Search Interviews:

Jeremy Weisz  12:57 

I could see it’s really interesting, Robert, because I could see, if I go back a couple of different paths that you could have taken, right, you could have just focused on email, and SMS, at the time you were even doing SMS, which was pretty early on. And the other thing you could have done is, you could have just gone all in on the software front, because you had a club a software. So I’m curious. Software versus agency, like you could have been MailChimp, right? That started as an agency that created MailChimp and sold for a billion dollars. And maybe you’ll still do that, but not on the software front. Why did you decide, and maybe that you were just why’d you go agency versus software? And not all in on the software part?

Robert Burko  13:45 

No. Great question. And listen, in an alternate universe, maybe I took a different path. And maybe that was the right one. I have no idea. And I guess we’ll never know. So it’s an interesting thing. So I fundamentally, I think I had more fun. on the agency side. I mean, I think opportunities presented themselves, which helped, but I think it was fundamentally more fun because we were building software. But the days were pretty similar, right? We provided software, we sold the software, we supported the software. And I’m fueled by a good challenge, right? I love that. So the fact that we sort of have these clients and when we turn into an agency, it was, here’s a CPG client, here’s their challenge, what are we going to do? Here’s a pharma company, here’s their challenge, what are we going to do, here’s a small business, here’s an e-commerce company. So it kind of became a little bit more exciting to have all these different clients where instead of just trying to sell software, and don’t get me wrong, I respect to people selling software, and I like recurring revenue of software and all that’s great. But I think that desire to just have a little bit more excitement, agency life is great. I always loved that. And I think when we sort of saw, hey, we can have a lot more fun because now I could be in 10 different industries, helping 10 different clients on any single day. And the same goes for my whole team, as opposed to that’s our technical support department that deals with the same software every day. So I think a mix of sort of opportunity and then also what just generally seemed more exciting at the time. And especially if you remember, I was a digital agency like years and years and years ago. So at the time, when I started doing this, there weren’t that many other digital agencies. And a lot of the traditional agencies out there actually became my partners, because they were like, our clients are starting to ask for this. And we don’t do this. And I would call them up and say, hey, all those things you can do, I can do it. I have amazing people here, why don’t you tell your client you can do it, you work with us, we’ll make it happen. And that kind of create this entire partner model that we have. So we’re the partner to a lot of traditional agencies, which really was bred out of that era, because their clients demanded it, they didn’t want to do it internally. I said, great. That’s all the stuff we’re really good at. So the client was happy, the other agency was happy, we were happy. And then it was really nice, too, because I was getting calls from agency partners being like, hey, we now have this client go. And I was like, oh, I don’t have to do any business development here. Because every new client, you get becomes a client for us. And we really let us focus on doing the best work as well. So in our earlier years, instead of having to worry about business development, getting new clients, we really honed our craft on, let’s be the best at these deliverables, while our agency partners are out there doing sort of RFPs. And that also kind of let us be a little bit more special.

Jeremy Weisz  16:17 

So the clients that sounds like we’re coming in, and it just kind of naturally, you just follow that as opposed to trying to I mean, a lot of agencies they talk to you know, the sometimes the software is just like, oh my God, I want to have the software recurring profit, you’re smiling, because you know what I’m talking about. And you kind of not the opposite route. But you’re like you had a software actually. But you had this traction, and suddenly with partners, talk about that, the partner model for a second, because some of the companies that have had on the fastest growth they’ve had is because they have partnerships.

Robert Burko  16:57 

Yeah, so I think we’re where we are now, because of that. And even to this day, our partnership model, like we have other agencies literally around the globe, and maybe mostly in North America, where we are the digital arm of that agency. And sometimes it’s white label, we’re invisible, we do work for all these clients, that is awesome. And we can’t talk about it. And they don’t even know it’s us. And other times we have agency partners where we stand beside them. And hey, this is our digital partner. I think it was really great because it was win-win. And I love I mean, I’m a people person, I’m all about relationships, and it really lent itself to this is going to be a win-win engagement, because these other agencies, they had a need, but the thought of hey, should we go hire a bunch of developers and SEO experts and email experts in social media experts like, basically, they’re thinking, should we go hire 25 new people to build this department? And they were like, no, we don’t want to do that. Because we don’t know if we’re going to have sustainable work. We don’t want that on our payroll. But they still had to do it, they had the need. So when I was like, hey, you have this pain point your client has these needs, we could be the answer. And by the way, the thing that makes Elite Digital special is the fact that our work is amazing. The stars sort of aligned. And then I thought it was great. The agency thought it was great. And these were all different agencies. So our agency partners are traditional marketing agencies, brand agencies, PR agencies, print agencies, like it was just such an amazing mix of all these agencies that had all these clients that suddenly wanted websites. And they needed SEO and paid media and search marketing that when I was like, oh, by the way, agency partner, here’s the list of services you can offer tomorrow with confidence that it’s being done incredibly well. They were like, let’s go. I remember. I mean, there was a time many years ago, when I used to have business cards from so many different agencies that were pretending I was their employee, because I was hopping on calls being like, who do I work for today? Oh, Acme agency, okay, no problem. And then I’m going to that call me like, yeah, digital marketing, no problem, what are your goals? What do you need, and then everyone was happy. It was just a great vibe, and everyone was having fun. And the work was good. And basically, with everyone being all smiles, it was just a really great synergy.

