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greg gragg kansas city

How to Grow a Multi-Million Dollar Agency

 

Meet Greg Gragg

Greg is CEO of Blue Chair, he has more than 30 years of entrepreneurial experience in startups, acquisitions, business development, and takeovers. Starting with Gragg Advertising in 1992, Greg has started four additional technology companies, purchased one and helped develop over 20 proprietary products focused on good practices in performance marketing. Greg has been nominated Entrepreneur of the Year twice and has received numerous accolades and awards over the years. Greg’s companies have been noted in Kansas City’s fastest growing companies for the last 20 years. Most recently, Lever1 was listed as the fastest growing company in Missouri by Inc. Magazine and was the 40th fastest growing company in the US. In addition, Integri Shield was listed as one of the top 5,000 fastest-growing companies in Inc. Magazine.

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Starting Gragg Advertising

Phil Singleton: Well, as I said kind of in the green room before we started recording, I get to hang out with one of the big dogs, so you guys and you in particular have been an inspiration to a lot of us here in Kansas City, so I’m really excited to kind of tap into your mind and kinda learn your story.

Greg Gragg: Hey thank you for having me Phil, I really appreciate you taking the time and allowing me to come on board.

Phil Singleton: So with that being said, the first thing I like to ask is how did you get started? What were your first steps out of college or into the real world and your path to success today?

Greg Gragg: Well, I was a Kansas City guy and I went to the University of Kansas and graduated and I originally grew up in California and I thought I’d head back and I had an interview with Foot Cone in San Francisco, and I was gonna head to Europe for 2 months and backpack. I got a job offer from a small agency in Kansas City, and Foot Cone wanted to interview me when I got back, and so, you know, bird in the hand kind of thing, I took the job in Kansas City and headed off for Europe for 2 months. Told them that I wouldn’t be back, but I was excited about working for them. And so they allowed me to tour Europe for couple of months after I graduated and I came back and started working in Kansas City. I was a copywriter, I wrote copy for a variety of different companies. I then took another job at a smaller agency in Kansas City. And then I took a turn, I took a turn and started working for Time Warner Inc, international HBO and Cinemax Division and running national performance base marketing campaigns in New York City.

And so, I spent three years running performance base marketing strategies, acquisition strategies, Customer acquisition strategies, running a lot of data and analytics systems associated with campaigns that were running across the country. We were successful in saturating HBO and Cinemax across the country in a variety of different tactical measures. And from there once we hit saturation, there really wasn’t much to do with HBO and Cinemax and so I then broke out and was a director of account service and client services running DR programs, direct response programs, and performance programs for an agency in Kansas City period moved back to Kansas City and spent my time honing my skills on lifetime value analysis of customers, cost per lead customers, conversion strategies, performance strategies and really worked in an agency doing that. And that agency, left that agency and started my own agency and grew that agency based upon the premise that I wanted to quantify everything that I did-

Phil Singleton: And was this Gragg when you … from that last stop?

Greg Gragg: Yeah.

Phil Singleton: Okay.

Greg Gragg: Yeah, it was 1992 and I started Gragg, and based upon the premise that I wanted to quantify everything that I did to the penny. I’m a numbers guy, and I came from a copywriting side, but I’m left brain, right brain. And so, I like the numbers and I liked the creativity both and so I started in the small office. I started in 600 square feet of space and-

Phil Singleton: Talk about that a little bit. Did you have some clients in hand, or was it a scary jump? I mean were you kind of prepared for it? What kinda led that jump out on your own? For some people, there’s some anxiety, “I’m gonna do this, I gotta stop ’cause I’m leaving the comfort of say-“, or the perceived comfort of having a job with benefits and then being like, “Okay, I’m gonna go out on my own.” Were you prepared for it? Did you have a bunch of clients lined up already? Or were you kinda … how did you get those first couple clients? Was it cold calling-

Greg Gragg: Yeah, I had a lot of relationships and a lot of people with me. Though I launched Gragg with probably somewhere around three million, 4 million in annual billings. And so…

Phil Singleton: Right out of the gate.

