Switching it Up: Digital Ad Strategies in a COVID World
Emily Taibl: Hi, everyone. Welcome to AAM Minute. It’s our first seasoned marketer video edition for our March 2021 Digital Ad Strategies edition. And I am here with two Rachaels, actually I’m Emily Taibl, Chair of the Minute. I work at Sweeney Conrad in Seattle, and I’m here with two Rachaels to talk about their digital ad strategies. So welcome guys. Do you want to do a quick intro, Rachael M first?
Rachael McGrew: I’m Rachael McGrew, I am the co-chair of the AAM Minute and I am at Landmark CPAs, which is in Arkansas. We’ve got four locations in Arkansas. And then at the beginning of this year, we merged in a firm from Arizona. Solo marketer until earlier this year. My Arizona office has a part-time marketing person. My title is business development director, but like probably all of you, I wear 17 million different hats. I’ll turn it over to the other Rachel and let her tell you a little bit about her.
Rachel Pompeani: Sure. Hi everyone, my name is Rachel Pompeani. I work at Barnes Wendling CPAs in Cleveland, Ohio. We have three offices in the Cleveland area and we have 80 employees. There’s two people in our marketing department, and then we have a marketing director who oversees our department, who is also a partner. So I think that pretty much sums up us. We’re a two person marketing department for the most part.
Emily Taibl: Awesome, welcome guys. So we’re going to start out today talking about what your digital strategy is and then we’ll kind of dig deeper into why you chose that and some of the logistics on how you execute your strategy. So let’s start with Rachael M. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your digital strategy.
Rachael McGrew: Sure. So, I’ve been at the firm for four years now, and slowly we’ve been adding a little bit more of digital throughout my time here. But this year, I really took the approach when I was structuring my budget to include a lot more digital. As everybody knows, with the pandemic that seems to be the trend. And so, it came about after we had put together a prospect list for the first time. We worked with our agency on a plan—we have this list, now what do we do with it to reach these specific people? So our plan got really specific. We are going to use LinkedIn ads, Facebook ads, some InMail messages, and some retargeting through a system that the agency uses. It really just kicked off at the beginning of February, so I don’t even have a full month of analytics yet to report on. The goal is to keep it going throughout the year and then just make tweaks as we need to once we learn what works what doesn’t work and just kind of go from there.
Emily Taibl: Okay, Rachel P.?
Rachel Pompeani: We are actually the same as Rachael. We used to focus a lot on direct mailers and print advertisements, and then when the pandemic hit, we switched a lot of our budget to digital marketing. We just started in the past probably two or three months really utilizing Google AdWords, but an area that we really started to focus on was HubSpot. And so we started working with the different campaigns in HubSpot and also working with a variety of landing pages and pillar pages—we may address that a little later. But basically, we started pushing a lot of our content out in different areas and then circulating that through Google AdWords and email marketing. So I would say probably in July 2020 is when we really started pushing out all of our content using HubSpot marketing and the campaigns there.
Emily Taibl: Are you doing all that on your own? Are you working with an agency?
Rachel Pompeani: We have an agency that assists us. We’ve been working with them since 2017, and they helped us completely redo our website. We stayed on with them and got an SEO retainer. So a large part of what we’ve been doing with them was focused all on SEO, on working with landing pages and optimizing our content. Last year, we switched gears a little bit to focus more on lead generation as well and tracking our leads and getting more ROI.
Emily Taibl: So Rachael M, you mentioned too that you use an agency. One of the questions that came up on the boards from some of our AAM members was how do you go about picking an agency to work with?
Rachael McGrew: In my four years at the firm, this is now our third agency. When I first started, we had a local agency that we had worked with on a website re-design and creative. But it got to the point where when we launched our website, we weren’t really satisfied with the back end side and we felt like we were always bringing them ideas instead of them bringing us ideas. We were beginning a merger process, so we brought on a different agency—who happened to be our client—and they helped us through the merger and rebrand process. But during the re-brand, they were having an identity crisis. They were doing two different kinds of work and needed to focus on only one. Several people at the agency left, and it felt like we were in a position to go somewhere a little bit bigger that wasn’t having an identity crisis. Now we are working with one of the largest agencies in our state. They have a traditional agency side and then they also have a digital agency. I had heard one of the girls speak at an event here in town about some work that they were doing for the whole state of Arkansas, and she knew her stuff. So I just reached out to her with a few questions. She nurtured that relationship for probably about a year until our managing partner was comfortable with us making the switch. He knows one of the partners at the agency. We started out last year with what they call a MAPS session. It was basically just a discovery session. We strategically picked some team members for a day-long session to talk about the firm—basically an in-depth SWOT analysis. For us, it was really helpful because we had just completed a merger. We had a new name, a new office, and we were bringing together one whole team. They took the information and mapped out a whole proposal of items based on what they knew about us, starting with some more foundational things related to our brand. Then COVID hit. We didn’t get to execute a whole lot last year, but some of the projects are still in talks for the future. We had also begun the process of creating a short, targeted prospect list. It was a top priority, so my focus switched and that’s when I started to create a more digital strategy. This year, I took a look at my budget and told the agency: “Here’s this list, and here’s the money that I have. What should we do with it?” And so they helped me come up with a digital strategy to reach these prospects using social media. We’ve also started to discuss some SEO work with them. We’re also in the earliest stages of possibly bringing on an agency in Arizona, which is where our new office is, so that we have some boots on the ground there. The firm that we merged in was already using this agency, so we are familiar with them and already have a relationship. They have already done keyword research and they’ve done some pay per click, Google ads so they’re really familiar already with our industry. So we’re going to have this dual relationship going on, but we have sister companies—Landmark CPAs and Landmark Financial (wealth management). The way that we’re going to structure it is the agency in Arizona will do work for the wealth management side of our business, and the agency here in Arkansas will do work for the CPA side, and then hope that it doesn’t get too complicated! Sorry, that was a long answer!
