A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Some of Today’s Best Marketing Agencies

 

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the Top 10 Digital Marketing Agencies in San Diego (that I’ve now appended below this post)…

I was new to the industry and didn’t know many of the agencies personally, so I based my judgment on how those agencies presented themselves online…

But, not this time!

As an agency owner now for the past 3 years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting most of the agency owners in San Diego, and can tell you confidently, that San Diego agencies have great people working hard towards their clients’ success.

 

Our “Disclaimer”

This time around, I wanted to get to know the agencies, so I met with them, asked them some questions… Some tough questions that not everyone likes to share publicly… I took some pictures… And in some cases, we may have had a drink or two 😀

While it’s true that I know a lot of these agency owners personally, I did my best to remove personal biases when reviewing them. While I do try and organize this list based on who I think is the best in the industry, every company on this list I personally would trust with my money, and I wouldn’t just pick 1st place as your agency of choice simply because I called them the winner. Take a look at the pros and cons and decide who the right fit is for you.

And, of course, if you are interested in a social media marketing agency, I’d highly recommend you drop me a line. But aside from my own agency, I know you have plenty of other choices out there, and one of these agencies may fit your needs better.

At the end of the day, every agency is slightly different, and you want to find the one that is best designed to solve your specific problems. Shop around and keep us posted with your decision. We love knowing we helped.

 

The Ranking Factors

This time I wanted to rank on metrics more closely aligned with what makes a truly great agency… So I chose:

  • Client Retention
  • Company Culture
  • Employee Retention
  • Transparency

I’m not going to do a breakdown rating of each agency for these factors, as not only would the number be totally made up, but all of these companies are the cream of the crop, and thus dinging them any points doesn’t really seem fair.

I honestly feel bad that I can’t give all of these companies first place, because they all really deserve it. But, I must honor the tradition of competition and declare there can only be ONE.

 

Your Top 10 Digital Marketing Agencies Winners

Noticeable Mentions

There are a handful of companies that absolutely deserve to be on this list, but didn’t make it, mostly because I couldn’t interview them, or because I just had to barely cut them to make this lengthy article somewhat bearable. Shoutout to:

Ignyte

Digital Telepathy

Mindgruve

Parker White

Meads Durket

Red Door Interactive

Basic

 

10. Bloominari


I’ve had the pleasure of speaking alongside Jaime Nacach at a couple of events now. He’s smart, passionate, and good at managing relationships. His current focus seems to be more in marketing and email automation, but his past is in SEO and web design. Here’s what you need to know about Bloominari:

 

What do people not know about your agency?

That we actually specialize in helping companies implement sales and marketing automation funnels to help them grow their business more efficiently. We combine digital marketing best practices with technology and put them in place for your business. Small and medium sized businesses need the most help to make the most out of each dollar. We’re working with our clients to digitize and automate as much as possible.

We’re embedding technology in businesses and teaching people how to use it.

 

Who is your ideal client?

They ideally generate about $1mil in annual sales, have probably around 10 to 20 employees, and probably don’t have a CRM and marketing automation in place, or are starting to have problems with their existing setup.

Usually they have a marketing or communications manager in the company already as point of contact.

They are looking for generating new leads online, which will be tied to creating an advertising campaign, a landing page, an e-mail marketing funnel and some web dev and.

We work with clients from any industry, but focus on those who can benefit most from automation technology solutions that integrate with their other existing web-based systems.

 

How much do you cost?

We offer full digital marketing and creative services starting at $2K/month. Websites starting at $2K. We have very detailed pricing pages and information.

 

How do you give back to the community?

We volunteer at Kenjc.org. A Latin Jewish community in San Diego.

 

What is your company culture like?

Our company is built on true transparency. Built as a team, not as a “boss.” Everyone within the company is an entrepreneur and a self-starter.

Half the team writes on our blog constantly, showcasing their knowledge. We meet with the entire team every 2-3 months and do a yearly dinner. We do a lot of paid training and pay for tools for personal growth. Most of our team is based in San Diego, but we have some remote workers in Mexico as well.

 

What are you most proud of?

Actually getting my own company to work for me. Surviving the entrepreneurial struggle. Beating my struggle with risk aversity. Being able to grow this company, letting go of responsibilities by delegating them, and learning in the process.

All of the partnerships and social interactions I’ve been able to make.

 

 

9. Elevator Agency

Unfortunately, I have yet to make it to the Elevator office, but I’ve met Frank multiple times, usually at events he is speaking at, and we were able to do a quick phone interview to discuss his agency. Here’s what I asked Mr. Frank Cowell, founder of Elevator Agency:

 

Tell me a little bit about the agency.

We’re a digital brand strategy agency, with an emphasis on web dev and inbound marketing. We typically work with midsize organizations from $10-$100 mil in annual revenue. Our goal is to help them grow to the next level by dramatically helping them increase inbound leads and opportunities. We specialize in technology and software. The typical list of buzzwords includes: Inbound marketing, marketing automation, lead generation, lead nurturing, and content marketing.

And speaking of inbound, we’re a HubSpot certified partner.

People want more marketing qualified and sales qualified leads. We help them get it.

We’re so much so focused on this, that we guarantee, that after the first 90 days after we launch our first campaign with a client, we guarantee they will double their leads.

'We guarantee we will double, or better, our clients inbound leads within 90 days.' Click To Tweet

 

Our average is a 594% increase in inbound leads within the first 90 days.

 

What do people not know about your agency?

I started this agency with zero agency experience. I didn’t leave an agency. I didn’t have a client. I started with my hands in the dirt with my sleeves rolled up. Earned every client one by one. Along the way made plenty of mistakes, but I learned a lot and it’s been one of the most valuable experiences of my life.

 

So then, do you feel like you have conquered the agency world?

I’m not trying to really be a part of the “agency world.”

I think there are many things flawed about the traditional agency model. Things that make for unhappy employees and unhappy clients.

I want happy clients, happy employees, and industry leading profitability. If we do that, we’re winning.

But to answer your questions more specifically, “no,” I don’t feel like I’ve “conquered” anything.

You see, I’ve been in business for 13 years, but I wake up every day hungry to learn what I don’t know and figure out how to do it better.

I’m just as hungry today as I was on day one.

