Search Interviews:

Jeremy Weisz 4:52

Niki, talk about values you mentioned, you know, we want to work with companies that kind of align with your values.

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 5:00

The core values are we want to help other people. But you know, it’s not everyone has the opportunity to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. Some people don’t even have bootstraps. And so you know, our values as a company, I hire people who are very oriented towards working together collaborating, looking for ways to optimize other people’s lives, we’re all doing pretty well. So how do we help others? How do we lift others? That’s the core values of the company. And one of our core tenants is a Japanese concept called Omotenashi. So part of what we do is we’re always looking to anticipate what our clients and the marketplace needs, so that we can do that anticipation deliver on what’s really needed.

Jeremy Weisz 5:47

You know, I could tell you a fun culture, I love you to talk about culture a little bit. How can I tell that? Well, if you go to if someone’s watching the video, they can see my screen right now. And we’re looking at the And we’re looking at the team area. And you kind of have a really fun way of introducing your team, which is I went to this. And you know, you if you’re not watching this, you can see steak favorite food, and you click on it and who’s what part what team member this applies to, and you can say chessboxing favorite sport, Will. Right? It’s kind of fun, favorite animal, and your favorite dessert, dream vacation, and so on. So I this, this just kind of, to me shows is a fun culture.

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 6:36

Good. Yeah. And it’s a team effort. So actually, if you don’t mind, I can talk for a minute about something we do. So we we work remotely. years ago, my company is based in Princeton, New Jersey. And years ago, Hurricane Sandy took out a lot in the area, and we were scrambling. And so from that point on, I started having my team work from home two days a week. So when COVID hit, we shifted to five days a week, but we were onboarding new people during that time. And I was really challenged to find ways to have a culture when everything was remote. So our office manager, Stacy, who is steak, we brainstormed different ways to have a culture when people are not always together. And one of the things we came up with the “Zoomraderie”. So every week we all get together. And we don’t come on to this great, we use them orbital. Sometimes we use another tool called tiempo. But basically they have a cartoon of an office environment. And you come into it without your mic on. And with the theme avatar. So one were spacey was favorite foods, you pick your favorite food is, but you’re not talking. And then we just trash talk each other in the chat trying to figure out who’s to. And it’s actually really challenging. It’s not getting any easier. We’ve been doing this for two years. And we still you’re always learning something new about people. And it’s really fun. And we were talking the other day thing, you know, we probably know a lot more about each other doing things this way than sitting in an office where you don’t always have the opportunity to have a deeper conversation. And zoom router is not a meeting if somebody’s busy. And they’re on deadline for something, they pop in and they keep working or we talk while we’re doing things and the conversation after the initial who’s who is a conversations all over the place. And it’s a lot of fun. And then we do actually get together my person from time to time throughout the year, we had a day out at Asbury Park, and everybody brought their spouses as well as our their partners as well as came themselves and they spent the day together. We all thought we all were out paddle duck paddle boating, and there’s an arcade there. So just trying to keep the culture aligned with you know, how we feel about each other, which is great.

Jeremy Weisz 8:55

And so Niki, do you do that each week? How long is it? Is it Yeah, exactly.

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 9:02

So Zoomraderie, is an hour each week, and it rotates throughout the week. So it’s not on the same day or at the same time. And we really try hard to avoid calling it a meeting but it’s scheduled and people need to be there because it’s so easy to say, Oh, I’m really busy. I need to do something else. But you really have to make time for culture and you really need to make sure everybody prioritizes it.

Jeremy Weisz 9:26

Use some software to aid you in that you said what were they we said the ones called Orbital.

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 9:30

One’s called Orbital and one’s called Team Slow. And they both have their pluses and minuses. But if you’re interested in the concept, check them both out there. They’re really good. They’re really good for making this happen.

