time when people are scaling back, we are holding onto our benefits packages that include full health insurance (not just 80%, but 100% employer-covered), dental insurance, disability, 401k, and much more.
“But I think more important than any of that is everyone that’s in here today is in it for a common goal: We are all here to help our clients meet their ROI objectives, and everyone knows their role. This eliminates the need for micromanaging, and clients can get what they need without a lengthy chain of command.
“This basically creates a high-energy work environment that I think everyone in here actually enjoys coming into.”
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When he’s hiring at Media Two, I asked Michael what question he asks every candidate, and why. He replied:
“‘What are the 4 P’s of Marketing?’ We are in the digital space, but I think many people have forgotten that it’s just another medium to reach out to people via the principles of marketing.”
I asked Michael about his advice to people who are early in their marketing careers. He noted:
“Analytics and Social Media are two under-served and hot areas of expertise… Don’t just learn how to friend someone; figure out why friends chose the platform they did, who else uses it, and why. The more you understand all of the new technology and advancements, the more valuable you’ll become.
“And although search is in a backseat to social right now — get in and get search certified. People who understand how marketing trickles down to search — and can in turn capitalize on it — are highly sought after at Media Two!”
I asked Michael what he does for fun outside of work. He said:
“There is nothing I love more than playing with my kids!”
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Thanks for sharing your advice, experience, and insights, Michael!
This is the eighth in my series of interviews with marketing experts and business leaders, in North Carolina and beyond. If you know someone I should speak with, let me know and I may be able to feature them in a future profile.
Photo credit: Michael Hubbard