To quote Mark Cuban, “Work like there is someone working twenty-four hours a day to take it all away from you.” It’s not the time to sit back or settle down. I’m just getting started.

 

What are you most proud of?

The people that I get to be around every day. The people that work for me and share as much time with me through this business. It’s something I don’t take for granted.

I’m also most proud of the tenacity of the agency. The agency business is a very difficult business to run and grow. I was in the Marine Corps, and one of the popular mantras is “Adapt and Overcome” – we bring that kind of tenacity to our business.

 

What do you do to give back to the community?

I regularly spend time with young people interested in the agency world, interested in marketing, to share my experiences and help them avoid a pitfall or two along the way.

 

What’s in the future for the business?

Refinement. Sharpening the ax. It’s becoming more and more clear who we are, what we do, and who we do it for. Growing ourselves as individuals, as professionals. The business success and growth.

We’re committed to doing the right things right, growth of the company will come from that.

Creating a world class organization in terms of people, customer success, profitability, scalability.

That can be had at many different sizes and levels, so I’m not so obsessed with a specific number we have to hit – as long as live our core values, deliver tons of value, and have fun along the way, then we’ll keep doing this.

 

 

8. Bop Design

This boutique agency is solely focused on B2B WordPress sites. Prices start at $20,000, depending on number of pages, objective, and functionality.

They have plenty of experience integrating with Salesforce and Pardot, but are a bit more agnostic when it comes to integrating a CRM system.

I sat down with their CEO, Jeremy Durant, and this is what we talked about:

 

Tell me about your services.

Our three main divisions are:

Branding – Messaging, Logo, elements of a brand, rebranding – only if a website is part of that.

Web Design – SEO, design, development. ONLY high-end custom WordPress sites. We win a lot of design awards for our sites. They’re designed for speed, SEO, and conversion.

Content Marketing – On-page and off-page SEO, guest blogging, social media marketing, email marketing, blogging, white paper design, AdWords. Keyword strategy with an editorial calendar. Monthly interview calls with the client each month to help develop the content. We approach high domain authority websites with some of our content to see if we can’t get posted.

 

Who is your ideal client?

Any medium to large company that is looking for B2B lead generation through their website. Some verticals include:

  • biotech,
  • financial,
  • industrial,
  • engineering,
  • professional services, etc.,

…but any B2B lead gen site will work.

We create meaningful content offers and lead collection strategies. We design the site to help increase conversations with the sales team. We prefer clients that don’t have strict compliance issues. We can work with this type of issue, but ideally, we have a bit more free reign on content.

 

What is your company culture like?

We have two designers in Chicago, everyone else is in San Diego.

We keep work/life balance. We aren’t forcing people to stay in the office from 9-5. We aren’t that social during the week, because we are focused on what we do.

We are the antithesis of #agencylife… Lights are out at 6PM. We are the antithesis of that “hang out play foosball” kind of company. The balance comes from staying professional at work, perhaps being a bit more professional than other agencies.

We have a weekly happy hour and keep a low-stress work environment. We are all happy to chat and hang out, but we’re also working hard so that we can go home and hang out with our family.

We’re a little bit more introverted than most agencies.

 

What do people not know about your agency?

How to say our name… It’s “Bop” not “B.O.P.” It means to move, a little jazzy…

But seriously, we build websites for marketing, not for beauty. We have strong calls to action, strong content, strong buying orientation. We focus on the conversions and getting people to spend more time on site.

 

What are you most proud of?

We started in 2008 because my old company – a high-end video agency – laid everyone off. Kara and I were able to make this work and grow this company during the toughest economic conditions in modern US history.

Our employee retention rate is very high. Our team loves working on this company together and it shows in our work. The employees are the lifeblood, losing a talented employee can set you back 6-8 months.

Clients have been with us for 5+ years. Started with us on a branding project and staying for the continuous value of the content marketing efforts.

 

What do you do to give back to the community?

We used to be on some boards to give back – San Diego Hunger Coalition for 2 years, volunteering at Association for Corporate Growth.

We want to get back there within the next 2-3 years. Right now, we are solely focused on growing the business so that we can grow, and then give back later. We’ve donated money here and there to various charities.

 

What is in the future of the business?

We’re not trying to grow too much more on employee count. We want to stay boutique to keep the number of mouths to feed low and stay selective on the tops of projects we take on. We’re focused on taking on projects where we can demonstrate long-term value to our client. The value is in the long-term relationship.

 

 

7. CPC Strategy

This agency is crushing it when it comes to AdWords and E-commerce.

I’ve met a few people on the team, and almost started doing business with them (but the company I was with decided against it). If you’re in E-commerce, and AdWords is going OK, or you are thinking about jumping into AdWords, this could be the company for you.

I have met a few people on the team, but for my interview, I sat down with Leanna Kelley, their content specialist.

Unfortunately, we are not ready to publish this interview, please check back later for the full scoop.

 

 

6. CNG Digital Marketing

Clement Connor CNG Digital and Derric Haynie Vulpine Interactive

CNG was not an agency I was familiar with until I started on my hunt to find the best digital agencies in San Diego.

When I came across Clement Connor, I was absolutely blown away at the size and success of his company, and his ability to manage such a robust portfolio. Also, the French accent and suave jacket are a big plus.

Highly recommend checking out their Instagram, it’s pretty funny.

 

Where did you get your start?

We were just 2 French guys that had just moved to America and thought we would open up our own agency. We started in local, small business in San Diego, moved out to medium-sized businesses and brand building.

Mostly focused in SEO, content marketing, paid ads, and social media marketing. We were (and still are) very good at getting clients to rank #1 for specific keywords. From there we have been able to create our own algorithm that breaks down keyword opportunities and helps us quickly pump out results for our clients.

 

What’s your process for creating content?

To create content, we are interviewing the experts in the industry. It centers the content around the vision of the business and then we are able to amplify on social. Our content manager gets a brain dump from the client and sends it off to content writers. Then we begin looking for influencers that can help spread the word.

 

How often do you typically interact with your clients?

Sitting down one time a month to see what’s working and what’s not. They can call us as necessary or if they have a concern.

 

What types of services are you best known for?

AdWords, SEO, content marketing, these are our jam! Social is also part of our ongoing services. We currently have over 80 ongoing clients and have done multiple projects and Kickstarter campaigns.

