Integrated Experiences

June 15, 2017 by


After a long anticipated wait, the day had finally arrived. I was headed down to the small town of Huntington, WV to attend INTEGRATE West Virginia. As I drove into town, I got butterflies and was so excited to attend my first INTEGRATE conference. You hear from everyone who has ever gone that the conference is outstanding, but you don’t quite believe it until you’ve experienced it. Now, I am one of those people saying just how outstanding the conference was.

From my first step into the door, the team welcomed me and introduced themselves. Finally being able to put names to faces was a relief and comforting in a way. It was special to know I had been working with some of these individuals for over two years and I finally was presented with the opportunity to get to know them on a more personal level rather than through our digital exchanges.

From that moment on, I was hooked. Networking opportunities left and right surrounded by captivating breakout sessions just made the whole experience memorable.

With each and every session I was in, I was able to walk away with a minimum of at least three ideas or concepts that could help me in my professional life today. Whether it was a trick with content or an idea with creative, each piece built up a pretty impressive puzzle by the end of the weekend.

The speakers proved to be some of the best in the industry. With the numerous awards to their names and countless nationally recognized campaigns, I was engulfed with every story and piece of information they told. Not only were they great to listen to, they all had wonderful senses of humor making the hour sessions fly by!

To me, however, the most rewarding aspect of the conference – networking. As you walk in, you instantly look around to put some names to some faces. You recognize a few professors and maybe a student or two you have had class with but once things get moving, you become the fastest friends with so many of these classmates and alumni. Getting to know more about conference attendees’ careers and how they are intertwined in the marketing communications web is so interesting and you truly learn so much. In addition to that, you make lifelong friends both personally and professionally.

If you haven’t been to INTEGRATE yet, I would highly suggest it. One of the best conferences I have literally ever been too given the quality of content and the opportunities to build your skill set and relationships with other marketing communications professionals.

Kelsey Berg is a current student in the WVU IMC Program. She is the marketing content coordinator for FootJoy. 

Why You Should Attend the INTEGRATE Conference

June 13, 2017 by


After attending the recent 2017 INTEGRATE West Virginia Conference in Huntington, West Virginia, I started thinking about the many benefits of attending industry conferences, specifically those in marketing and communications. If you think about it, you get to visit a new town (if it’s held outside of your area), meet industry leaders, receive great content and network with a bunch of other folks in your field.

Presented by West Virginia University’s Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) graduate program, the INTEGRATE West Virginia Conference was designed to offer strategic communicators and marketing professionals access to the latest IMC techniques and strategies. Through the presentations and chats led by inspiring industry leaders, INTEGRATE is designed to be a “learn it today, apply it tomorrow” type of conference.

An additional bonus for those of us currently enrolled in the IMC graduate program was the opportunity to meet some of the program’s professors at the conference. Since the IMC program is all online, meeting some of the professors in person really helped further personalize the program experience for me.

In addition to the bonuses I mentioned above, here are some of the reasons I encourage everyone in the marketing industry to consider attending the INTEGRATE conference.

Networking opportunities. Whether you’re new to the professional realm or a seasoned veteran, networking is very important to continued growth in your field. The world of marketing communications is an ever-changing one, so conferences like INTEGRATE are a perfect place for marketing minds to come together and learn from one another. Making and maintaining these connections is now easier than ever with the INTEGRATE conference’s use of the event management mobile app, Bizzabo, which has a built-in LinkedIn feature to allow the possibility of connection of all the registered attendees of the conference. So even if you didn’t get that business card from someone you met at INTEGRATE, you can go back into the app and find their LinkedIn profile.

Opportunity to see old friends, colleagues and classmates. I won’t pretend I’m not biased for saying this, but I do truly believe that the WVU Reed College of Media, formerly P.I. Reed School of Journalism, is one of the best schools for connecting its students, graduates and professionals in the industry. The INTEGRATE conference attracts people much like the ones I had the privilege of meeting or studying with the few short years ago during my undergraduate experience. Case in point: running into my former classmate and soon-to-be Data Marketing Communications graduate program grad, Alex McPherson. Getting to catch up with a fellow alum was just part of the awesome experience I had at INTEGRATE. So, definitely check it out. You might run into some of your old classmates there!

