One such company leading this new breed of firms is Advice Interactive Group, a full-service digital marketing agency headquartered in Dallas, Texas. I recently had the opportunity to interview Bernadette Coleman, CEO of Advice Interactive Group, to learn about her background in digital marketing and to gain a better understanding of what Advice Interactive Group does and where the company is headed in the future.
Give us an overview of your background, education, and career path.
I studied design at a very young age but quickly realized I wanted to do something more exciting. I trained with Paine Webber and Company as a stock broker, and worked in that industry for 16 years until I left to start my own investment services firm and small business incubator.
What was your career path that led you to Advice Interactive? What is your role in the company?
After an IPO scheduled for 9/11 did not happen due to the destruction of the underwriting agency housed in the Twin Towers, our investment company was forced to liquidate. Since we had worked so closely with many of the companies in which we invested, and because the Internet was becoming such an important medium for marketing, I began consulting for organizations that needed a presence in the digital space. I found that my earlier interest and understanding of marketing, paired with years of promotion and advertising on behalf of outside brands, made interactive marketing an ideal fit for me.
I started Advice Interactive Group and soon we began building a digital agency that specialized in developing websites for local businesses, and promoting them through SEO, SEM and PPC. Today, as CEO, I devote my efforts to building our core business, while also finding new businesses with which to partner or merge. We seek out products or services that complement and enhance what we provide to our clients.
Give us an overview of what Advice Interactive does. Describe Advice Interactive’s products. What does the company sell, and how does it make money?
Advice Interactive Group is a full-service digital interactive agency providing game-changing Internet marketing expertise to global, national and local/regional businesses large and small.
Advice has also developed best-in-class technologies for the local search sector. For example, our local reporting tools like LocalSearchTool.org and localsitesubmit.com are used by hundreds of other SEO and Internet marketing companies to evaluate the online performance of local businesses as it relates to their position in local search. We have won multiple awards in technology from companies like this year’s Interactive Media Awards (IMA) and the Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Companies in America. Our tools have also been mentioned in numerous industry articles and blogs for the powerful marketing insight they provide.
Which segment is most profitable to your business (military, private sector, government, individuals, etc.)?
We sell mainly to private sector businesses, whether multi-national corporations or local service companies. Our successful approach is two-fold. Short-term, the most profitable group we work with is the National Brand that has a considerable amount of content sitting dormant and only a foundational online presence. We are truly able to flex our creative strategies and intellectual assets to maximize the impact of all our online tools and out-of-the-box thinking to make a major impact. The secondary, longer-term profitable segment is made up of the small, local accounts we build at nominal margins and which have proven growth potential. Often we are able to grow these accounts with the brands themselves. As they expand regionally and often locally – we truly share in their success.
We also work with many nonprofits to help get their messages out to the public, but we do much of this work either at zero profit or pro bono. We became even more committed to this program after our son was in a car accident in May of 2011. He almost died after suffering a Traumatic Brain Injury, and during our time of crisis we were encouraged by stories of other survivors. A year after his accident, we launched TryMunity, a nonprofit funded by Advice Interactive Group. TryMunity was born to bring together survivors of traumatic events, such as Traumatic brain injury, in a single online forum to share stories, give hope and build friendships. Helping others is a very important part of our company’s mission.
What companies does Advice Interactive consider to be primary competitors?
There is a lot of competition in our industry, which keeps things interesting, but we compete on the merits of our prior successes. Our belief is that we may not be the right fit for all companies needing our services, but we feel we are in a unique position to choose the right partners with whom to work. We want to become an extension of the marketing department for our clients and partners; a true fit in culture, work relationship, collaboration, and vision are very important to us. In addition, many of our competitors in the industry use our tools and technologies for their clients, and this allows us to reach out, learn and become partners of those companies who would traditionally be our competitors.
What makes Advice Interactive’s products and services better than competitors’ offerings? How does Advice Interactive differentiate its products and services from competitors of similar size? What, if any pricing advantages does Advice Interactive have over its competitors, and how is the company able to offer those price advantages?
We differentiate ourselves from our competition by offering our talent, ideas and dedication. We are able to leverage previous successes and build on those successes to benefit every potential client. We generally do not compete on price. In fact, our pricing is almost always higher than our competitors’ bids. Instead, we provide sensible pricing for excellent online marketing services that have proven to provide the best results for our clients.