We’ve also created a company that focuses on helping bigger brands, called SIO Digital. This company works more with marketing automation and all of inbound.

 

What is your company culture like?

We’re trying to create a family, motivating our team to be better people. We allow employees to show up whenever they would like, except for one weekly all hands on deck meeting. We typically have one outside activity per month. We originally started with a lot of outsourcing, but now believe that team members need to be hired and retained internally for the best business.

We originally started with a lot of outsourcing, but now believe that team members need to be hired and retained internally for the best business.

 

Who is your ideal client?

Small and medium-sized companies that we can help develop their business. We like to see small companies grow, but they technically aren’t our ideal client. Our best clients are medium companies that are growing and want to take the business to the next level.

My favorite client is a funded startup that needs a marketing partner to launch and grow.

Seeing my clients get press is always a win. Hearing them say we’ve helped them grow their business 20%…50%… Makes us feel great.

We don’t want clients that have a bad reputation. Because if they have a problem with their customers, then they will probably have a problem with their agency as well… People that want to make a lot of money right away… Go to Vegas. We are looking for one year level success that turns into lifelong success. We’re looking for lifetime partners.

Ppl that want to make a lot of $ right away... Go to Vegas. We're looking for lifetime partners. Click To Tweet

 

What do people not know about your agency?

French founders, been in the US for 10 years. We are really hungry to become one of the best agencies in San Diego. We focus on doing a lot of personal branding/marketing. Invest in ourselves to grow our business. We are completely self-made as a company, we’ve never borrowed or raised. Grown organically. We focus on great reporting.

 

What’s in the future of the business?

Influence platform. New ad specialist. Hiring, hiring, hiring. New inbound strategist. We’re working on better qualifying our leads, making sure they really do fit our criteria. We focus on educating our market. We don’t just do what our clients want, but teach them what they need.

 

What are you most proud of?

Being self-made. We were in the industry since the beginning of AdWords. We love meeting and talking to people. We’re so happy that we’ve been able to create a team that loves what they do, coming from absolutely nowhere, to where we are today.

 

What do you do to give back to the community?

Trying to work with our clients on pricing and financing if they have problems in the beginning. By doing this we invest in our clients.

 

 

5. Internet Marketing Inc. (IMI)


IMI is by far the largest agency in San Diego. They work with some of the largest brands in the US and have a proven track record.

If you’re a large brand and you are reading this, you may want to start your search with IMI.

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Brandon Fishman, CEO of IMI, and after we briefly discussed a mutual hobby of ours (poker), we dove into the agency a bit. Here’s what he had to say:

 

What do people not know about your agency?

We have an emphasis on analytics and multi-attribution. We use Convertro for predictive analytics and are building / hiring data scientists to analyze data and help clients make better decisions.

We are launching our own products in a new wing called IMI Ventures with a profit sharing pool for employees participating in the program.

We also have a Vegas office with 15 people in it.

 

What happens when you do everything right, and it still isn’t successful?

We are very selective when it comes to choosing our clients. You have to find the right ones. We only work with proven companies.

 

How often do you typically interact with your clients?

We typically have daily email contact and do 1-3 calls per week.

 

Who is your most ideal client?

We’re looking for clients that can use predictive analytics ]and see crazy results. Clients who are willing to trust the team rather than micromanage. We start at $100,000 minimum per year. And they need to be a proven company.

 

How do you give back to the community?

We volunteer at the food bank once per month and do Red shirt day (children’s hospital) charity. We also take in occasional pro bono clients for charity.

 

What do you do for company culture?

We have one large company event per quarter. We keep things very family oriented. We have unlimited time off for all employees.

Most importantly, you be a good boss, but keep team members at an arm’s length. We don’t let people slack off, but we do give them as much freedom as possible.

 

What are you most proud of?

Being able to employ 90+ people and help their families.

 

 

4. Business Online

When I found out what this company actually does, I was floored… They are not like any other company on this list… Not even close.

Business Online is a B2B Creative agency focused in enterprise software, SaaS, and bigger purchase point products. They also work with hardware vendors and industrial manufacturers.

While they do the typical performance digital: Paid and organic search, digital advertising, etc., their true expertise lies in their insane, in-house analytics tools that they bring to the table.

I sat down with Matt Lee, President of Business Online, and this is what he said:

 

Tell me about your services.

We don’t do web design or development. We are working on the strategic side of the website. We set up the A/B tests, analytics, tagging, email nurturing, marketing strategy, marketing technology, and configure and integrate CRM.

We consider our agency all about marketing strategy and analytics. We’re marketing technologists. That’s our strength. We want to be the trusted business partner of our client. And use all that data they have, to take action…

Especially in paid advertising. We have strong relationships with Google and LinkedIn.

 

Who’s your ideal client?

We do some project based work. But typically $150k-$500k/yr is normal.

Here’s when we know the client is right for us. When the client complains, “I have all these tools, all this data, but no one is using it. How do I analyze this data?”

That’s where we come in. We have our own proprietary tools…

Dataweld is a platform technology and service. It’s a team of analysts that help you make business decisions. Demographic and census data.

We use Tableau for the front-end… To display the data to our team and the client’s and gain actionable insight into their business.

 

What’s your company culture like?

We’ve been in business for 17 years.

We have the strategist role… Client-side marketers have been pulled into our agency so that we can have a lot of consulting power.

We started in web dev and SEO but now our core value prop is getting your business marketing strategy right.

We are looking in large companies for our talent. Such as the VP marketing for large company. Data analysts from Accenture, Sony, etc.

Thad and Matt have tried to create more of a tech company culture than an agency culture. More collegiate, collaborative, innovative. Organized, interpersonal. Teamwork.

We do occasional on-site massages. Lunch is included every day. 401k with matching. All the great perks.

 

What do people not know about your agency?

Not enough people know who we are, period. We want to be nationally recognized. We have a great reputation, great case studies, great people, but we haven’t claimed our rightful place in the B2B industry.

We’re currently investing in partnerships.

We plan to break out of the SD scene and be nationally recognized soon.

 

What are you most proud of?

Dataweld. This initiative has been a long time coming. It’s now a staple of our offering. We have the strongest team for insights and analytics and are truly merging tech and agency.