Greg Gragg: Right out of the gate. But I had a lot of experience, and plus I was trained well by HBO and Cinemax and I was a good salesman. But it was never short of hard work. I mean I spent my days calling, I made myself call 50 people a day from a prospecting perspective and a lot of salespeople out there won’t do that. And so, back in the old days, all you had was the telephone. I would call 50 people a day, and so 250 people a week I would churn through, and so I would call between 9am and 11am, and then I would call 1 to 3, and in the early hours of 7 to 9 I would work on copywriting and I would work on production and I was very organized in my day, and I worked literally from 7am to 7pm everyday. And I busted it, and I hired one person and then I hired another as I grew and hired three more and four more, and just kept growing. And we moved from me doing all of the work, and as I said, in our green room talk, I read the books, I read  and started reading a lot of organizational information on how to build the structure of an organization and how to write job descriptions and how to create process flow and how to get people organized.

And that’s really what broke me free was the ability to hire people and run fiscal analysis on what would be profitable and time by putting process in place, and then managing that.

– Greg Gragg

And that’s really what broke me free was the ability to hire people and run fiscal analysis on what would be profitable and time by putting process in place, and then managing that. And there’s a lot of information available to people as you build structure. But it’s never again short of anything of hard work. You say you have anxiety when you jump out on your own, I don’t know of a business leader or CEO out there that doesn’t have some level of anxiety. You know, I’m up at three in the morning generally worrying about something that I forgot to do or that I need to do, and that fear or that anxiety drives you constantly. And a lot of people freeze up. They get afraid of the anxiety, and really you have to brace that anxiety and take on step at a time. It is fearful, it is scary, it is scary to be on your own, and businesses go up and down. Gragg, which has always been for the last 25 years a main [stake 00:07:57] in city. And are client base was performance marketing base and it took hits over the last 4 years with the government administration that was in power. And performance base marketing, we came under attack from Congress, from CFPD, from FCC, from FTS, and so that changed and put a lot of performance based companies out of business as well as their clients.

And so we have seen in Gragg over the last 5 years a change, and now with the new administration whether you like it or not, I’m indifferent, I just have to react to the administrations. But the new administration’s kinder to performance based marketing practices and so we’ve seen the pressure come off of us in the last year to enable us to breathe a little bit from a performance base level. But yeah, you never get over the anxiety, it’s always with you.

Phil Singleton: And it sounds like in your case, you embrace it almost and use it as a motivator instead of using it as something that kinda … fears that hold you back.

Greg Gragg: I wish I could say that the days are shorter and I kick my feet up after 25 years, but that’s just not the case. I probably work just as hard now as I ever have. And-

Phil Singleton: But obviously you love it, ’cause if you don’t like something and you’re working your butt off then you get burn out and you want to do something else and you get miserable, right? But you must have the passion.

You hit the nail on the head. And you gotta be pissed off a little bit about life, you know? And having passion and being pissed off a little bit helps you.

– Greg Gragg

Greg Gragg: You hit the nail on the head. And you gotta be pissed off a little bit about life, you know? And having passion and being pissed off a little bit helps you. I’ve got this little bit of never say die attitude in me that kicks in, I mean I’m organized and I was blessed with the ability to think through analytically a lot of problems and process. But having that little piece of you that’s like, “You know what? I’m not gonna let you beat me, I’m gonna figure this out and I’m going to find a way over that obstacle. And yeah you may beat me this time, but next time, you’re not going to beat me I’m going to figure out a way to beat you.” And so I’m competitive.

Phil Singleton: I absolutely love it. And we all know people like this in our lives who if there’s some kind of perceived failure or nervousness or anxiety, they kinda use it as an excuse to take their foot off the pedal type of a thing. But, you can’t stew on that stuff, you have to use I think to kinda move forward. So it’s like you said, I love it. You get pissed off sometimes or even, I don’t want to say hurt but I mean, all of us in my case, we’ve had clients that have been with us for years, everybody loses an account here and there, but to me it still hurts even though I’ve gone through it many more times from the beginning as much today as it did in the very beginning, because I care about what I do. We got pride in our work. I’m sure you guys to some extent are the same way, right? You turn around and don’t stew on it, and you use it as…

