Tyler Kelly: Full Transcript

Marc Reifenrath (00:01):

Tyler, thank you again for being on Culture Starts With U, a podcast where we talk all about culture and core values and where we debate it and really dig into it. I'm really excited to get into this with you today. So just as a little bit of a warm up question, I always like to ask this, this is something I ask in every interview that I'm a part of, for somebody on our team. So when you wake up in the morning and you walk to your desk, what would be the walkup or entrance song playing in your head every morning?

Tyler Kelly (00:31):

It's a great question. I've always said, I think my walkup song would always be Eye of the Tiger. <laugh> I don't know why that pops into my head, but that's definitely the one that strikes it. And so, yeah, I think, you know, trying to seize the day, get a little excited and try to attack like the Eye of the Tiger. I mean, I think that's where my head's at.

Reifenrath (00:54):

Love it. Love it. That's a common one. That's a good one. It's an easy pump up one to get you going. Mine is maybe a little bit more mellow — it's Lovely Day. It just kind of walks you into it. Now, I would also say it would change based on what I'm gonna have to attack that day. I might go with Eye of the Tiger if I had a little more… bigger problem as well.

Kelly (01:13):

Who sings Lovely Day?

Reifenrath (01:15):

I knew you were gonna ask me that and it's just on the tip of my tongue but I'm blanking. So <laugh> buzz kill for that one. Sorry. Alright. I love it though. Okay, so you're in YPO (Young President's Organization) as am I. That's one of the reasons we met, actually, as well as you're great partner at Spinutech’s, but tell us a little bit about that journey. How did you get introduced to YPO and what's your experience been like?

Kelly (01:41):

I was lucky enough to meet some really great guys through my country club, actually. And they were in YPO North Texas, which is the chapter I'm in, and they just spoke so fondly of it that, you know, this was where they've made some of their greatest friends. They've also grown as individuals. And it was a lot more than just the social club. It was definitely more of: How do you become a better leader? How do you become a better person and how do you become a better parent? And I love those aspects of it. So I asked one of them to sponsor me. They did, it took me a while, took me almost two years to get in, just because of some of the logistics of my CEO… I'm the president of Basis Technologies, but there is a CEO founder that was also a part of YPO and I also saw his journey and it made him a better leader.

Kelly (02:35):

We use a lot of aspects of YPO in our day to day working world. We actually do checkins. We make sure that everyone is kind of present before we kick off anything. And that was a lot through the YPO learnings. And so it took, like I said, it took two years. Now I've been in it for three years. Love my forum, love my chapter. We actually have a chapter retreat, which I'm actually excited about. It’ss mandatory for all 82 members and we're going to Broken Bow, Oklahoma in a couple weeks. I think it's gonna be a great way just to meet people and… because sadly when I joined YPO the pandemic hit, so I've not had the full experience yet. But I think this year's gonna be the year.

Reifenrath (03:20):

That's great. And I think it's important for… Whether in YPO or not, just understanding the power of having peers around you to, you know, especially in leadership positions, you've gotta have a sounding board and it's lonely at the top, You hear about that and you read about it, but until you get there, you don't realize that. And YPO is just such a great outlet for that. So I always encourage people to get into something like that.

Kelly (03:43):

I was gonna say — in your experience, do you spend more time talking about business or personal care?

Reifenrath (03:49):

I would say it varies on kind of the season of life and just even the time of year and what's going on. I mean, you're hitting on a great point. If, as a leader you have a personal problem, there's a noise factor that can influence how we lead. And so this is such a great way to solve it. I mean, for me personally, it's probably been more business, I'd say it's 75/25, but you have other forum mates who are maybe heavier on the personal side because of some stuff that's going on. I think that blend is actually really good in a forum. I think some forums kind of become only one category, and that's not necessarily as healthy. It's intended to touch all aspects. So I enjoy all of them and what I always find is you learn so much from other people's experiences. Whether I think I needed to hear that right now or not, you file that away, and I found that to be… I pull on it in the future, quite often.

Kelly (04:52):

I completely agree. I would actually say we probably spend more time on personal just because it's a safe place and I think that's what you get out of it too. The fact that you have to be very confidential and you can be your true, authentic self and you realize that, hey, we're all screwed up. So <laugh> even though we're at the top, we still have a lot of issues to get out.

Reifenrath (05:18):

I always say we all put our pants on the same way, right? So <laugh> exactly, awesome. All right. Well thanks for that. I think, again, finding that peer group, just trusted a trusted room, kind of your personal board. That's another way I've always looked at it. It's a personal board and… actually, I'm coming up on four years, we joined about the same time. So I've always enjoyed kind of paralleling our experiences to see where we're at and everything. So thanks for sharing that. All right. Let's dig into your role at Basis. You've been there a long time and like I said, this is all about culture and core values. So I'd love to just… You were team member or employee number four, correct? So you've seen some change. You're like me, you're there on the ground. So did you define culture in the beginning? Did you have core values or something that evolved over time? Talk about that journey.

