First look at the AgencySparks offices

April 21, 2014
Many have asked me about our new offices.  I wanted to give you a glimpse into our space.  We are very fortunate to have an amazing location right where the Buckhead and Midtown neighborhoods of Atlanta come together.

Here are some photos (in order of how you move through the space, when you visit):















Here is the floor plan:



Looking forward to having you visit us at AgencySparks!

Best,
Joe
 

AgencySparks and me featured on Jeff Hilimire's blog!

April 18, 2014
Long time friend and colleague - Jeff Hilimire (CEO of Dragon Army and former president of Engauge) has been writing a series of blog posts in which he asks a CEO five questions.  Today he featured his questions for me and my answers:

http://jeffhilimire.com/2014/04/5-questions-for-a-new-ceo-joe-koufman-agency-sparks/

What fun!  

Thanks Jeff!



 

AgencySparks - Major Momentum

March 26, 2014
Big things have been happening for AgencySparks since I announced the company launch on February 2, 2014.  

Between February 2nd and 5th, AgencySparks:
  • Received our first signed agreement from an agency
  • Got our Tax ID
  • Formed our corporation
  • Received our business license from the City of Atlanta
  • Set up our checking account and accounting system
On February 6th, Michelle and I jumped on a plane to Peru where we experienced one of the most amazing trips of our lives.  While on that trip, I received the second agreement from an agency wanting to work with us. 

Here is a picture of me countersigning our second agency agreement from our hotel in Lima, Peru:



In the last month or so since we returned from our vacation, AgencySparks has:
  • Received our first few checks
  • Signed an agreement with our third agency partner 
  • Completed and delivered our first Marketing Readiness Reportâ„¢ (with much fanfare)
  • Secured office space and phone number for the business
  • Hired our first employee
  • Met with MANY potential agency partners
  • Been hired to do some contract work for an agency
  • Connected our first client with one of our network agencies
I honestly feel I was born to help agencies grow, and I have been having the time of my life making it happen!  

I appreciate all of your kind support.  For those of you who have asked me how you can help, it would be great if you could spread the word about how we are helping brand marketers find independent, specialist marketing agencies.  

Also, I would not mind at all if you followed AgencySparks on
LinkedIn and Facebook...

Thank you,
Joe
 

The Value of Mentorship

March 1, 2014
I have been fortunate to have some excellent mentors over the course of my career.  

Here are some of the pieces of advice they have given me in recent years:
  • Keep your knees bent (skiing analogy to be prepared for change). (MW)
  • When considering your next opportunity, remember to weigh the intangibles. (KG)
  • Join an organization where you know what you do well will make a big impact. (KG)
  • Don't jump into your next career.  Take some time to reflect and make a sound decision. (DW)
  • Take a trip or other break that you would not get to otherwise take between jobs. (DW)
  • Why should you work to fulfill someone else's dreams when you could be fulfilling your own? (GB)
  • You can do it!  Do your own thing (company)!  It will be the most fulfilling thing you have ever done! (GC)
  • No matter what happens, win or lose, this will be the most fun you ever have working (about starting your own business). (JH)
This advice has been invaluable, but I have also been fortunate to receive great advice from others JR, JC, CG, JH, and many others.

I have also been in a position to help mostly young people (and some peers) navigate their careers.  It is extremely rewarding to see those you have guided, excel in their chosen professions.

Now that AgencySparks is in full swing, it has been more of a challenge for me to find time to devote to coffees and lunch with those asking for my advice/help.  I completely understand why folks like Jeff Hilimire have implemented requirements (in this case altruistic) from those who are asking for his time.

Here some examples of the recent conversations where a protege was seeking my advice/help:
  • 22 year old college grad looking for 1st job
  • 25 year old social media marketer looking for career fulfillment/guidance
  • 4th grader looking to improve reading (my 4th year doing this)
  • Junior high school kids looking to learn entrepreneurship 
  • 42 year old radio DJ making the transition into marketing
  • 35 year old social good entrepreneur
  • 3 teams of 21-22 year olds at UGA looking to improve their digital marketing skills
  • 47 year old direct marketer looking to new opportunity
  • 29 year old recruiter looking to break into marketing
I love spending time helping young people think through their career path.  I will continue to do so, but I need to figure out a way to help them, while fulfilling the heavy time commitments of running a new company.

