Putting the Focus on Innovation
John Garvey isn’t shy about noting that he never worked for a large ad agency, or a ‘traditional’ ad agency, as he calls them.
In fact, he’s rather proud of that background — as are the rest of the members of the team at the agency he formed more than 30 years ago known as Garvey Communication Associates Inc., who didn’t work for a traditional agency either.
They’re all fond of saying they didn’t follow any model in creating and then shaping the firm known as GCAi, but instead created their own model.
“None of us come from an agency background,” Garvey explained. “So we put this together on our own; we didn’t throw away the book — we just didn’t really know the book was there; so we invented our own book.”
“There’s a lot of misconception out there about how Facebook works, especially with regard to advertising.”
As they talk about this book, the company’s main players — Garvey; his son, James, the social-media marketing analyst; Mary Shea, vice president of Digital Strategy; and Darcy Fortune, digital PR analyst — collectively wear out the word ‘innovation’ as they discuss evolving technology, what the company can do with and for clients with regard to this technology and using it to reach targeted audiences, and, perhaps most importantly, how they do all that.
Indeed, they’ve all become involved with MassChallenge Boston, the group that helps accelerate startups, and they’ve also assisted Valley Venture Mentors (through donations of money and expertise) in its efforts to mentor startups and expand its mission. And such work has fostered a true spirit of innovation within GCAi itself as it partners with clients to help them navigate a changing landscape within marketing and with everything from understanding and maximizing social media to corporate reputation management.
“Innovation is a stick that you have to sharpen continually,” John Garvey explained. “You literally cannot be innovative unless you have your eyes wide open and you’re looking and you’re learning and you’re challenging yourself. Being around startups … that entrepreneurialism, that innovation, is absolutely contagious. So we find ourselves thinking and acting in new and different ways.”
Such an operating mindset is necessary for a marketing firm today, said Shea, because change is constant, it’s coming from every direction, and the pace of change is only accelerating. Also, in this era of conversion, marketing firms are increasingly being judged not on their ability to garner exposure, but on sales generated by a specific campaign or strategy.
Which brings Shea to the subject of data and access to it.
“One of the most profound changes to come to marketing is marketers’ ability to use data,” she said, while summing up how the landscape has been altered by technology and why innovation is important. “It’s a seismic change in terms of our ability to get our work done.”
Elaborating, she said Google AdWords, Facebook, and other vehicles enable marketers to send specific messages to targeted audiences in ways that simply weren’t possible decades or even a few years ago.
James Garvey agreed.
“It’s a fascinating time to be involved in social-media marketing since Facebook is in the headlines daily,” he told BusinessWest. “There’s a lot of misconception out there about how Facebook works, especially with regard to advertising. We develop messaging for clients, and we use Facebook as a means of delivering the message in a way that people can consume it, but also delivering it directly to the audience we need to reach — meaning very specific groups of people.
“For example, you can reach men or women ages 25 to 35 who live within two miles of downtown Springfield who are interested in home ownership,” he went on while elaborating. “That’s how specific you can get.”
GCAi, which boasts clients across virtually all sectors of the economy, including financial services, healthcare, transportation, and more, is a certified Google Partner (the only firm in the region to gain such status), and its qualified AdWords professionals are independently tested and certified in several different aspects of online advertising each year.
Meanwhile, the company specializes in what it calls the ‘ideation’ approach to working with clients to identify needs and challenges, map out a marketing strategy, and determine the most effective methods of getting a message across.
To explain, Shea and Fortune pointed to the whiteboards on all four walls of the GCAi conference room. Over the course of an ideation session, they will become covered with writing in the form of answers to questions asked and thoughts about what to do, strategically, with that information from a marketing and branding standpoint.
For this issue and its focus on sales and marketing, BusinessWest talked with members of the GCAi team about marketing, technology, and social media — but mostly about innovation, and how it enables the company and its clients to stay on the proverbial cutting edge of progress.
On the day BusinessWest visited GCAi, the whiteboards in the conference room were covered with what amounts to a bullet-pointed chronology of the firm.
Noted milestones included everything from the elder Garvey’s first work in public relations, back in college for the U.S. Youth Games, to the arrival of each staff member (Shea started as an intern in 2004, for example); from the reminder that Garvey needed a loan from his grandmother to stay afloat after the dot-com bubble burst at the start of this century and business dried up, to his self-proclaimed 15 seconds of fame when he captured a dramatic photo of the tornado that tore through downtown Springfield on June 1, 2011, an image that went viral within minutes after it was taken.
