Ron Callis Of One Firefly On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales
A third thing you need is patience. It takes consistent patience to put tactics into play and let them work over time. Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.
Marketing a product or service today is easier than ever before in history. Using platforms like Facebook ads or Google ads, a company can market their product directly to people who perfectly fit the ideal client demographic, at a very low cost. Digital Marketing tools, Pay per Click ads, and email marketing can help a company dramatically increase sales. At the same time, many companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools often see disappointing results.
In this interview series called “How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales”, we are talking to marketers, advertisers, brand consultants, & digital marketing gurus who can share practical ideas from their experience about how to effectively leverage the power of digital marketing, PPC, & email.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron Callis, CEO of One Firefly.
Ron Callis Jr is the CEO and founder of One Firefly, LLC, an award-winning and Inc. 5000 recognized marketing agency. With over 20 years of experience in the field, he has built a reputation for helping custom electronics businesses grow and succeed through innovative marketing strategies and top-notch website design. Ron is a well-known speaker at industry events, a regular contributor to industry publications, and host of the AV and integration-focused podcast, Automation Unplugged. He’s been a Certified CEDIA Instructor since 2010, a past elected member of Crestron’s Advisory Board, and he currently serves on the Azione Unlimited Advisory Board. In 2021, he was recognized as a CE Pro Masters due to his contributions to the custom electronics industry. Ron is also a fellow with the Birthing of Giants Organization. He obtained his Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech in 2000. He currently resides in Tamarac, FL, with his wife (Danielle) and his son (Max, 14).
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My backstory is definitely not a straight line from there to here — my journey through business and marketing has evolved over several years to reach this point. I went to school — Virginia Tech — for engineering, which provided me with a solid foundation for a career. But I’ve always had a healthy respect for sales and marketing too, and right out of school I ventured into sales within the custom integration (CI) industry with some of the largest manufacturers in the space — Crestron and Lutron. I worked in sales for about seven years. During that time, I realized I had an entrepreneurial itch that needed to be satisfied.
I wanted to use my engineering knowledge and experience to provide better design and documentation services to the customers I was serving in the CI channel. That’s the service One Firefly (then known as Firefly Design Group) offered when I started business in 2007. Just months after opening my doors, the Great Recession hit in early 2008, and those first few years trying to keep my business afloat were fantastically challenging. But that kind of tough economic market also presented opportunities for growth. I had to make quick pivots to find the right product market fit to survive.
One of those pivots was to start offering marketing services, because I realized we needed to improve the branding and marketing positioning of our clients in order for them to be successful customers of our engineering services. And ultimately, I realized marketing was the better business — more potential to scale, more demand in the marketplace, and more fun overall. So in 2015, Firefly Design Group completed the re-branding to become the full-service marketing agency One Firefly. Specializing in the CI space, and intimately understanding the customers and competitive landscape, has allowed me to build a very successful business where we’ve helped hundreds of businesses grow and thrive.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Well, I don’t know that I would call this a funny mistake — but I certainly bought some lessons from this day. Back in my early days, I was talking to a prospect asking for marketing help. As part of that process, I was evaluating their current state of marketing — and one of the things that immediately jumped out was they needed a new logo. The current one was…..terrible.
Here was the mistake: Without asking the appropriate questions of the customer, I went right into a critique and recommendation that they re-evaluate and re-design the logo entirely. The better version of me — and the version of me I am today — would have eased into this conversation by asking more about the meaning behind the original logo design. I should have led with more tact and grace. And if I had asked those appropriate questions of this prospect, I would have learned the design had significant personal meaning to him.
Needless to say, we did not end up doing business together. But I did learn very valuable lessons about leading with empathy and practicing grace that I continue to apply today in all my sales interactions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’ll give a shout-out to Rich Brooks here, who I first became aware of in 2017 when I discovered the Agents of Change podcast. At that point, I had one full year of business selling only marketing services — 2016 was One Firefly’s first complete year as a marketing agency. So I found Rich and his podcast, and he was bringing together all of these wonderful thought leaders in the marketing industry — I felt like he was my glimpse into marketing expertise.