Jeremy Weisz  19:08 

So I was gonna ask is the best agency partners for you? Which it sounds like because you offer so many services, but the traditional print traditional agencies, PR agencies are good partners, because they’re not doing all the services that you do on the digital front.

Robert Burko  19:24 

Yeah. So I mean, we’re really good, right? So we value our partnership. So if we do something and our partner does it, we’re not going to do it with that partner. And we respect that. And we have good boundaries. And good fences make good neighbors. We know that right? Like, we are tight with our partners, we have partners we’ve been with for well over a decade. So if they offer it and we offer it, guess what? It’s not in our repertoire for them because they’re going to do it. We respect it, no problem. But basically, it’s like, hey, agency partner, whether you’re a traditional marketing agency or anything else, here’s 30 things we could do for you cross off the ones that you’re not interested in. Cool. We’ll pretend they don’t exist and everything else, you can now offer this to your clients. And a lot of times we’re pairing something we offer with something they offer. So maybe they’re doing one piece and we’re taking it and running with it. No problem. We’re the easiest people on the block. So it’s always what works best for them what works best for the client. And because we’re just so easy and flexible, we’re not like, oh, we have to do it all or we’re not interested, we’re basically coming to the table saying, how can we be the best partner for you, so that your clients are happy, they love the digital marketing they’re getting, they feel they’re getting great results, you feel like you have a partner you can trust, we’re not taking anything away from you, all we’re doing is adding to the mix. And then they’re like, great, so we never compete with our partners, because we don’t want to that’s our entire business model is we all have to work together and win together. So we basically work hand in hand with them. What do you need, they say, this is what success looks like, and then we make it happen.

Jeremy Weisz  19:24 

I know a lot of, I’ve talked to a lot of people about this. And some people struggle with this, Robert, about their partner program, and they think about what should the compensation structure? Should they company market up? Should there be a percentage? How do you recommend a company thinking about the compensation structure to that white label or quasi-white label partner?

Robert Burko  21:20 

So I would recommend there is no one answer. And then that’s the honest answer. I and I’ve been down it. I mean, I’ve spoken to so many agency partners, literally in every corner of the world. And the one thing I’ve learned is there is no answer to that, because the question we often ask. So basically, the way we approach it is with each agency partner, we talk about their business model, and what’s going to work best for them. So we have some agencies where we say, here’s our rate card, feel free to mark it up go wild, no problem, this is really easy. We have other agencies where it’s, here’s what we’re going to charge, and here’s your percentage back fundamentally, for us that ends up being the same, it’s just the way we package it. And some of them want that rate card markup, some of them wants us to percentage kickback, some of them want to sort of here’s the flat rate for the project go, we’ll charge whatever we want. So because we sort of go to them and say, let’s not talk about what’s going to work best for us, but like us individually, but what’s going to work best long term for this team. Because at the end of the day, I don’t want sort of one-off relationships, I’m not looking for a new partner, because we have one single project, I’m looking for a partner where now we’re gonna grow old together, right now we’re going to work together for the long haul. Now our teams are going to blend together, we have agency partners that we work with, where there’s probably new staff on their team that they don’t know if my staff are part of my company or their company. So because it’s sort of like a what’s going to work best. I think that’s honestly the answer I’m gonna give people and if you’re trying to find one single way, then you’re gonna find it only applies to a certain subset of people, because it can’t be one size fits all. There’s just too many moving parts.

Jeremy Weisz  22:51 

I’d love to go in the weeds a little bit Robert, about email, because I know you geek out on email and SMS. Okay. So because you’ve seen really the evolution of email and SMS from early days, what should companies be thinking about now, maybe you’ll start with SMS in the SMS universe?

