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For this episode of E-Coffee with Experts Ranmay Rath interviewed Patrick Laughlin, the CEO of iProv, LLC, a full-service marketing agency located in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Explore the intricate realms of business scalability, marketing synergy, and the transformative potential of AI in this captivating interview with Patrick Laughlin, the CEO of iProv, LLC. Gain valuable insights into crafting growth strategies, nurturing client relationships, and leveraging AI as a force multiplier. Uncover the nuanced dynamics of building trust, streamlining operations, and mastering the evolving marketing landscape.
AI will make really smart people a lot more productive and a lot more effective.
Hey, hi, everyone. This is Ranmay here back on your show E-Coffee with Experts. Today we have Patrick Laughlin, who is the CEO at iProv, LLC with us. Welcome, Patrick, to our show.
Thank you very much, Ranmay. I’m excited to be here today and thank you for having me on the podcast.
Lovely. Patrick, before we move forward, why don’t you talk us through your journey so far? What is iProv all about? What do you guys do? What is so special about you? What differentiates you from all the agencies out there?
Sure. We’ll start with I-PROV. I-prov was founded in 2001 by two of my partners, Roxan and R. J. Martino. They are brother and sister. They’re not married. They started it in their early 20s. They grew it and ran it for a long time. R. J. is a serial entrepreneur, and he wanted to move on and find other companies. I was brought up in 2018. But what’s interesting is I was one of I-PROV’s largest clients. I ran another agency before I came to work at I-PROV, and I-PROV did digital marketing work for us. We had a really strong partnership. We’d worked together for a long time and R. J. asked me to come over and run I-PROV. It’s been a really fun journey so far. I started in the advertising business at 19. I’ve worked every job there is to work in an agency from junior production artists up to creative director. In my previous job, I was the director of strategy. It’s just been really fun. I have this fundamental belief that no matter what business you’re in, the marketing business, the way you answer the phone, the way that you train the people at the front desk to interact with customers, even things like your email signature, all of those things contribute to the perception of your company in the market and ultimately to your ability to generate new sales and growth for your company.
iProv itself has morphed and changed over the years. But the way I describe iProv is we’re a group of maniacs who are on a mission, and our mission is to help people who help people. We have a really strong affinity for doing work for nonprofits, specifically service-based non-profits that help people either at the end of their lives, live more comfortably in their own homes. We do a lot of work for agencies that do work for senior citizens, to people with developmental disabilities. One of our larger clients is Easter Seals, Arkansas. It’s a 75-year-old non-profit that does all kinds of great things to help people with developmental disabilities live independent and wonderful lives. That’s how I describe iProv.
Brilliant, dear. Lovely story, I must say. And then scaling a business is the goal for all of us entrepreneurs, right? But it is so challenging for that matter. So from your experience, what are those important components all the business leaders or budding entrepreneurs today should keep in mind when formulating a scaling strategy? We all say there is a zero to one and there is a one to 100 methodology. So what are those key parameters that one should keep in mind while scaling the business?
For me, and really what I would say in my experience, it comes down to the relationships and the reputation that you build. It doesn’t always scale quickly. It takes some time to build up this scale. But once you have even just a couple of key relationships, it’s amazing how fast your business can grow. At a former agency, we did a lot of work in the agricultural equipment sales space. I had a single Kubota store in Springdale, Arkansas, that we helped grow to be the number one store in the country. It just so happened that his Kubota rep ended up getting promoted to becoming district manager. His Kubota rep loved the work that we did and saw what a valuable partnership we had with that dealer. When he got moved to a district, he sent his entire district our way to help us grow our business. So we went from one store to 10 stores to almost 30 stores in about 24 months. And once you’ve got 24 stores, it becomes a whole lot easier to start talking to other brands because everybody knows each other and guys start asking, What are you doing?
Who’s helping you grow this way? And so what I’ve found is relationships and reputation are the key to that. If you don’t have those things: advertising, content marketing, all of it doesn’t work. If you don’t have at least some basis for being able to generate results and prove it.
