STEVE CROSS, REDEFINING THE DIGITAL SPACE WITH COMPREHENSIVE DIGITAL MARKETING STRATEGIES
iSynergy began as a software company back in 2011. As the client needs grew, the availability of their services grew until they found their bread and butter with digital marketing.
For the longest time, they took pride in their small, tight-knit team at their present office that started in 2017. They maintained around five employees for years. However, they have grown and added ten employees within the last few years. iSynergy’s biggest strength is the people working towards the success and growth of the company.
While other companies have similar services, they have the right people in the right places. They each bring their skills to the table with the collaborative mindset to always work as a team towards the same goal. Their staff is the biggest strength simply because they care. They care about each other and have the desire to provide quality work. They care about the clients and their success. That’s one thing you can’t train someone to do. You can teach anyone to do any job, but if they don’t care about who they’re working for, you’ll never be successful.
In a conversation with the CEO Review Magazine, Steve throws light on his journey. He talks at length about his struggles, experiences, challenges, industry, goals, and more. Read below the excerpts from the interview with the Creative Director to know more about iSynergy.
What goal do you have for iSynergy? What more can you do in your role to help achieve this?
I don’t have a specific goal for iSynergy. I believe that a three- or five-years plan can stunt growth and success. You need to be flexible to adapt when your industry changes instantly. What may look like the possible future for your company can entirely change, depending on technology advancements and industry trends.My goal is to continue doing more of the same: helping clients achieve their goals.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Our biggest challenge has been educating the public on what we do and how are we different. There can be a misconception about digital marketing, so we don’t want to be labeled or categorized incorrectly. What sets us apart is our transparency. When your marketing strategy is more complicated than simple magazine ads or billboards, knowledge is the only way to gain trust with your client. We share all our research, insights, results, and data. Our clients know what we are doing for them, how we’re doing it, and why.
What does iSynergy’s hierarchy look like?
Our hierarchy looks a little different than other agencies. We do not have middle management of any kind. This is by design and is based on the fundamental trust of our employees. Each person on our staff is self-policing and manages their desk. Before they are accountable to me, they first have to answer to our clients and each other. A key part of being on our staff is working together as part of a team. If you don’t want to work hard for your coworkers, you won’t make it here.
If you could change one thing about the company, what would it be?
We are always changing. We believe in the Permanent Beta philosophy, where we continuously grow and learn. We don’t settle for the status quo and are always researching and finding new ways to improve. So, nothing ever stops us from changing whenever we need to.
What is iSynergy’s competitive advantage in the marketplace?
In the Midwest, we are leaders in our industry, keeping pace with coastal tech hub cities. There is no difference between us in Ohio and the large digital agencies in SF or NYC when it comes to capabilities. However, iSynergy is much more affordable than many of those large agencies because our cost of living is lower.
We like to describe ourselves as “West Coast innovation meets Rust Belt work ethic.” We have personal relationships with our clients, and we are invested in their success. We also run leaner as an agency because we don’t employ sales reps. No client of ours is getting “sold” something they don’t need/want so that a random salesperson can hit their quota or earn a commission. That old idea of being able to sell ice to an Eskimo never made sense to me. Why would someone do that? Seems shady to me.
How has iSynergy changed over the years?
The most obvious way iSynergy has changed is by the number of employees. Just a short couple of years ago, we had five employees. Today, we have over 15 and looking to add more. While we never expected to grow this big, we had to adapt to our clients’ needs. We’ve also added services that we used to outsource. We are a full-service marketing agency and are no longer held captive by subcontractors.
What are the dynamics of iSynergy now with the pandemic?
We are the same company as we were before the pandemic. However, while other companies were negatively impacted, we grew and have added to our team in the past couple of years. When in-person advertising began to fail, a lot of businesses turned to digital marketing. We were fortunate enough to have the staff and skills needed to help other companies adjust their strategies to the digital world.
When it comes to the organization, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the culture we’ve created. We hire people that fit in and expand our culture. Everyone here has an innate desire to improve. Every person on staff has a weekly mandatory task to “Learn.” We offer over 10 different paid and free learning platforms (Skillshare, HubSpot, Grow with Google, Demand Curve, SEMRush Academy, etc.). Continuing education is a key element in maintaining our momentum. Everyone on our staff is allowed (and encouraged) to ask questions and push the status quo.
Which one thing do you wish you’d done differently/what style did you adopt?
I wish we would have stopped outsourcing sooner. We recently added the last service that we previously outsourced with a full video production team. By outsourcing services, you lose control, and someone else is in charge of your project. We have accountability with our clients and don’t want to be at the mercy of subcontractors. By handing all our services in-house, especially video, we have complete control over creativity, scope, and timelines.
What are your outside interests? What do you do when you are not at work?
Making memories with my family is important to me. I enjoy spending time with my four boys outside of work (and in the office, too). I am also a big sports fan from watching to playing and coaching.
What do you see as the most difficult task in being a digital marketer?
The difficulty in digital marketing is reversing the engrained mistrust and misunderstanding in the industry. Other agencies claim to offer digital solutions, but either don’t know what they are doing or hide their data and insights from their clients.
We take on the task of regaining that trust back by getting results and being transparent. We send our clients their individual data board that shows all over their insights across channels and campaigns. We show them everything, so they know exactly what is happening with their marketing strategies.
What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
As a leader, the most important decisions that I make are not about campaigns or marketing strategy. The decision I make with the biggest impact on our company is staffing. It is my responsibility to hire people that fit in and enhance our culture while still doing the job we ask of them. I have always hired based on character over experience. It will always be easier to train a good person how to do a job than teach someone who knows the job to be a good person.
Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you?
My former boss told me early on in my career that the people who give the least amount of trust are the people you should trust the least. To this day, I live by this mentality. I always give everyone my trust until they prove otherwise, and this extends to the way I lead our staff.
How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?
Our office is designed to encourage creativity. We strive to be everything corporate offices are not, down to how people dress to the artwork on our walls. We have comfortable spaces where we can relax and let creative thoughts come. In our creative meetings, we never say no to someone’s idea. It is the best way to make sure everyone is comfortable sharing thoughts, which could lead to an even better idea as the conversation goes on.
Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?
The great ideas come from every person on our staff. No one person has the sole responsibility of coming up with ideas and strategies. We encourage everyone to have open minds and conversations.
Which is most important to your organization – mission, core values, or vision?
I believe that you cannot focus on one without having a strong basis for the other two. However, core values should (obviously) be at the core of your organization. Your mission should be derived from your core values, and every decision you make should fit into those. Your vision should change with a dynamic world. When the outside world changes, the vision of your company should change with it. But at the heart of your company, your core values should be behind everything you do.
How do you or other leaders in your organization communicate the core values?
When you hire based on core values, there’s less of a need to communicate and reiterate it. During the hiring process, we hire people that have similar values and fit into our culture. I believe that if someone doesn’t have those core values within themselves, it’s nearly impossible to engrain that into someone no matter how much it’s communicated.
What has helped you get to where you are (influential/effective/in the forefront), and what advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction?
iSynegy is at the forefront of our industry because of our ability to adapt. We hate living the status quo, so we are always pushing and researching ways to improve. Other companies get comfortable where they are, whether that is strategies or services. That’s not us. We grow with the industry, so we don’t get left behind. While we started in 2011, our ideas and strategies aren’t the same 10+ years later, because the industry isn’t the same today as it was back then.
What is the best advice you can give to our readers?
There’s a Steve Jobs quote that says it all: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Running your business with this mentality leads to better and happier employees.