Great content and recommendations. During the first day, Amanda Todorovich, director of content marketing at the Cleveland Clinic, gave a great presentation titled “How to Build a Killer Content Marketing Strategy” that covered anything and everything from metrics and how to use them effectively, to the importance of knowing exactly who your audience is. She talked about how content creation should be pleasurable, like eating ice cream. She went on to say that it shouldn’t be a chore, like sweeping your floor, but rather like the act of preparing (toppings, toppings, toppings!) and eating ice cream. She credited this clever analogy to the podcast “Unthinkable: Exploring How to Use Intuition to do Better Work” and recommended we all go listen to a few episodes. Host Jay Acunzo shares his weekly narrative of how to break from the conventional way of thinking and start trusting your intuition. He interviews bloggers, small business owners, and many other creatives who are really successful at thinking outside of the box. I’ve already listened to three episodes, so major shout out to Amanda for helping make my morning commute more productive!

Motivation and inspiration. I walked out of the INTEGRATE conference with a notebook full of bold and underlined words and phrases that are still pinging around in my head a week later. Here are a few of the insights I picked up from the amazing industry leaders.

  • Define a strategy and stick to it. Cleveland Clinic’s Amanda Todorovich spoke to this during her presentation about building a strong content marketing strategy. She went on to talk about how sticking to a strategy makes it easier to see what not to post, share and spend wasted time on. The simple act of creating a strategy isn’t nearly as important as sticking to it.
  • Ask “What’s next?” In her presentation about the reinvention of the digital video model,’s Head of Client Solutions Jen Sangrid spoke specifically to the constantly changing way we view videos and how important it is to always be looking forward. She talked about the importance of understanding what people want and how they want to view it. By paying attention to certain viewing metrics, marketers should always be asking, “What’s next?”
  • Don’t just be a marketing person; be a marketing and data person. While not a direct quote, I really liked Coca-Cola Freestyle Global Marketing Director and West Virginia native Scott Cuppari’s point about the importance of understanding your company or organization’s metrics. Make the effort to fully understand what the metrics can mean to your day-to-day and let them help you forecast your next marketing move.
  • To be a leader, you must be real and vulnerable. Verizon Senior Executive Communications Manager Lauren Tilstra spoke about the importance of delivering an authentic message. Today’s audience is looking for the genuine truth. They have instant access to the personal lives of executives, CEOs, celebrities and pretty much anyone willing to share their life on social media. This access means that what the company or organization does and how it’s senior leadership and members portray themselves on social media should jive. If they don’t marry up, audiences will immediately pick up on that. Tilstra emphasized the importance of owning up to mistakes. This shows vulnerability and realness and can really help the perception of the audience.

I highly encourage anyone in the marketing communications industry to consider attending the next INTEGRATE conference to be held in Houston, Texas on October 19-21. I can guarantee this conference will provide invaluable experience and content to help you continue to grow in your career.

Bailee Miller is a current student in the WVU IMC program, and she earned her bachelor’s degree from the WVU Reed College of Media.

Teaching is a Life Changing Experience

June 1, 2017 by


Teaching is a normal extension of our careers in communications, marketing and advocacy. We do it every day with our co-workers, clients and those seeking to one day join our profession.

In 2010, I wanted to advance beyond periodic guest lectures, panel discussions and penning columns on best practices (I still enjoy those opportunities). That prompted me to seek out a more formal opportunity to teach public affairs in West Virginia University’s growing Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program. Developing a full-fledged, eight-week elective and teaching it in the WVU IMC program has been life-changing on multiple levels.

I am a better person, and I am a more valuable professional since I started teaching online and testing information, ideas and case studies with talented faculty and working adult students.

The students are demanding and responsive. That more than anything encourages me to keep up with current events, technological advances and continue to seek new and better solutions for public affairs, government communications and ethics challenges we all face in our everyday jobs. And the students each term continue to challenge me and conventional marketing methods. The evolution of our profession is fueled by technology and the constant blending of practices (public relations, advertising, marketing, social and digital, government affairs, grassroots and fundraising) that were once carried out in silos.

