Digital Marketing Company rises from ashes after 9/11
The history behind some of today’s best business success stories – from Apple Inc. to General Motors – famously contain dramatic turnarounds after boardroom infighting, personal loss or economic crisis. Every story is different, but corporate leaders who come out on top share a common tale of how the hard times inspired them to follow a path that led to a whole new level of success.
Looking back on the unprecedented growth of Dallas-based digital marketing agency Advice Interactive Group, CEO Bernadette Coleman recalls how a national catastrophe changed the direction of her professional career.
Although she always thrived in a creative environment, Coleman had found success in the investment banking field. Helping direct growth to other companies was a rewarding career long before she considered starting her own venture. Then, the attacks on September 11, 2001, changed everything. An underwriting agency she worked with was destroyed with the Twin Towers in New York. As a result, Coleman’s previous investment company was forced to liquidate.
As she faced challenging times, Coleman considered the many companies and organizations she had worked so closely with over the years. She realized that there was one common thread: the need to improve their digital presence. Her response to that need built a digital.
“The Internet was becoming such an important medium for marketing, so I began consulting for organizations that needed to establish and expand their online reputation. 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,” Coleman says.
She founded Advice Interactive Group with her husband Tom Coleman and partner Randal Turner and they began building a digital agency specializing in website development for national and local businesses, then promoting then through cutting-edge methods of search engine optimization, search engine marketing (SEM), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and reputation management.
From a core group of private sector clients in service industries, Advice Interactive Group has grown to nearly 300 clients for customized, targeted Internet marketing services. In addition, the digital agency provides white-labeled local search and Internet marketing fulfillment to more than 600 outside agencies with their own client base. The company currently has 40 employees, with offices in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Dallas, and Newport Beach, CA. Plus, there are more than 30 independent contractors around the world who specialize in different aspects of fulfillment for Advice Interactive projects.
Clients include multi-national corporations as well as local service companies, many with a national brand already established but no online strategy to help leverage that brand name. The Advice Interactive team focuses on the mission of combining creative assets and technological advancement to make a lasting impact for those businesses.
“The key question is always what the client needs and implementing the best tools to accomplish that task. We consider ourselves partners with our client, acting as an extension of whatever internal marketing department they may already have in place,” says Coleman. “We collaborate to match their vision, corporate culture and goals for the future.”
That creative, customer-focused approach led to significant expansion and opportunity for Advice Interactive. In 2010, Advice Interactive Group partnered with Everything Local Directory to create an online directory service offering up-to-date information on local businesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. In 2011, the agency directed SEO and social media efforts for an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, featuring Michelle Obama.
Then, in September 2011, it acquired California-based internet marketing company, B2 Digital Media and launched LocalSiteSubmit.com and LocalSearchTool.org. These provided powerful online functionality such as a search engine visibility tool that allows business owners to see a critique of their online visibility and how to improve their digital presence. This project was all part of an initiative to offer a complete suite of services and reporting tools to help local businesses achieve higher rankings on all the major search engines.
Later that same year, Coleman’s firm acquired DigitalAge Consulting LLC, a Florida-based internet marketing firm specializing in local search and Google Places optimization. Since DigitalAge Consulting was created two years ago, they have optimized over 1,600 Google Places (now Google+ Local) listings.
Adversity Leads to Positive Action
While Advice Interactive experienced a watershed year of success in 2011, Coleman also encountered unexpected personal tragedy. Her son was involved in an auto accident, leaving him in a coma with traumatic brain injury. While traveling between her son’s hospital room in Florida and managing her growing company in Dallas, Bernadette and her husband and Advice Interactive CFO, Tom Coleman. came to appreciate the importance of support groups for families going through similar situations.
As in the previous experience with her Internet marketing clients, Coleman recognized a need that was not being met. As her son’s condition improved and he required more specialized care and rehabilitation, she increasingly found valuable resources through a variety of online social networks. But there was no clear “go-to” place to find answers or support. As usual, Coleman’s response was to do something to fix the problem.
In June 2012, on the one-year anniversary of her son’s accident, Advice Interactive launched the TryMunity social network for survivor support. The digital agency partners with the online social community to develop supportive resources for individuals, families, and groups of people who are fighting life’s unexpected twists and turns.