Kelly (06:08):

So this is where I will give a ton of credit to our founder, the CEO, Shawn Riegsecker. He actually created a manifesto and he created it prior to me even joining. So the idea of culture in treating employees the right way out of the gates was always his mindset. And he's always been, if we can change the corporate culture to be more employee focused and focus on them, they will give so much more back to us. It's definitely lasted the test of time and that manifesto, which we still have on our website today, really talks about, like I said, treating the employee the right way, giving back, all those pieces have not changed. And it's made us who we are. And over that time — I've been with Basis for 17 years — so it's definitely changed quite a bit.

If you think just about our industry, it changes probably two to three times a year and we've had to maneuver through that. I remember we hired a consultant probably 10 years ago and they were like, your culture is so strong that we believe that if you actually wanted to go start a cruise ship line, you guys could go do it tomorrow. Because when you have that culture, people are all working together and they're working towards that true vision. And that mission that everybody feels is the right one. I think that's what he's really done. A great job encapsulating. He's pushed it down. And I do think culture starts at the top. If you have a bad person at the top, it's gonna matriculate all the way down and vice versa. When you have someone who's really focused on employees, it pushes down and people feel… 

Now I'll say, I think in the last year, I should probably say like, it's the pandemic, it's become interesting, right? Because I also think our manifesto can be weaponized and some aspects of it — there's nothing in our manifesto that says you don't have to work hard or there's work life balance. But people always say, hey, well, if you put employees first, why are you guys wanting me to work so hard? And we do think you need to work hard. We do think that aspect is there and over the last two years, it's become hard. I think people are stressed. There's different economic issues. There's different world issues. There's a war going on in Russia. There's Black Lives Matter. How are we focusing on all those pieces and still trying to run a business.? I think that's what we’re all trying to understand and achieve.

Reifenrath (08:37):

I love all that and I couldn't agree more. I heard a leader recently say something about the way that we led to get us to the pandemic and then the way that we led in the pandemic, neither one of those equations of leadership style get us beyond it. And so we all have to adapt and change now because it's a new game — everything's changed. I think we're all kind of figuring out as leaders. And so I've said to our leadership team: Let's set the bar, let's set the freaking bar. I don't know what that looks like, but that's what I'm challenging them with. And I've even said recently, like we've been doing a good job of getting our teams together, whether they're in a market with an office or not, but I said, this is the new ping pong tables and bean bag chairs and everything. We can't just have fun events. It's gotta be more than that. I don't know. I don't know what that is, but to me, that's the new bean bag chairs and ping pong tables in the office or the kegerator. We've gotta push it to another level that is not just connecting people, it's building deep bonds. So this is the challenge that all of us face, cause you're right, it's totally changed. And as leaders, I think we gotta be honest. We're all figuring that out.

Kelly (09:51):

We have a head of DEI — diversity equity and inclusion — and she came on board about a year ago. She's been amazing. And we had a conversation just the other day. She's like, how was my first year? And I said, I think we've done a great job of reestablishing diversity in equity, but we're failing at inclusion. So I think year two, how do we get inclusion back to your point, Marc? Right? Like people aren't going back in and they don't wanna go back yet. Not that much. We did a survey where I think 67% of our employees said they wanted to come in two to three days a week. Well, it turns out 3% want to come back in <laugh>. So now that we know those numbers, how do we readjust, but how do we create those inclusion events?

How do we get people tighter? Because if we can't do that, then I'm fearful of culture being lost. And that would be a terrible thing, because we've done such a great job of trying to build that up. So if you figure it out, Marc, please let me know. <laugh> Because we're still struggling with the… We try to do… We're doing a college tailgate, happy hour, trying to do something to get people back in. I think being together is something worthwhile and having some team meetings, having… Hey, we're just gonna go in one to two days a week, but there's a purpose behind it, not just going in to go in, but you know, we're gonna solve an issue. And I've said this a lot where I think through the pandemic, we became a lot more productive? I think for the most part, people are getting more work done because you're not commuting. You're not having the side chats and you're getting your stuff done, but we've lost creativity. And if you can set aside meetings to be creative and have everybody included in participating, I think we can get some of it back, but I've not figured it out yet.