The diversity of our students – both backgrounds and experiences – adds to the rich learning environment we offer. Students welcome real-world solutions gleaned from faculty and fellow students to bring to their current jobs. It has also been rewarding to watch students apply their IMC course and degrees to secure well-deserved promotions and better jobs.

The continuing education and networking opportunities offered by IMC administrators and faculty is another side benefit of teaching. If you have not considered teaching formally and sharing your years of knowledge, I highly recommend it. The reflections and research experienced while developing your course, as well as its reception by students and faculty will make you a better practitioner and help you meet talented professionals you otherwise might not ever meet.

Be prepared for the positive changes in your life.

Mike Fulton directs the Washington, D.C. office of the Asher Agency and teaches IMC 638 Public Affairs. Connect with him at


The Keys to Event Marketing – Part 2: Inspire FOMO

May 11, 2017 by


FOMO—the Fear Of Missing Out—is a key motivator in many aspects of our lives.  We want to experience the museum exhibit that no one can get a ticket for, we’ll stand in line for an hour to try a cupcake, or we’ll book a trip to Iceland because everyone else seems to be doing it… FOMO applies to events too.  As a marketer, you have to figure out what makes your event special; special enough that people will take time away from their “regular life” to spend their time and money in order to learn or do something they would not typically get to experience.

There are two parts to creating this FOMO – one is actually planning an agenda and developing content that will be unique, inspiring, and engaging; two is making sure your target audience knows about how great the event is going to be and feel like they’ll miss out if they do not get to experience it.

With the access to so many free tutorials, videos, classes, networking events, etc. it can be hard to convince someone (or that someone’s boss) that an event is worth spending their time and money.  So, how do you do it?

First, read part 1 of this event marketing blog series and make sure you know your target audience and ways to use that information to your advantage.  Next, finalize your planning, then execute — hit send on your first email, post your first promotion tweet, and launch your Google Ad campaign!

Create Communications Timeline:

Events have hard deadlines, so start from the event date and work your way backwards.  Find out when key information will be available and define your timeline(s) – one timeline for prospective attendees and a second for registrants.  When does registration open and close?  When is the event’s schedule going to be finalized and available to share?  Are there key speakers or keynotes you will want to promote to entice registrations?  Are you providing an event mobile app and when will it be available to download?  Plotting out your key communications will allow you to divide up the outbound communications and decide how many times you’ll need to send prospective attendees and registrants information.

Choose Your Channels & Tactics:

When researching your target audience, identify not only what industry they work for, but see if you can infer other information that can inform your selection of marketing channels and tactics.  Can you identify “watering holes” where this audience goes for information—websites, social media, magazines, etc.?  Are there groups on LinkedIn that a larger percentage of the members fit your target audience?  Are there any trade shows you’re attending prior to your own event where your target audience is also in attendance?  Any information like this can help you to identify and focus in on where you need to be promoting and getting the word out about your event.

Now-a-days there are so many places to promote your event – your company website, outbound emails, your social media channels, paid social media (like LinkedIn InMail drops or Sponsored Content), Google re-marketing PPC ads, buying an eBlast for a partner to send out to their membership, etc.  Know your budget and choose the channels/tactics that will give you the most opportunities to reach your audience and will give you the best ROI.

Nail Your Messaging & Branding:

As an integrated marketing communications professional, one of your main goals is that the messaging and branding are consistent regardless of the channel or tactic, from the first invite to the directional signage onsite.  The color scheme of your event website should be pulled in to the design of your HTML emails; the tone of your tweets should build off the emails messaging; even the key speakers should relate to and/or speak to key themes brining your messaging to life face-to-face.  Every single touchpoint is the opportunity to reinforce and prove to your attendees that they made the right decision in choosing to attend your event.


Jennifer Maltba began her journey with the IMC program in August 2012; graduating in December 2014. Her favorite thing about the program was its ‘learn today, use tomorrow’ philosophy, which she felt truly made this a one-of-a-kind program.  A month after graduating, she took the position of Marketing Manager at Cvent, a global meeting and event technology provider headquartered in the DC area.  When not creating integrated marketing campaigns and tracking Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), Jen can be found planning her next trip to somewhere new, exploring the neighborhoods of DC in search of the best food, or taking in the latest museum exhibit in our nation’s capital.  