Robert Burko  23:15  

So if we’re going to start with SMS, I think the difference now is everybody uses SMS, right? I mean, the joke of it is like what’s the least used app on your phone? It might, in fact, be the phone now. And there’s an irony to that, right? Like, I get a bunch of messages where if my phone suddenly rings right now, and it’s not a text message, I’m like, oh, something’s wrong. Like why am I getting a phone call? Right? So we now sort of live in this world that it wasn’t always like that, where everybody’s communicating by text, right? I guess so many more text messages. Even now I’m talking to you, I can see my phone dinging with text messages. And I’m fighting the urge not to look, but we all communicate by text messages that did used to happen. I mean, I’ve been doing it for a long time. So I remember when that was new. I mean, there was a time when you are paying per message that you’ve sent. Now, it’s all unlimited, everybody.

Jeremy Weisz  24:01 

I remember one of my friends would yell at me when I’d send him a text message because charging him 10 cents a text.

Robert Burko  24:08 

For sure. So I mean, that was a different world. So I think what’s happened now is the way we as a sort of a society communicate is different. And then how do brands involve themselves in that, right? So me texting you is one thing, but me getting a text message from a brand that I follow is different, because text messages are a little bit more intimate, a little more personal. So I’ve seen a lot more brands adopted as another channel as part of their sort of multi-channel communication strategy. I think there’s a cadence to it that is lower. So, brands and businesses that send out a daily newsletter, you can’t send out daily text messages, everyone’s gonna be like, whoa, not enough. But if you really sort of pick your moments to be like, I have something worth saying. And I want everybody to look at it, and you could put it in a short succinct text message. It’s actually really, really effective. Because I don’t know about you, but if I see a little one indicator on My Messages app, I am impelled to look at that, whereas I probably don’t look at every single email I get all day long.

Jeremy Weisz  25:05 

Totally. What about email? Best practice?

Robert Burko  25:09 

Yeah, so email has been a super interesting evolution because I’ve been doing it. I mean, I started when like, there was no graphics to email, right, it was only plain text, which is going to date me. But either way I started so long ago. So what’s been neat to see as the evolution away from the what I call spray and pray approach, which is almost like, we’re going to send a monthly newsletter on the first of the month to every subscriber we have. And we’re going to pretend that every subscriber is the same, and they all want the same content. And here’s what everybody gets. And that’s really the I mean, people still do that. But that’s really the old way of thinking about it. So now, when we approach a client, we’re looking at their database going, okay, here’s all your subscribers, great. Are every one of these people exactly identical? Because you have them in one big group? And they’re like, no, not everybody’s the same. We’re like, great. So now we do a lot of segmentation. How can we slice and dice this database? What do you know about these customers, either because they gave you the information, or we’ll look at past behavior analytics to say, we’re going to take you from one group called all subscribers to 20 groups that are so highly refined. And then once we have that, it really boils down to the right message, right person, right time, right place. So now that we have the segmentation, it’s not, we’re sending out one newsletter to everybody, it’s, you’re getting something that’s going to be more personalized to you, that resonates with you. And then we also do a lot of marketing automation. So instead of it being on the first of the month, you’re gonna get our newsletter, which we still do. Now, it’s going to be oh, you signed up for more information on our website, we’ve created a lead nurturing funnel, where you’re gonna get an email right away the next day, three days later, five days later. And it’s almost like we’re taking each person by the hand and scripting out these communication touchpoints, which to that person is highly effective. And in our strategic thinking, it’s we’re really taking you on this journey to mobilize you towards our ultimate end goal, without you saying, wait till the first of the month to get our newsletter. So we’ve seen a lot of savviness and marketing automation and customized journeys, and segmentation and personalized content. And we see that across the web, the email that I get from Amazon is the different email than you get from Amazon, because Amazon knows what we’re looking at. And we sort of take that principle and apply it to every business. And what we’re seeing is the ROI of the email marketing efforts is so much higher, because, oh, I sent you an email that’s relevant to you. So you click on it, you perform the action Add to Cart buy now, whatever it is, as opposed to, why are they sending me this? This has nothing to do with me, right. I’m not going to buy this product. So we don’t want to waste that does a great example, I’m a sports retailer that we work with, they didn’t really track what sports teams people were interested in. So no one’s gonna buy a jersey from the team they hate the most, and they’re definitely gonna buy the jersey of the team they liked the most. So once we started doing behavior analysis and figured out oh, you are most likely to buy this team. Oh, you’re a Green Bay Packers fan. Okay, guess what? You’re gonna get emails about the Green Bay Packers. And once we started doing that, the revenue just really skyrocketed.