Reifenrath (11:51):

I don't know that anybody has. One of the filters I've been using is, for like office space rent, what's the ROI on your culture for those dollars? Like, what is the ROI on a cultural perspective? That's a hard thing to answer in every scenario, but just been challenging sme of our expenses — should those be reallocated to bringing the team together in person? Every team is getting together this year and we're probably three quarters away through all teams getting together in person. And the feedback's been phenomenal, but there's a timer of when that it's like, okay, I've got a 30 day high, a 60 day high, when does it start to dissipate? And so thinking in the future, what's the cadence? If it's all teams maybe cross pollinating, different teams together, but you're right. We don't have those happy collisions in the office where — Hey, Tyler, what'd you do this weekend? You know, you just told me what you did when we were talking before. That's great. That creates a talking point for us to pin on in the future. I learned a little bit more about you and you learned a little bit about me. We're missing those opportunities right now that we have to recreate in different ways.

Kelly (12:56):

I agree completely. And that's the tough part, right? When you're managing the P&L and you've got a board to answer to that definitely wants to see your EBITDA going up. How do you balance out the expense versus the experience? And that's something that we're struggling with. We're in some long term leases, so I'm hoping to shed some of those, because I do think if we can take those dollars, reallocate them towards experiences and inclusion, by cutting down our actual physical space, but still wanting people to come in, I think is the right blend as we move forward. But I agree with you. I don't know how many times. Is it once a quarter? Is it once a month? I don't know. I think every team might be different too. We have 230 something people in our engineering department and, you know, I don't think they would wanna get together four or five times a year. On the flip side, our sales team would love to get together weekly. So I think it also depends on the vibe, what you're trying to create and what you're trying to motivate within your organization without being too heavy handed.

Reifenrath (14:04):

Yeah. Agree. There's a balance and everybody has different needs. That's become very apparent to me is as a leader, you have to say it, maybe the same message, but you gotta say it at least seven to 10 different ways. So everybody understands it and hears it. But recognition, everybody needs to be recognized differently. Some people love it publicly. Some don't. With being in related fields, we have a ton of introverts. They don't necessarily appear to be introverts because in a meeting they're very outgoing, but what you and I don't realize as extroverts is, that's extremely draining for them. And their battery just gets sucked dry. And so those in-person events can create a lot of anxiety and just really drain them. You and I need those to get energy. We gravitate towards any situation like that to give our batteries more power. So it's taking all those things into account, and — you've got over 800 team members, correct?

Kelly (15:02):

We're just over a thousand now.

Reifenrath (15:03):

A thousand now. So I mean, you've got a thousand different versions of how people want to interact. And so these are just all the modern day challenges of being a leader. Honestly in some regards it’s an attack on our culture. Not necessarily our core values, I think the core values is easier to live, but our culture is — we have to redefine it. And again, what led us here, what got us here is not gonna work for the next 10 years or who knows maybe shorter, maybe longer, but we've gotta reinvent that.

Kelly (15:34):

I completely agree. Where I'm still struggling is also: How do you cater or not cater to that really vocal 10%, because you're gonna have those people that don't want to get in the office. They have very strong opinions, but it might not be the mass of what people are thinking, but they have a very strong voice. Where we try to figure out is how do we balance those strong voices against what we believe the majority would actually like. I don't know if you guys face that.

Reifenrath (16:10):

No, I agree. What are your filters in decision making? The very first one is: What's best for the team? So it may be one voice that you're hearing, but can it be what's best for the team is what they're asking for? Is it truly what's best for the whole team? Oftentimes that filter works. We have two, we put it through that. What's best for the team and what's best for the business? Ultimately that's gonna be what's best for our clients. So we always say we're a team first company, but that is an easy attacking point too, of, well, you say you're that, but you're not letting me do X. Yeah, well, no, cause that doesn't really make sense for the whole picture either. These are unique times and some of that, too, is that we are virtually all remote.

We've got 165-ish people, probably let's say maybe 40 of those have some cadence of coming into an office between all five offices. But that's not all in one place and not all at the same time. If you and I are coming into an office and we're talking with team members about these things, it's a different conversation. It's easier to get on the same page about it versus when I'm at home, they're at home, they're living in their world — to some extent it's easy to maybe get a little bit more separation. So here's a great point: As a leader, what has your cadence been for communicating to the whole team? Have you found a good pattern of how to kind of stay in front of them?

Kelly (17:37):

We have an all-hands call once a month and we believe that's the right cadence at this point. It always happens faster — I’m like, wait, we have another all-hands call? I think in just every aspect of business, the more people are informed, the less they come up with their own ideas. It's human nature that when there is a blank spot, you're going to fill it in with usually negative thoughts. <laugh> So I'm amazed at some of the conspiracy theories I hear that we're doing as a corporation or as leadership or executive team is conspiring. I'm like, you've gone down some crazy path. We're trying to work everybody to death cuz we're trying to… It’s just crazy. And so I think filling in those blank spaces for them makes people feel more comfortable and more aligned with where they're going as a team. So that's really our cadence, where we look at it.