May 4, 2017 by

INTEGRATE West Virginia will take place in Huntington, West Virginia, on June 2-3.

From one WVU IMC student to another, I would definitely recommend attending! Why? – The speakers, the location, the professors and the cost. For the inside scoop, read on!


INTEGRATE West Virginia will feature 13 world-class speakers, from across the country—Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York and Morgantown. Working for companies like Coca-Cola, Google and Verizon, their specialties range from tourism marketing to internal communications, and include everything in between. A couple highlights…

Andy Azula, senior vice president/executive creative director at The Martin Agency – INTEGRATE West Virginia’s keynote speaker, Andy Azula, has many claims to fame; however, he is best known as UPS’s “whiteboard guy.” This campaign was so famous, Azula got spoofed on Saturday Night Live!

Amanda Todorovich, director of content marketing at Cleveland Clinic – Named the Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 Content Marketer of the year, Amanda Todorovich is a nationally renowned speaker. She also manages Health Essentials, the number one most-visited hospital blog in the United States. 

Sebastian Webber, founder of CrowdSurge – This music industry executive has worked with a multitude of popular artists, including: Coldplay, Adele, Leona Lewis, M.I.A. and Sia! In 2010, his work landed him on Billboard magazine’s “30 under 30” list.

Listen to this! I heard Chad Mezera, assistant dean of online programs, say this is the best INTEGRATE line up yet!


Huntington is a rural, southern West Virginia town filled with local shops, unique restaurants and stunning greenery. Its small-town charm was recognized when it received first place in the America’s Best Communities competition in April 2017. While you’re there, be sure to check out the following.

For food: Fat Patty’s – This hometown restaurant is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Best known for its specialty burgers, Fat Patty’s was named by USA Today as one of the top 51 Burger Joints in America in 2013.

For drinks: Huntington Ale House – Offering customers more than 90 different beers, the Huntington Ale House has something for everyone. Whether you prefer a local, craft brew, or a simple, domestic draft, it’s here!

For fun: Take a tour of Marshall University’s campus – Founded in 1837, Marshall University is home to 13,631 students. As you walk the institution’s historic campus, I guarantee that some areas will look familiar, as they acted as sets for the 2006 blockbuster hit, “We Are Marshall.”

Here’s a tip! Bring your walking shoes. Huntington has some gorgeous scenery that you won’t want to miss!


INTEGRATE provides IMC students with an opportunity to connect with, not only one another, but also with their professors. Developing one-on-one relationships with the IMC program’s professors allows students to better understand course options, build their professional networks and obtain knowledgeable mentors. Here’s what you can expect!

The Alexia Vanides Teaching Award – Each year, one IMC professor is awarded the Alexia Vanides Teaching Award. This honor is decided upon by the program’s students. Did you pick the winner? Find out at INTEGRATE West Virginia!

Kristi Hansen Onkka – Developer of the IMC program’s newest course, IMC 693 – Augmented/Virtual Reality, Kristi Hansen Onkka will be at the conference. In addition to acting as a speaker, Hansen Onkka is bringing her AR/VR gear for attendees to try. Pick her brain about this new course while seats are still available!

Whitney Drake – A 2016 graduate of the IMC program, Whitney Drake is now working as a professor! Talk to Drake about her experiences, and the option of teaching after graduation.

Head’s up! There will be nine professors at INTEGRATE West Virginia.


When attending conferences, expenses add up quickly! In addition to paying for the conference, you must secure a hotel room, purchase food and pay for other miscellaneous expenses. As of now, I have been to nearly a dozen professional conferences. Of them, INTEGRATE is, by far, the cheapest. Check out these deals!

The conference – If you register by May 15, and use the code ‘INTWV,’ you can attend INTEGRATE West Virginia for only $200! That includes access to the event’s keynote dinner!

Your hotel – A limited number of rooms are available at the Pullman Plaza Hotel in Huntington, at a special conference rate of $94 per night. The hotel is within walking distance of the event, as well as many local shops and restaurants.