Jeremy Weisz 9:44

What else so that’s one thing you do to help maintain a culture, you know, with the virtual team. What else have you found is helped

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 9:54

think throughout the day and just keeping it to Skype. So we’ve set up different groups for different people, different topics, and we try to make sure that we’re in the right Skype for the conversations we’re having. And we, we don’t use Slack because it doesn’t for us, it’s not as streamlined. We just find Skyping to be the right way to do it for us. But people are, you know, the ideas, if it’s something that needs to have a, you know, we need to be trackable. If it’s something to share with the clients, and we go to email, if it’s a quick thing throughout the day, you stay or don’t escape, if it’s something that can wait and don’t use Skype when you can see somebody’s calendar that they’re in a meeting, because you don’t want to disturb them while they’re focused on that. It’s just a couple of things we do.

Jeremy Weisz 10:42

Thank you. Yeah, I love that. You mentioned, you know, talked a little about the labor market. And what are you seeing, I know, you follow this closely, and I’d love for you to you can tell people about the kind of the newsletter that you put out, also, but the company perspective, what you’re seeing with that, versus the talent perspective?

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 11:06

Well, one of the things that is pretty clear right now is people across the board are frustrated. And they’re, whether they’re working for someone else, or the people who are responsible for making things happen through others, aka managers, people are frustrated. And one of the, what’s playing out at Twitter is just, you know, you know, literally so focused on exactly what’s happened because you have people who are very dedicated to what they’re doing. And they’re real, they’re working really hard, they’re working really smart. And their complaint is that they don’t feel heard, they don’t feel understood. They don’t feel that their management leadership understands the challenges and keeps wanting them to, you know, just rise up, handle it, just deal with it, you know, and they’re tired of dealing with it because they don’t feel compensated or rewarded or, and I think at the core of it all, understood and appreciated. But on the flip side, you have management. And if you’re talking about middle management, they’re really squeezed because they’re dealing with what leadership wants and trying to translate it to people who are tired and exhausted and underappreciated, and they’re feeling a lot of that themselves. And then you have the leadership leadership, who were trying to make decisions trying to make things happen. And sometimes I don’t think they realize how much has changed for the people, they need to make things happen. And work from home is just one example, you have so many people who want to continue to work at home, or at least have a hybrid where they can work with their colleagues in person, but that that’s not the primary way of getting things done. And then you have leadership that, you know, some leadership believes it’s working, and then others just want to be able to see people, that’s what they’re used to. They’re used to measuring people based on what they can literally see they hadn’t been measuring the right thing all along. So you know, activity masks as productivity. And then now you’ve got companies that are tracking keystrokes, and making sure people are really working and people are frustrated. Nobody likes to be monitored, like that, and track like that. So then there’s that whole quiet quitting concept. And, you know, I think the best definition of quiet quitting is people who said, I’m doing my job. And that’s all I’m doing. You cannot possibly expect anything more from me than what you’re compensating me for. And management is just especially with salary. Job management is just used to pushing people and telling them, you need to do more, I really need you. We’re a team. And people haven’t seen evidence of being part of a team when they’re so easily dismissed. Again, Twitter being you know, front and center at the moment that we’re talking.

Jeremy Weisz 13:45

Over the past 22 years, what have you find are great ways to attract great talent.

