Constant change is the new normal for just about every industry these days — but even amid that new reality, the digital marketing sector stands out. With new technologies and approaches reshaping the hyper-competitive industry in increasingly shorter intervals, digital marketers must adapt or be left behind.
One organization that has learned to thrive in this fluid environment is Baton Rouge-based Gatorworks, a digital marketing agency that focuses on website design, web development, search engine marketing, targeted display advertising and traditional branding.
Founder and President Brian Rodriguez started the company as an LSU student and over the past 13 years has navigated sweeping industry changes to grow the firm into a marketing powerhouse serving a wide range of companies. In August 2017, Gatorworks was acquired by Guaranty Media. Brian continues as president of Gatorworks with its full team intact, and the agency is poised for continued growth in the near future.
Brian took a moment from his busy schedule to share his insights on adapting to new approaches and supporting creativity through constant change. Here are the highlights of what he shared.
How has your company evolved in recent years?
We experienced a major shift in 2014. Our business model was pretty tough because it was majority project-based work. We were paid only if you found a project that had a start date, an end date and you delivered a final product — usually a website. There was no recurring revenue, so we had to constantly secure more projects. For that reason we turned to digital marketing. Not only was it the next logical step after building a website for our clients, it also provided a recurring revenue stream. In these new services, we became more strategic with our clients, allowing us to develop deeper relationships. That ended up becoming a game-changer for us. Over the past five years that business has grown significantly. In the last two years, in particular, it’s been extremely successful.
How difficult was it to build up the infrastructure to drive such a profound shift?
Digital marketing was tough at first because these were completely new services to our company. We didn’t know how much to charge and we didn’t know what some of the deliverables looked like. The account-management side took some time to adjust in terms of processes and deliverables. We had been doing websites for years, so we knew how to set proper expectations and we knew what that process looked like: how long it should take, when we should have milestone meetings.
In the beginning, we brought on one really experienced person in digital marketing. He ended up moving on two years later, but at that point this new facet of our business was stable. Today, Trent Hill, who is phenomenal, runs that whole department. Currently we have 20 people company-wide and we expect to hire about 15 more between now and next spring.
The digital marketing industry is constantly evolving. How do you continue to thrive in this environment?
Guaranty, being a traditional radio group, was trying to respond to the change they were seeing in their industry. They saw the writing on the wall and said, “We have salespeople banging on doors trying to sell radio ads all day; wouldn’t it be great to have an answer for these people when they ask about digital?” This is where they sought to bring our team into their group.
As far as Gatoworks keeping up, it’s pretty wild. About a year ago, we added targeted display as a new service line — banner ads you see on websites — and that has become the fastest-growing part of our business. Here we are about 10 or 11 months into it, and the capabilities presentation that we developed last fall has already been edited countless times. There are some strategies that we don’t even do anymore because the technologies have changed.
A lot of what we do is about making sure we hire a team of people who are deeply passionate about this type of work — and then we try to set up a structure that fosters lifelong learning. Lifelong learning is one of our core values, and it takes a certain type of person and level of commitment. If you’re going to work in this industry, and our company in particular, you have to be committed to constant professional growth. Staying up to date with the craft and growing your skillset is crucial.
What does that look like? It could be any number of things. For example, we sent three employees to a conference just last week. And the majority of our team members have access to different online learning tools. In the beginning, we talk with our employees to make sure they understand that we’re going to try to support them and give them the resources to keep up with the industry, but it will also be their responsibility to find ways to continually train and learn.
How do you support creative work with all this change happening around your company?
A lot of it comes down to culture and the work environment itself. Our office is a very creative space — it’s energized and inviting. Ask yourself, are you giving people the type of space that is inspiring? One that allows them to come to work and be happy, and get in the right mindset to think creatively?
Some of it comes down to their workload and their stress level. Are you giving people enough time to think about projects and consider all the different angles? I’m also very big on making sure I understand what motivates each of our team members, because people value different things.
We also make sure there is room for vulnerability. If we’re brainstorming or discussing an idea, we want and need to be able to do that productively. It is important people don’t feel awkward, scared or embarrassed to share and collaborate. It seems basic, but creating a positive environment where leadership is willing to admit when they’re wrong or their idea is bad, and for everyone to be able to respect others opinions, is important.
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