Best,
Joe





 

Peru - Culture and a Break

February 19, 2014
Before I made the decision to start AgencySparks, I decided that it was a perfect time to take a break from the last 20 years of continuous employment.  My wife Michelle and I embarked on a 9 night journey to and across the country of Peru (without kids).  I highly recommend our travel company and our specific trip.

Here is a link to the 100 or so best pictures we took - all on my Google Nexus 5 phone.  

Here are a few highlights from this incredible trip:




























 

AgencySparks - A New Company Is Born

February 2, 2014
I could not be any more excited to announce that I have launched a new company - AgencySparks!  



AgencySparks provides business development and communications consulting services to marketing agencies.  

I want to share the story of how the company was born:

Very soon after I left my agency of the last six years, in early January of 2014, I felt VERY fortunate to have several excellent opportunities.  Most of them were with small-medium sized agencies looking for me to help them grow, like I had helped Spunlogic/Engauge.

As I weighed the different options, I talked to several friends and mentors.  Several of these friends (being entrepreneurs themselves) asked me if I would consider starting my own agency.  As I pondered that idea, I thought through the amount of capital and time it would take to begin from scratch with a new agency.  Also I began to think about whether my passion was truly the agency business, or just helping agencies grow.  

Around this time, I got a note from a friend (thanks Kelly), who is a brand marketer, asking me for advice about which agency she should select for a specific marketing challenge.  I helped her by recommending some choices, but that got me thinking about the idea of helping not one agency, but multiple agencies, find opportunities and nurture them.

Frankly most agencies do a terrible job of bringing on new clients and most clients do a terrible job bringing new agencies on board.  Agencies rely on referrals from past clients or friends of the agency, which is great, but not scalable.  Clients put agencies through a grueling RFP process, rather than choosing agencies they know and trust to do great work.

My long time friend and colleague, Jeff Hilimire recently expounded on the subject of the broken relationship between agencies and clients at an AMA Atlanta event and blog post.  It is a must read for anyone in the brand or agency business.  I will paraphrase two points Jeff makes that are directly relevant to my new business:

  1. The way that clients bring on new agencies (and vice versa) is horribly broken.

  2. Agencies that claim to have every capability are at best naive, and at worst lying to themselves and others.
Jeff also makes a few other excellent points such as there are only a few key people within each agency that are truly deep thinkers, and neither clients nor agencies can keep up with the pace of consumers' usage of technology.

Since there are some problems with the agency model, as I have personally experienced it (from inside a small, single-discipline agency; inside a medium-sized, independent full-service agency; and inside a massive holding company agency), it made me remember why the scrappy, independent agency is so powerful.  They are truly experts in their craft, and are laser focused on delivering the best service, technology, and approach, and in my opinion provide the best bang-for-the-buck.

Knowing that the single biggest challenge that agencies face (especially small/medium ones) is growing, I began to think about how I could have a significant impact on these smaller agencies.  While helping one agency could be fun and interesting, helping several is more interesting.  

Most agencies see the value in bringing in new clients (promotions, new hires, acquisition opportunities, etc.), but few have a repeatable, sustainable process.  This is where I have thrived in the last six years.  Not only have I built strong relationships with major brand marketers, but I have also developed processes and tools that have helped sustain those relationships.  This experience has resulted in huge new business wins for Spunlogic/Engauge over my years there.

Now it is time to apply all of these years of experience, relationships, and tools to a new venture.  I appreciate your interest in AgencySparks.  I hope you will join me on my journey!

Best,
Joe
 

Taking a Break - Peru here we come!

January 24, 2014
As mentioned before I am taking a mental and physical break from work since leaving Spunlogic/Engauge/Moxie/Publicis at the beginning of the year.  My wife and I are heading to Peru to see Lake Titicaca (hehe) and Machu Picchu by plane, train, and foot.  