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 13:55

I think it’s what I conceived right at the beginning, the whole reason I started this business was because I, my my dream was to create a digital marketing agency, where great talent wanted to come to work, do what they do, and then go home, recharge, be with their family and friends, whatever home was to them, and then come back the next day feeling ready to take those challenges again, because they loved what they were doing. And so it was very cyclical. I also saw that doing that would attract the kinds of clients that would continue to facilitate that mindset. That was that was the dream. It took me a long time to get there. I knew what I wanted. And you know, honestly, there were times where I just thought maybe I was wrong. Maybe it couldn’t happen. Maybe I was just being too, I don’t know, optimistic or idealistic. But actually, over the last four years, I’ve been able to evolve the business to the point where I actually have the best team now that I’ve had ever in the 22 years the current team, they know they know their jobs, they love what they do. They’re All in the right seats, so to speak. And we have great clients who really appreciate what we do. And our process facilitates everything for everybody. So the clients, really, we articulate their goals upfront we deliver on those goals. We bring in that, you know, I have an ideal client profile. So I do the business development for the agency. So I’m bringing in the kinds of clients that I know are going to be the best for aligning with us. But also, we’ve developed a process, we used to be a retainer only agency. So if a client wouldn’t commit to the retainer upfront we we went and bring them on, I realized over time that that was part of what was creating some of the personnel challenges for me, because we were bringing on a client and jumping in and we didn’t have a way of getting to know each other. So sometimes somebody who wasn’t involved in the sales process from the clients perspective, would be a key decision maker coming in with lots of opinions, not understanding my team is truly the truly expert. So we do. So we’re part of our change of our client profiles, we now exclusively work with companies that are already doing search and social, or I should say search or social, and they want to take it to a signet, a significant improvement point, and then beyond. So part of in the past, we would work with clients, I loved entrepreneurs, so we would work with some startups, they weren’t set up to work with an expert team, who just needs to get going and move we tell you what we’re going to do how we’re going to do it, and then get out of our way. So we could do it for you. And in the past, I didn’t have all of that synced up. So I might have a great team at one point. But the clients were difficult, or it might have wonderful clients, but the team wasn’t really drinking the Kool Aid. Now I’ve got everything aligned. And it took it was a it was a matter of really understanding what talent wants, and how to deliver on that, as the President, really understanding what clients need to have happen and deliver on that. And then developing a process that supports all of it.

Jeremy Weisz 17:07

You mentioned Niki that you started off and it was just retainer and you change things around what’s the process looks like now.

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 17:15

Now we have a very specific five phase process. So we were doing it, we were doing all of this work when they were retainer clients. It just wasn’t structured this way. So now projects are discovery where we learn about the client and we come back with a recap, that is real value. And the client can stop at that point or keep going. Then we do audits of their current programs. Because again, we work with companies that are already doing SEO, are they doing paid social paid search, we audit what they’re doing against the goals that they stated. And we show them here’s where it’s falling short here, where there are opportunities for improvement. And to the extent that we can show them what their competitors are doing. We do that during the audit phase too. So competitive review, and keyword research, of course. And then we come back with strategy, here are the channels, we recommend using based on your budget based on your goals. This is how we see each of these channels interacting. So it’s a sophisticated game plan media plan. And then the client tells us, okay, you know, the chariots like I want to do this, I want to do that I’m going to do this in house, I don’t need any more help. And then based on what they want to move forward for, we reconstruct, we redo their SEO, we redo their paid search, we optimize. And again, we can stop that’s still a project. But most of our clients by that point want us to then be the agency that carries it forward and manages it for them. But we can sometimes we’re turning it back over to an in house team that just got stuck. Their expertise couldn’t solve a particular challenge. We reset the programs, and we show them how to manage, you know, at the level that we’ve developed, and everything’s good, but I would say 80% of the clients want us to continue, but it’s all set up as projects at the beginning. So we’re getting to know them, they’re getting to know us. I’m really, actually of all the things I’ve done in my business career. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, because it was very painful, several years ago to take a step back because I wasn’t happy. I had I had employee turnover that I thought I’m doing everything right, you know, you read about what management to do. And I’m doing this and people are leaving anyway. And we had a handful of clients that were just very difficult at one point in time. And it was just, I wasn’t happy and my team wasn’t happy. And so I took a step back and actually spent three months very purposely going through every aspect of the business to figure out where the pitfalls were. And a lot of what I learned is that, you know, there’s an expression What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. It was one of those situations where Okay, things have changed. We need to change how we do things and that new process really, really helps us deliver for our clients and for our team.

Jeremy Weisz 19:58

It also sounds like you really sat down and thought who is the best bid client for you? I mean, he put this process in place. You know, starting with the discovery. So you mentioned startups not a good fit, right? And who are, what is a ideal fit for you?