Reifenrath (18:36):

That's great. I agree wholeheartedly with the filling in the blank. So what I have started to say for any big announcements, it's way more important to say what it isn't than what it is, because of what it is is typically pretty concise. It's we're doing this and you say it, but what that doesn't mean is — we're not doing layoffs, we're not… Because otherwise people, oh my gosh, so you're saying in the next six months, we're probably gonna have layoffs. No, that's not what I said! That's not it at all. In fact, it's the opposite of that. Like we're making this decision to hedge against that. And we think that this is the way that we grow versus shrink or, or have client attrition, whatever. And so it's been very important for us to say here's what it is and here's what it isn't and repeat that.

And then we do a lot of the cascading messages. So as executive leadership, we'll say, here's what we're saying, and then the extended leadership team, here's what it is and what it isn't, because it's important, too, that each leader has their flavor on it. So that they know their team hears it. But you're spot on — the filling in the blanks is a great way of saying it because that is, I think a shift that I've noticed since the pandemic has hit too. I don't know if that's a symptom of just being at home in different places, but it's definitely a shift and that's been a challenge as a leader for me personally as well, in a big way.

Kelly (19:58):

I think there's more pessimism than there is optimism out there in the world right now, which is not a great place to be. I'm a very optimistic person. So I'd like to think good things, but I think there is a lot of pessimism out there and it's balancing that and making sure that people feel comfortable. You know, what's been an interesting thing for us too, is the political side. Not that I want to get into a big political debate, but when you're talking about inclusion, it's funny, we are a very liberal company. Leadership tends to be more on the left than the right, but we definitely have people on both sides. And what I’ve found interesting is that the right is actually feeling more excluded now, and you always think about, oh the right, they always get their way, but like in corporations, sometimes that leans one direction, it can be difficult. The idea of inclusion is to include everybody and all points of view and be open to everything. So that's been an interesting one to try to harbor when you don't agree with something politically or religiously or whatever it is, but that's what makes a good culture. That's what creates better ideas, better thinking. And so we gotta embrace that.

Reifenrath (21:05):

I agree, that is a challenge as a leader. One of the beautiful things for us since COVID hit is we used to have this mentality. We still have this mentality we didn't used to — it's always been our mentality — hire the best person for the job. That's the simple filter, but it had this little asterisk in a market where we have an office. Well now it's everywhere. So if you're the best person and you live in Boston, or you live in San Fran, I don't care. Even Dallas, that town down there. <laugh> No matter where it is, that's totally cool. Best person for the job. And what I've said is, especially in marketing, what a beautiful thing now, I think diversity is amazing and diversity of where you're at, the way you were raised, the way that you celebrated different holidays. That is also powerful because in marketing, I oftentimes think of the way that I wanna be marketed to. And so do you. And when you have this team that's spread out and regardless of their background, it's different, everybody's different. So we need to lean on those backgrounds as marketers to deliver multiple messages so that we're hitting those audiences in the right way. We're continuing to get better at that and leaning in and leaning into that. But for us, it's a beautiful kind of byproduct of COVID impacting us in a very positive way.

Kelly (22:26):

Yeah, I agree. Have you guys looked overseas at all, have you guys moved to international?

Reifenrath (22:31):

Starting to explore a little bit and those conversations come up a lot of — okay, well what about the time zone? So we've had some South America ones that it's like, well, sure, that's, that's easy. Like they're still Central or they're still within an easy range. Overseas has been discussed, but not fully deployed because there's some challenges with just the scheduling, but I am very intrigued by it and think that it's definitely something we need to explore further.

Kelly (22:57):

Yeah. It's challenge, right? It's a challenge from a compensation purpose, making sure you've got the right way to pay them. <laugh> Either going through consultants or actually opening up different arms of your company within those countries. But I do think there is a lot of talent and I think there's a lot…. We have offices in Mexico, Buenos Aires, Guatemala, and Columbia. And so, you know, within those, like how are you operating? How are you communicating? Those are other aspects people need to think about long term because there's some really great talent. I would say that my biggest learning on it though, is it hasn't saved us a ton of money. A lot of people are like, oh, you can get cheap labor. I wouldn't say it's cheap labor. I think it's good labor. think if you approach it that way and it's not just a cost cutting, but just a way to get better, you can do some really great things.

Reifenrath (23:54):

Yeah, I agree. I think that that's a good way and I agree there's tons of untapped talent pools for a lot of U.S.-based companies. There's a lot of labor laws and stuff that complicate and almost make it harder, but the thought I've said to our team is: I don't know that our clients care, like that used to be a question — do you outsource? is everything onshore basically? That's not a question that even gets asked anymore. It's are you gonna do great work for us? I don't necessarily care if… Is it secure? But other than that, I don't think they really care. So I think COVID also flattened the world again even more than it was and just removed some of those potential mind blocks that people had or perceptions they had with that style of working.