Emily Taibl: No, that was good.
Rachael McGrew: It took us a while to get there, but what I do really like about them is that our account manager is super proactive, and she always keeps me up-to-date. She loves to talk on the phone, so she calls often.
Emily Taibl: When we were talking before this call, Rachel P mentioned that was the number one suggestion for people when looking for an agency is finding someone who you communicate well with.
Rachel Pompeani: If you have the budget for an agency! I know it’s easier said than done to have the budget to work with an agency! But if you do have the budget, I recommend it only because a lot of us with smaller regional firms have a small department. We work with a bunch of accountants, so it’s nice to work with a company that has that creative mind, so you can spin off ideas. We meet with our agency every single week. They’re HubSpot certified, so a lot of our campaigns we started this past month, they helped create. And they helped us navigate into using pillar pages. There’s so many capabilities in HubSpot. They’ve really helped us understand everything that we can utilize in HubSpot. But a large piece is communication. If you’re looking for an agency, just make sure that they’re responsive to your needs.
Emily Taibl: Rachael M, your digital strategy is centered around this wish list of clients that you’re trying to connect with, so obviously the content is focused on their needs and brand awareness. But Rachel P, how did you pick your strategy? Are you doing awareness campaigns or mainly lead generation? It seems like working with accountants who need the numbers and the analytics, they would probably prefer the lead generation so you have something to show?
Rachel Pompeani: Right, but I would say both. A lot of our campaign is focused on the content that we’ve been producing. We’ve been promoting the services that maybe we don’t do as much work in, such as business valuation or exit planning…niche services. For example, our first campaign, in the middle of 2020, was our exit planning campaign. Within that campaign, we had three pieces of gated content plus three to four blog posts and then a podcast. That is pretty much how we structured all of our campaigns—we have them structured as a pillar page. For those who don’t know what a pillar page is, it’s a landing page where you can have a table of contents of topics at the top and then all of the content below. It’s almost like a content library for a specific topic. We’ve been pushing that out to our entire email list, so that includes clients prospects, and referral sources. But I would say our strategy has been a mix between cross-selling to our existing clients and then also promoting to new prospects.
Emily Taibl: That makes sense. That’s great. Everybody listening, if you’re interested in diving more into pillar pages, let us know because that is a topic we could do an entire issue on. I think that’s something that’s going to be coming up for many of us in the future. Rachael M, how long have you used HubSpot? And what have you been using it for?
Rachael McGrew: We are just now wrapping up our onboarding process. We started onboarding in January. Prior to that, we were using Active Campaign. We ran into an issue when we changed our practice management software—it’s been a nightmare, to be honest—and we needed a way to have client data to use for marketing outside of the practice management system. We needed a system where somebody didn’t have to have an email because we’ve got a lot of clients that we just don’t have emails for. So we landed on HubSpot because it had that functionality. They do have a free CRM, so if you’re just in the earliest stages of wanting to test out a CRM, that’s available. We went with the marketing hub package. It includes a drag-and-drop email builder and a social media manager, which was a huge plus for me because now I can hook up all my social media channels (we have six between the sister companies). I also manage the LinkedIns of several of our partners. Right now, I probably have 20 accounts linked to it. It allows you to post for any channel, has a calendar, and has the analytics to go along with it. That is really helpful because now I don’t have to go to Twitter and look, and LinkedIn to look, and Facebook to look. So that’s helpful. Like Rachel mentioned, they’ve got the landing page builder, the form builders, and the campaign tool that she talked about is something that we’re starting to use. It’s a little bit big brother-y. I’ve loaded our prospect list in there, and now we can see if those people are interacting with our campaigns. If you have several emails related to one topic plus a landing page and social posts, you can tag them all as a campaign and then any metrics related to the campaign can be seen together. It’s got some planning tools, there are some SEO tools, and it’s got the pillar pages, which we are starting to explore. Am I missing anything Rachel?
