Become a student to whichever professional endeavor you are pursuing. Immerse yourself in learning everything there is to know about your business.
As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with my fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Sam Norval and Kevin Poirier.
East End Yovth is a Tribeca-based Creative and Digital Marketing Agency that prides itself on being one of the few minority and female-led agencies in its space. “Yovth” is not a typo, the V stands for visionaries and visibility. East End Yovth is a merger of both of the Co-Founders companies — “East End Marketing”, founded by Kevin Poirier, a former VP in corporate America with 20 years in marketing and 10 years of executive leadership, and “The Yovth” founded by Sam Norval, a world-renowned artist, photographer, and filmmaker.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Sam: Traveling through Southern Africa as a kid on safaris with my family, I would photograph absolutely everything and spend every cent I had on film. Once I placed my eye onto the viewfinder, everything disappeared and I got to live in that glass rectangular world. When I engage in any creative activity, I liken it to the same feeling to a fish that has been returned to water and is finally able to breathe again. I spent a decade learning from the best photographers in London, Paris, Berlin and New York. I have shown my artwork at galleries in Paris, London, Geneva, Stockholm, Toronto, Atlanta, New York and Miami Art Basel. I have directed, painted and photographed for many years, all with the goal to grow as an artist and a creative. Forming an agency with my business partner, Kevin Poirier, has allowed me to use all of those skills to become the Chief Creative Director of the agency with a wealth of experience and knowledge in many fields to bring value to the position.
Kevin: I originally started my career in sales. I loved every aspect of selling, from the prospecting process through closing the sale and everything in between. What pushed my interest and eventually my career change into more of a marketing track stemmed from my interest in the psychology of marketing. In sales, you are bringing the service or product to the respective client in an attempt to persuade them to purchase. Marketing flows in the opposite direction. Using messaging and assets to bring the customer to the service or product. It’s a lot like fishing. Anyone can take a fishing rod and drop a hook in the ocean and call it fishing. A real fisherman knows where the secret spots are, the right tide, the type of bait to use. The same concept applies to being a master marketer. You need to have extensive insights about your customer to better understand the where, what and how of the message delivery process.
Can you both share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?
Sam: Ordering 10,000 fliers of the wrong version when I was an intern, and they had the incorrect date on them. I learned to proof everything many, many times with fresh eyes on it to catch mistakes. I had to pay for the next print run myself, so now I always check everything!
Kevin: I was recently a victim of involuntary disclosure via remote meetings on Google Meet. We were speaking with a significant client about their up-and-coming campaign we were in the process of launching. My partner was sharing his screen and wrapping up the last section of the presentation. I sent him a slack message towards the end of his presentation that said “great job, Sam. I think we deserve a nice drink after work.” Unbeknownst to me and quite the rookie oversight, Sam’s slack application’s alerts were activated on his desktop. The client in closing the meeting said thank you for the great job and please don’t drink too much tonight. We are counting on you really delivering on this campaign. They said this as they were chuckling, which was relieving and oh so embarrassing at the same time.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Sam: I was lucky to get a mentor that taught me so much. Having a mentor or someone you respect to talk to and share their knowledge is so important to understanding circumstances that are happening in front of you and learning from them in a post mortem. This let me grow leaps and bounds and I saw tremendous success. Gaining a business partner that had a wealth of knowledge and ability in my blindspots was the true tipping point for my success.
Kevin: When I left undergrad I never really had defined career goals. I started in financial sales, moving between firms and then even out of the industry and into healthcare sales. My general goal was to make enough money to live comfortably. It wasn’t until I really sat down and tried to map out where I wanted to be professionally in 5–10–20 years, that I began to make progress. I swiftly determined that I wanted to be a leader. After several years, I found myself in my mid 30’s as a MBA grad and the Chief Marketing Officer for a healthcare company. I was well on my way to becoming a CEO, and I had even been in the running for this role for a large company in Northern California. I was achieving my goals, however, I was not fully satisfied. I decided to sit down and once again, reflect on what it was that I wanted to do with my professional career. I started to unravel what I liked vs what I didn’t like about my current position. I came to the conclusion that what I really wanted was to build something that I could call my own. Most of my career, I had been following the business goals and company strategy designed by someone other than myself. I wanted to build my own strategies. I wanted to execute and set a course on my own goals.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
Sam: Most marketing firms tend to have a heavy concentration in either the analytical or creative side of the business. Our success is that the two of us not only have tremendous expertise in our respective areas of the business, but that we are able to understand each other’s language, and are able to communicate and navigate effectively in finding the solutions for whatever challenges our clients face. We often use the analogy that the target marketing that Kevin is so talented at, brings the people to the party, and the music and food I make keeps them there, and together we make fantastic hosts.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Sam: Myself having suffered from major burnout, the biggest lesson I learned from my partner was to make sure you carve out time for yourself. It is so tempting and so easily accessible to be plugged in constantly, but critical to make a space for yourself in your schedule. We have encouraged our staff to take meditation time during the work day. We also try to make our day to day fun. In our internal slack channel, we joke and share funny gifs almost daily.