Dining – The INTEGRATE West Virginia event staff has worked to secure discounts from local restaurants for all conference attendees. All you have to do is show your name badge! 

Food for thought – to attend Content Marketing World 2017, it costs $2,000, and we are featuring one of the same speakers!

For more information about INTEGRATE West Virginia, or to register, please visit Contact Megan Bayles, public relations and marketing graduate assistant, at or 304-293-3286 with any questions.

I hope to see you in Huntington!


April 27, 2017 by




The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word integrate in the following manner.

Integrate: to make a person or group part of a larger group or organization

You are probably wondering why I am giving you a vocabulary lesson, but I promise, I have a point!

The first IMC Weekend took place in 2005. The event was founded to bring together WVU IMC students from across the country. It was intended to unite students who would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet one another. It was meant to make them feel that, even though they study online, they are, and will always be, part of the Mountaineer family.

The success of IMC Weekend warranted its continuation. In 2011, IMC Weekend transitioned into a full marketing communications conference. That’s when INTEGRATE was born!

The first INTEGRATE conference was held in Morgantown, West Virginia. Since then, it has traveled to multiple cities throughout America; cities like Chicago, Washington, D.C., and, soon, Huntington, West Virginia. The conference, which once attracted only WVU IMC students and faculty, expanded its audience and began drawing marketing communications professionals from all industries.

First you got a vocabulary lesson, and now a history lesson? What’s next?

The point is, despite its changes, the definition of INTEGRATE remains the same. INTEGRATE is a chance for marketing communications professionals to gather, learn, share and grow, both individually and as a collective unit. That is something that will never change, regardless of Merriam-Webster’s updates.

This year, we’ve teamed up with Marshall University to bring you INTEGRATE West Virginia. INTEGRATE West Virginia will take place June 2-3, in Huntington, West Virginia. This year’s conference will feature Andy Azula, senior vice president and executive creative director at The Martin Agency, as its keynote speaker.  For more information about the conference, or to register, please visit Contact Megan Bayles, public relations and marketing graduate assistant, at, with any questions.

The Keys to Event Marketing – Part 1: Know Your Audience

April 20, 2017 by


There are a multitude of reasons for organizations to host events, but planners and marketers tend to agree that the top reason is to build brand awareness, which will increase revenue or engagement, depending on what kind of organization.  To grow this awareness and drive revenue via an event, you must first generate interest, deliver registrations, and ensure attendance.  In this post, we’ll cover steps that should take place before you even hit send on the first email, post the first tweet, or spend your first dollar on a Google Ad.

Where it All Begins – The Target Audience:
There are multiple channels and tactics that can be used to get the word out about an event: email, social posts, direct mail, word-of-mouth, paid search ads, print ads, etc.  But before you choose how to reach prospective attendees, you must first consider the following – Who is your ideal audience? What do you know about them?  Why would they be interested in attending your event?  How will you reach them and persuade them to spend their money and time at your event?

Increase Relevancy by List Segmentation:
Once you have answered these questions and narrowed down your target audience, now consider how you segment them. By industry? By geography? By job title/job function?  By attendee type? Segmentation of your contact list will allow you to tailor your outbound messaging, such as email invites and paid digital ads, to be more relevant to the audience on which you are trying to reach.

Take IMC’s Integrate conference – the team marketing the event is targeting a variety of attendee types: previous attendees, speakers, professors, current students, former students, prospective students, industry professionals, and sponsors.  Imagine if they used the same messaging to try to invite someone to be a speaker as they did to invite a current student to participate… both the speaker and the current student would most likely delete that email because they wouldn’t think it was relevant to them.

Personalize with Data Tags:
Segmentation is the first step to being relevant and the second is using the information you know to personalize your communications.  Do you know their first name?  Use the <Insert First Name> data tag in the greeting to address them at the start of the email.  Do you know what industry they are in or company they work for?  Direct them to a page on the event website that is relevant to <insert industry here> professionals.  Were they an attendee at last year’s event?  Add a note at the top of the direct mail piece acknowledging that, something like: “We hope you enjoyed Integrate 2016.  We’re excited to invite you to join us again this year!”