Rachel Pompeani: Another thing that we’ve been using recently is the meetings link. It’s almost like Calendly. We’ve been using that feature in the last month, and today we got a client from it, which was really exciting. I have been using it for people who fill out a contact form or RFP form on our website. Before, they would fill out a form and it was up to the marketing team to follow up. But we had to be reminded, and it was hard, it was challenging. But now, we are getting real ROI from adding the meeting link. I was trying to figure out how it could work because our directors are so busy. I ended up connecting my personal Outlook calendar to the HubSpot meeting link, and now I get the appointments from the submissions. Our workflows is set up so that when somebody fills out an RFP form or a contact form, they get three to four automated emails with this meeting request link. Since I started doing this about a month and a half ago, I’ve gotten 10 meeting requests. I start out the meeting being transparent with them. I let them know that I’m not a CPA, and that this is just an introductory call. Once I talk to them, I transfer their information to our service team. So that tool helps in a variety of ways. It helps us calculate ROI, follow up with all our contacts, and it helps qualify those who might be a bit too small and don’t want to pay our minimum fee. I don’t want to say it gets rid of them, but it allows us to manage the process better and not waste our service team’s time. So I feel like that’s been a big feature for us that we’ve just started utilizing in the past month.
Emily Taibl: I’ve had Hubspot for years, and I’ve never used that! That’s great. So speaking of getting leads in the door, have you seen results from your digital campaigns? What are you reporting back to your shareholders?
Rachel Pompeani: Since we started our new digital campaign last year, we’re still working on smoothing things out by trial and error. But because of the new meeting link, I believe I’ve gotten three new clients. So that was really exciting. In general, we are measuring conversions within the campaigns by downloads. From our exit planning campaign, I think we had 15 or so downloads. And a majority of them aren’t existing clients. They’re coming from Google, which is always good to see.
Rachael McGrew: That’s awesome.
Emily Taibl: Rachael M, are you too early in the process to have any real results?
Rachael McGrew: Yes. We have some content on our website, but we’re still trying to transition it over from our old marketing automation system to make sure that it works in HubSpot because it’s a different setup. I do have plans to do some of the similar things Rachel talked about, like having pillar pages or promoting specific content so that we can then track it. After we get our analytics from this first month, the agency and I are going to sit down and create some dashboards to put all the analytics in one location. Since we’ve never done that before, I think our partner group will be really impressed because I can take them some tangible information. It may not be an actual lead or conversion yet, but they can see numbers rather than just guessing about a print ad—you don’t know who saw that, who didn’t see that. I’m excited to see how it pans out and how impressed our partners are when I can show them concrete information.
Rachel Pompeani: That’s always nice to see.
Emily Taibl: They love those numbers. One last question: is there anything that you would do different at this point?
Rachel Pompeani: I wouldn’t necessarily say differently, but I think the biggest thing is time. We, as marketers, are spread thin. We have a lot of stuff going on. It’s important to set time aside, maybe monthly or quarterly, to really dive into the analytics. Even if you don’t use HubSpot and are using Google Analytics, there’s so much that you can show your partners. But it just takes time. I’m planning to start setting a couple hours aside every other week to just dive into the analytics and the important features my partners might like to see. And HubSpot, like Rachael mentioned, has so many reporting options and capabilities. I want to learn more and get more detailed with that so that I’m knowledgeable when a partner asks about our website ROI.
Emily Taibl: Then you can tweak things if you realize they’re not working. I know I’ve executed a lot of things, but I’ve never had the time to really see what worked and what didn’t because I’m just on to the next thing.
Rachel Pompeani: Exactly.
Emily Taibl: Rachael M, anything you’d change at this point?
Rachael McGrew: Not right now. Honestly, it just kind of feels like a mess! In true marketing fashion, there’s just so much going on. I want to build out some nurture campaigns, I want to get workflows set up, I want to build out some pillar pages and work on our SEO. I guess my best advice is just to have a plan—a list of things you want accomplish. How are you going to execute that and make it a priority? For me, it became a priority because our managing partner said it was a priority, which was really helpful because without that, digital advertising probably would have never happened at this level. I would just be doing all these other things that I’ve always been doing. That priority finally forced it all to come together. Have things on the radar that you want to happen or know that you can make happen through the process.
Emily Taibl: Awesome. Thank you both for sharing your digital strategies with us at AAM. It was great and very informative for everybody watching. If you’re not working with an agency and want to learn how to do some of these things hands-on by yourself, check out our Beginner’s Guide where we have some helpful tips on how to start your own Google Ads campaign. Thanks guys. Have a great month.
About Rachael McGrew
Rachael McGrew is the Business Development Director for Landmark CPAs, one of Arkansas’ largest accounting firms. In her role, she wears many hats, including overseeing the firm’s marketing and business development strategy, managing internal and external communications, maintaining the firm’s social media and web presence, planning and executing firm events and community outreach programs, assisting with M&A, coordinating recruiting campaigns, and serving on industry association committees. Within AAM, Rachael leads an AAM Circle focused on HubSpot. She is a graduate of the Leadership Fort Smith program and a 40 Under 40 honoree by both the Arkansas Business Journal and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. She is also a member of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Arkansas’ Western Council. Rachael holds a Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing with a minor in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Central Arkansas and a Technical Certificate in Graphic Design from the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. She is married to an outgoing entrepreneur she’s known since junior high, and they have a witty teenager they follow around to volleyball practice and tournaments.
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