We have a Great culture. Great people. Great clients. Great brands.

 

What do you do to give back to the community?

We sponsor the AIDS walk every year. Thad is involved with multiple charities.

 

What’s the future for the business?

We will continue to expand our footprint. Especially to the Midwestern market, possibly looking to Chicago for an acquisition. We’re looking at creative agencies. We want to grow our presence more in tech, manufacturing, SaaS. We want to grow our own brand nationally.

 

 

3. Campaign Creators

I’ve been doing a little business with Campaign Creators over the past few months, as a white-label provider to their parent company, Business on Market. Working side by side with their team has really shown their business to us, which has helped me learn quite a bit about how to run my own agency. I couldn’t speak more highly of what I’ve seen from their team.

Between the talent, the passion, and the creativity… They really understand client success and have a professional approach, with a strong personal touch. I sat down with 2 of the 3 co-founders, Nicole Pereira and Bob Afsari, and asked them a few questions.

Here’s what they said:

 

 

Tell me a little bit about your agency.

Campaign Creators is a subsidiary of Business on Market, which is a hub of multiple different agencies including Deep Root Digital. Think of Business on Market as the agency of record, and Campaign Creators someone they call when they need their services.

We’re focused on marketing automation in its truest sense of the term. Multiple channel, multiple layered, custom built campaign for each client.

We focus on the things that are proprietary to us. Not commoditized.

We have a customized approach to the consumer behavioral process for our clients. Creating workflows, logistics, collateral for our clients depending on the needs of their business and structure of their inbound marketing funnel.

We are also the production of their infrastructure in many cases. We are doing business development on behalf of our clients. Managing internal marketing and sales teams if needed.

We’re currently at 10 employees and a few frequent non-employee contractors.

 

Who’s your ideal client?

Companies with good awareness and low conversion. Company with good conversion and low-quality leads. Companies that need lower cost per acquisition. Companies with good website traffic, but not a clear inbound marketing funnel.

If they have no awareness or no conversions, they are too early for us. If they’ve got good awareness but no conversion, we can help them.

A couple of our focus industries are B2B Tech and Services, CPG (Consumer Product Goods) are our most experienced clients. But we can apply our methodologies to any industry.

 

What’s your company culture like?

People get their “MBA“ in entrepreneurship and business here. The majority of people are housed here in San Diego and work as a pod/team on almost all projects. Our team enjoys coming into work. We all speak to each other, there is a mission and leadership team, but we have a real mentorship approach to help grow them. Our employees have passion, drive, and raw potential.

We are lucky enough to have very low employee turnover.

Our mission is to foster a great culture and allow our team to challenge themselves.

 

What do people not know about your agency?

We have put our own clients best interest in front of our own so many times that they don’t even realize. We have looked out for them in so many ways they wouldn’t have known. There is a fundamental ethical way that you approach the world, that is required to work here.

A simple example is when we had to refund a client that was unaware they overpaid. While we could have easily kept the money without a qualm from the client, we are obviously compelled to let their finance department know of the error.

Other examples come from working extra hours, covering for internal employee screw-ups, and even referring a client away because even though we could have helped them, and they had the budget, there was a better option than us out there.

(From my personal experience – me, Derric, these guys hold the highest bar on putting the clients best interests first that I’ve ever seen. It’s an inspiration for me to do even better.)

 

What are you most proud of?

My team. The type of people we’ve been able to bring together. I’m really proud of the caliber of people that make up this team, from an ethical, personal, and skill set standpoint.

 

What do you do to give back to the community?

SD Inbound. It’s been a huge sacrifice on our end. Using our own staff and money to build a non-profit. Yes, running these events may lead back to business for us, but it’s been four years of investment into the growth of the inbound marketing community here in San Diego.

Inbound marketing wasn’t even a word people used in San Diego four years ago.

“Inbound marketing wasn’t even a word people used in San Diego four years ago. Click To Tweet

We started with 7 people and decided to focus on education of inbound marketing. We were a gigantic driver in training the entire market on inbound marketing.

 

What’s the future for the business?

To continue building upon the infrastructure that we have been working so hard to build. What we do is complicated and sophisticated; so many moving parts.

We are a custom business development agency. Not just marketing, not just software.

We are essentially partnering and building companies that are trying to get to that next level. We’re continuously looking for the right partners. It’s not about getting wealthy and fattening ourselves.

We believe money will come if we make an impact. It’s about creating change, giving back. We give back to every single one of our clients.

 

 

2. I.D.E.A.


On a whim, I wound up helping Ryan Berman and the rest of the team of San Diego Interactive Day, with promoting their event on social media.

This presented me with the opportunity to ask him a few questions after one of our team meetings and this is what he said:

 

What does I.D.E.A. stand for?

IDEA stands for something different for each of our in-house disciplines.

For creative, for example, it’s Imagine. Design. Execute. Advertise. For account management, it’s Instruct. Determine. Energize. Advise. Each of the 10 in-house disciplines has their own I.D.E.A. — what connects us all is getting the best ideas created, noticed, shared, and talked about.

 

What are these 10 in-house disciplines?

  • Creative
  • Strategy
  • Account Management
  • Project Management
  • Public Relations
  • Social Media
  • Digital
  • Admin / ops
  • Mobile

 

Tell me about the company a little bit.

i.d.e.a. is now 5 years old. We grew by believing in the importance of a fully integrated idea.

I think the problem for most agencies is that they really have a hard time differentiating themselves — therefore they are perceived by others as a commodity.

Five years ago, when we started, we stood for integration.

Now we stand for courageous ideas. We truly believe courageous ideas are the only ones that matter. Everything else, to us, ends up as noise.

Internally, we are set up into two groups:

  1. People who create powerful, courageous ideas
  2. People who power courageous ideas.

 

What do people not know about our agency?

I’m writing a book called “Return on Courage.” I believe companies can maximize their ROI by way of ROC. I also belive any business, being, or brand who has lost their way can return on the courage platform.

Any company that has lost their way can return on the #courage platform. @ryanberman Click To Tweet

I’m on a personal journey to repair the word courage and return it to the business lexicon. It can be that X factor differentiator, once truly understood.

In the book, I talk about “The Business Apocalypse.”

It’s really bad out there in the business world.

