Brooke Beach is the Founder and CEO of Marketwake - a digital marketing agency that focuses on sharing stories and building brands. Most recently she was the CEO of a technology company called Kevy where she helped turn around the company after it's pivot into marketing automation in 2015. Brooke graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia. After graduation, she became a spokesperson for Fortune 500 companies and helped lead nation-wide PR and marketing campaigns. A serial entrepreneur and sought-after leader in the industry, Brooke has a passion for helping businesses and leaders grow.
Shantel: Hi, Brooke. Welcome to The Imagine More podcast.
Brooke: Hi, it's so good to be here. Really excited to talk with you.
Shantel: We are excited, too. And I'm eager to learn a little bit more about your journey in entrepreneurship and what spurred you to start your company. I guess to dive right in and kick off with that, can you tell our listeners a little bit more about Marketwake and then we can talk a little bit about history after that.
| MAKE AN IMPACT |
Brooke: Yeah, absolutely. So Market Wake ... I'll start actually with our story. So people always ask about our name. Why is it called Market Wake? People say, "Oh, are you in the funeral business? Why is it called wake? Is it Market Wave?" And it actually started, I was trying to figure out what in the world I was gonna do and I knew that I had this calling to start this business but I wasn't sure what it would look like or what it would be called or how I would even go about doing it. I was actually taking a weekend to just think about it, contemplate, plan it and was at a lake house and woke up early one morning and went out to the dock and was just watching the sunrise and these boats would go by. These big fishing boats and it was really beautiful and there was this mist on the lake. The water was perfectly still and then these boats would kind of go by and going off for their morning fishing. Just sitting, thinking, and all of a sudden, this bass boat goes by and it's this tiny, literally the tiniest boat that I saw all day. It goes by about the same speed as all those big boats and yet it made a wake so large that it shook the dock. I said that's exactly what I want to do. I want to help small businesses leave a wake in the market so big that it leaves an impact. That was really the foundation of Marketwake. Through that, one of the reasons that I decided to start it was just this discontent of modern-day agencies. I worked with a lot of agencies in the past and none of them really seemed to get my business. You know, they would do things in silos and none of them really asked me, "where are you going in this business? What are your goals? What do you want to achieve? And then how can we help come alongside of you?” It was more just, "Oh, okay, we can do this in a silo," and it didn't really know how it impacted the business as a whole. So Marketwake started as a strategy first agency. We come alongside every single client as true partners in their business. We get to know their highs, their lows, what they need to do, what they need to stop doing, what their goals are. And then from understanding their business goals, we activate different marketing channels to best achieve that. We do implement a lot of those tactics or we work alongside that team to co-implement. I love it because we truly are their partners. We are invited to their holiday parties and to their get togethers. They see us just as an extended version of their marketing team.
Shantel: That's amazing. I love the story about the bass boat. I think that's very impactful about just the small ripples that an outside firm can have but the large impact. I'm glad you shared that piece. What did you do before Market Wake?
Brooke: Oh my. Well I don't know ... a little bit of everything. I don't know how much time we have there. I graduated from the University of Georgia. Very proud to have done that. Right after I graduated ... You know, I grew up in Georgia and went to UGA and I swore there was no way I was going to stay in Georgia. I was going to spread my wings and find something amazing. I ended up working with a company based out in California. I was hired to lead nationwide PR campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. We toured 32 weeks a year. Which is just outrageous just to be on the road 32 weeks a year. I was definitely homeless for sure. Because you don't really have a home base. You're in a new hotel almost every single night. But, it was absolutely amazing. I learned so much from the whole process. I graduated with a degree in PR, this was in PR, but over the course of the couple of years that I did that, I just realized I did not love PR as much as I thought that I was gonna love PR and that I really like the business development side. You know, how do I bring something to market, not necessarily clean up after the fact. Or, how can I make business decisions and not just communicate them? Through a lot of time alone thinking about my future, I decided to head back to Georgia. And you know the great thing about that whole tour is that I saw pretty much every state and I got to get that travel big out of the way. Moved back here and ended up working for large company and then transitioned to a start up. Through that start up, moved up the ranks from just a marketing associate to marketing manager to marketing director to the point where I was pretty much working side by side with the CEO at the time. The company was a start up and all start ups go through times of pivot. The company started to kind of go through that time of pivot and realized I've kind of hit my ceiling there. I was leaving to start Market Wake. During that time, the CEO at the time, he actually asked me to step in and be the CEO of the company while it was going through that pivot.