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 20:19

Yeah, and I guess it is a client, where it’s typically a middle market company could be b2b, b2c pharmaceutical doesn’t really matter. But they’re not so large that they’ve got an expansive team doing this in house. But they’re not so small that it’s one person doing all the marketing, you know, they’ve got a team, they’ve got budget, they, you know, they understand, and they’re already running these programs. So they have real goals. And they know that they want to do better, and they suspect that they can, and then again, we’re 100% referrals. So somebody’s told them, hey, you should talk to DBE. And we’re typically talking with the head of digital marketing, the CMO, you know that level in those types of companies. And again, we look for companies that either through their products and services, or through their social responsibility work, to clearly trying to make the world a better place. And so, because, you know, that sounds funny, but I’m very fortunate that I decided to keep this a boutique solution. So I’m very fortunate, we don’t take on everybody that comes to us, I’m able to just look at who they are, what they’re doing. Look, and you know, here’s the internet, wonderful for research, I really get a sense of the companies that I take. And I also talk with the team. That’s another thing that they’re involved in that decision, hey, is this something you guys can get behind? Look at what they’re trying to do? Aren’t they really cool? We recently were approached by a company in California, that’s a coffee coffee farm. And they’re looking at growing their business by modeling it after vineyards. And they’re all about sustainability. And so I took that to the team, I said, these people have approached us, what do you think, and everybody to a one was like, that is something I could totally get behind. So part of it too, is making sure everybody’s, you know, internally is like, Yeah, this is where I want to put my talent.

Jeremy Weisz 22:12

I’ll walk through a few examples. So give people an idea of exactly what you do. And I know you have b2b, you know, and we’ll go into, you know, diversification of portfolio and then your importance of that. But, you know, b2b, you consumer brands, your life sciences, you manufacturers, let’s just take the example in b2b SaaS, talk about what kind of thing you do with with that type of company.

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 22:40

Right, so I mentioned modern hire earlier. So they’re, they’re a SaaS company, they have this AI for taking bias out of the hiring process. And they we’ve actually been working with them now for just about a year they we started talking this time last year. And they’re so they were doing again, they were doing search already, it wasn’t working the way they wanted it to, they asked us to come in and take a look. And their goals were to increase lead volume at a lower cost per acquisition, and simultaneously improve lead quality. So that was the challenge. And what my team did is, again, our process, we got to know their business, we asked the questions about nuances really learned what was important to them. Then we looked at the existing accounts, identified some challenges. For one thing, for example, was the keywords are set too broadly. So they were bringing in and paying for traffic that wasn’t going to convert. And so then we restructured the programs, we updated the targeting, and the budget allocations, and we were able to hit the goal. You know, we’re able to surpass them. And that’s another thing that we do is I hire people who are very collaborative, but they’re very competitive. They compete with themselves and with each other. And they’re always moving the goalposts. And so we’ve actually started talking with our clients about the fact that we might as well tell them upfront, like, hey, you know, you’re going to be really happy with what we do. But at some point, before you probably even say it, we’re going to want to move the goalposts. And that’s the other case story I can share with you briefly is we work with a global consulting firm, and they set their goals for paid search, social, etc, at a corporate level. So all of the agencies are expected to at least hit specific. Mark. And my team actually we just said just as an example. And I’m reading that’s why I’m looking off to the side. Last quarter, our average cost per click was 65%. Lower the click through rate was six, almost 7% I’m sorry, was 145% higher than the corporate benchmark, and and that we move the goalposts ourselves is like this is kind of too easy, let’s be better. That’s just how we did. And as you can see my face, I’m smiling because it’s like, I’m seeing my team, and I’m remembering the meetings were like, Oh, we’ve we’ve blown past this benchmark, you know, four months in a row, like, let’s just move the benchmark. That’s cool. It’s, and the clients love it.