Companies are perishing at an alarming rate — the Boston Consulting Group studied 35,000 public companies and concluded that no shape, size, or sector is safe. Yet most don’t take this seriously.

Many of us don’t realize that what got us here won’t keep us here. Many businesses need time to figure out what’s next… but they don’t have time…

Most companies haven’t put in the hard work to make fast, calculated decisions. And this is what the book is really all about. Training those willing business leaders and their senior management teams how to tap into courage when they need it in real-time: I like to call it, “courage on demand.”

 

What are you most proud of?

Nobody gets there alone. My self-importance is not a thing. We’ve been able to build a team that is leading and growing on their own. So my job is often to get out of the way and let the experts be experts.

It’s about empowering my people to be great.

 

What do you do to give back to the community?

I’m launching another business that’s a ‘for purpose’ company in 4th Quarter 2017, so, permission granted to come back and ask me more details then!

Outside of this, i.d.e.a. is a proud B-corp. We represent Father Joe’s Village, with the goal to put an end to homelessness here in San Diego. I also co-chaired, as you know, San Diego Interactive Day -aA non-profit centered around inspiring the marketing community and pushing the boundaries of innovation in creativity.

Being a better citizen in the San Diego marketing community. Trying to be a part of the solution where we help turn San Diego into a place where entrepreneurs can be proud.

 

What’s in the future for the business?

As Steve Wilhite reminded us at Interactive Day, the medium is not the message; rather, the message is the message. As the world continues to change, we don’t think the need for important, meaningful ideas will ever go away. CMO should really stand for Cheif Meaningful Officer.

These CMOs just want to remain relevant, and they are, in our opinion, struggling a bit to do so. We can help. Our antidote is always to create a custom, courageous idea that attacks the problem and shrinks their business fear head on.

 

Who’s Your Ideal Client?

It’s a psychographic, not a demographic.While we take clients of all shapes and sizes, we tend to work with larger, ‘offensive-minded’ businesses who are looking for bold creative. There’s 45,000 other agencies in the country if they are simply looking for lead generation. But when it comes to brand preference, brand consideration, or brand participation, then perhaps we are the right fit for them.

1. Power Digital


I had the pleasure of getting the full tour of the Power Digital HQ and I can tell you, they like to have fun.

In my interview with Nick Slettengren, he tells me that the company started as an SEO/SEM agency, back in 2012, and has grown to truly be full service. They didn’t start out wanting to be everything for everyone, but rather every department ended up being launched out of necessity. Now they have nearly four dozen employees and continue to expand their company.

They didn’t start out wanting to be everything for everyone, but rather every department ended up being launched out of necessity. Now they have nearly four dozen employees and continue to expand their company.

They call themselves ROI driven, a not too uncommon phrase in the agency world, and focused on a client’s bottom line. High communication, a custom approach to reporting, and tying initiatives to the client’s bottom line are all a part of their agency’s DNA.

When I asked about employee retention, I was shocked. They’ve only had 3 employees leave the company since they began. I’ve never heard of something like that.

When asked how he does it, Nick said, “Our team is our product, and if we treat them right, they’ll treat the clients right.” This is absolutely the right way to approach any company, especially an agency.

Click To Tweet

He goes on to say that his team are the “Navy Seals” of digital marketing. With a true rockstar at the helm of every role.

Here are some more questions I asked him:

 

What do people not know about our agency?

Collaboration:

Even if the client isn’t paying specifically for a certain channel or service, we are able to leverage our team’s experience working with the other departments and offer guidance, ideas, and solutions. There’s a benefit to having one person from each of the departments involved on an account.

 

Entrepreneurship:

We’re very entrepreneurial in spirit. We are an extension of our client’s business and brand, not just the marketing department. We are heavily vested in our client’s success. When they win, we win.

We also give true autonomy to our team, to allow them to align in a deeper, more meaningful way, with each client they manage.

 

Passion:

This is the most passionate team of people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. It’s hard to measure how much they care about each client because they are always putting in the extra effort.

 

How often do you typically interact with your clients?

We’re always available for our clients. We do a mandatory weekly call, monthly reports, and make ourselves available whenever the client needs anything.

We find that getting the client on the phone helps show how many team members are working on their account and makes it easy to share quick wins, action items being completed, what’s next in the strategy roadmap, and strategic alignment with our client’s goals.

 

Who is your most ideal client?

We are agnostic and apply our strategies to many different industries. We have proven most success in eCommerce and lead generation. We like to work with companies that need new and innovative strategies in digital marketing. Strategies that will work in tandem with other marketing initiatives.

 

How Much Do You Cost?

Our agency fees are calculated on a case-by-case analysis. Based on a full audit and recommendation of strategic digital needs and the team needed to execute on the strategies will determine price.

We are careful to fully vet each client we work with to make sure they are a fit and there is a high likelihood for return on investment during the campaign period.

 

How do you give back to the community?

We created “Empower Digital,” which ensures that we are staying connected to our community and dedicating time to give back each month – Meals on Wheels, ASPCA, Urban Angels, San Diego Blood Drive, non-profit pro bono work, clothing drives for the shelters, etc. One of our recent events, we had all proceeds go to the ASPCA.

 

Final Thoughts

Thank you to all of the agencies and people that helped me put this together. It’s truly been a journey. While there is only one winner, every single agency here is truly spectacular at what they do, and they really do all serve very different markets.

Tell me, what do you think of these top 10? Did your agency make the cut? Is there something else you’d like to know about these guys? Let me know in the comments below.

Top 10 Digital Marketing Agencies in San Diego in 2015

Based on their ability to “drink their own Kool-Aid” and market themselves online.

Note: This version has been updated. See above for the newest version.

When I started my agency, there were two things I knew about the state of digital marketing agencies:

The first is that there are a lot of bad agencies out there ruining what it means to be in this business. Many agencies are using underhanded tactics to either cheat their client or cheat for their client (black hat marketing, like posting fake positive reviews, or sending out spam emails). 

And the second is that there is a whole lot of this “The cobbler’s children have no shoes” thing going around… Web design agencies with bad websites; social media agencies with no Facebook followers. I mean seriously, how do these guys wake up every morning and let these problems persist.