Jeremy Weisz  28:07 

Yeah, so you advise first, you’re looking at segmentation, one, don’t treat everyone equal. And then you’re building off these specific email campaigns for each of those segments.

Robert Burko  28:19 

Absolutely. It’s about personalized content these days, gone are the days of treat everyone like they’re the same and have the same interest and motivating factors. These days, hyper-targeted marketing, that’s the future. That’s where we’re going. That’s what we focus on. It’s why we do AB testing with everything we do in multivariate testing. We’re trying to figure out how to maximize everybody’s marketing budget. And that’s not just oh, Rob has an idea. And this will maximize the budget. It’s literally systematically breaking apart the audience understanding their motivating factors, and then sending the right message, not just the email, but every channel that’s going to mobilize them towards your goal.

Jeremy Weisz  28:54 

Robert, now, like we were talking about, as you start with email and you add services, you add team and you’ve grown to a larger team, I’d love to hear some of the key hires. The evolution, some of the key hires that took you to the next stages of your agency.

Robert Burko  29:12 

Absolutely. So we’re a people-powered organization. The one thing I’ll say about Elite Digital is we are people-powered, someone wants to know what the secret sauce is of our organization. It’s our people bar none. I’m the luckiest guy in the world to work with such awesome and amazing people. That’s the most important thing. And our culture is really awesome. I’m incredibly proud of that. I grew up sort of going to different camps. And I like to believe I sort of infuse that in what we do. And we do all sorts of fun things at Elite, to make really have an amazing culture and that lets us attract the best people. And that’s to me is one of the most important thing. So the key hires for me are really going to be sort of my leaders and our leadership team. I have a problem where I like holding everything and being in control. And as I grew as a leader, being able to delegate and trust other people to do the work was a real challenge for me, and I’m the first one to admit that but what I look at sort of the leadership team we have now and the people we have on our roster, it is a group of amazingly talented people that I trust completely top to bottom, and they are gifted in their craft. So if I was doing it before, and I thought it was doing a good job, holy smokes, did they take it to a whole new level, and because they’re on a higher level, right, whether it be the best and marketing, or creative or development or client services, whatever it is, because I try to find people who really have that Elite Spark, who are going to be motivated not to do a good job, but to do a great job coming back to sort of our core values, I’ve been able to find these amazing people, and then they’re able to inspire their teams to be better. I always say Michael Jordan was amazingly talented, but when he stepped on the court, all the players around him got better. And that’s what I look for in my leaders, when they step on the court, all the people that are around them get better. And I’ve watched it happen year after year. And that’s really our secret sauce, having the right people. And then when you have the right people, the leadership team level, and they’re bringing the best out of their team. And the people on their team also are loving the culture of Elite, they feel a connection to the agency, they want really to Excel, we never accept the status quo, when you have this entire stack of people who are always pushing to be better, my catchphrase around the office is be better tomorrow than you were yesterday. Because I always want to be improving. When you have that in the organization top to bottom, magical and amazing things happen.

Jeremy Weisz  31:25 

So talk about you’re in high school, right? Yeah, you’re in your parents basement. What was your first key hire?

Robert Burko  31:34 

My first key hire, gosh, oh, man, my memory is not that good anymore. I think my first key hire at that point was getting into creative. So what I rapidly found was, visuals really helped sell in the next client. So once we started hiring really talented and amazing, creative people that propelled us forward, because in our portfolio, in our case studies, instead of being like, look how good our programming is, look how well that button works, or even a save results. Look how much this media campaign did when we had these beautiful sexy graphics for these brands and it was just really breathtaking. The visual stimulation was like other brands saying, oh, I want that. And I haven’t seen a website that looks that good. And I haven’t seen banner ads that look that good, or an email that looks that good. So I think jumping into the creative aspect really helped propel us forward. Because not only were we sort of doing the digital side, but then all of a sudden we paired digital with award-winning creative. And that really propelled us forward into our growth trajectory.

Jeremy Weisz  32:38 

So it was starting to hire these team members that were specializing in creative. What about from a management perspective, were you started to kind of step away, and be able to work on the business instead of doing everything in the business, or some of those people or positions that you had to hire for to start to step out?