Jeremy Weisz 25:18

We talk about some of the mistakes people make, you know, you mentioned you, you come in, and you audit a lot of these, and you probably see on their nightmare scenarios, but definitely some, some low hanging fruit, you mentioned to broader keywords, what other mistakes people make, oh,

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 25:36

I’m not doing their research on keywords. As another example, there’s a pharmaceutical company that we work with, and they said to me, Look, Niki, we love you, you’re great at what you do. But this particular side of the house, we love our agency, we’re not giving you the business. But we do want you to come in and audit what they’re doing. Because for the life of us, we can’t put our finger on it. But we know something’s wrong. Within three days, my team went in audited and on one keyword alone, save them over a million dollars a year. It’s just sometimes what happens is people they’re not as knowledgeable about the platform’s and they’re not as detailed. They think it’s like, oh, just flip this switch, Do this, do that. And they don’t focus. And my team has laser focus. So they go in and they find, and a lot of times it’s it’s silly things. We were working with a medical device company, and they had a nice agency on the west coast that said, You have no business, you know, you can’t We can’t get paid search to work for you. And they were a paid search agency. And my team looked at the business and said, This doesn’t make sense. We did the audit. And long story short, we were surpassing sales for them month after month. You know, all this year, it’s like every month was better than the month before. But it all went back to understanding the business understanding what, which keywords are really important. And understanding platforms and the settings, you know, broad matches, often, an inexperienced team often set it for broad match, and that’s not good.

Jeremy Weisz 27:10

What’s that discovery process look like? Because I imagined maybe, maybe that other company didn’t do that deep research, they couldn’t find some of those gems of the key words or terms that that would actually result in result in a result in results for that person. How do you guide the discovery process and do research?

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 27:30

Well, so we always come to discovery prepared to talk about what we’ve found. But first, we want to ask questions, because nobody likes the the, you know, the show off who comes in and says, Oh, look what I can do, right? So we do our research, because we want to be prepared, but we really approach discovery, as tell us about your business. Tell us what’s important to you. And then we really listen. Because that’s where the discoveries come in. That’s where you find something new, because they’ll just be talking about their business. And then we’ll ask the questions. Why? Why do you think that what’s, and that’s where the, that’s where we find all those hidden gems in what they tell us. They they’re smart, they know their business. But a lot of times they forget to think the way somebody who doesn’t know their business might look for something. And that’s what we help them discover. I think I said discover way too many times.

Jeremy Weisz 28:23

Well, it’s important. And, you know, in the beginning of this conversation, I mentioned diversification, you know, we were talking about how important is to diversify your portfolio as a company. And you’ve intentionally done that. How do you think about originally, when you’re like, you know, you could have focused just on manufacturers, you have

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 28:46

a way that farmer farmer would have been a cakewalk was based in New Jersey. I mean, I so many times over the years, I’ve hired consultants to help me grow my business. And they say, you should focus on pharma, you’re really good at it, and you can get so much business. So yeah, but I’m not trying to be rich, I’m trying to be successful. For me, it’s a different definition of success. And, you know, that’s not going to take me where I want to go.

Jeremy Weisz 29:09

So when you start to branch out, talk about just the importance of how you’ve intentionally diversified.

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 29:17

Yeah, well, that was actually something I did, really from the beginning of the business, the diverse portfolio was something I learned. So I had an agency, I sold it to a larger agency, and the two people who ran that agency, I learned a lot from them. And one of the key factors was they always kept a diverse portfolio. They were very purposeful about that. And I they’re still around today, they’re I think they’re like 40 years old at this point, which is really old, an agency life. But part of it is because they were very smart about diversifying and keep it no and they too are caught oh, you should be an insurance agency. Oh, you should be Pharmo you’ve got this real strength. But that doesn’t work in the long term.

Jeremy Weisz 29:58

Yeah, my Darien before Digital Brand Expressions, you had an agency and you sold it to then talk about the selling process. What was that? Like?

