Change can be difficult to accept and at times risky, but sometimes change is just what we need to change the dynamic and improve what we do. Sean Kerr, founder and COO of non-profit focused agency Cause Inspired Media, shares his thoughts on AI’s role in digital advertising, how improved attribution modeling and AI can positively impact conversions and ROI, and more in this spotlight interview.
How would you describe your company in less than 150 words?
We are an agile, rapidly growing and diversified team of people who have always been looking for meaningful work and have found a place to do just that. When we started Cause Inspired, we wanted to create a company where people would actually want to be. This meant that our work couldn’t be simple and it couldn’t be for the sake of profit. So we found a way for our days to be interesting, challenging, and by definition, meaningful. Working with nonprofits has allowed us to create a special place that makes our team want to get out of bed and come to work.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Honesty. Every once in a while – when we can’t make a real difference for one of our clients – we tell them. We don’t eak out every dime we can before they leave dissatisfied. Instead, we work with each client individually and give them the best advice we can. Sometimes, this means we have to tell our clients hard truths and more often than not, those clients come back when they are ready and recommend us to their friends and colleagues since they know we won’t take advantage of them.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day changes on the fly. As we have grown, my day has ranged from working directly in accounts all day to managing teams of people doing the same. Interspersed, I am the first person all of our clients work with after they sign on with us. I walk them through what to expect moving forward, and apply for their Google Ad Grant if they don’t already have it. In order to stay productive with many different teams and tasks vying for my attention, I have to use a task management tool, keep my earphones in, and set aside times to ignore email and all other distractions.
Besides acquiring new customers, what is the biggest challenge in growing your business?
Client communication. When we lose a client it almost never has much to do with the performance of their account. Typically, either our contact or their boss simply doesn’t understand the value of the service. We do still run into questions like, “there are ads on Google?” every once in a while and it can be an uphill battle to make the nuances of marketing goals and performance when you are busy explaining the platform itself.
What do you think is the most interesting trend in digital advertising now?
The push to let AI take control. I am an advocate of change, especially when it comes to technology, however I don’t see that really being a trend with most people I encounter in our industry. Often times, once an agency learns how something works, that’s how they believe it should always operate. So turning over more of the nitty gritty to AI is something I embrace but I see pushback across the board.
Now, I don’t think this is any easy change to embrace, as it isn’t as simple as turning it on. However, if you have the right data and understand how to monitor and manipulate the AI, there are excellent results you can achieve with these new strategies.
Some client’s niches are so small and specific that it is very difficult to take advantage of Google’s smart bidding options. One non-profit we work with has two different campaigns targeting separate domains. One has a much broader appeal and had a high volume of trackable conversions to feed to Google to learn the persona of our ideal user. However, the other domain simply didn’t have the data.
This is where the partnership between a professional analyst and AI really shines. If the AI were to simply take over the account, it would most likely lower bids to the point that ads would hardly ever show. Instead, we gathered micro goals, tiny levels of engagement, which we fed in as conversion. From here smart bidding learned gradually about the users we wanted and started to bring in more users that completed the specific valuable goals, and we could phase out the original micro-goals as a target thus teaching the system to do what we want.
Do you see any trends specific to PPC reporting?
Improved attribution modeling. Your audience may be one of the few that knows what I am talking about and that’s okay, most people don’t need to know what attribution modeling is, much less what improving it is like.
I have never been a fan of last-click attribution and Google’s very recent push to get agencies to start using more nuanced strategies, such as position-based and data-driven, are very welcome. Understanding the consumer journey just isn’t possible when you can only look at the last thing a user did before converting. A good marketer needs to take all the steps and understand how different ads influence different audiences to make better decisions.
How will these trends impact advertisers in the future?
The combination of better data from improved attribution modeling and a more strategic perspective brought on by the use of AI to control bids and audiences will result in improved conversion rates and higher return on ad spend across the board. This of course assumes that more than just the biggest organizations actually take advantage of these programs and pass on what they learn. We have created a robust internship program and have partnered with a local college to make sure that what we are learning every day is passed on to those planning on joining our ranks.
What are the biggest challenges you face in PPC campaign management?
Client content creation is our biggest hurdle to overcome. Especially since we work with nonprofit organizations, there is often a disconnect between what they do, how well they do it, and what the website says about those things. Many of the most passionate organizations that are doing some of the best work aren’t the ones that show it on their site. To that end, we incorporate content consulting in all of our PPC management packages so that we can coach these groups through the process of SWYDO (showing what you do online).
What are the top 5 tools or apps you use almost every day?
- Asana – I have used many project and task management programs over the years and this is the best I have come across. While it lacks a few features here and there, it has major advantages. Every client has their own project with clear recurring and static tasks with notes for the relevant project or task, including active communication functionality. Because of Asana I can manage teams that in turn manage hundreds of AdWords accounts, not to mention social media and web development projects.
- Gsuite – The email, chat, storage, and associated widgets make a modern agency viable. Without the communication and organizational capabilities of Google’s tools I don’t understand how any company is efficient.
- WhatRuns – A chrome extension that is incredibly useful for my team. On any site you happen to be on it tells you exactly what is powering it, often down to the name of the theme the CMS is using. This takes a lot of the guess work and research out of the day to day and we can almost immediately know more about a client’s website than they do.
- Google Tag Assistant – Another chrome extension I use constantly. This little tool tells let’s you exactly what is going on with analytics and tag manager on a given page. It has a few bugs but is great for troubleshooting.
- Swydo – It is part of every member of our PPC team’s day. From communicating stats to our clients to getting a better picture of a where an account is heading we use it with every account.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I have worked in positions ranging from busboy to COO and the the worst was as an entry position employee at another marketing firm. They were half-heartedly making the switch from print to digital and upper management was not only out of touch, but simply didn’t care about clients or employees. They sat back and reaped rewards simply because they “deserved it”. I learned a lot from this position. Primarily that you have to be a part of everything your company does if you are going to manage it effectively. You have to care. Without this you will eventually fail.
What people have influenced your thinking (and why)?
Frank Herbert (author) – I read Frank Herbert’s Dune for the first time in highschool and it set me on the path to where I am today. I studies Political Science, focusing on theory due to the way he was able to get deep into the motivations of conflicting people groups. I have used the insight I gained from both his books and the subsequent years of study to become better at getting into the mindset of each target audience I work with. I highly recommend this process as it always gets better results.
What is your favorite quote?
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. – Shopenhauer
I think many of the topics we discussed are right between the first and second of these stages.
Where do you see your company in 5 years?
To look forward I have to look back. We only opened up 3 years ago last December and have already grown to work with around 250 nonprofits and manage over $28 million per year in Google Ad Grants, in addition to the web development and consulting we provide. So I would love to just say we will keep that growth trend and be working with nearly every nonprofit in the country and maybe even in international markets. Some of this may happen, however, I also always want to tember our growth with sustainability and quality. As we continue to grow, our first priority is to continue to improve the quality of our service. Five years from now I expect Cause Inspired Media to be known throughout the nonprofit community.
Sean Kerr is the COO & CoFounder of Cause Inspired Media. Working with around 250 nonprofits across the country ranging from community foundations to international initiatives gives him a unique perspective on the nonprofit fundraising landscape. This perspective is tempered by realistic expectations of digital advertising and a strong team of support. You can reach Sean via LinkedIn.