As I embarked on my journey as an agency owner, I wanted to learn from the best and align my business practices with the agencies that were truly the best in San Diego. So I decided I would give a good hard look at all of the digital marketing agencies in this lovely city and find the agencies that are simultaneously running a great business and “drinking their own Kool-Aid,” so to speak. During the research process, I also discovered common mistakes and even a few big problems with a couple of agencies’ websites, but I will save that rant for another day.

The Truth About Digital Marketing Agencies

The truth about digital marketing agencies that no one seems to talk about is that, from an outside perspective, they all seem to do pretty much the same thing. If you do “SEO,” you probably do about the same thing as any other “SEO” company. If you are a social media management agency, you are likely just about the same as any other social media management agency out there. Sure, as a marketer, you probably “feel” different, but you are likely doing the something very similar.

There are a lot of tools and strategies that can separate one company and their ability to perform from another. But those are generally used internally, and talked about among employees or during sales meetings. So if every company looks the same at first glance, how can we tell the worst from the best without sitting down and meeting each agency?

Rating System

Sure, we could look at awards, types of clients, size of clients, or revenue as ways to establish each player as one of the best agencies in San Diego, but what I really wanted to know was, “Did they use the strategies they lay out for their clients on a daily basis in their own business?” Are they drinking their own Kool-Aid?

I ranked each company from 1 to 5 using these 4 ranking factors to determine who made the top 10:

  • Website Rating – The overall quality, flow, and feel to the website. Is it up to 2015 standards, mobile friendly, and easy to navigate?
  • Content Rating – Both the copy on the website and, more importantly, the quality of the blog articles. I asked myself, “Is this a company I could learn from?”
  • Social Rating – Are they active on their social channels? When was the last time they tweeted? Have they been trying to get followers? Do they have a solid foundation of followers across all of their channels?
  • When there was a tie, I used their Domain Authority via the Moz Bar as the tiebreaker.

I don’t want you to think as the #1 spot as “the best agency in San Diego,” but as the most focused on marketing themselves online and practicing what they preach. Anyone in the top 10 is clearly very reputable and working hard to do what they do best – digital marketing.

The Research

I carefully reviewed the top 50 or so agencies that I either found through Google searching “Digital Marketing Agency San Diego” or through social channels or industry contacts. Here are my thoughts on the overall online presence of the agencies I researched:

Websites

Most websites were acceptable and up-to-date. I was expecting more lead magnets and email exchange offers, but many of the agencies weren’t trying very aggressively to collect their visitor’s email addresses. It seems digital marketing agencies are still getting most of their business through referrals and events. How ironic.

[Tweet “It seems digital marketing agencies still get most of their business through referrals. #HowIronic”]

 Contact Forms

Nearly all sites had proper contact info and a lead generation form on the contact page. It seems the e-mail opt-in form in the footer is a common strategy for a lot of companies. I am not sure how many opt-ins they are actually getting there (we have one and get pretty much zero).

Pricing

Almost no sites talk about their pricing on the website. I only found 1 or 2, and they didn’t even make the top 10. I don’t get this. Why don’t you tell people the minimum amount they would have to spend to do business with you? It’s a really clear way of preventing everyone from wasting each others time.

[Tweet “Why aren’t digital marketing agencies talking about their pricing online? #pricing #strategy”]

SEO

Sooooo many of the sites, even the top ranked ones, were not using a lot of the SEO best practices that are preached across the web. They didn’t have proper schema markups, their h1 tags were wrong or missing, their phone number wasn’t click to call, etc. etc. But, to be fair, they were all still ranking better than my site. 😀

Remarketing

And most importantly, so many companies didn’t have a Facebook custom audience pixel (<- great article on getting this setup) or Google remarketing pixel. This is the number one most powerful thing to do for any website right now because it collects all of the people that had some level of interest in your business in one place, and allows you to advertise to them later. Since we all know it is going to take more than 1 minute on a website to start trusting a business, this is crucial to moving people along the funnel.

Content

Almost all of the agencies I visited had an active blog. Some were only posting monthly, others bi-weekly. The ones that really stood out were the ones that had long-form content and custom images for each blog post. Taking the time to write extensively on your subject matter is the best way to guarantee your content actually makes a difference. The ones that followed this current content marketing best practice all had higher domain authority, and presumably website traffic to go along with it.

You could really tell within the first minute of reading the web content whether or not the agency used their site for lead generation, or it was just a placeholder for the business – like a place they send people after meeting them in person.

And it was interesting to see the variety of content each agency would post about. It ranged from advertising to millennials, to advanced user experiences, to news of related industries – almost seemingly off-topic stuff. You could really get a feel for the target audience of each blog and you could clearly see the diversity of each company within the digital marketing industry.

Social

The one thing that became apparent as I was going through these agencies was that an agency isn’t going to get 100,000 followers online. It just doesn’t happen. Agencies just aren’t interesting enough. Most companies were working hard on social to get 1,000+ followers, and some, even social media agencies, seemed to have given up completely on their own following! A couple of the top agencies have really strong followings and probably a very large social reach, but I don’t think people follow a digital marketing agency the same way they might follow someone like Rand Fishkin or Tim Ferris.

 

[Tweet “If you run an agency and haven’t posted on your Twitter in the last month, please quit.”]

Dive Into It Already Derric

 

Alright, here we are. Your top 10 digital marketing agencies in San Diego:

 

10. MindGruve

 

Overall Score – 12/15

Website – 4/5

Content – 4/5

Social – 4/5

Domain Authority – 40

Sub-Industry: Branding for medium to large businesses.

Clients include: PGA Tour, Bud Light, Union-Tribune San Diego

Website

MindGruve is a very large agency with offices across the country. They no doubt have great designers on their team because their site is very, well…designed. Not “well designed,” it’s actually a bit overdesigned (at least for my tastes). The call to action on each page gets a little lost in the artistic flare being expressed by the designers. Just take a look at this home page and tell me what they want me to do. I thought I was at a digital marketing agency’s site, but apparently they want me to rock and roll.

That being said, the design is pretty cool in a lot of places, and it helps make up for their lack of lead collection and user flow.

Content

Their blog has solid information and a great feel to it. You get to learn about the people behind MindGruve and you can tell they are an amazing, award-winning agency.

Social

They have a decent following on Twitter and a whopping 3,000 follows on LinkedIn, but sadly under 1k Facebook likes. They clearly know where to focus their efforts.


