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Robert Burko is the Founder and CEO of Elite Digital Agency, an award-winning digital agency headquartered in Toronto, Canada. With a sophisticated marketing strategy and cutting-edge digital tactics to execute programs that exceed expectations, Elite has been helping clients leverage the digital landscape to achieve their goals for 20 years. 

Robert was also the Founder and President of Elite Email, a world leader in email and mobile marketing solutions. As one of Canada’s chief email and digital marketing specialists, he has appeared on national television, radio programs, podcasts, and countless print publications across North America. Recognized as a thought leader in his industry, Robert speaks as an expert in his field at high-profile events both within his industry and for those outside who are looking for easy online business solutions.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [03:24] Robert Burko details the services offered by Elite Digital Agency
  • [06:38] The reasons for focusing on email marketing and the creation of Elite Email
  • [08:18] How Elite strategically expanded its services while maintaining excellence
  • [13:45] Robert explains why he chose the agency path over software
  • [16:57] The value of having partners as an entrepreneur
  • [21:20] Recommendations for partner program compensation structures
  • [23:15] Best practices for SMS and email marketing
  • [29:12] Robert shares some of the key hires that helped scale Elite
  • [35:26] Elite’s leadership team dynamics and decision-making processes
  • [43:54] How to foster a strong team culture through fun activities and competitions
  • [45:57] Gamification in marketing and engaging consumers

In this episode…

In today’s digital age, marketing has become more complex than ever before. The rise of social media and the constantly evolving digital landscape has left businesses facing a significant challenge in keeping up with the latest trends and technologies. The competition is fierce, and companies must work tirelessly to stay relevant and stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Despite the challenges, digital marketing remains a vital component of any business strategy. Marketing guru Robert Burko says that with the right digital marketing tactics, businesses can reach their target audience more effectively, increase brand awareness, and drive more business growth. However, most lack the expertise and resources to develop and execute a successful digital marketing strategy. This is where partnering with a digital marketing agency can be invaluable, which can provide businesses with the expertise and resources they need to develop and execute an effective strategy.

On this episode of the Inspired Insider Podcast, Dr. Jeremy Weisz sits down with Robert Burko, Founder and CEO of Elite Digital Agency, to discuss his journey in digital marketing. Robert talks about Elite Digital Agency and its offerings, how it expanded its services, the evolution of SMS and email marketing, and how gamification can be utilized to engage consumers.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Special Mention(s):

Related episode(s):

Quotable Moments:

  • “Everything starts with a winning strategy.”
  • “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
  • “If you’re the jack of all trades, you’re the master of none.”
  • “In order to be better than everybody else, you have to understand what everybody else is doing.”
  • “Go big or go home.”
  • “Focus your efforts on something you could win at.”
  • “Ideas breed ideas.”
  • “If you’re going to get peoples’ attention, and you want their attention for a longer time, you’d better add something of value.”
  • “Everything is a learning opportunity.”
  • “As long as you learn something, it’s not a failure.”

Sponsor for this episode

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We’re a professional podcast production agency that makes creating a podcast effortless. Since 2009, our proven system has helped thousands of B2B businesses build strong relationships with referral partners, clients, and audiences without doing the hard work.

What do you need to start a podcast? When you use our proven system, all you need is an idea and a voice. We handle the strategy, production, and distribution – you just need to show up and talk.

The Rise25 podcasting solution is designed to help you build a profitable podcast. This requires a specific strategy, and we’ve got that down pat. We focus on making sure you have a direct path to ROI, which is the most important component. Plus, our podcast production company takes any heavy lifting of production and distribution off your plate.

We make distribution easy. We’ll distribute each episode across more than 11 unique channels, including iTunes, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. We’ll also create copy for each episode and promote your show across social media.

Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPOEOLending TreeFreshdesk, and many more.

The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.

Podcast production has a lot of moving parts and is a big commitment on our end; we only want to work with people who are committed to their business and to cultivating amazing relationships.