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 30:09

Honestly, I know people want this to be a different kind of story. But honestly, it was. So I was running the business, we started it, it was started out as a publishing one of the first digital publishing businesses. But it was very hard to find a business model that we can monetize this is back in 95. So what was making money was creating websites for big companies. And we’re one of the few early companies that can actually do that, and talk to executives at big companies. So the wait the but my partner really wanted to stick with publishing. So after three years, he just said, I just don’t want to do this anymore. It’s not a publishing business anymore. So I, so we split the business up, and then I took the the assets, which were the development business, and I sold it to a larger company. But I really wasn’t in a place in my life, where I wanted to shop it around. And it’s just like, there was somebody who I knew they were interested in the business, we had had a long term relationship, I trusted them, I sold my business to them. So that’s really the story. It wasn’t a great sales story. It was just like this work. So you know, it was an opportunity. It looks good. And it worked. It was a great that I learned a lot about running an agency at that agency. And then, you know, I went on to start this business from there.

Jeremy Weisz 31:36

And Niki, for that they wanted you to stay on after the sale. Yes.

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 31:41

Yep. I don’t even remember what the term was, it was so long ago, I think it was stay a year probably was pretty standard. But I was loving it. It was I actually love it, I actually became the CMO for the entire agency, and I was running my division. I was very happy there. I really enjoyed it. But then, you know, I just really wanted my own business again. And things are changing. They were they sold their agency. And since this wasn’t as aligned deadhead, as it had been at one point, and as a great jumping off point, because I saw the opportunities for search engine optimization, the new leadership didn’t. And so it was a it was a good segue for this business.

Jeremy Weisz 32:23

Looking back, what would you do differently with the sale? Um, like when you sell this one, and

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 32:34

when I sell this business, it’ll be it’ll just be there’ll be more shopping around. There’ll be more due diligence. There’ll be more. Yeah, that’s a good way to ask the question. Yeah. So there would be and, and what’s important for me now at this point, and I’m not ready to sell tomorrow, but but it’s really important that I know that my team is taken care of, because from a loyalty perspective, I just feel like they, I keep bragging about them, because they’re awesome, right? I just would, if I were going to sell again, I would want to really make sure that things were taken everybody individually was taken care of. So that it wasn’t a stressful thing for them as best as I could.

Jeremy Weisz 33:16

And knowing what you know, now, would you want a larger agency to acquire it? Would you look at private equity? How would you look at the partner you’d bring on to

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 33:26

this business being a strategic acquisition for another business, that’s probably the best path to get that win win win that I would be looking for? Yeah.

Jeremy Weisz 33:39

I have one last clip. First of all, Niki, thank you. I have one last question for you. And I just, I love how you think about partnerships, and collaboration, and talk about how do you set up partnerships? I’m sure you get you get you said all your business from referrals? And who are the best partners for you? Someone’s out there listening and and how do you set up those partnerships? And collaborations?

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 34:07

Yeah, so we do have a lot of strategic partners. And it really comes down to do they have services? That, again, because we’re so focused on analytics, search and social, right? So do they have services that my clients or potential clients need? And do I see them doing business in ways that I would call you know, compassionate, right? Are they compassionate businesses? Do they care about people do they care about the planet? You know, I like to work with companies, strategic partners included, that could be B corps if they could go through the process, which is really very, very, very painful, but that they have that right spirit. And so and I look for organizations that value what my company does, and understanding we’re not inexpensive. We’re really great at what we do and we price accordingly. But I like partners who can see that and help their clients see the value of that. Yeah, the top tier companies looking for top tier partners that that’s the alignment.

Jeremy Weisz 35:08

What have you seen our exam examples of complementary services

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 35:12

to what you do website development, email marketing, branding, a lot of times our clients are looking to, to shift or change their branding. We don’t do that. We’re really once the message is established, we’re the ones who carry that message into specific channels. So we, you know, we’d love to have great resources. And you know, I’ve talked with you about Rise25 You know, our clients need podcasting. We don’t do that. So if I can, if I can turn them on to you, that’s a win for all of us. Right, everybody gets what they need. Love it. Yeah.

Jeremy Weisz 35:49

Niki, I want to be the first one to thank you. Everyone should check out Check out what your news and insights you come out with insights weekly. I’m actually so impressed that you keep up with that. So everyone should check that out. Check out more episodes of and just want to thank you. Thanks, Niki.

Veronica “Niki” Fielding 36:11

Thanks so much. It’s great.