9. Ignite Visibility

Overall Score – 14/15

Website – 4/5

Content – 5/5

Social – 5/5

Domain Authority – 31

Sub-Industry: Small Business Full-Service Digital Marketing

Clients Include: Mission Federal Credit Union, Metrex, Dr. Dental

Website

This site has a distinct call to action and explains their services clearly on the home page. Now, the site isn’t as “cool” as some of the others, but it really looks great in terms of getting the message across and getting the job done right. I don’t like that the blog link is buried under their tools and resources menu button, but overall it’s a solid site with a lot of information and great social proof.

Content

They post articles twice a week and have very solid content on a variety of topics. The articles are lengthy and can genuinely help people solve simple problems surrounding digital marketing.

Now they do claim to be “The Most Advanced Newsletter Online” which I think is immediately proved false by the wording of the claim itself, but it is a nice attempt.

Social

They have over 2000 Facebook likes, 5,000 Twitter followers, a host of YouTube videos, and some followers on G+ and LinkedIn. I would say they are doing a great job on social and clearly care about their online presence.


8. Parker White

Overall Score – 14/15

Website – 5/5

Content – 5/5

Social – 4/5

Domain Authority – 31

Sub-Industry: Branding for Health-focused companies

Clients Include: Heal2gether, On-Q, InPlace

Website

This is a pretty good landing page, even though I do feel that the case study they are showcasing might confuse some people as far as the message of “what we do.” They’re showing us football players, so I think, “digital marketing for big brands,” but they actually specialize in digital marketing for health-centric companies.

Usually you want to put your offer or message as the first thing people see and save the case study for after someone understands your business a little better. But it seems like many digital marketing agencies are doing “case study first,” so maybe this is a strategy I am just not fully comprehending just yet. I suppose it depends on who you are sending to your website.

Content

Great white papers and a lot of nice blog posts. The blog posts are relatively short. They could spend more time on each post in order to provide more long-form content. But the information they are giving away is pretty solid, and well-focused around what they actually do.

Social

700+ LinkedIn followers, nearly 3,000 Twitter followers, and only 350 Facebook followers, it’s clear they have chosen which social channels to focus on, but I disagree with the choice, because Facebook is always relevant, and every person they to do business with is on Facebook nearly every day, even though they might have some more power to target people on LinkedIn. This is very close to a 5 on social though.


7.Mod Girl Marketing

Overall Score – 14/15

Website – 4/5

Content – 5/5

Social – 5/5

Domain Authority – 31

Sub-Industry: Full-Service Boutique Marketing Firm

Clients Include: Tampa Bay Plastic Surgery, Build a Miracle, iDrive Transportation

Website

I had to knock a point off for them simply because they are using a very generic form on their landing page, and they have a lot of text on the left hand side that nobody is reading. Other than that, they have an amazing video that engages the user, a call to action that gives them a reason to sign up, and a solid explanation of their services. And they are even showing us how many people they have in each department, which I really like. They aren’t afraid to list their ideal client and problems they solve right on the homepage.

Content

I am actually a long term subscriber to their email list and they produce great content on a weekly basis. They are trying to help as many people as possible with their blog and dish out well sectioned/organized articles that include great checklists, social sharing options, etc. The articles are using all the right techniques and I know I could trust these guys… I mean gals… to write content for my blog (won’t ya?). They have a solid lead magnet offer designed to get the most out of each website visitor.

Social

I like that they list a lot of channels with their social icons. This means they are probably on the cutting edge of digital marketing tech and social media trends. They have 15,000 Facebook likes!! Very impressive. Might I recommend turning more than 4 of them into Facebook reviews 😀 Their following on Twitter is 25,000. Clearly they are very good at social media marketing.


 

6.BOP Design

Overall Score – 14

Website – 4

Content – 5

Social – 5

Domain Authority – 44

Sub-Industry: Web Design agency

Clients Include: Integrant, IXI Technology, Allofill

Website

They have a fairly solid landing page, but seem to be trying to convey too much information in too little space. They put every possible industry and service as a clickable list on the home page. I have been told in the past not to put clickable text next to each other, because it is hard to navigate on mobile. I would recommend making the homepage longer and expanding on the topics they want to address.

Content

Overall they have a ton of information, and everything is very clean. They showcase their team, process, locations, and services. They answer all of the questions you might have about the business. They post weekly on their blog with their own custom images.

Social

They have solid numbers. 400 LinkedIn Followers. 2400 Facebook likes, and 1400 Twitter followers. Unfortunately, they are using Buffer to post to Twitter and the images aren’t being displayed properly. If you know me, you know this is a huge pet peeve of mine. You simply must have an image with every Tweet. No excuses. Bonus points: it looks like they did a few episodes of a podcast (titled “BOPcast”) but must have given up on it after not gaining traction. Too bad they stopped.


5. Red Door Interactive

Overall Score – 14/15

Website – 4

Content – 5

Social – 5

Domain Authority – 50

Sub-Industry: Big brand full-service customer acquisition

Clients Include: Charlotte Russe, Cox, Rubio’s

Website

It’s a pretty solid site, even though I am not thrilled with the tagline “We are a data-driven agency.” It’s kind of like Starbucks saying, “We sell coffee.” We know… But it’s obviously still a great keyword to hit, and that’s probably why it’s up there… Or so I thought. I checked their H1 tags, and unfortunately, they are being mismanaged. They could get some free “Google juice” by adding their tag line into the H1 and title tags. This might be a small SEO error, but it doesn’t matter too much because the page is very well optimized other than that. Other than that, they have a large site and a lot of information, but the design and flow just wasn’t enough to hit the 5/5 mark.

Content

There is some good content and clearly put a lot of thought behind each blog post. The content is fresh, having recently covered Meerkat vs Periscope, which are only a few months old at this point. And they like to have fun with the articles, while throwing down some helpful tips. It looks like they should remove the commenting feature though, because they are getting a lot of spam, but no real comments.

Social

They have over 1,500 Facebook likes, and even 230 check-ins. Their Twitter following is over 6,000 strong, and they are relatively active on Instagram too. You can tell they enjoy having fun when they are online; the smiles shine through the internet.