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01 

You are listening to Inspired Insider with your host, Dr. Jeremy Weisz

Jeremy Weisz  0:22 

Dr. Jeremy Weisz here founder of where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders today is no different. I have Robert Burko of And, Robert, before I formally introduce you, I always like to point out other episodes of the podcasts people should check out. And there’s a couple of fan favorites in the agency world. Robert, even though he looks really young, he’s been doing this agency thing for a couple of decades. Another one, Kevin Harrigan, he had an agency, I think back in 1995, and just shared how he evolved, and the services and the leadership and everything in between. Also, Todd Taskey was an interesting one where he has a Second Bite Podcast, he pairs agencies with private equity, and actually help sell agencies. And he calls it second bite, because he’s found with his experience, some of the founders that sell make more on the second bite than they do on the first was private equity sells again. So he talks about valuations, and also the agency space, that was really interesting one, as well, and that many more on And this episode is brought to you by Rise25. At Rise25, we help businesses give to and connect to their dream 100 relationships. And how do we do that we actually help you run your podcast, we’re an easy button for a company to launch and run a podcast. We do the full strategy, accountability and full execution around a podcast. Robert, we call ourselves the magic elves that work in the background to make it look easy for the host and for the company so they can just develop relationships. They can create great content, but they could also just run their company. I kind of created the solution I wanted when I first started podcasting over 15 years ago. For me, the number one thing in my life is relationships. I’m always looking at ways to give to my best relationships. I found no better way over the past decade to profile the people and companies I most admire and share with the world what they’re working on. So if you’ve thought about podcasting, you should if you have questions, you can go to and learn more. I’m excited to introduce Robert Burko. He’s CEO and founder of Elite Digital. And Elite Digital is a digital marketing agency based in Toronto. Robert started Elite Digital when he was in high school over 20 years ago, he operates one of the biggest digital agencies in Canada and Elite Digital has been one of the fastest-growing companies in Canada in four different years. And they serve some of the biggest global brands you’ve heard of. Some of which they’ve worked in provide insight for popular brands like Pepsi, Pepsi Canada, Rogers Communication, NBA Canada, Maple Leaf Sports entertainment, General Mills, Canada, Franklin, Covey, Disney, and many, many, many more. So check them out on Robert, thanks for joining me.

Robert Burko  3:12 

Thank you for having me excited to be here.

Jeremy Weisz  3:13 

So just talk for a second about Elite Digital Agency and what you do because you’re kind of magic elves on a lot of different levels and a lot of different services.

Robert Burko  3:24 

Yeah, absolutely. So what’s really fun. And so Elite Digital is a full-service end-to-end digital agency. So really, we do it all, soup to nuts, strategy, execution, reporting analytics. So if you see it on a screen, I generally say that we do it. But we’re really focused on sort of maximizing results. And really, one of the things that makes us special is everything is under one roof. So one of the things I found a lot over the years, is businesses and brands were having 10 different agencies doing 10 different things. And just it’s not cohesive, you get a lot of finger-pointing. People are wondering why this part of their marketing doesn’t connect to that part of their marketing. And we’re sort of the glue that brings it all together, because it’s all under one roof. So when clients come to us, and they say, here’s my challenge, here’s my problem, here are my goals, here are my pain points. Here’s what I’m lying awake at night nervous about, we say great point as to your goals, and we’re gonna figure out how to get there. And then we start with strategy. So we have an excellent strategy team that understands your business, the landscape, the competitors, everything starts with a winning strategy, because I firmly believe if you fail to plan you plan to fail. So we create this winning strategy. And then because at Elite, we have our own creative department and our own development team. And we have a digital marketing team that does social media and SEO and paid media and programmatic and everything else. We have data scientists that dig into the data. We have amazing project managers and client services people. So when you wrap all that together, we’re able to strategize, we’re able to think about all the different channels you should action on because if you call an agency that only does search marketing, guess what every answer to every problem you have is going to be search marketing, and we don’t believe that’s the case. So we really are able to dive into our eclectic skills and talents, and then figure out, here’s what you need, here’s how we’re going to optimize it, we execute it to perfection. It’s awesome. We have great, amazing people, we have an awesome culture. So I like to say we have fun along the way. And then we measure everything. I’m a big data geek, we measure everything. So we make sure that from that first conversation of here’s my goals, we make sure that when we say great, we’re gonna get you there we fulfill on that promise and get you to those goals. And then our clients are really happy, we’re really happy. And that really breeds out long-term relationships that we’re incredibly proud of, which is why I’d like to say, after 20 years, we’re still here doing it. And rocking and rolling. I think we’re doing something, right.

Jeremy Weisz  5:37 

So if someone’s listening to this, there is a video portion. And we’re looking here at And you can see that. Now, Robert, I want to go back to your roots for a second because it wasn’t always like that, actually, when you first started. I remember listening to you talk about how you were doing everything at that time, and you realize, this is too much. This is too much for what I’m doing now, I can’t offer all these things. And you actually at the time decided to focus on one thing when you started, and that one thing was email. So talk about the decision at that time, just to focus, because you could today still could be like, listen, we’re just doing email, right? You actually even had a software in a cloud-based software at that time, was very unique, right, with Elite Email, like, so why did you choose Email at that time? And your decision to just focus on one thing?