Kelly (24:41):

I agree. To your point, people just want the job done and they want it done the most efficient way, which — ot to bring it back to Basis, but I will for a second — but that's the idea of Basis: To create an automation platform that allows people to think bigger and get rid of some of that mundane work. But if you think about what offshoring is in that, that term, is really about kind of the low level mundane work, because what we're seeing within the marketing industry, I believe is we're losing the young talent. We've heard of this great resignation. I don't really believe in the great resignation because there's only three and a half percent unemployment. So that means people are still working. They're just working in different areas. We're definitely seeing an exodus out of the agency and marketing field.

And I do believe that's because we bring these kids in, who are highly educated and we have them focus on pacing reports, optimization reports, billing, and it's not very stimulating. And they got into advertising to create things and to be fun and think big. And we kind of suppress it because we need to, and to be honest, I think offshoring has been a help to that. But could we create a technology that takes away those aspects to actually allow people to do more in a younger, earlier stage? So we keep our talent and it's that. I also think there's something with a compensation to, I don't think we pay as well as some of the other industries, which I think we're facing that as well, but for the most part, how do we get people thinking bigger. And offshore, I think there's technology and we're focused on the technology.

Reifenrath (26:22):

Great points. So what I've been thinking about this is, like how do you hedge the talent gaps that  I think it's only gonna get worse over the next couple years cuz our space isn't getting easier to work in. It's getting more complex. All the platforms are harder — I’m not saying Basis is — but Google and Facebook and they're all creating new rules constantly. And so as an agency, we just wanna own a strategy. That's the number one thing we wanna be — not just really, really strong in the button pushing and the lever pushing that can be done by a lot of different talent pools. But what can't be done by a lot is the strategy and the insights and the learnings. Really making sure we're positioning ourselves as an agency to be the best in those categories.

I can't walk in and say, we're great at paid search because we push the buttons better and we pull the levers better than somebody else. At some point, everybody does that. It's: What's the input of that to make sure that — I always brag that we're more sophisticated. We are operating at a different level than most agencies, but we've gotta back that with really good strategists and smart, talented people. To you find that young talent, how are you bringing 'em from the farm team to the major league team as quickly as possible to keep them stimulated and growing and not wanting to go to the corporate side or whatever.

Kelly (27:44):

You're exactly right. And I think that's an amazing model. Keep that vision please, because I do think that's the future. Now, the problem that we're all trying to solve is that for the most part, when we hear agencies losing a client, it's not because of the strategy. It's because of the reporting. It's because of the little things. Because strategy is a strategy, which is great. But if you have two plus two equals five in a report that's gonna get caught. How do you make sure that you've got the right quality in QA getting through to make sure that the clients are happy and they trust you. Because it comes down to trust.

Reifenrath (28:26):

You're very right. That's something we pride ourselves on: We need to have great reporting and it's not just — don't read the numbers. What are the insights? What's that data telling you that we should be do more of, or do less of? Fail fast mentality. And you're right, clients on that are buying from agencies. That's their frustration point, you may be getting a little lazy or just cuz the strategy, everybody can agree on this is the right strategy, but just cuz the strategy's right doesn't mean it'll still work. It’s gotta take everybody leaning in. So you're spot on, I think in the agency space, there's a lot of consolidation happening. I'm sure you're seeing a ton of that as well. And there's just a pinch on the talent.

That's making it a little bit harder for everybody. I see this as an opportunity. I think that the strong agencies can accelerate through that and it also takes a great culture and core values to do that. I think people are more intrigued and interested in, like, when you're making an offer, money's a component, but man, the culture and core values. So I wanna bring this back around to that for a minute and say, so when you guys are hiring, how are you using your culture to get — I mean, I'm sure you see a ton of amazing resumes that you're competing with Google, Facebook, some big names. How do you lure them your way with that, that culture?

Kelly (29:51):

I would say on the number one thing is culture for us, in how we approach any new applicant or even existing employees. I'm very lucky. When I look at the people I'm with, I work with a lot of people that have been here over a decade. I always get the question. Why have you been there for 17 years? It's culture first and foremost, right? The people I get to work with, having best friends at work is a major draw. Anytime I think anything differently or others, a new shiny company over here and they're wanting to hire me. I'm like, but I don't have my best friends. If I get to work in that environment? So we use that in talking to people and the good part is that we're living it. If I just said it and I'd only been here for a year, it probably falls on deaf ears.

But the fact that I've been here, done it, and we have a lot of examples of it, I think is what really draws me in. So it's one thing to say, it's another thing to do it. That's what we really use and say, hey, this is what we — here's the manifesto, it's on our website. We have well over a hundred that I've been here over five plus years. And just having that scale, people are like, wow, you guys must really live it. That's something really strong to be able to share with people.