Robert Burko  33:06 

Yeah, please, I saw a moment ago, on your screen, you had your cursor over at Lindsay Cohen, who’s a fantastic example, an amazingly talented lady truly gifted in so many ways. I mean, that was an incredible hire for me, because it wasn’t oh, she was going to create a rare development or anything else. But she really understood the vision of what we were trying to do her determination not to be an agency like everyone else, but to build an agency that she was proud of. That was her own that she knew was truly best in class where she was able to take everything she had learned throughout her career. And now instead of sort of being part of the machine helped build the machine, that was a really special thing. Because then suddenly, I had a partner beside me, who could help drive things forward. That’s really what expanded us into our health marketing division. Because she was an expert, she understood what we were doing. She was living and breathing the culture. And then I was able to say, great, you go manage that side of the company, and I’m gonna go manage this side of the company. And then suddenly, everything got a whole lot better, because instead of things being spread so thin, I was able to really focus, it’s no different. Justin Ultras up on your screen right now, he handles a lot of our finance and everything else. If I’m busy looking at all of our finances, and everything else, I can’t do what I’m doing. So as we grew, we found all these amazing people who really complimented what I could do, and it became not, oh, you do what I do, but rather I could do this. And you could do that. And it’s the same strategy I use with everybody else. We joke around the office because when I started the company, I didn’t have creative so I know Photoshop, and I know all these programs. Now that joke at the office that I better not open Photoshop, because if I do it, it is not at the level we want. But when I found all these people who sort of were best in class at what they did, and complimented my skills, while having that same just sort of philosophy, values and goals, it just took us to a whole new level. And now I have this leadership team that is just awesome and amazing and it’s so inspiring to watch because we’re really our best in class at what we do.

Jeremy Weisz  35:02 

Robert, people have taken different routes for that. Right? So let’s talk about Lindsey for a second, some people would bring someone and they start at one position and they kind of progress up to that level. And some people hire someone from the outside for that position. Did Lindsay start in the company move upward. And she come in as the managing director.

Robert Burko  35:26 

So Lindsay came in as the Managing Director, I was very fortunate, it really felt like the stars just aligned in a really, really special way. She was the person we were looking for, I just did not know her name was Lindsay Cohen at the time, we started looking. And then once I met her, I was like, you’re the one we’re looking for, like, where were you hiding? Why weren’t you here before? Because that would have been better. But boy, oh boy, am I glad you’re here now. And it was really great. I mean, I’ll tell you, I knew right away it’s what I was looking for. I was looking for someone who was not willing to accept the status quo and want to push for greatness. I think it’s easy to be complacent. And I really wanted someone who was willing to sort of push us to be better than we were, I was looking for someone who would understand that it wasn’t my agency, it was our agency. And I think I was really looking for someone who had the same values as me as well, our culture was so important. So when I met someone like Lindsay, and again, she also came up through camp and stuff like that. It was like, Wait a second, we think the same way. But you have all these complementary skills. And even to this day, I mean, even yesterday, I was talking to her. And I said, it’s the most amazing thing, because many times we’re totally aligned, and we agree completely. And then other times we disagree, but it creates this amazing balance, where at this point in time, I actually I need her to balance me out, because I’m afraid if I don’t have her to balance me out, I’m gonna go way off in this direction, and I need someone to rein me in. So it’s just create this amazing balance where we’re able to work together and achieve so many great things. Meanwhile, she’s keeping me honest, and it was having fun along the way. And I think across my entire leadership team, that’s what we have. It’s this great balance. And I love when I disagree with my leaders, because that’s how we get to a better result. And I think we have a culture that welcomes that, we welcome disagreement, right? We have a new person who joined our organization, Violet, and she’s helping to transform it even further. And she’s bringing a wealth of experience and her entire career, she has been doing amazing things. And I remember when she joined, I said, here’s a lump of clay, what do you want to do with it. And I was excited about that. And she was excited about that. Because being able to sort of forge our own path and figure out we want to do and take all the things we’ve learned and say, I don’t like when organizations do this. So we’re not going to do it. And I love when they do that. So we’re going to do it. Because everyone on our team is empowered to sort of drive that forward. And I encourage it, it’s very exciting to see both how far we’ve come, and also where we’re gonna go next.

Jeremy Weisz  37:57 

What’s an example, you can think of where there was a disagreement? And then what happened where she had to rein you in? Or kept you?