How many clients does Advice Interactive currently have?
Advice Interactive Group provides Internet marketing services to nearly 300 clients. We also provide white-labeled local search and Internet marketing fulfillment to more than 600 interactive marketing agencies with hundreds and thousands of clients of their own. We recently launched BizVizable, which is a great opportunity for entrepreneur-minded individuals to become BizVizable Agents. It enables them to sell internet marketing services around the country with the full backing and fulfillment of an Inc. 500 company. We envision BizVizable as an Internet agency in-a-box and the perfect launchpad for sales types looking to own their own agency. You can visit the website at http://www.bizvizable.com
What are revenues so far this quarter? year? What is your quarterly revenue growth from this same quarter in 2011? What are your projections for revenue growth for this quarter in 2013? What are your operating margins currently? Profit margins?
We saw a revenue boost of just over 2,000% in 2011 which landed us in the Inc. 500 fastest- growing companies categories. We will see similar growth in 2012 and project proportional growth thereafter. We do not calculate an aggregate profit margin, but rather we take each client on its own merits, often risking immediate loss for future profitability.
Does the company have any cash flow from financing activities? Any outstanding loans? What is Advice Interactive’s total debt, if any?
We currently are a debt-free company, but this is not based on any type of philosophy. We believe that our growth could potentially come from healthy capital in the form of either debt or equity.
Are you planning an IPO? If so, when? How much capital do you anticipate raising?
This is currently not part of our plan but could very well be in our future.. We truly believe our service and innovation for our clients relies on the agility private ownership affords. I have learned as CEO that nothing is every off the table.
Where do you see the company in five years in terms of revenue, margins, and overall profitability?
Our five-year goal is to have a multi-tiered interactive advertising agency producing annual revenues of $60 million and proprietary technologies valued at $120 million.
How big do you think the SEO market will be in terms of total revenue in 2015? 2020? What percentage are you aiming to capture?
This is a difficult question because estimates vary. In 2006, Price Waterhouse Coopers estimated that the Internet marketing industry was valued at $16.9 billion with an annual growth rate of 27%. That would put today’s value at $70 billion, 2015 at $140 billion and 2020 at more than $400 billion. Needless to say, our market continues to grow rapidly, and we want to capture as much market share as possible, while maintaining the integrity and value of our offering to our clients. SEO is now a strategic marketing focus with many new components – Mobile, Social, Press – it is hard to say what will shape the landscape, where the value will go, and what the market will look like next week let alone 3 to 5 years from now.
I see you have a great website (in terms of an advertising tool). What other forms of marketing/advertising do you use to attract clients? Which methods are most useful? (word of mouth referrals, Google ads, etc.)
Client referrals continue to be our greatest avenue for new leads. Happy clients like to tell their friends and business colleagues about their own successes and they become our greatest advocates in the marketplace.
How big is the company in terms of its workforce? What is the future goal/strategy for workforce size?
We are 40 employees and growing, with offices in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Dallas, TX and Newport Beach, CA. In addition, we employ more than 30 independent contractors around the world who specialize in different aspects of fulfillment for our clients.
What are the biggest growth catalysts for Advice Interactive right now?
Referrals, industry awards and recognition, as well as national sales opportunities are the biggest opportunities for us right now. In addition, our newly launched BizVizable business promises extensive growth for the near future and years to come. This robust extension for our agency into technology is what we believe will result in an evolving catalyst of growth for all interactive agencies.
Have you faced any regulatory hurdles, or anticipate any in the future?
As much as the government wants to help startups like ours to grow and to employ more skilled U.S. workers, new regulation is not always the best way to make that happen and can often hinder growth rather than help. We have not, thus far, suffered through excessive regulation, but we try to stay informed as new ideas work their way through the legislature…
Is there any other information/new announcements/upcoming projects that are important for us to know about?
I think the major take-away from this interview is Advice’s dedication to our client partners and how their success has led to our own success since our beginnings just a few years ago. As we continue to grow, we will extend the same dedication and culture to our BizVizable Agents and the clients they bring in. The trust that our culture cultivates is the key to success in our industry.