Reifenrath (31:11):

Those are great stats. The five years with the company, that's a big number — especially in today's world, that's getting more and more distant, but I think the people that have been around a while, they're more settled and less likely to move on versus somebody that's been there in that six to 18 month range. That's our new challenge is the people that have been around a while. How do you get the next version of that? I'd be curious on your thoughts on what you think you need to do to, to get that lasting impression,

Kelly (31:42):

You’re spot on as well. <laugh> Our highest turnover is in that realm and it's also usually the younger generation as well. I think that's normal for every industry. People don't know where they want to be. They're just outta college and they turn over high. But that's where inclusion comes in and that's — when we started the conversation — we're still trying to tackle. So is it team meetings? Is it being creative? Is it getting people to use their brains and feel like they have a voice? I think when you're young, a lot of times you don't feel like you have a voice, but if you can actually give it and mean it, then I think there's something there and we're still working on it. Even me saying it out loud right now, it's got me thinking of some ideas that maybe I wanna start instituting, but I think it is about getting that team atmosphere, get people using their brains and feeling like they have a voice. I think if you can do that, you'll get people to stay.

Reifenrath (32:35):

Love it. All right. Tyler, talk to me about your role as, as, as president with Basis, what do you see over the next one to two years is like big changes, big opportunities in the marketing world and I'll say automation from your perspective?

Kelly (32:57):

For me and where we're focused is a couple different areas. One, I've had a huge passion for international. You heard me talk about it earlier and I think this world is gonna continue to get smaller. We need to, as a company, as a business, understand: How do we attack the international community from an automation standpoint? It's difficult, right? Because you have so many different currencies, different time zones, all those pieces that play into all those reporting optimization and billing aspects. But that's one piece of it. When I look at the techie side of it and where this is going, I'm praying there's more consolidation because if we continue to have all of these point solutions, now we've got all the retail media networks, right. And it just becomes more and more walled gardens.

It becomes very difficult to scale. And that's tough on this industry. And so where we focus is how do we bring those pieces together? Now it's one thing to pull it all in one place, which I think we've done a good job at with data visualization tools, whether it's Datarama, Tableau, Google sheets, whatever it is. But I also think: Is there any mechanism to push in so people can actually make real time changes? One of the aspects that I was about to bring up earlier when we talked about optimization or talking about strategy — strategy is great, but we're about to come into the NFL season, right? You could have the best draft of anybody you will lose if you don't change your lineup throughout the season. And I think that's true with digital advertising, people care about performance. They might say, oh, we're branding — they're gonna care about performance.

And so how are we looking at performance? Data is gonna be a very big piece of the conversation as we move forward, whether that's through the cookie-less world, although Google obviously pushed it to 2024 now, so we don't have to worry about it just yet. But I do think making sure you're hitting the right person the right time and the right content is still key. As I look at companies that we can partner with or acquire, one of the big aspects is how do we achieve those three things? I do think there are some really smart data companies out there. There's a lot of interesting new technology in the retargeting space that I think will help within the cookie-less world. And then how do you make sure that you're being able to follow somebody throughout these walled gardens? It's not easy. But I think that if I look at the future for us, it's definitely data/audience, international, and then performance. Those are the three things that I really focus on if I can create better performance and continue to expand our audience and client base. That's where my head is at.

Reifenrath (35:42):

I agree with all those areas. I'll pin on the data point: I think the future of marketing is all about data and the more we can — I would challenge a lot of agencies only look backwards. They're looking in the rear view mirror with data. We're trying to look into the future as much as possible with data and create those efficiencies. You're willing to pay a little bit more for a conversion, as long as you know it's a quality one. There's a lot of bad conversions happening because we're using historical data as opposed to trying to… Anyway, I think data's a huge point and automation is still relatively young. It's in our space, it's not perfect. It requires smart strategists to nudge back into the right areas. So I think as those things get better and better — the tools, the AI, whatever, it's gonna just get more and more powerful, but it's still gonna require some really good captains of the ship to make it as impactful to each client as possible.

Kelly (36:43):

Completely agree. I hope it's always a people business. This is not something we want bots just running. I think there's that low level activity I talked about earlier that can be automated, but we still need the strategy. We need the smart people, pulling the levers and saying what to do and with the fragmentation. And then one other piece that I didn't touch on, what I'm thinking about right now is CTV and the movement from linear into more of a digital focused based execution. And now with Netflix, with their announcement, you know, we're in conversations with them, making sure that we've got access to all of that inventory because I do believe video still is so powerful. It's the touch, feel, sound. Everything is there. As marketers, now we have the ability to actually target a video asset at scale. That's really powerful. So that's another area that we're focusing on a lot.