Robert Burko  38:04 

I mean, the last five minutes, like, wow, I mean, who knows? That happens all the time. I think there’s just, I mean, I don’t think about being right or wrong, I think, in the world that we live in, it’s shades of gray. Right? So if the decision is obvious, we’re usually aligned right away. I think when it comes to staffing decisions, what do we need to do the direction of the company, where do we want to invest? What do we want to do? Where do we want to spend our money? Who do we want to hire? I think it’s not so much about a disagreement, but rather, I’m right, or I think I’m right, she’s right, or whoever he’s right, whoever I’m talking to, we’re all right, no one’s wrong. And at the same time, we have to talk through it, I often say it’s not about a disagreement, we just each one, sort of lay all the cards on the table, and then basically poke holes in the other idea, not because we’re attacking them or defending our idea. But by poking holes in it, we’re able to find the best solution. And I think oftentimes, even in my younger years, I’d make a decision. And I didn’t look at every angle, and I missed something. And I only realized I missed it once I made the decision, it was too late. And now with my whole leadership team, we have a great approach where it’s, we’re gonna make a decision, let’s attack it head-on, let’s poke holes in it. Let’s make sure we’ve thought of everything. It’s just leading to a better idea where what I often find is the decision that gets made, it actually doesn’t end up being anyone’s idea they had initially, it ends up being everybody’s ideas put in a blender. And now it’s a much better idea we’re moving forward with.

Jeremy Weisz  39:29 

Yeah, so maybe a budget thing. It may be a spending thing, it may be a staffing thing, but thinking bring it to the leadership team to think through all the angles and what are the priorities and kind of not duke it out. But like people have certain opinions. All right on what the priorities are. I imagine.

Robert Burko  39:49 

Absolutely and I want everybody to have an opinion. Right. And I would say I think one of the things that makes Elite Digital special is it’s not only done at the leadership team level, one of the things I love about our culture is everybody has a voice. One of the most amazingly special things about Elite is we have our senior people coming up with ideas. But we also have to say, our most junior person coming up with ideas. And because we create this forum where we literally welcome that, and I always say, ideas breed ideas, but because we have this culture of, hey, everybody in the organization, how could we be better tomorrow than we were yesterday? Bring that to the table. And it doesn’t mean we’re going to do it. We can’t do every single idea. But we have an environment where it’s safe and welcoming to bring that forward. And even to this day, we’ll have junior staff say, why are we doing it this way? This makes no sense. And I’m like, you’re right, it makes no sense. But from where I said, I wasn’t even going to see that. So thank you so much for calling it out. And the fact that we have the whole organization pushing to improve, I think, is the reason why we sort of never accept the status quo, and are always pushing for greatness, because that’s just the mindset of everybody in the organization is how can we be better? And I think that’s really special. Because it’s not only at the top, only in the bottom, it’s literally everywhere.

Jeremy Weisz  40:59 

You mentioned a forum for it, is there some process or system within our structure within meetings that will allow people to voice what they’re thinking? Because they may have come from another company that was not the culture, right? And so it has to be somehow embedded or taught or because people may have been like, am I other company? I’m not supposed to speak up? I’m just supposed to do this. How was it embedded in some of the process or meetings?

Robert Burko  41:29 

Yeah, it does happen, because every new employee who starts at Elite, I call them and I spend time with them, no matter who they are, no matter what their role is, every single new person, one-on-one time with me gets booked, because I want to welcome them to our Elite family. And that’s important. And in that meeting, I tell all of them, and you can ask any employee to lead, I tell all of them, where you came from, they may have said, put your head down and do your job. And that is not what we do here. Okay, yes, we want you to get your work done. But here, everybody has a voice. And I don’t think it’s so much a formal process of the last five minutes of every meeting is free form go wild and crazy. I think it’s a cultural thing. I think we’ve empowered everybody to understand they have a voice, which is why I call it out right away. Because when everybody feels comfortable, and every idea is welcome. And I always say ideas, breed ideas, when everyone just feels that it just flows organically. So we’ve actually found we don’t need a formal process. Because, I always say I have an open-door policy, I get junior staff messaging me on Slack, saying, hey, I have an idea. And that’s welcome here. I’m the CEO, they’re the most junior employee, and it’s totally okay for them to share their ideas with me. And I love it. And I welcome that and encouraged that, and all my leaders encourage that. So because we have this culture of, please share your thoughts and ideas, and again, criticize our ideas. We put out constant surveys, what do you think? How can we make it better? We’re always doing that. I think that’s super important. And then it’s how we get fresh, new ideas. Recently, Michelle joined us as our new senior marketing person, our leadership team, tons of new ideas, new processes, new way of doing things. She’s reshaped the entire department in amazingly amazing ways that it’s so easy to see how much better we’ve gotten. And I know she’s always encouraging her team, what can we do to be better? How can we improve? How can we be more efficient? So it literally is this cascading effect of aligning everybody to please be open and share? And this is a safe space? And we hear all the time that’s special about Elite that you don’t get in other places?