Brooke: It was wild. So did not expect that at all. Also, in talking through it, realized that I could learn so much. It was way over my head but I think that's something that women especially have a hard time doing is actually stepping into a role that they're not necessarily equipped for. Men have no problem doing that. They step in and say, "absolutely, I'll take that role." And women try to meet all the qualifications beforehand. So I decided I might not be 100 percent qualified but I'm gonna learn and I'm gonna figure it out and I'm gonna surround myself with mentors to actually help me through this process. So, became the CEO and we were able to turn it around from really negative. I mean, we were giving away refunds to all the customers because we were sun setting a product too positive in revenue. We launched an entirely new platform, got to a positive mark in 15 months, which was a whole lot faster than I thought we would do it and a lot of that is the team.
Shantel: Wow, okay. So then you kind hit ahead of mark and were like, "okay, I'm going to step down and start this company." Was that received well from that team? Did you have to put together a transition plan?
Brooke: Such a good question. I actually started Market Wake before becoming the CEO of that company. It was ... The first hard decision that I had to make was actually kind of pausing Market Wake. I had stepped away from that company, became the ... or started Market Wake, had a bunch of customers, had a pretty sizable business and then brought a partner in. Then, I was asked to be the CEO of this company. That was the first horribly hard decision to sit down across the table from my partner and say, "Hey, I know that I convinced you to quit your job and follow me," now I have this great opportunity and I'm gonna leave you. That's not anything you take lightly. But, together we were able to say alright, the experience of building a product, especially when you look at product versus services, I clearly adore services. There is something just really special about product and the scalability there. What could I learn and is that valuable enough to say we are going to not necessarily pause Market Wake but just keep it, maintain it, while I go build this? And take all those insights back into Market Wake. We decided that and actually I'll tell you, the first day that I stepped in as CEO there, I had to let go pretty much everybody. One of the people that I had to let go was actually in my own wedding.
Shantel: Oh, no.
Brooke: Which was ... not the most pleasant conversation in the entire world. Uh, yeah. So that was a very, very hard season. I would work all day long and then come home at night and be helping grow Market Wake. When that time came, it was actually a pretty easy decision for me to say ... and the team at they always knew that I had Market Wake so they knew that once we got to good place, that was going to be the transition period. Once we did get to that good place, it was a pretty easy decision for me to say, "Alright, here, I'm handing it back over." At the end of the day, it wasn't my company. It was someone else's company, I was just stepping in as the CEO for a while. Market Wake was my company. I started that, that was all blood, sweat and tears going into that and I owned it. That was an easier transition actually to go back into Market Wake than it was to leave.
Shantel: Now is your business partner still at Market Wake and maintained during that time period?
Brooke: Yes, she is. She's fantastic. So she stepped in as interim CEO and was able to really maintain and keep all of our clients. We didn't lose a single client during that 15 months which is completely credited to her. She did a phenomenal job. And then, when I came back she moved into what she really is passionate about which is creative. She now leads our entire creative department and I'm back as CEO.
Shantel: Okay, one thing that kind of stood out as the fact that the first day, you had to have a series of very not fun conversations ... and not that they're ever fun but was it easier in someone else's company to have those tough conversations or if you've ever had to let someone go in Market Wake, is it the same feelings? Or does it get any easier?
Brooke: No, it does not get any easier. In some ways, actually, it was harder than ... yes, I have let people go in Market Wake as well. It was almost harder because it wasn't mine. It was like that imposter syndrome of stepping in and saying, "Alright, I'm the boss now and you're fired and you're fired and you're fired." Versus, when it's yours, you know exactly why you're having to do it. It's because of cost or projections or just a bad fit all around. You own all of the responsibility. When you're just kind of the mouthpiece or you don't know your footing there yet. I didn't know my footing there yet and I still had to do that. Six month before that, before I had left, I was their peer. That was another hard thing. I was their peer, I left and now I am the one that's letting them go. That was really, really hard to look them in the face and say, "I know that we were on an equal playing field but now you are the one that's gone." No, it was definitely some of the hardest conversations I've ever had to had.