Know Your Audience & Use It to Your Advantage:
In our world, nearly every experience is tailored to each person.  It is imperative that you look at all the information you know prior to launching your event marketing campaign.  Then see how you can use that information to make prospective attendees feel as if you are personally inviting them to your event.

Jennifer Maltba began her journey with the IMC program in August 2012; graduating in December 2014. Her favorite thing about the program was its ‘learn today, use tomorrow’ philosophy, which she felt truly made this a one-of-a-kind program.  A month after graduating, she took the position of Marketing Manager at Cvent, a global meeting and event technology provider headquartered in the DC area.  When not creating integrated marketing campaigns and tracking Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), Jen can be found planning her next trip to somewhere new, exploring the neighborhoods of DC in search of the best food, or taking in the latest museum exhibit in our nation’s capital.  

Invest in Yourself

April 13, 2017 by


Tax Day brings up many mixed emotions—stress to hit the deadline, relief when it’s over and for many, excitement to receive a tax refund. While people are experiencing the many emotions of Tax Day, it is a reminder about empowering ourselves with the expendable money from our tax returns.

Graduate school is more than a financial commitment. Earning a master’s degree is an investment in your future with your time, energy and money, but the return on investment is key.


While the Big Bang Theory’s protagonist, Sheldon Cooper devoted an excessive amount of time to academics, I would be lying if I said graduate school wasn’t a time commitment. Luckily with IMC, once you complete the introductory IMC 610 course, the rest of the classes follow a similar structure. In my personal experience, I work around the deadlines in place such as the paper on Monday, discussion posts on Wednesday and discussion responses on Friday. I budget my time based on the deadlines in place and try to work around my full-time work schedule and personal obligations.

Mental Energy
Integrated Marketing Communications is a creative field, which is one of the many reasons I selected IMC for my master’s degree. However, after working a full day in our industry and coming home to continue writing sometimes it can be a challenge. In order to combat creative “fatigue”, I try to brainstorm writing ideas for school during my spare time and plan writing times when I’m creatively fresh, such as first thing in the morning. Everyone has a preference on the best writing times rather first thing in the morning, afternoon, evening or late-night. When you figure out your best writing time it will greatly improve your mental energy spent on innovative and original school work.

College students are often stereotyped as struggling financially. Fortunately, with the flexibility of an online master’s program IMC students do not have to abandon their full-time careers to go back to school. Of course, graduate school is a financial investment but there are opportunities to work while pursuing your degree and students don’t have to sacrifice career momentum in order to obtain a master’s degree.

With any investment, it is critical to figure out the return-on-investment. The IMC program is a commitment of time, energy and finances. However, the return-on-investment greatly outweighs the upfront work for the master’s degree. I may sound biased as an upcoming May 2017 grad but many alumni feel the same about the program’s ROI. Over 97.9% of graduate would recommend the IMC program and 88% believe the degree led them to a better position or promotion.

As Tax Day rolls around the corner this Monday, think about the ways you are investing in yourself and your future this year. It could be an excellent opportunity to invest in a graduate degree with the WVU Reed College of Media online programs.





Secrets to Starting Your Own Agency: Agency Owners Tell All Part II

April 6, 2017 by


Marilyn Heywood Paige shares the real-world application of IMC in marketing agencies.

If you’re thinking about starting your own marketing agency, you’re in good company. According to AgencySpotter, there are 120,000 marketing agencies in the US. Every one of them was started by someone just like you.

In my last post, I gave you tips from small agency owners on finances, charging for your services, and demonstrating your value to the client. In this post, I’ll reveal the secrets agency owners around the globe shared with me on hiring employees and getting clients.


When you finally get to the critical mass of client work that you need to hire staff to help you, it’s a great accomplishment. However, hiring employees is where many agency owners have the steepest learning curve. Here’s what some agency owners had to say about expanding their staff.

Think Carefully

Marcus Miller, head of SEO and digital marketing at the UK agency Bowler Hat, thought every hire would be as great as his first hire, his sister. That wasn’t the case. He writes, “My next three hires did not last six months. I suspect one even stole from the office. A fourth hire was with us for nine months but was a disruptive force in the office. My days became a hell of trying to manage people and creating processes to ensure work was done properly.” He continues, “My advice is to think very carefully about bringing extra people in. You must consider the culture and how to create a space that allows people to learn and do great work. You have to create a place that people will want to come to work in each day. Somewhere that is intellectually nourishing, fun and rewarding. You must do everything you can to hold onto the good people.”

