Mike Sprouse, CMO of Epic Media Group, is coming off 2009 contributing to approximately 60% growth in revenue year over year – a rarity during one of the worst economic years in this generation. He and his marketing team deploy unique strategies and tactics in an era where marketing analytics are all the rage. From launching a business magazine (www.winningthewebmag.com) in print to creating high-end client experiences, Mike and his team are utilizing some traditional yet unconventional strategies. We caught up with Mike to learn more about Epic’s re-branding and to tap into his diverse knowledge and marketing experience – from direct marketing at Danbury Mint to Playboy Enterprises to his current role as Chief Marketer at digital marketing services company Epic Media Group. We knew collectibles, Playboy, and 60% growth during this depressed economic environment would make for an interesting combination of ideas and insights.
At Epic, some of your clients are tabbed as “Brand Direct” advertisers. Share with us what this is all about and give us some examples of “Brand Direct” in action.
Traditionally, there have been advertisers who considered themselves brand advertisers or direct response advertisers, it was either/or. As the web has increased in popularity as an ad platform, the lines blurred in the case of advertisers focused on extending their brand as well as centering more on customer acquisition. An example of an advertiser that fits our description who we work with is IAC (InterActive Corp); a company with a suite of well-known brands that is focused on increasing subscriber growth while extending branding initiatives.
You have put a premium on client relationships and helping your clients connect deeper with their customers/prospects. In an era of all things analytics, how do you sell this through to executive management and is there an ROI formula?
Inherent in strong client relationships is the ability for us to follow up and track everything that occurs from client engagement through the actual ad campaign. We conduct creative events with our clients -while we make sure the events themselves are unique and well-executed- the important factor comes after these types of client engagements to ensure that there is ROI. It is an easier sell to the rest of the C-suite if we can say, for example, an advertiser or publisher incentive accounted for X% incremental growth or drove X$ for a particular campaign.
Promotions and contests in B2B Markets are gaining some traction and you are a big proponent. What role do they play and can you give as an example or two?
Client promotions, incentives and contests can be a huge opportunity in the business-to-business arena. Like any service business, clients can choose their partners and sometimes it is tough for clients to differentiate between potential partners. As one area of differentiation, we put an emphasis on thought leadership and a good example is the work we do in sending out our print magazine, Winning the Web, to advertising partners each month showcasing our expertise on a variety of topics.
At our company, we have also brought promotions and incentives to clients that have included Wimbledon, the Playboy Mansion, NBA Finals, World Series, and plenty more. What was most important is that each incentive was structured in such a way that it was good for us, good for the client and good for building a long-term relationship.
Looking ahead, what is the ONE big shift in digital/online that B2B marketers can bank on and need to plan for?
Digital marketing is a very complex industry right now. It isn’t efficient for advertisers to have a one-to-one relationship with a publisher or distribution channel as with traditional advertising. There are more components involved in today’s online industry (this AdExchanger.com image illustrates just how complex the current landscape is.) Instead, they need help from intermediaries in the digital marketing services area now more than ever, but in a simplistic model that makes it easier rather than more complicated for advertisers. As a result, there will be a simpler, more efficient landscape in the next 12-24 months as intermediaries merge, acquire and build a full suite of marketing services under one roof – which is already well underway at Epic Media Group.
At Epic Media Group, you are in the middle of a major re-branding initiative. Tell us about your efforts, why branding, and why now?
In May, Epic Advertising and Connexus Corporation announced the completion of their merger, and the formation of Epic Media Group. We operate several major brands as Epic Media Group including Traffic Marketplace, Epic Direct, tmpSocial, Firstlook and, Online Intelligence. Timing-wise, it was important that we didn’t wait to tackle the re-branding or go through an extensive RFP process. In fact, our goal is to have re-branded more than a dozen web properties by Q4, less than 90 days since deal closing – with all the work done in-house. The marketplace is so competitive that it was essential to start the process of acclimating our constituents and clients quickly to show the power of the merger.
We have to ask…what is the Playboy Mansion really like?
If those walls could talk!