Shantel: That's such an, I imagine, impactful moment and learning opportunities. In business, you do have to make those tough decisions. Might as well just get thrown into it and navigate from there.
| FILL THE GAPS |
Brooke: You do. And just being self-aware of what you are and are not great at. I realized really early on what my strengths were and had no problem finding people to surround myself to fill in where I had weaknesses. I think in talking with a lot of entrepreneurs and leaders, that's something that sometimes takes people a long time to figure out. I had seen that happen too many times so when I stepped into that role, realizing that I'm really good at this, I'm really bad at this, I'm going to fill in those spaces with people who are smarter than I am to help me do this well. It was helpful.
Shantel: Yeah, I bet. Speaking of those strengths, what would you say are the top strengths that you think have been really beneficial in being in that CEO role and also starting Market Wake?
Brooke: I would say, vision. Vision is so important. You go through really hard times of doubt, of figuring out, especially when people are on your payroll and looking at them every single morning and realizing they have families and kids and lives, they way that you manage your business is going to impact those lives. It's much bigger than yourself. I think having vision and persistence to go achieve that vision is really, really important. Also, just steadfastness. Not every day is a great day, but in no way do I wake up and wonder if I'm doing the right thing. I know where I'm headed and there is a dedication there that I think is really, really valuable. I'm not amazingly good at operations. I've realized that. So all of the details of how things get done and the hiring process and making sure just truly the operations of the business, that is not my strength. And so I've hired people around me to put some process in place because you kind of need those processes in business.
Shantel: Fair enough. I would love to dive into ... you initially mentioned, when explaining Market Wake about how you truly integrate yourselves as part of the team. There's so much value in that, I think that's amazing and would love to dive a little bit into how you guys do that. I'm even thinking from the tactical side, do you adopt their software? How do you make it really easy for them to embrace you and your team?
Brooke: That's a good question. We do. So I mean, we ... the first four to six weeks we are at that, even if they are off-site which happens a lot, we are there with them on-site. We have face-to-face meetings. We get to know everyone on their team, not just the marketing teams. We get to know their CEO, we get to know their head of sales, we get to know their head of success, their client management. Because ... Think about it, sales, you have to have a relationship if you're in marketing. The sales team, you know, you hand those leads off to sales and you've got to know if those were good or bad leads. For client success, those are the people who are hearing the good, bad and the ugly about that companies product. They know what is or is not sellable. They know when clients get the most upset and they know what things they love the most. Which we can take all of those messages and pour into marketing. Because of that, we position ourselves as really advocates of each one of those teams. I think traditionally, a lot of businesses deal with animosity between departments. Marketing is at odds with sales. Client services and client success is always at odds with sales because they're having to clean up if sales oversold or undersold something. Client success and marketing sometimes work together but sometimes they say, "oh, marketing thinks they're better than us." So, there's a lot of dissension and we come in as that neutral group who finds value in all of them which means that the whole business actually starts to function better as a whole. We've seen that happen time and time again where we're able to play that neutral card of 'i don't know what has happened in the past but here's what's going to happen moving forward.' We value your insight, we value your opinion, we're going to take what we can and build a more comprehensive plan out of it. More than that, we like our clients. We don't accept just any client. We have to know that it's going to be a good for us as well. I think realizing that early on has also been helpful. We have had to fire a few bad fit clients. Realizing just the culture is not the same as our culture, because we embed our culture into theirs if it's negative culture it's just not going to work for us. That affects my entire team. We now are a little bit more selective in the clients that we take on. We know that they are going to work well with us, we're going to work well with them. It's nice that we are at a point where we can be selective.
Shantel: Yeah, I'm thinking on meeting with, let's say, that sales team, do you ever find that there are road blocks as you start that discovery phase of "ooh, well they actually are not doing a good job of selling it." Or maybe that person is not the right fit in the role. Do you have a place in that conversation so that you could feel that your work would actually be effective? Or kind of in that pre-qualifying piece, that's where you usually lead that our or uncover that before you start working with them.