Here is a map of our itinerary:





Here is the trip description from G Adventures

Spend eight days exploring the "land of the Incas" including Lima, Lake Titicaca, Cusco and two unforgettable train journeys. Take a tour of the highest lake in the world and discover the unique city of Puno before hopping on the Andean Explorer train for the scenic journey into the Andes to Cusco. Explore Cusco and the Sacred Valley and continue on by rail to Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas. This tour gives you the very best of Peru by train.

Though we will miss our wonderful almost four-year-olds, we could not be more excited to explore a part of the world neither of us have seen.  

Soon (on this blog), I will be announcing my new venture to the world.  I could not be more excited about this next chapter of my life.  It will be good to get away to South America for a week before the REAL journey begins.

Best,
Joe
 

We Live in a Mobile Dominant World Now

January 11, 2014
For years we have joked that NEXT YEAR will be the Year of Mobile.  This is a shock to no one, but I can now tell you from personal experience that the tipping point has already occurred, where people are using mobile devices/tablets more than desktops/laptops.

On January 2, 2014, I announced via this website that it was my last day with 
Spunlogic/Engauge/Moxie/Publicis, after six years with the agency.  I posted the announcement on my primary social networks: LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Google+.  Much to my surprise, in less than a week, over 1,300 people visited this site (THANK YOU)!

I love Google Analytics because it provides me with all kinds of wonderful statistics about the incoming traffic including Traffic Referral Sources, New Visits, Unique Visitors, Visits by Browser, Visits by Operating System, Device Category, Duration of Average Visit, Number of Pages Viewed, Which Pages Are Viewed, etc.  While examining the stats from the first week of the year, I noticed two things that surprised me:


  1. There is more traffic coming to my site via mobile device/tablet (59%) than desktop/laptop (41%).

  2. There is more traffic coming to my site from m.facebook.com (62%) than facebook.com (37%).  This shift in Facebook's usage is significant for their business, but also for the larger digital ecosystem.
My sample size is not tremendous, but the numbers are pretty consistent with larger studies showing that mobile has been growing and growing.

Here is a snapshot of the Google Analytics focused on Device Category:




Here is a snapshot focused on Referral Source:


Most organizations are ill prepared for the mobile revolution that has taken place.  Few organizations have mobile optimized websites, so the experience for the user is terrible.  Also many organizations without mobile websites have not thought through the mode of the person accessing their site, so they present the same content typically presented on their desktop site.  Mobile users typically have very different needs than those sitting in their office or home on a laptop.

There is much debate about mobile websites vs. apps.  The reality is that most organizations should have both.  The mobile web is great for discovery (by new users, potential customers, etc.), while apps are excellent for utility for repeat or frequent visitors.

The mobile shift has already happened.  Are you on board?

Best,
Joe
 

Facebook Year in Review

January 8, 2014
There are so many moments and relationships that I have to be thankful for in 2013.  Until now, I did not realize what a great job Facebook did of capturing many of those moments for me:


Facebook recently presented the option to post a Year in Review (you can make your own here).  It is a very cool feature that takes the content you have shared throughout the year that has received the most interaction, and then compiles it into one individualized timeline.  I was thrilled to be able to reminisce about some of the larger moments of my life in 2013.  

You can find my individualized Year in Review here: https://www.facebook.com/yearinreview/JoeKoufman

I would love to see yours!

Best,
Joe  
 

Choosing a Spouse or Career

January 6, 2014
Today was the first time since college that I woke up on a Monday without a job.  For some, that might be a terrifying experience, but I have to say that I am actually a bit relieved.  

After leaving the comforts of my big agency job last week, I think the best path for me is to take some time (maybe a few weeks) to decompress and think about what I would like to do next.  I am fortunate to be in the position that I can support our family without immediately taking my next job.

For many of us, choosing a career is much like choosing a spouse.  I can say that, since I spent six years with Spunlogic/Engauge/Moxie and eight years with KnowledgeStorm/TechTarget.  My last two jobs lasted longer than most marriages these days.

I am in the enviable position to have already been presented with some very attractive opportunities.  For now, I am going to heed the advice of a friend and take some time... time to think about what I truly want professionally and where I want to go with my career.  It is rare that we get the chance to take a break - even a short one - to evaluate our path ahead.  Now is the time for me to spend a few weeks thinking and planning.

I appreciate your joining me on the journey and would love your thoughts.

Best,
Joe