“What social-media marketing and Google AdWords has done is essentially democratize the use of data for businesses across the board. So it is a seismic shift. This is profound data; it’s not just likes and clicks.”
Mostly, though, the walls tell the story of a company responding to rapid, constant change in technology, especially within the realm of digital marketing, and using innovation to help clients make sense of it all — not an easy task in any respect — and make the very most of their marketing budgets.
Indeed, the team likes to say that GCAi, unlike many businesses today, has social media figured out, and it has created a niche of sorts as it specializes in helping clients large and small figure social media out and put all that data that is now available to good use.
“There is a lot more data available today, there’s easier access to it, it’s instantaneous, and you can use it quickly and easily to make adjustments to a campaign,” said Shea, adding that, not long ago, companies would have to spend a lot of money to access such information, which essentially limited that access.
“What social-media marketing and Google AdWords has done is essentially democratize the use of data for businesses across the board,” said John Garvey. “So it is a seismic shift. This is profound data; it’s not just likes and clicks.
But having access to data is just part of the equation. Knowing what to do with it and how to present a message to the audience being targeted … that’s the other side. And the team at GCAi has become specialists in such work, handling both aspects of this work — creating content and a message (work that falls more to Fortune and John Garvey), and devising the most efficient, cost-effective means of disseminating it, work assigned to Shea and James Garvey.
And the watchword in all aspects of this work is relevance.
“That’s the church we go to pray at,” said John Garvey, referring to that team. “If the message isn’t relevant, meaning the target audience we spoke of doesn’t react to it in a positive way, find it useful, and find it interesting, then we get penalized as marketers; it’s the modern-day equivalent of hanging up a bad ad that no one gets.”
To keep clients and their messages relevant, the GCAi team focuses on innovation, said Fortune, adding that the company’s involvement with Valley Venture Mentors and MassChallenge has helped it in a number of ways, from getting in touch with what’s happening within specific business sectors to sharpening presentation skills, to mentoring startups on the best ways to reach their audience.
“We sit with them and talk with them for maybe 10 minutes, and you can see the light go off,” said Fortune. “They’re excited to have that tidbit of information from us on how to reach people. And you get to meet people from around the world; it’s very exhilarating.”
John Garvey agreed, and noted, again, that when you hang around entrepreneurs all the time, there is a trickle-down, or rub-off, effect.
“We’re much more attuned to new and different ways of getting results,” he explained. “Our secret sauce is comprised of ingredients like energy, innovation, and ideas, and the cake that we’re trying to make is to create really meaningful and measurable results, and the only way that’s possible is through a continual search of the means and methodologies of these platforms, but also an appetite for data, the ability to digest it, break it up, understand it, and make it relevant to the client.”
James Garvey agreed, and said his technical background — he’s a graduate of BWM of North America’s STEP program and has worked for both BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the Boston and New York City markets — has helped him, and thus the firm, grasp the importance of data and measuring results.
“Having that engineering background, or training, and working with data are very similar,” he explained. “They’re very precise, measurable, and granular.”
Together, those involved with content and those focused on dissemination work together to create an overall strategy, said Shea, adding that, collectively, the team works to find the right channels to get the message across.
“You can’t fit a round peg into a square hole,” she said, adding that each platform, or channel, is different, and it’s critical to devise content that is appropriate for each one and not ease into a one-size-fits-all mentality.
John Garvey agreed. “All those platforms are arrows in our quiver, and Mary and James help us figure out the right means and methodologies to take this to market.”
And finding the right ones is now critical, said James, noting that marketing firms like GCAi are now more accountable, if that’s the proper term, when it comes to sales — or the conversion of leads into sales — than ever before.
“Marketing firms are more responsible further down in the sales funnel than we were even a few years ago,” he explained. “Before, we were measured by our ability to generate top-of-mind awareness; now, our clients hold us responsible for a full and trackable conversion, meaning that we can prove that our campaign led to a particular conversion. That responsibility totally changed.”
The Last Word
There’s been a recent addition to the décor at the GCAi suite of offices in Monarch Place — an old manual Underwood typewriter that the senior Garvey found “somewhere.”
It’s an example of where technology and this industry were a long time ago, said Fortune, and therefore a reminder of how quickly and profoundly things change.
So quickly and profoundly that trying to project a few years, or even a few months, into the future is a largely futile exercise. There’s no better way to explain why an effective marketing firm today must, or should, have an operating philosophy grounded in innovation — in constantly finding new and better ways to do business and help clients succeed.
And there’s no better way to explain why GCAi continues to grow and prosper.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]