Reifenrath (37:38):

Video is still the future. It's so underutilized by most clients today, but I always tell people you're scrolling through any social platform, content, you know, a piece of written word, you just keep going — a picture, there's a slow pause, a video, you stop. That's gonna become more noisy when more people are doing it, but right now it's a huge opportunity and there'll be a video plus something else in the future that makes people pause or stay longer. But you're right. The Netflix thing is huge. I mean, think of the amount of inventory that didn't exist today, that will be there tomorrow. And you know, automation and vehicles, the driverless cars, there's gonna be the amount of inventory created in the next five to 10 years for what you do and what we do is just gonna — it's a very, very big number <laugh>. 

I think all of us, we don't realize the attack that's coming on our personal time to be marketed to more, which is why I think even as a consumer, we want more targeted ads. We don't want all the noise because it is just that — versus is there value, which is truly what we should be bringing to the consumer, whoever's making that buying decision. That's the exciting part with data is getting more pinpointed, making the interaction valuable as opposed to just a piece of noise that that person is just annoyed with.

Kelly (39:04):

Agreed, I think you're spot on. It's right ad, right place, that's what…

Reifenrath (39:10):

It's exciting times, right? We're we're in a unique time. The marketing books will be written and there's gonna be some multiple chapters of now in the next, probably five to 10 years that are gonna be pretty significant for the history of marketing in the broad scheme of things.

Kelly (39:27):

I agree. I've been talking a lot about us. When you guys focus on it, Marc, like, how are you guys attacking the strategy aspect of it? Where do you see the future?

Reifenrath (39:39):

The people component is huge. We want not just a butts in seats mentality, like a lot of agencies have, we're really focused on bringing in A players or people who have A player potential that we can grow. Then it is not just doing the normal, not just using Google the way that everybody uses it, not just using the platforms that everybody does, the way they use it. I think combining first party data with third party data is something that is gonna be required, cuz the platforms are kind of locking a lot of that stuff down. SI I've asked you a lot of those questions of what data points can we marry together to get a more precise target on our audiences. That's the stuff that we are thinking a lot about, we're investing heavily in that data and analytics team, continuing to build and find some really, really talented individuals.

Some of the stuff I hear them talking about, I don't understand it, but I'm like, I don't know what all that meant, but it sounded really cool. You tell me how to explain that to a client, I'll make it happen. Those are the exciting things. 

Talent obviously is gonna just continue to be that challenge, but I feel like we're in a good position there too, with what we've done just historically, and then even the way that we're acquiring new talent — I should say how we're attracting new talent and getting them to stay. 

Consolidation is obviously can continue to happen in our space. I still think there's advantages to all of those things though, if we're gonna maybe just get very focused on right now. I think the last five to 10 years for most agencies have been easy.

Reifenrath (41:17):

It's been easy to look good as an agency because the economy's been good. You put money into the Google slot machine and most of the time you're gonna get some small green numbers that come back that the client thinks we're good. I know for us, we were outperforming and crushing results. So we're gonna attack this next couple years with a little bit of pull back. We'll say whatever this is gonna be, let's go and audit and just tell clients here's where you're at. Good and bad. And I'm guessing in a lot of those situations, there's gonna be a lot of opportunities we'll uncover that will make them go, huh? I didn't know it could have been better. And so the next few years it's gonna be about efficiencies and ROI on spend, the ROAS. We need to help show some existing clients and potential clients: Here's the opportunities that we're seeing and what you maybe should focus on for right now.

Kelly (42:11):

I agree. I think performance is gonna be key. There's no doubt. That's how we're all gonna either make it or break it. But I'm also curious from your standpoint, from your client base, are you feeling a recession coming? Are you seeing a marketing pullback? I always tell marketers recession's the best time to advertise because you can break through the noise, but it doesn't always fall on the right ears.

Reifenrath (42:34):

Great question. You and I have talked about this recently. So far there's been a lot of conversations about what if, but nobody's pulled back, which I think is positive and a lot of industry contacts, that's been the common theme — nobody's pulling back. To me, this feels a little manufactured to date. There's just a lot of scare tactics, but like you said, unemployment's really low. A lot of our clients are actually performing very, very well. And so everybody's kind of doing that whole check, like everything seems okay, but it doesn't seem like it's supposed to be, but it is. The other weird component, I think that the timing of all this, most businesses had the best two years they've ever had and their mentality heading into 22 was we're gonna have our next best year ever.