I called him and left a voicemail, not expecting that he would even call back. I was just a small agency out of South Florida at the time, and I asked if he could point me in the direction of networking with marketing leaders. Rich called me back, we hit it off, and he invited me to join a mastermind group with himself and other agency owners. I’ve been a part of that mastermind now for seven years, and it’s been an amazing help and guide for me. Talking with other business owners about the challenges they’re facing reminds me that I don’t have to be alone on an island — there are other people going through similar hardships and successes. It’s been incredibly valuable to share knowledge, advice, and lessons learned with other intelligent and talented entrepreneurs over the years.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We take a tremendous amount of attention to leading with education. It’s a core characteristic of me as an individual, as well as One Firefly as a company. We intimately understand our clients and the CI space, we want to help these clients be successful, and that starts with educating them on how to think about positioning their business with branding and marketing. We educate through a variety of channels — our AU podcast, webinars, presentations at trade shows and events, and so on.
Helping business owners understand how to think about marketing within a business strategy is more than half the battle — if we get them to believe that branding and marketing matters, then they’re already more open to considering One Firefly as a partner to help with those things.
Back in 2015, an integration firm named Lelch Audio Video out of Minnesota found One Firefly. And the owner told me: Ron, you come recommended. I’ve heard you speak, I trust what you’re saying, and if what we’re doing works, I’ll keep spending money with you. And if it’s not working, you’ll hear from me. Lelch is still a great client today. And that story is the story of so many of our best clients — they are willing to put their trust and businesses in our hands because we’ve been successful educators about the value of marketing.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Pure grit is the first. Here’s a story for you — back in 2008–2009, I was talking to a business out of Seattle about hiring us for graphic design to build a portfolio for them. And if that was successful, they would consider hiring us for engineering services. And they told me: Ron, we believe we want to work with you, but we only do business with people we can look in the eye, face-to-face. This was on a Monday and I was in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I replied: Great, how’s Wednesday for you?
I booked a flight to Seattle right then and there, using money I didn’t have at the time. I think the plane ticket may have been worth more than the entire sale amount, to be honest. I flew out early Tuesday morning. And somewhere over Kansas, the plane had a dramatic descent at what felt like a terrifying angle — I’m talking luggage flying, oxygen masks out, people screaming. And finally we leveled out at around 10,000 ft and the pilot tells us the front windshield cracked. His marching orders were to fly low and slow back to Florida, which took twice the amount of time. And as soon as we got back to Ft. Lauderdale, I booked a new ticket and flew to Seattle on a red eye. I went straight to the company’s office without sleeping, looked them in the whites of their eyes, and won that business. I did many years of business with that client because I refused to accept that failure was an option.
Another trait is having a growth mindset. Always being hungry to learn more, and accepting that I don’t know everything about a subject. There are always people out in the world who know more than you — and that is a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow if you’re open to learning from others. The optimist in me says — I want to learn from them, I want to listen to them, I want to read their books, I want to meet them face to face. I know that I’ve stood on the shoulders of giants to get to where I am today.
And then a third trait is a desire to take what I’ve learned and educate others. I have an education-first mindset, as does One Firefly, and that has served me well over the years. I operate on the faith that if we educate effectively and invest the time and patience into teaching our customers, the business will come. My superpower is as a coach and mentor.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re always working on exciting new projects at One Firefly. At the 10,000-ft view, the project we’ve been working on for quite a while now is building a more agile, scalable organization.
One area we’re doing that is sales. I have always been a key salesperson in the company. And we’ve certainly benefited from that — even when times are tough, I’ve been able to secure sales for us. But building One Firefly around me as the primary salesperson has also limited our ability to grow and scale. So we’ve put in the work to rethink how we approach sales, how to take my knowledge and distill it into effective sales training, and ultimately how to build a strong, scalable sales organization that empowers every member of our sales team to perform at their best. We found a fantastic consultant team — Emerse — that has truly helped us become a better version of ourselves. And because of all this work we’ve put in, we now have the ability to keep growing exponentially.
Another area where we’re doing something similar is ongoing innovation and product development. Instead of having a single product owner within the organization, we’re building out a framework that places product development within product departments. That approach allows us to innovate in a faster, flexible, and more scalable way. We are building ongoing innovation into the fabric and culture of One Firefly.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. As we mentioned in the beginning, sometimes companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools like PPC campaigns often see disappointing results. In your opinion, what are a few of the biggest mistakes companies make when they first start out with digital marketing? If you can, please share an example for each.