4. Digital Telepathy

Overall Score – 14

Website – 4

Content – 5

Social – 5

Domain Authority – 62

Sub-Industry: UI/UX Design, Strategy, Branding and Voice, Front-end Dev

Clients Include: Adventure.com, New Relic, The Lean Startup

Website

This is a very cool website that is centered on design. The homepage is a video with one headline subhead and two calls to action. It’s very clean, but feels a little overdesigned. But the rest of the site has some really cool custom features that give you a nice organic feel for what they can do. I mean, it’s all really cool stuff, but I think it loses something in readability and maybe even conversion.

Content

The content is really, really good. They have some unique articles on the integration between psychology and design, and it’s pretty clear the entire site is built around the blog. All of their articles are lengthy and contain some real gems. Also, I think they do the blog “for them” and not just to get solid search engine rankings (which they have). An admirable strategy, I tip my hat.

Social

With 15,000 Twitter followers and 3,000 Facebook likes you know these guys are sharing great content on their social sites. They also have over 1,000 LinkedIn follows and 400 YouTube subscribers. This agency is a true thought leader in design and branding, and is a really close contender for the #1 spot on my list.


 idea

3. The I.D.E.A. Brand

Overall Score – 15

Website – 5

Content – 5

Social – 5

Domain Authority – 46

Sub-Industry: Big Name Branding, PR, Social Media

Clients Include: Puma, Harrah’s Resort and Casino, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

Website

They are branding experts with truly original ideas. The site has a unique and amazing style and flow to it. They keep a lot of content on the homepage, so that we can browse all of the art that they have created. And they showcase their amazing awards and demonstrate their artistic talent which gives them an instant proof of concept to the viewer.

Content

They don’t really go into their process as much as I would like, kind of pretending that what they do is so magical that no one has figured it out yet… unlikely, but not impossible given what they have been able to do. But I really like the blog. The content is fun and gets to the point.

Social

On Facebook, they have over 2,200 likes, 400 check-ins, and 17 reviews. And on LinkedIn and Twitter, they have over 3,000 followers each.


 

 

2. Internet Marketing Inc

Overall Score – 15/15

Website – 5/5

Content – 5/5

Social – 5/5

Domain Authority – 51

Sub-Industry: Integrated Digital Marketing for Global Brands

Clients Include: LegoLand, Mastercard, Aria Resort and Casino

 

Website

These guys are seriously one of the best in the nation. Working with big brands across the country and really setting the bar for top-shelf digital marketing agencies. They know what they are doing and have a plethora of awards to back their claims. They have a solid homepage with a lot of information. They’re showcasing their big name clients. Names like McDonalds, AMC Theatres, and Aria Hotel and Casino. They have a very solid homepage sales video showcases a ton of talent and makes the viewer really trust their business.

Content

They have very solid content for a mix of their potential small business clients. These guys are real thought leaders, so they have a ton of talks and speeches about the industry as a whole and what they have learned over the years. They create long-form, quality content that no doubt helped contribute to their high Moz score of 51 and give them the #2 spot for this post.

Social

21,000 Facebook likes, yikes. These guys have a massive social following and haven’t neglected any channel. 1,200 Pinterest followers. 3,700 LinkedIn followers. And even 450+ Google Plus followers. They likely have the largest social reach out of all of the companies in the top 10 and are clearly the digital marketing agency that we should all aspire to be one day.

 



Geary LSF logo

1. Geary LSF

Note: Geary LSF has gone out of business. We will be updating the list to reflect this shortly.

Overall Score – 15/15

Website – 5/5

Content – 5/5

Social – 5/5

Domain Authority – 53

Sub-Industry: Big Brand Full-Service: SEO, Creative, and Paid Media

Clients Include: Bumble Bee Seafoods, WD-40, Brooks Brothers

Website

This site has a great feel to the landing page, two clear calls to action in the center, which I think is fine for them, and they give a solid breakdown of their “integrated marketing” solution (which mostly everyone is using these days). You quickly find out they work exclusively with the big brands, and are probably a big budget agency exclusive to major companies and the Fortune 500.

Content

Their blog is good and provides pretty solid tips for digital marketing. They pull from their recent events and experiences to bring unique content to the viewer, even though they aren’t solving the biggest problems you may face online.

Social

Where’s the LinkedIn link on the homepage? Well, other than that they have over 1,000 Facebook likes and 2,000 Twitter followers, so they are clearly putting in the effort. They have a solid YouTube channel, but it isn’t linked on their social icons, and that seems like a bit of an oversight. They should probably add a few more social icons to the site.

 

 


Overall Takeaways

All of the best agencies in San Diego are doing 3 things right:

They have rich content on their websites. From white papers, to case studies, they show you everything they are about, and what makes them unique.

They blog regularly. Even if the content isn’t A++ they still are producing blog posts weekly in order to keep the site up to date and keep the users in the know.

They are active on social. All top agencies are posting daily on Facebook and Twitter, and quite frequently on the other channels too. And, based on the numbers, we can be certain that LinkedIn is a very powerful source of leads for all of these agencies.

How would I chose an agency from this list?

If I had to go with an agency from this list, first I would find the ones that align with my business, and my goals. I’m a small, local business, so right away we can rule out all of the global, big name, and branding companies. That narrows it down to about 3 or 4, which makes this pretty easy.

I would call each of the remaining companies and set up an appointment. What I want to learn in the first meeting is the process they use, their pricing, and most importantly, how well we would work together.

From there, you just have to pick the agency that you trust the most. Digital marketing for a small business is a very invasive process. You need to know numbers, customer types and personas, sales and profit margins, and the overall voice of a business. If you can’t trust them with your business, your brand, your life’s work, then you can’t do business with them.

Also, I would highly recommend not choosing the cheapest quote over the most trustworthy. It really is still a “go with the gut” kind of process. Cheap will often end up giving you a headache, whereas trustworthy means you can just sit back and let the leads roll in.

Before you make your decision, I’ve got another post you might like on advice from some of San Diego’s top entrepreneurscheck it out by clicking here or the image below:

FB Ad Influencer Post


How about you? What process do you go through when choosing an agency? How would you judge a digital marketing agency without meeting them in person? Are you an agency in San Diego that didn’t make this list but think you should have? Did I leave you out?

Tell me what you think in the comment section below.

 

 

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Derric Haynie