Who You Hire Becomes Your Reputation

For some agency owners, taking on employees equates to feeling more personally responsible. Robin Donovan of the Bozell Agency in Omaha, Nebraska noted, “You’ll feel pride in every single accomplishment made by anyone in your company, and you’ll feel responsible for every single mistake or problem made by anyone in your company. You are completely dependent on the people at your agency, and you are completely responsible for them, too.”

Delegate Well


Nikki Bisel, owner and founder of in St. Louis, Missouri learned that hiring people meant trusting them to do the work so you can focus on the bigger picture.”I learned that it’s imperative to hire people better than you that you can delegate to. Your role as the agency owner is to keep the wheels greased and keep your business growing. The only way you can do that with confidence is to have a team of experts that you can delegate work to. You may love design or social media or copywriting, but your core responsibility to your employees and your clients is to build a solid business.”

Getting Clients

Even if you have been freelancing and have some clients with which to start your business, you’re going to need more to keep your business growing. Getting new clients can be the most challenging aspect of running your own agency.

“During our first year in business, I learned a valuable lesson; stellar customer service and a strong work ethic will not pay your bills. I was under the impression that once I got started if I did my job to the best of my ability that things would fall into place and my money tree would start to flourish. Well, consider that lesson number one that I learned, and a laughable one at that.” Rachael Ekey, President of The Markey Group, a boutique marketing agency located in Westlake, Ohio.

What Rachael is hinting at is that it doesn’t matter how good your services are, at some point you’re going to have to sell them to prospective buyers.

Become a Good Salesperson

Jeff Kear ran a marketing firm for fifteen years and is currently the founder and CMO for Planning Pod in Denver, Colorado.

On this topic he notes, “The biggest lesson I learned in my first year running my marketing business was that I had to become as good a salesperson as I was a marketer. Every marketer thinks they are good at selling, but what they’re really good at is presenting, and there’s a huge difference between presenting an idea or campaign to a client and pounding on doors to sell yourself and your abilities. Most marketers love the behind-the-scenes strategizing, conceptualizing, and campaign building that is so essential to growing a brand. But they aren’t salespeople because, for the most part, they don’t enjoy the constant prospecting, calling, and rejection that just seems to fuel salespeople to plow ahead. And you don’t tend to be as good at things that you don’t enjoy. . . The second piece of advice I have is to take sales training. The only way to get good at something is to practice it, and most marketers are extremely capable of becoming excellent salespeople. And the way you become proficient at something is to develop those skills through practice.

Perform on Every Project

Bob Bentz (WVU’81) is the president of mobile-first digital agency Purplegator in suburban Philadelphia.

He advises that retainer clients are a thing of the past and you have to perform well on every project. “The days of the Mad Men era are gone. Retainers for mobile and digital are uncommon, and you have to perform on every promotion, or you may not get another chance.”

He’s right. At my agency, Fig Advertising and Marketing and many others, retainer clients make up just 40% of the agency revenues.

Don’t Just Take Any Client

But while retainers may be fewer and further between, some agency owners feel that you need to be careful about the clients you take on.

Jodie Cook, the owner of JC Social Media in Birmingham, UK encourages newcomers to choose clients carefully. “I learned in my first year of business to be choosy about who you work with because their reputation will become yours. We see each client relationship as a partnership rather than an ‘us vs. them’ arrangement. This means we work with people whom we like, get on with, and genuinely have a great partnership with. Difficult clients will make your work difficult and your life difficult. Say no!”

Starting a marketing agency is a challenging endeavor. You can be successful at it, but it will test you in ways you don’t imagine at the start. Hopefully, the insights gained from these agency owners will help you avoid some of the same pitfalls they experienced.

Other articles by Marilyn Heywood Paige

Secrets to Starting Your Own Agency: Agency Owners Tell All Part I

March 30, 2017 by


Marilyn Heywood Paige shares the real-world application of IMC in marketing agencies.