The first mistake I see is businesses that start digital marketing without defining why they’re doing marketing. Leadership teams that are ready to invest the time and money into marketing need to begin with the end goal in mind: What are they trying to accomplish? In what time frame? What is the value of accomplishing these goals? What are they willing to invest to get the outcomes they want? A company’s leadership team should have clarity on these things to see the best results from their investment.
The second mistake I see is companies that do not have someone in senior leadership owning the marketing relationship and goals. Marketing only works inside an open feedback loop between a business and their marketing team or agency — what’s working? What’s not working? What can we optimize to see better performance? What business changes do we need to support with marketing? What type of leads are coming in from marketing efforts? That back-and-forth communication is vital. So if you don’t have vested stakeholder participating in the ongoing strategy, then what you end up with is the idea that responsibility for marketing is being abdicated, not delegated. And when responsibility is abdicated, the marketing partnership and outcomes become “out of sight, out of mind” for the business. Senior leadership buy-in and participation is necessary for the best possible outcomes.
If you could break down a very successful digital marketing campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.
We practice marketing for service businesses. And the majority of our clients are serving a local marketplace, so we primarily design and execute local SEO, content, and advertising strategies that empower these businesses to stay in regular touch with customers and trade partners, and put their brand and message in front of a target demographic.
Within that framework, the first pillar of effective marketing is a beautiful website with attractive visuals, on-brand messaging, and SEO configuration to make the site visible in search. The second pillar is an ongoing content marketing strategy — we recommend SEO-configured blogs, because blogs deliver a double-edged benefit to local service businesses. First, they provide visibility for that business in Google search, and second, they provide fresh, relevant content that can be leveraged in other marketing channels like digest e-newsletters and social media. Blogging is the foundation that allows businesses to practice an ongoing digital marketing strategy through their website, email marketing, and social media to reach prospects and customers online.
Next, we factor in a Google ads strategy through search, display, and discovery to get a company’s brand visible on page one of search, as well as drive bottom of the funnel intent queries. Our philosophy is to put the right formula together with fast-acting strategies combined with slower, market-building strategies to create the most effective marketing system for the client.
Let’s talk about Pay Per Click Marketing (PPC) for a bit. In your opinion which PPC platform produces the best results to increase sales?
Google search ads, without a doubt — because of sheer market share. Bing is growing, but it’s still less than 10% of the search market in the U.S. We’re keeping an eye on Bing, and we’ve recently launched Bing advertising services to our clients, but Google still dominates search volume.
One interesting thing we’re keeping an eye on is Google’s evolution into an AI-driven search engine. How will that affect ad results? We don’t know right now, but myself and my team are fascinated watching AI grow and evolve in this space.
Can you please share 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful PPC campaign?
First, you need to know what your ideal customers are looking for — that means finding the right queries and keywords that will help you reach your target audience. Another thing is you need to invest the appropriate budget to get the impression share that gives your campaign a chance of success. We require minimum spends for our clients to ensure we’re giving their campaigns the best possible chance of success. And third, you need a good landing page — one where the relevancy of the layout, copy, headlines, and call to action matches the search query. That’s how you drive conversions on a landing page. I think a lot of business owners underestimate the importance of the landing page in ad campaigns.
Let’s now talk about email marketing for a bit. In your opinion, what are the 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful email marketing campaign that increases sales?
The first thing you need to know is the target end-customer. Who will be reading and acting on the emails you’re sending out? For example, our clients sell luxury services and their audience is luxury consumers. Our clients need to know what resonates with luxury consumers in order to get their attention through email. Number two — you need to implement an email strategy that you can do consistently. Random or sporadic messaging is less effective than consistent messaging.
And number three — the content needs to be relevant and interesting to the audience. At One Firefly, our preferred strategy is blog summary digest emails because we can implement this strategy consistently on behalf of our clients. And we know this type of content will be relevant and interesting to at least some of our clients’ mailing lists. This approach has been successful for 10+ years now. On average, we’ve seen open rates of 20–50% for our clients, with click-through rates between 2–5%.