Jeremy Weisz  43:29 

Yeah. I mean, it sounds like, I mean, they’re one of the biggest processes you get on the phone with them. And you basically tell that to them, and make sure they know it. And so I love to talk about some of the things you do culture. You mentioned, you do different things to help a foster that culture. What are we looking at here on the page? So we’re looking at What are we seeing here?

Robert Burko  43:54 

Yeah, absolutely. So we do this thing. It’s called the Elite House Cup. So again, I came up through camp. So basically, we have this Elite House Cup, where we divide everybody onto different teams, and not by department because I like mixing it up, right? So thought, oh, creatives are here devs are here. I want to mix it up. Because I also want to make sure everybody is friends with everybody else on the team. So we do this thing called Elite House Cup where everybody has their different teams. And then periodically we’ll do these different activities, competitions. So this was one where we actually took us from a big brother competition, where you basically had to spell the longest word and it was timed. So we had people running back and forth. And these are actually like kindergarten cards of different letters. But it was a bunch of people running back and forth trying to find different letters spell the word. We’ve done the egg drop challenge. We’ve done water balloon toss, we’ve done flip cup competitions, we do all these different games, which is just lots of fun. And not only is it fun, but there’s often a learning objective and an objective like, oh, we’re fostering teamwork and we’re working our communication skills. So not only are we having fun together and building stronger relationships are also becoming better at what we do. Because you actually whether you realize it or not, you walk away with sort of a skill of, hey, I now know how to work with this person. And now I’m going to be better equipped to work with them, not when we’re trying to spell the longest word, but when we’re trying to build a website for a client. So I often see how transferable it is, but it’s also a lot of fun.

Jeremy Weisz  45:20 

Love it. I want to talk about gamification, and some of the stuff that you do with your clients. So, again, if you’re looking at the video, if you’re listening to the audio, we’re looking at, the webpage we can see here Movember, PepsiCo, Doritos, Cheetos, Ruffles, Budweiser. And there was this was an interesting one that stuck out to me Cialis, okay, CLS, and we’re looking at a picture here of a goalie. Talk about this one.

Robert Burko  45:57 

Yeah, so one of the things that sort of an interesting to watch as I’ve watched digital evolve, is it kind of became talking at your consumer to talking with your consumer, right? So the reason gamification is growing a lot. And we see this everywhere is gone are the days have come to my website, it’s a contest, come to my website, fill this form, and you’re done right? Or come to my website, read this information, you’re done. It’s really become about engagement. Right? People in the early days of the internet, it was all about how much hits did I get to my website, how much traffic that I get? And don’t get me wrong, that’s still a KPI. But I want to know, how long are you spending on our website? How much are you interacting with our brand? So here for Cialis as an example, one of the things we noticed was the time on site was very low, right? Because how much were people reading about this? And we wanted to engage them more. At the time, they were looking at Arena sponsorships, which was very expensive. And I said, hey, I have an idea. What if we create a virtual arena? What if instead of going to the NHL and trying to sponsor other arenas, we create a virtual arena. And then to make people sort of engaged with the brand more, we’re going to create this interactive hockey game, right? Where it was all Cialis branded, though the boards were Cialis branded, the ice was Seattle’s brands. And at the end of the game, a Zamboni drives along that Cialis granted. So the brand’s perspective was, this is great brand awareness. This is awesome. And to the consumer, we created this really fun hockey game. And if you’re watching the video, you can sort of see some of it. But we created this really fun hockey game, where there’s a goalie in the net, wearing a Cialis Jersey, and you had to flick to shoot to score on the net. And it was time. And we had people competing with their friends for how many goals they could score. And suddenly, the sort of short experience that was transactional, of come to the website, read the information and leave now became this experience of I’m actually doing something I’m interacting with the website, I’m playing this game. And that was a really powerful thing that drove such stronger engagement. And we’ve seen other brands do that we’ve done it with Doritos, we’ve done it with Mountain Dew, we’ve done it with PureX, we’ve done it with all these brands, which is let’s not make just an experience that takes five seconds, let’s make an experience that actually draws the consumer in that engages them that gives them some fun and an experience they want while reinforcing our brand messaging.

Jeremy Weisz  48:16 

This is awesome. Robert, I feel like you could sell this to the NHL, this video here. They should be using this in their promotions.