Like they're gonna beat the last two years. That was probably a little unrealistic to keep that crazy growth going. I know I suffered from that a little bit, thinking we could just keep on this huge growth trajectory and had a little bit of a reality check of, okay, it's still growth, which I should be very happy with. It just feels different. Now, the crazy thing that's about to come is this double bubble that could potentially happen with the baby boomers, with a mass exodus from the workforce, that's gonna start to roll off very rapidly and then all of their businesses that they're gonna sell. And so there's this weird recession potentially. Plus the baby boomer exiting the workforce and selling businesses — are there buyers for theirs? Are there gonna be gaps in the market in general? So those are all things that you and I can't control. But we need to just be prepared for some of the crazy that’s gonna happen. We just don't know what exactly it looks like at this point.

Kelly (44:21):

I actually just did an exercise with every single seller where we went through and said, how do you see the rest of this year? What are your clients saying? And you're spun off. Everyone's still saying, I think we're gonna be good this year. We're still gonna spend, even though our numbers are suggesting that there is a pullback a bit and there's some people pushing dollars, which they may spend, or they may continue to push. I think we're gonna see that. But my fear isn't really 2022, it's definitely 2023. Kind of with you, I don't exactly know where it's gonna be, but I think something's gonna hit, whether it's the inflation, whether it's the war, whether it's, Hey, there could be famine across a lot of different parts of this world. When that all hits, the global economy will affect our economy. So how do we make sure that we're in line? But I mean, I just was in New York City, as we were talking about, I will tell you the prices have not dropped at all. And every place was packed. So people are still spending. As long as people are spending, I think there's definitely reason to be out there in the public and making sure you're marketing yourself to the right person.

Reifenrath (45:32):

You are right. We've been having some of these conversations too. Even if there is whatever's gonna happen, it doesn't mean you shut down advertising. This is an opportunity to gain market share to be the winner on the other side of this, you know, it's a trough we're maybe not at the bottom of the trough just yet, but we also can't see on the other side of it yet, but what you and I both know from — you've been in 17 years in this role alone, you've been in the ad space for 20 plus as well — we know that those troughs come back up so position yourself to be successful. Invest now to gain those rewards when things start to pick back up, cuz that's where consumers are gonna go is who they're gonna recognize. So a lot of people pull back. You can invest now, get that market share and brand awareness way up. I know I'm preaching to the choir with you, but you know, that's the opportunity that a lot of people have right now?

Kelly (46:27):

I would even say that companies in our space, our best years were after recessions, which is pretty crazy to think, but those have always been our best time. I think because we just stayed focused. We had the culture in place that we didn't lose people. And we came out really strong on the other side. 2009 was a great year for us. 2008 was not <laugh> but you know, it just that's — I think if you cap that mentality, you have a good culture where people feel safe. And getting back to kind of the point of this podcast, I think that really means a lot. Gaining that trust of your employee. I remember in the pandemic, we pulled back salaries and it was based on how much you made. And there were different reasons for why we pulled different things back, but we did, and this is where we probably didn't fill in the blank space enough because some people are like, oh, you're just doing it to cut our wages long term. We're like, listen, if we hit our numbers, we'll give everything back. And we did. And I think that trust and when you have that and you're like, wow, they actually not only gave me all the money that I was supposed to get, but I actually got a bonus on top of it. Like now we're gaining that trust. So if there is another hit, if there is a recession, if there's something that people at least understand and trust that the management team really does think about our employees and we want them to be first.

Reifenrath (47:43):

Love it. That's a great example of building trust, not just the corporate greed. You said it in the beginning of the conversation, you know, culture, it's everything. And EBITDA — I know in YPO there's a lot of talk about EBITDA and mergers and acquisitions, there's a lot of noise in that space. That's just, it's very common in YPO. But what the buyer is as much or more interested in is the culture. And what's your retention of both clients and your team. And so the value since 2010 ish on culture, from a real valuation perspective has gone way up. People want to buy companies that have strong culture. So I would just say to the audience, you know, no matter where you're at, if you're buying, you're selling emerging, you're just gonna keep growing culture is gonna add value, not just from the EBITDA perspective either. 

Listen, Tyler, we've had a great conversation. I know you and I could talk for hours about this, which is great. Thank you so much for being on. Any parting words that you would like to instill upon the audience?

Kelly (48:48):

I thank you very much for having me on, it's definitely a privilege. I appreciate you, Marc, for taking this leap and then yeah, I think for everybody else, we covered it off but putting your people first and really focus on your performance for your clients. You do those two things. You can have a really successful business and just keep moving.

Reifenrath (49:08):

Well, thanks for being — Basis is a great partner, I'll throw that out there. So thank you guys for being a great company. I love that you've got a great culture. We really focus on partnering with partners that have great <laugh> culture and core values. That's that's pivotal to us as well. So again, thank you for being on, it was a great conversation, and can't thank you enough and hope to see you in person soon. We'll call it a show from there.

Kelly (49:33):

Awesome. Thanks, Marc.