Brooke: That's a really good question and honestly, I would say we navigate that on a case by case basis. Sometimes you can't see from the get-go. We would like to be able to see all of that, but a lot of it is once you start digging. We have had some conversations where we've noticed things are not getting done of things are slipping through the cracks, and we've had to bring that up at different points. We're really careful when we say that because typically your opinions carry a whole lot of weight with our clients. We never point something out unless we are really, really positive that it is going to negatively impact our work or the direction that our client wants to go. We've been through ... clients have laid off their own employees and kept us as an agency. That alone, is amazing because most of the time if you're going through layoffs, the agency is the first one to go. We've been able to weather that storm because we really, really like our clients. We value that relationship, we will be the shoulder to cry on if needed and we will also give some tough feedback if needed as well.
Shantel: Do you ever find yourself in role where sometimes also the punching bag when they're stressed about something else?
Brooke: Totally, totally, absolutely, yes. We are also the easiest people to blame. This went wrong, Market Wake. We know at the end of the day when things are stressful, the great thing is we know the quality of our work which makes it to where we become the punching bag, it's kind of like, "yeah...okay, well we will talk tomorrow and things will be better." It's less blissful.
Shantel: I imagine in those times, as it is for us as well, those challenging conversations, we lean so much then back on our culture and pump each other up and we are all so supportive. Speaking of culture, what would you say you and your team do really well on the culture piece?
Brooke: We laugh. We laugh all the time, at the stupidest, smallest things in the entire world. It makes for a really, really fun culture. We find ourselves very funny. There's a lot of humor in the office. No one takes themselves too seriously. I would say there isn't an hour that goes by where you don't hear some extreme bursts of laughter. Which our neighbors were not huge fans of that when we first moved in. They literally complained to our landlord. "There's too much laughter happening," and my landlord was like, "are you kidding me, you hate joy? How can you hate joy?"
Shantel: Yikes, yeah, fun is the word.
| LEARN & LAUGH |
Brooke: But we do, we laugh all the time. I think that that carries you through so much. Mistakes are going to happen, you are going to have a typo in that post or maybe somethings got crossed wires, intercommunicated. Something that's going to happen, if you're able to take a step back and learn from in but then laugh about and say we are moving on as a team, what did we learn? It's less likely than you're going to make that mistake again than the pressure of 'I cannot believe you did that.' Then all of a sudden, the focus is the mistake instead of the focus being what you learned from that mistake. It that, we are able to move on quickly and learn quickly.
Shantel: I love that. How do you look for that in new teammates?
Brooke: I hate hiring. I really do. It is absolutely, honestly my least favorite thing about having a business but it's necessary. So we have a multi-step interview process. We first do a phone interview and then we bring them in for more technical skill interview. Or maybe, we have them if they're going to be a writer, we have them write. Or if they're going to be developer, maybe we have some code. Then we bring them in for culture. And typically the culture is around our big table, people come in and out of the room. We make it really casual. It does not feel like an interview. We intentionally have people come in and out of the room. They come in at different points, they leave at different points, to make it feel like a working environment. We just hang out and have fun and laugh and there are some people that pass that with flying colors and there are other people that cannot handle that type of environment or they don't carry themselves well or they get so relaxed that their true colors show. So creating that rally organic environment to see who they really are. Day one, you are going to see who they really are. We try to pull that out as early as possible.
Shantel: I love that. We have a similar step where we do a final coffee. And it's a casual conversation around our conference table. I really do like that piece of coming in and out. Internally as a team, beforehand, do you guys discuss 'okay, hey can you guys pop in for the first five minutes, you're the next ten'? Or is it really just depending on the meetings that your team has already?
Brooke: We do. So we typically have one or two people who lead it and then I just tell everybody, "hey, go in and stop in at some point in time." Well, not everybody, the people who are relevant to that role. Go in and stop in, talk for as much as you want, stay for as much as you want, go in and work in there. Sometimes people will work on their computer during an interview which people are like, 'oh my gosh, I can't believe that' but it's a working environment. We want them to feel ... so the conversation is always flowing, but maybe someones typing on their computer, sending an email about what's happening. So two people are typically the lead. They carry the conversation and then the others will come in and get to know that person and then pop out. The other thing that I really like about that method is it lets us know how they are with unpredictable scenarios. In an agency, there is going to be a lot of unpredictable scenarios and I really want to see how they adapt and how well they flow with change or unknown. And some people really don't like the idea of people coming up and maybe answering and email. You can see in their body language, it's almost like they're offended, which is not going to work. Other people get so casual that they are saying things that are inappropriate, which that's not going to work either. The people who are a little more adaptable and flexible to a changing environment are the ones that shine.