“A traumatic experience is life-altering. Not only does it affect the victim, but their family and friends. I envisioned TryMunity as a supportive community where survivors come share their stories along the road to recovery,” Coleman explains.
“Encouragement through this network is contagious. Studies show that social networking can actually elevate moods and improve overall well-being. People using a social network feel more connected and have a stronger sense of community. Trymunity as a community has the potential to lessen the residual stress that occurs following a life-altering event,” she adds.
Trymunity focuses on providing a support network for people who have suffered an injury or illness such as cancer, traumatic brain Injury, heart attack, and many other life-changing situations. In addition to working with Trymunity, Advice Interactive supports a variety of local community service efforts and does pro-bono website projects. Some of the worthy organizations and events working with the group include The Tournament of Hope annual golf event, Cornerstone Ranch community for adults with special needs in McKinney, TX, the Texas Brain Injury Alliance, and Educational First Steps early childhood education program based in Dallas.
Advice Interactive Looks to the Future
Even after emerging from economic trials and personal challenges to manage her successful business, some might think Coleman would be content to rest on her laurels. The company garnered notoriety from several fronts in 2012, including an outstanding achievement from the Interactive Media Awards for excellence in website development, design, and marketing.
Inc. 500 magazine also named the Dallas SEO company number 155 on its 31st annual Inc. 500|5000 list, an exclusive ranking of the nation's fastest-growing private companies and who’s who among growing businesses. Advice Interactive Group is ranked ranks #11 overall for fastest growing companies in Dallas, TX.
In addition, for the second year in a row, local directory submissions website Local Site Submit was named #1 directory service by Top Ten Reviews. This ranking is based on a variety of factors, including the website’s pricing, number of submissions, reporting and analytics tools, and help and support. Local Site Submit’s qualitative score of 9.28 is the highest score of any other local directory submissions website available.
“Starting a business from scratch is both scary and exciting, and being named one of the fastest growing private companies in America is, not only an honor, but proof positive that we’re on the right path,” says Coleman.
"The prestigious IMA award recognized our website as one of the best marketing sites on the web. We apply the same marketing and web development standards to all of our clients’ sites, which accounts for our 98% client retention rate," Coleman says.
Based on what she’s learned and tools Advice Interactive has developed, Coleman and her team recently announced the launch of their one-of-a-kind business opportunity, BizVizable (bizvizable.com). It offers business owners the ability to become resellers while running their own Internet marketing agency and offering services to local business clients. BizVizable, a wholly owned subsidiary of Advice Interactive, provides local businesses with web design, search engine optimization for local, social media (including Google+ Local), reputation management, and comprehensive reporting. The digital agency service also offers business opportunities for partners who want to white label the services or to become a BizVizable agent. Becoming an agent for gives ownership and a high return on investment for selling online marketing solutions.
“I like to call our concept a ‘business in a box,’ allowing so many more creative, talented professionals to become a part of the ever-expanding digital marketing industry,” Coleman says.
She credits the combined talents of her agency team members, along with executives Randall Turner, COO, and Todd Bryson, vice president of search technology, for making the new expansion possible. Advice Interactive provides the expertise and fulfillment, allowing BizVizable agencies to concentrate of sales.
Coleman notes that the entire Internet marketing industry was valued at $16.9B in 2006, putting today’s value at $70B and projecting the industry to reach $400B by 2020. Her goal at Advice Interactive is to capture as much market share as possible, while maintaining the integrity and value of the services offered to clients.
“SEO is now a strategic marketing focus with many new components – mobile, social, press – it’s hard to say what the market will look like next week let alone 3 to 5 years from now,” she admits. “Our five-year goal is to have a multi-tiered interactive advertising agency producing annual revenues of $60M and proprietary technologies valued at $120M.”
She is confident that her digital agency will continue its rise from the ashes of September 11th, driven by positive client referrals, industry awards and bigger and more profitable national sales opportunities. BizVizable business promises extensive growth for the near future and years to come by maximizing technology that can become an evolving catalyst of growth for all interactive agencies.