Many of those business leaders will fail to understand that while we are all striving to target and achieve or hit that Blue Ocean out there that we all look for, we forget our consumer base, existing customer base, which is for me, that is the base of your expansion. If you go back, talk to them, get their references, then that is, yeah, slowly, for sure. But rather than targeting that Blue Ocean, it’s very important to focus on the consumer base, which you already have. Why were they, first of all, interested in your product or your service, build on those factors because those are probably the core expertise that you have versus what you feel that you have. Because you might say that… It must have happened to you as well when you sit with these founders, and co-founders of businesses, they all talk about so many things. But when you ask them those questions about why they started that business, what the problem statement that they wanted to address, and all those core questions on those discovery sessions or meetings, they all go back to the drawing board. They would have somehow or the other they might have forgotten about why it all started in the first place.
But does that happen to you?
Yeah, absolutely. I think if you aren’t clear about why you’re doing it if it’s just for a paycheck, you’re going to find it’s really hard. Because especially when you’re trying to find something new or you’re trying to grow something relatively small into something bigger, you need to have something else driving you. Because the money is not all that great in the beginning, and if you don’t have a passion for it, there are going to be days when it would just be easier to quit and do something else. I think having your own North Star and then having lots and lots of conversations about what drives other people, particularly people in your universe, I think that’s really what drives real innovation and real growth. You’re listening to what other challenges people are facing, and you’re responding by finding ways that you can help them either through building a new product, a new service, or providing value through experience. That’s the business that we’re all in, how do we provide value equal to or greater than the amount of money that we charge? As you can do, that’s a pretty good blueprint for success.
Yeah, absolutely. We spoke about scaling. The opposite side of it is customer retention. A lot of businesses can ill-afford to have a leaking bucket. Then scaling does not matter in that case that is happening. What is your approach to strike that balance while you’re scaling and still ensuring that you do not have a leaking bucket and your clients are also there, existing clients and the shelf life of theirs is also longer? How do you ensure that balance is there, and your existing client stays strong with you and by your scale?
Once again, I think that comes down to relationships and ultimately setting good expectations. When we talk to our clients about growth, we believe that the company always has to be outgrowing its people, and clients are part of those people too. Oftentimes as you’re scaling, you’ll find that you outgrow a client. Either they can no longer afford your services, or they don’t match the way that you do business anymore. That’s just a natural progression. But having a relationship not only with your client where you can say, Hey, listen, we don’t feel like we’re a good fit anymore, but also having the relationship with other people in your business, other marketing groups, other practitioners to say, We’re not a good fit anymore, but I highly recommend these people. They’re a fantastic fit for where you’re at in your business. And ultimately, if we continue the relationship, it would be detrimental. So sometimes you have to start saying no to clients. But in terms of keeping the ones that you want, I think the best or best thing you can do is just set good and realistic expectations and then constantly communicate about those expectations. It all comes back to trust.
And if you develop a relationship based on trust and based on meeting or exceeding expectations, it becomes really easy to retain clients as you scale. The beauty is you get to become choosy about who you work with as you grow because you’ve got a skill set and a reputation that allows you to be choosing.
Yeah, absolutely. Talking about the in-house coordination market, collaboration across departments is crucial for executing a successful marketing strategy. How do you facilitate alignment between marketing and other key functions within your company so that the growth objective or the aim of the organization is to be aligned to all the departments across?
Sure. Once again, I think it comes down to expectations and then developing a set of operating rules within the relationship. One of the rules that we always set out for ourselves and our clients is we try our best to simplify, clarify, and eliminate. If there is something on the list of things to do that just doesn’t make sense or is working towards the goal, just get rid of it. Don’t spend any time or effort on it. If something is unclear, is this something that you’re doing? Is this something that we’re doing? Are we supposed to work together? It’s best to stop while it’s unclear get clarification on that and define what are the steps that we need to take to make this successful. And then when you’re working together, keeping communication and processes as simple as you can, look for ways that you can say, This is too complicated or too complex. Let’s figure out how we can simplify this quite a bit so that as we continue to grow and things naturally get more complicated or complex, we’re not tripping over ourselves trying to get the things that we need to get done.
The other big saying is making sure that you and your clients are aligned in things like how much they want to grow, the ways they want to grow, and then how you’re rewarded for delivering that growth. For a long time, we were a primarily retainer-based agency, and that’s a model that I think is a good model. But I also think in a lot of ways, it creates a little bit of resentment between agencies and clients. If you’re focused on growing your client’s business and there’s not some upside reward for doing that, whether that’s revenue share or some built-in growth mechanism for your billing, at some point, the relationship is going to get a little bit resentful. Again, expectations aren’t being met. I’m helping you grow your business, but you’re not helping me grow mine. So you have to find ways that you align those goals together, and usually, it’s revenue-related. I find that when you can get that alignment and you’re both working towards the same goal, that’s really where the magic starts to happen.