Kev: Have fun with it. There are days where it feels the floor is dropping out from under us. There are other days when we feel nothing can stop us. Long hours and lots of ups and downs. Make sure you take time to connect with your team, your family and loved ones. Unplug. It’s so important. When all else fails, schedule a pizza party or a group happy hour. We tend to pursue that latter more times than not.
Great advice. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history?
Kevin: Well to answer this question, I would have to answer from the side of advertising which is part of Marketing. There are several really creative and impactful campaigns. Wendy’s “where’s the beef”, Gieco’s Caveman, Calvin Klein’s Kate Moss. The one that sticks out to me most for its simplicity and everlasting brand identity is the much underrated Ricola campaign. Whether intentional or not, the subtle, profound and furthermore gutsy Ad creativity their team produced is still a short length away from my most recent memories.
If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like?
Kevin: It’s always great to work on campaigns where there is a personal connection or interest. We’ve worked on some significant campaigns but some of my favorites have been the micro campaigns involving things that I am personally committed to and passionate about. One example was doing a street piece for a major hip-hop editorial. The production was fun, hilarious and had a certain New York City vibe in it. It very much reminded me of when I moved to NYC over 20 years ago. The whole project was nostalgic for me from start to finish.
Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?
Kevin: Behavioral marketing is becoming less and less invasive as these algorithms become more intelligent in understanding how we act under countless, different scenarios. The days of “salesy” ads on pages that are relative in terms of demographic, products, or services are a thing of the past. AI and Big Data continue to get much more advanced and is able to practically pinpoint the precise time and/or condition to present a specific advertisement to a hyper-targeted person.
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started?
- Become a student to whichever professional endeavor you are pursuing. Immerse yourself in learning everything there is to know about your business.
- Use negative feedback as a tool, not a crutch. Remove the emotional responses we tend to align with a negative review. Laugh, analyze, and learn how to overcome. I always tell my employees more important than knowing what to do is knowing what not to do.
- Find a mentor (or confidante) both professional and personal. I have had no less than 20–25 mentors in my professional career. I found that mentors do not always need to be someone in your industry or even in a higher position. I was part of a buy-side transaction of a mid-size healthcare company. I was tasked with restructuring the marketing and sales department as part of the new team of executives hired by the new owners. One of my mentors during this time was the office administrator, who had been with the company for 20 plus years. She guided me on the company’s culture during the critical transition period. During that same time, my former CEO from my most recent employer, was very close to my progress and we stayed in touch almost weekly. I leveraged the guidance and insights from both sources and was able to navigate my objective successfully.
- Map and manage your professional progress. Just like everything in business, you need a plan. If your plan hits a bump or takes a new turn, recalibrate your path and objectives. Long term plans require tons of short term goals. Sometimes when you have a simple or general long-term goal, the little benchmarks that are needed to get there are overlooked which is detrimental. I used to have my sales teams create a list. Goals: career (5, 10, 20 yr), yearly, monthly, and daily. Personal goals, in most cases, align with professional goals. For example, whether it’s buying a home, moving to Hawaii, or starting a family,
- Don’t allow for complacency. Everyone has off days.
Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?
Kevin: There are countless tools out there. We use a combination of high-priced paid tools for SEO, however, there are plenty of free tools that small businesses can use. For Technical SEO (aka website performance) you could use pagespeed insights and GT Metrix, for on-page insights SEOQuake is great. If you are looking for keyword research, Google’s Keyword planner is a tremendous resource. We obviously need advanced resources as we execute across all markets, but these free tools provide for some strong fundamental guidance.
If you are looking to engage in Social Media paid advertising and happen to have a significant number of client emails, FB’s customized audience list is a great tool that has proven results. This targeting tool will use your client emails and match them to a respective social media profile. It will then match the behaviors of your clients social media profile to those alike profiles with users behaving almost exactly like your clients, in the targeted geographic location.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
Kevin: There is a great podcast I listen to out of Australia called “Small Business, Big Marketing”, hosted by Timbo Reid. There is also the #AskGaryVee, who happens to be one of the more forward-thinking social media gurus in the world.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Thank you both so much for sharing these fantastic insights!
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