What are the other digital marketing tools that you are passionate about? If you can, can you share with our readers what they are and how to best leverage them?
I love a good data aggregate dashboard — we use Agency Analytics here at One Firefly, both for our clients and our own website. I appreciate (and our clients do as well) the ability to put all the channels we’re managing for clients in one location. Everyone on the One Firefly team has access to view and interpret the data to help them interact more effectively with our clients. We also give our clients full access and visibility to their data, which empowers them to be more engaged with their marketing efforts. Many of our clients have told us about hiring marketing agencies in the past, but never receiving visibility to their SEO data and campaign performance. Data is power — and we want our clients to have that power in their hands. Agency Analytics provides our clients with the information they need to approach their marketing efforts intelligently and effectively.
We’re also investigating AI right now, and how AI technology fits into the equation of delivering better products and services to our clients. I talked about this recently on a podcast I was a guest on — you can watch it here.
Here is the main question of our series. Can you please tell us the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career as a digital marketer?
I think the first thing you need to build a career as a successful marketer is a customer-first mindset. Start with the customer’s intent — helping customers reach their goals is your purpose for doing any of this. You as the marketer need to understand that the process is not about checking off boxes to complete tasks, but rather making the changes and optimizations necessary to help the customer achieve results from their campaigns.
Another thing you need is a growth mindset. The world of marketing is an ever-changing landscape of tactics and strategies and software — and now we have to add AI and large-language models to the mix as well. Having a growth mindset will help you navigate changes and become stronger and more knowledgeable every day, instead of remaining stuck using tactics or methods that are no longer effective.
A third thing you need is patience. It takes consistent patience to put tactics into play and let them work over time. Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.
A fourth thing is a coachable attitude. The fact is you don’t know it all — none of us do — and being open to being coached and mentored will help you become the better (and more knowledgeable) version of yourself. Even the best athletes in the world have coaches, and I think marketers should have that same attitude going into this career.
Finally, you need resiliency in the face of change. The ability to pivot and be nimble when it comes to practicing new tactics and methods, approaching challenges, and thinking outside the box to get your clients the results they want to see is a necessity for good marketers.
What books, podcasts, videos or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
Wow, way too many to list them all here! I’m very partial to podcasts — I really discovered the podcasting world back in 2017. I started going on daily walks to help ease back pain I was having, and I had a lot of free time walking 3–5 miles a day. Podcasts were — and still are — a great way to fill that time.
I’ll stick with some of the many, many podcasts and books that have helped shape my business and approach to marketing. For podcasts, I regularly listen to The Agents of Change with Rich Brooks, several podcasts from the Social Media Examiner, Build a Better Agency with Drew McLellan, and The Marketing AI Show with Paul Roetzer. I also follow anything that Andy Crestodina puts out — including his Content Chemistry handbook.
I can’t talk about books without talking about Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business. One Firefly follows the EOS system, and it’s strengthened and transformed the organization in so many impactful ways. I also want to shout out the book Who. A business can’t be successful without the right people in the right seats, and this book is a must-read to improve the hiring process. Finally, The Win Without Pitching is another insightful read for any business owner.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I think that more adults need to do more mentoring of youth. As adults, we get so busy with our lives and careers that we forget the impact our mentors had on us when we were younger.
Back in 2012, Dean Kamen — one of the great inventors of our time — came to CEDIA Expo to talk about the opportunity for integrators in the AV industry to become mentors in youth robotics programs around the country. One of Kamen’s well-known achievements is founding the non-profit FIRST — a robotics program where adults mentor youth.
Out of the entire CEDIA audience of thousands, I was the only one to take his message and act. I then started my robotics youth mentoring effort in 2013 and did that for six years. So often, adults forget how valuable this type of mentoring was on their path toward success. And I think that if we could motivate more adults to help guide the leaders and entrepreneurs and marketers of tomorrow, we’d be a better world.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I host a live podcast, Automation Unplugged, where I talk with leading professionals in the AV & integration industry about business practices and technology trends. You can watch past episodes and subscribe to future episodes here: https://onefirefly.com/expertise/podcast. You can also follow me on LinkedIn and learn more about One Firefly by visiting our website.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!