Robert Burko  6:38 

Yeah, so it’s super funny, because I always sort of jumped that I’ve come full circle. And the realization is young Rob had many moons ago, it’s kind of fine to reflect on it now. So long ago, so I started this company when I was in high school, so goofy, teenage Rob, in his parents basement, started this company, and young version of me the things I would tell myself now, but basically, I was like, oh, we’re gonna do everything. And I first, when we launched 20 years ago, I was like, Okay, we’re gonna have this service, and this service and this service. And I didn’t have any outside funding, it was basically me sitting in the basement, trying to do everything. And I just noticed I was being spread too thin. And essentially, it was, if you’re the jack of all trades, you’re the master of none. And what I realized early on was, I’m just spread too thin, that I might be average at a bunch of things, but I’m not really best in class at anything. And that’s when I had to make my big bet, which is when I bet on email. Now, go back in time, now we all get a million newsletters every single day, go back in time, 15, 20 years, email marketing was still sort of new, right? Companies weren’t doing that. So at the time, I was like, this is going to be the future, I bet big on email marketing, I abandoned some of the other things I was doing. And I said, we are going to be the best at email marketing, I created one of the first cloud-based email marketing software’s in Canada with Elite Email. And we did that. And it was successful, it was really good. But an interesting thing happened. We became the best at email marketing. And then clients would call us and say, Rob, team, I love what you’re doing with my email. Can you also build my website? And we said, no, no, no, we can only do email. And they say, Rob, I love what you’re doing. Can you help me on social media? And I would say, no, no, we only do email. And then one day I sort of woke up and I said, wait a second. Here I am, I have all these talented people, because the people at Elite are always our secret sauce. We have the best people, I’m the luckiest guy in the world to work with such awesome, talented, amazing people. But I was like, I have all these amazing people. Why am I saying no to all these things? What if we try saying yes. And that was sort of the moment everything flipped. And we kind of grew into a bigger agency. But we did so with a focus on the learning that I had, which is we can’t be average, we have to be amazing. We have to be best in class, because these clients, small brands, big brands, they’re not going to come to me, if we’re just as good as the others are inferior, we have to be better, we are going to be the better option. So we started saying yes to everything. But when doing so we said yes with the goal of being the best. So yes, I will do your email, and I will build your website. But I’m not going to build a good website. I’m going to build a great website, and we’re going to be the best at it. And we made sure of it. And then someone would say, can you do my social media? Yes. But we’re not going to be good. We’re going to be great. We’re going to be best in class. So what happened was we kept saying yes, with the goal of being best in class. But when you say yes, over and over and over again, and there were times my team would be like, oh my god, Rob, please don’t say yes to another thing. Like, let us catch our breath, please. And I’d be like, no, yes, we could do it, leaving as many funny stories, but over time with that sort of idea of yes, we could do it. But if we’re gonna get to do it, we’re going all in and we’re going to be number one, and no one’s going to do it better. That kind of set us on this path, where now when you jump forward almost two decades, I’m back to doing all these things. But we’ve scaled in a way where as we added each one, we never accepted anything less than being best in class. And it just so happens all these years later, we’ve been very fortunate with our success, that now we do it all again. But across all the services, I can tell you, we are best in class and everything. And our clients get to experience that as well. And they kind of like having one team that could just do it all at top tier.

Jeremy Weisz  10:16 

I’m curious, Robert, well, what point do you say yes? Right. In the beginning, obviously, it was a smaller team, so you didn’t want to spread too thin. At what point did you decide, okay, we’ll release this next service? Did you have someone there with a specialty? Did you then go, you know what, we’re gonna just find the specialty. And I don’t know if there was like a methodical way that you did this. But they’d be like, y’all, we’re just gonna do add this service, and then we’ll add this service, or you’re like, you just kept saying yes, and kept piling people on? How did you decide? What was your methodology?

Robert Burko  11:00 

So I would like to say there’s a method to the madness. Some people on my team back then might say otherwise. But I think there was a method to the madness. So I think it was really about strategizing. How can we get to be the best at it? Right? So that might have meant, I had to learn something new, we need to expand the skills we had. We’re big on learning and education and growth at Elite Digital, so, can we up-skill our current staff? Do we have to go in and get someone new? But I think the sort of thinking was, there’s obviously a need for this, our clients are asking for it. Our other client’s going to ask for it right? If one person says, can you do ABC? We don’t want to do something super niche for only one person. But basically, it was okay, they’re asking for it. Do we think there’s an opportunity here where our other clients can benefit where future clients can benefit? Yes, yes. Okay, great. Now, how did we get there? What do we need? And then it was basically figuring out how do we find the staff to do it? How do we train ourselves to do it, but then also a lot of research what’s out there in the market right now? Because in order to be better than everybody else, we had to understand what everybody else was doing. So we would look into the industry look into the service line, oh, they’re doing it this way. And I think there’s a better way to do this. And then we sort of figure out the game plan of okay, if we’re going to say, yes, we only say yes, if we could win. And then here’s sort of our path to victory, here’s the ingredients we need. And don’t get me wrong, we stumbled, I would never tell you otherwise. I think as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned a lot more from my failures than my wins. So I don’t want to make it seem like it was easy. It was not. But I think we were very methodical in go big or go home, and how do we line it up to make sure we can get there? And I’m not saying we’re the best overnight. But once we sort of figured out, yes, we’re gonna go find great people. And yes, we already have great people. And everybody at Elite was so determined. It kind of put us on a path where we said, yes, but we said yes, with confidence, knowing where we land. And if we couldn’t land there. If we thought we could not be the best, then we simply wouldn’t do it. Because again, we just focus our efforts on something we could win at.