Robert Burko  48:24 

So I will tell you the last game we made we got high praise. The last game we made for a client was it was in partnership with the NHL. And my team was super excited because we actually got an email from the NHL saying like this was incredible. And they told the agency partner like we love this work. This is amazing. We made a full 3D arena. And I’m a big sports guy. So having an email that I could print out from the NHL, saying this is awesome. I was certainly exciting for myself and the team. And we love celebrating those victories.

Jeremy Weisz  48:51 

This is pretty cool. I love it. So it’s actually interactive game also.

Robert Burko  48:55 

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s what made it fun, right? Like, you need to add utility to consumers today, right? There’s a lot of competition. Everyone lives on their phone. So if you’re gonna get people’s attention, and you want their attention for a longer time, you better add something of value. And that’s not just gamification. That’s an everything we do. Our data scientists are constantly studying the websites we’re building the emails, we’re sending the media campaigns we’re putting together to figure out how can we drive engagement? Because if I have a one-second interaction with you, that’s not very good. I need something longer because it takes one click to hit that back button. You could go anywhere. And meanwhile, I don’t have you hitting the back button. I have you engaging with our brands, and that’s really powerful.

Jeremy Weisz  49:37 

What’s this one? We’re looking at PepsiCo, a national gamified contest?

Robert Burko  49:42 

Yeah, so that was almost like a little bit of sort of peek behind the lucky door, if you will. So instead of just saying, hey, here’s what you won. It was here’s four bags of Lay’s chips, which bags do you want to open? And then depending on which bag you opened, determine what you got. So it was exciting, I was called the slot machine strategy, what are you gonna get, but it made it more exciting than just, scratch here and you win or you lose, you kind of felt like you were in control, it was still kind of chance. But it also made it more sticky. So we had people coming back over and over again. Because tomorrow, they wanted to open up a new bag to see what they got.

Jeremy Weisz  50:22 

My last quote, first of all, thank you, Robert, thank you for sharing your journey, your expertise and your stories. My last question is, throughout this business journey, I’d love to hear some of your mentors. It could be your actual personal mentors that in business agency life and also any distant mentors, books that you’ve loved throughout the years?

Robert Burko  50:43 

Yeah, so hands down easily. I know the answer, because it is my father. And I’ve said that forever, forever, ever. He knows that I know. He was the biggest inspiration on me starting this. He’s an entrepreneur. So I like to say it’s infused in my DNA. But I think beyond what you’re watching, yeah, beyond me of watching him sort of do it and see what that was. And seeing that work ethic, right. I mean, he’s the hardest working guy I’ve ever seen. My goal in life is to not work as hard as he was, although I was certainly a workaholic. So that inspiring work ethic, but he was so encouraging. And no matter what I was doing, when we’re struggling, he was encouraging when we were being successful, he was encouraging. And I think the biggest thing he taught me was everything was a learning opportunity. And that’s a value I’ve taken from the very first day I started this company, everything is a learning opportunity. And I tell my kids that to this day where I would do something and I would fail. And he would say as long as I learned something, it wasn’t a failure. And I think because that resonated so much with me, and I have no shortage of mistakes I’ve made over the last two decades. And I was young when I started. And if I only knew what I knew now back then, but because I look at it as everything is a learning opportunity. And even we lose, we fail, but we didn’t fail because we learn something. Because I say that for literally everything I do. I post game, all my decisions, everything else. It’s sort of set me on this path of always trying to be better, and always sort of seeing the positive. Maybe we just went poorly, but how can we be better next time. And that was just so inspiring. So easily hands down. He was my biggest mentor, still my biggest mentor, still my biggest cheerleader, I’ll throw my mom in there as well. So she didn’t listen to this later and say, yo, where was my credit? Also very inspiring. So mom, definitely shout out to you. But definitely business-wise. My father, definitely biggest mentor hands down.

Jeremy Weisz  52:31 

What were his businesses? What kind of business was he in?

Robert Burko  52:34 

Yeah, so he runs a television advertising company, which has some irony to it, because while I’m moving people from broadcast to YouTube, he is still selling TV. So not only did he inspire me, but now our two industries collided a little bit and it’s fun to watch. But still, there’s no one who’s a bigger cheerleader today than him without a doubt.

Jeremy Weisz  52:55 

Robert, I want to be the first one to thank you. Thanks. Everyone, check out more episodes of the podcast and we’ll see you next time.

Robert Burko  53:04 

Thanks so much.