Yeah, absolutely. The last one before I let you go, and I could not let you go without asking this one. Sure. It’s about AI. So many emerging technologies like AI and machine learning coming to our industry, and I have taken it by storm, to say the least. What is your thought on AI? How it’s going to transform the industry and where are we headed?
I think that AI is a wonderful tool, and I’m excited about the prospect of it. I’m one of those people, for better or for worse, who believes it’s not going to replace people. What I think it will do is it will amplify abilities. I think it will make really smart people a lot more productive, and a lot more effective. The people who understand how to work the machine and get good results out of it are the people who are going to have real success in the coming years. Lots of tools have been invented in the world that everybody thought were going to replace people. And ultimately, they don’t replace people. They just create-.
Yeah, more jobs. They may be different jobs. I can’t imagine what it will be like when my kids enter the workforce in 10 years.
The possibilities are unbelievable, but it’s really exciting to watch. I’m a big fan. I’m excited about it, and I think it’s going to transform our business in ways we can’t even expect yet.
Lovely. Yeah, it is there. It gives you a head start in terms of, let’s take an example of AI-related content, but it cannot be your final product because you have to have that human touch, emotional quotient that storytelling part of it to make this more effective. Because the end consumer of this content is a human being. So there has to be that human element in terms of while you’re writing that content. Yes, like I mentioned, Get a Head Start. If you were to write the content of let’s say a thousand words, you get some content to start, verify the facts, and then move forward. So yeah, it is there to stay for sure. It’s going to evolve as we move forward. The ones who are tech-savvy or training them to be and get a hang of these things sooner than later are the ones who want to be there and go on higher pay, to be honest.
Even things like, David Ogilvy was a big hero of mine early in my career, and I think everybody—can appreciate David Ogilvy’s talent. Now there is a little black box that you can say, Go read everything that David Ogilvy ever wrote. Become the embodiment of David Ogilvy so that I can have a conversation with you as if you were David Ogilvy, and I could ask questions to you as if you were David Ogilvy. And then you can almost create this weird mentor relationship based on the information that it can go find and synthesize around this topic. That’s amazing.
Even when David Ogilvy was alive, there were probably only 500 people who would have that opportunity in his lifetime. Now that’s available to all of us. Not just David Ogilvy, but all of the greats from our business for the last 100 years you could potentially do that with. That in and of itself is worth digging into as the potential issues it may cause for our industry. Because once again, I think it’s going to make curious, really smart, and interested people even smarter, even more curious, and way better at what we do than they would have been otherwise.
Absolutely. Lovely, Patrick. It was a good conversation. I enjoyed it. But before we let you go, finally, I want to play a quick rapid-fire with you. I hope you’re game for it.
Oh, absolutely. Sure.
Great. Your favorite sport?
You had to ask me that today. We’ll go with Wooden on Leadership.
Okay. And you lost Google search. Oh, golly. You can check your laptop or your phone if you want. Yeah, I appreciate it.
Let’s go to the history. It was your website for Digital Web Solutions.
Okay, lovely. Someone was doing research then.
I was doing a little bit of homework.
Yeah. Let’s say if we were to make a movie on you, Patrick, what genre would it be?
I could have imagined that. Where do we find you on Friday evening?
Probably asleep or hanging out with my kids. I tend to wake up pretty early, so Friday is my catch-up day. I tend to go to bed early and try to make the most of the weekend.
Okay, favorite day of the week?
Okay, the best thing that you love about our job, our profession at large?
I genuinely love to solve problems. So when I get to work with companies and individuals that are struggling to solve a problem that I think I can help with, I get excited about that. I get to look at it in ways that they don’t get to look at it because I’m often coming in with fresh eyes. I’m not burdened by years of experience in their industry. I don’t know all the regulations and the things that I can’t do. So I get to look at it like a kid would look at a problem and say, Why can’t we do it this way? What if we tried these things? And so constantly getting to look at problems and ways that you can innovate in creating solutions. That’s the best part of our job.
Lovely. Good, Patrick. I’ll not grill you any further. Thank you. Thank you so much for taking the time and doing this podcast with us. Appreciate your time, man. Thank you.
You bet. It was nice talking to you and thank you for having me.
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