Not into 9 to 5? Thinking about starting your own marketing firm? Before you jump in, ask yourself if your primary desire is to practice integrated marketing communications (IMC), or if you love the idea of running a business and managing others who practice IMC.

When I graduated from WVU’s Integrated Marketing Communications master’s program, I started my own marketing consulting firm. Within two years of launching, I merged with a larger full-service marketing agency in Denver and never looked back. In my short stint as an agency owner, I learned that there’s a huge difference between running an agency and working in one. They require very different skill sets. So, while I liked utilizing the skills, I’d acquired in the IMC program, using them accounted for just 30% of my day as an agency owner. The rest of the time was spent networking, selling, managing vendors, billing, and accounting—things I didn’t especially want to do. I learned that I didn’t want to run an agency, I wanted to work in one.

If you’re not sure if you want to go solo, or if you’ve decided it’s the right path for you, here are words of wisdom from agency owners to help you understand more about running your own agency.

So You Want To Start A Marketing Agency

I polled successful agency owners from around the country (and a few in the UK) on what their biggest lessons were in their first year running their agency. There were a few themes they all had in common, so here is the summary of their wisdom on finances, charging for your services, and demonstrating your value to the client. In my next blog, I’ll reveal what they had to say about hiring employees and getting clients. Learn from their mistakes and shorten your pathway to profits.


Many agency owners I polled outlined the need to get your finances in order and not just hope it all falls into place.

Be Strategic


“The biggest lesson I learned was how important it is to be lean and strategic with spending and ALWAYS aware of your financials. Without your arms around your financial situation, you’re not able to make informed decisions, flex/spend/save where you need to and ultimately, you’ll put yourself out of business.”
Karen Cummings, founder, Radiant Marketing


Dave Hartshorne, director and digital consultant at dijitul in the UK concurs. He says, “Get your finances in order, and the rest will take care of itself. Management and accountancy software should be implemented into the business before you even start talking to customers.”

Charging for Your Marketing Services

It’s one of the hardest things to do, and the most necessary. Knowing what to charge is difficult, and many first-year owners struggle with it.

Be Confident in Your Abilities


Will Coombe, Co-founder of Sharpe Digital an SEO company in Central London said, “In the beginning, we did not value our time enough. Looking back, there was a lack of confidence to set our fees high. This attracted the wrong kind of client and meant we were taking on too much work for not enough compensation, all leading to stress and a lack of growth.” His advice is to, “Have the confidence to charge more. If the service your agency is offering is truly exceptional and delivers value to your client, set your fees higher than the market average. This will qualify the prospective client and mean you can do a better job for more pay when they work with you.”

Coombes said it well. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that if you don’t charge much, your client won’t value your service, no matter how good you are.

Do More Than Good Work

Many new agency owners think that if they just deliver a good service, customers will appreciate the work, referrals will come, and the business will flourish. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Show Your Worth


Toby Danylchuk, co-founder of 39 Celsius in San Diego had extremely sage advice. He said, “Never stop proving the financial value of your work to current clients. You are a line item expense, and if you can’t prove the value of your work, the client will leave. For example, ‘Here’s how many leads we delivered this month at an average cost of $x per lead – this led to $x of revenue. Or ‘We improved the conversion rate on the site by x% which increased sales by x.’ “

Danylchuk continued, “If you can’t demonstrate what the economic value is of the work you are doing for your clients ongoing, they will either judge your work as a cost not worth continuing with, or competitors will pitch them, and they will run off to be someone else’s client. Never stop selling your value!”

Danylchuk is dead right. There are hundreds of digital freelancers and agencies in any given metro area and thousands across the country with whom you will compete. Clients often suffer from shiny object syndrome, a condition which makes them think that someone else has the magic bullet, so they are too often easily lead astray.

So how can you, the newly-minted college grad, compete? By doing your research and taking their advice. I will cover agency owners’ tips on hiring employees and getting clients in the next blog.

You can start your own agency. You just need to be smart and informed about it. Stay tuned for more great insights from successful agency owners who started from where you are now.

Marilyn Heywood Paige is the Vice President of FiG Advertising and Marketing in Denver, Colorado. She earned her Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University in 2013.

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