Shantel: I really love that. I know this is your least favorite topic so we won't spend too much time on it. But do you have a favorite interview question that is that shining light? Like if they say something like right away, you know with that question.
Brooke: Yeah, one of my favorites is actually 'if your best friend could describe you in three words, what would it be?' The reason I love that is because it's not about them. The way I describe myself is pretty perfect and amazing and dedicated but their best friend, they might have different view. Or 'a close friend, how would they describe you?' So we, I mean, shockingly, get really honest answers. To the point where I've had one person say, "oh yeah, well he would say I'm pretty lazy, not super motivated." And I was like, "oh my gosh, I can't believe you're telling me this." But, I have to say, in a working environment, we are friends so if your friends are saying something about you then it's probably true in some point. Your friends see the real you often when you can't even see, you know, maybe you're not quite self aware enough to see past some of those things. That question always makes me laugh because I get a lot of responses.
Shantel: Yeah, we've gotten a few, too. They'd say, "oh, I'm down to go out any time with them." That's really not the type of answer that I'm looking for.
Brooke: I had one say, "I'm really good at getting girls."
Shantel: Good for you, bud. We also, kind of on that and just an expansion, we also ask 'what's the biggest misconception about you?' That's been one that immediately has helped us ... you know, if it's an account based or client facing role and they say, "oh I come off as shy and not approachable." That for us, is probably like, yeah you probably do come off as that even though you don't intentionally do that. It's been really interesting to ask and see what people say in that.
Brooke: Oh my gosh, I love that question, absolutely. Because then you're also giving them the chance to refute it of to say, "but this is really who I am."
Shantel: Or what I'm working on.
Brooke: I love that.
Shantel: Well just a couple more questions for you, Brooke. The first is how do you optimize your day, knowing that every day is super different.
Brooke: It does depend on the day. Typically, I try to exercise at some point in the day and that's super helpful. It depends on my weekly schedule. I know a lot of people have a routine where they don't break it. You know, it's in the morning or it's at night. I can't have that based on my meetings. But it is really consistent. The other thing that I do is I actually schedule all of my meetings typically on two or three days of the week. Then I have two days where I can actually get work completely done. I will have back to back to back to back meetings a couple days out of the week but then the next day I will have none and that actually allows me to work on the business instead of just be reactive to my schedule. Scheduling those meetings in back to back way gives me so much more freedom on the back side to do the follow-ups and to work on the business the way that I need to.
Shantel: I love that. That's a good tip. I've been trying to carve out, kind of block off my calendar so that nothing can get slotted in with the calendar invites we send out. But sometimes I find myself, 'oh no problem.' I need to get better about that. That's great tip.
Brooke: Yes, for sure, because meetings just take over your entire week.
Shantel: Last question, where do you see the company going?
Brooke: So many places. I have a vision of our logo on a high-rise in New York City. I eventually want to be the largest agency in Atlanta that really focuses on strategy first. I think we have such a good relationship with our clients, too, that it is a very different type of agency. We are family with our clients and that's really rare. One of my biggest struggles has been how do we maintain that as we scale? We are working through things like cohort groups. We call all our account managers, marketing directors, instead of just account managers. One of the reasons is our clients are looking for those directors who act as the traffic monitor who has strategy in mind but then knows the levers to pull in order to get the best results. And again, that terminology is more of an in-house and less of an agency term. That is the biggest goal is to maintain those relationships as we scale. But I see us in really, really big places.
Shantel: I love that and it's so intentional. Even just down to the job title. That's genius to think through that from the client side. They're calling someone their marketing director, it just automatically doesn't feel like an agency relationship. You will be on the New York City skyline, I can feel it. Well thanks so much for carving out some time to connect. I really appreciate it.
Brooke: Of course, it was so good to talk to you.