Greg Gragg: Anything we lose, and we lose accounts, not all the time, but we have a good retention rate, but we lose accounts. And when we lose accounts I take it personally. And so I get with the team, I get with the executive team, and I say, “Why did we lose this account?” I don’t necessarily mind because you lose accounts for a gazillion different reasons, and a lot of them aren’t even your fault. The guys wife decides to take over marketing and she’s got friends over here that went to the junior college, and nothing against junior colleges, but you know they take over the marketing program. And so that happens, even in corporate structure, big corporations that happens for ridiculous reasons. What my main thing is well why did we lose it? Is it something we did internally, and if it’s nothing we did internally, if the company is just cutting budgets and can’t afford to work with an agency and need to take things in-house, okay that’s not our fault, I can’t really do anything about it. If we didn’t follow through on something and if we made a mistake, I wanna know. And so you inspect what you expect, and that’s a rule I live by.
Every president, CEO has to inspect what they expect, nothing is on cruise control. And so you have to look at it, and like you said, you take it personally and I take it personally and I want to make sure we get better, and that’s my main goal, is anything we do wrong and anything we’ve done wrong, I have to correct it as the company leader and move forward. And it’s hard.

Phil Singleton: And for motivation, right? I think every once in a while it kinda shakes things up and you’re just like, “Hey man, this is, you know, let’s use this to motivate us”, like you said fix it up and then use it to make sure we don’t do this and tomorrow wake up even better than we were the day before maybe.

Greg Gragg: Yeah, that’s exactly what you do, you get up everyday and you can’t dwell, you said earlier a lot of people are like, “Oh crap, this happened. I’m going to die,” and you really can’t think that way. You have to say, “Oh crap, that happened. What did I do wrong? I need to do it differently now. Let’s get moving.” I literally have said it and told people, “You have to move. You have to move now.” And people get frozen, they get afraid, right.

Phil Singleton: This is all great insight and great advice. Let’s shift gears a little bit and tell us … I mean I think through this initial part of this interview here I got a good understanding of what Gragg does, but if you can kinda give us in a nutshell what Gragg Advertising does, and then I wanna talk a little bit about how you used these successes to start other successful entrepreneur adventures, ’cause that’s extremely exciting and motivating and inspirational to me. But I still wanna make sure our listeners understand kinda your unique focus and the services you provide for Gragg.

Greg Gragg: Gragg is an integrated marketing company. We are a full service digital, social media, and traditional marketing agency. We focus on performance based metrics, and so anything we do, we analyze it and it makes us different from the other agencies that are out there because there aren’t a lot of animals like us, there aren’t a lot of performance base mechanisms in Kansas City. A lot of people are moving in that direction, but we’ve been that way for 26 years. And so every week analysis comes out for our clients, we track how many sales they’ve generated or how many leads we’ve generated from any one that’s out there.

And then we take a look at the conversion analysis, as well as LTV, lifetime values associated with it. Whether you’re selling popcorn for Topsy’s or whether we’re selling insurance, or whether we’re selling for Americo, or whether we’re selling mortgages, we’re tracking everything. And so if I spend $10 in advertising, or as you like to say, you get $10,000 to spend in advertising, I’m gonna spend it on the media channels and I’m going to analyze what has worked and what hasn’t worked, and then I’m going to … from that what I’ve learned, I’m going to spend another $10,000. And generally we look at a six time to seven time return on investment from our marketing dollars and just as long as we’re helping those clients make money, they seem to be pretty darn happy with us.

And that’s what Gragg does, we’re in every channel that’s out there. We’re innovators and so I force this team every year to come up with three new product or services that are on the cusp. And some of them are rehashed from 25 years ago, like right now talks about experiential marketing. Well, I’ve been doing experiential marketing for 30 years. I was out with NASCAR race people in front of grocery stores 20 years ago taking Polaroid pictures of little kids in NASCARs. So … excuse me … so we look for those buzz words, we look for those trends and then we innovate and push those out there, and so we couple that with a lot of the sass that we own. We built out a lot of sass at Gragg. People on the internet interchanging information or exchanging information, we figured out that we had to write code and so we have a lot of programmers on staff that write code between people operating systems and automating marketing as it goes into someone’s IS so that we can extract data more rapidly to figure out what’s working and what’s not working.

And so there’s this whole, if you can imagine, Swiss clock piece, the mechanical side of it, the back side of a clock where all the cogs are clicking together. You may only see the face of the clock, but we’re on the back side with all the levers and buttons and we make sure that it all runs right. And so people can seamlessly look at what’s working. Most of our clients know everyday how many queries they got, what their sales were off of those inquiries, and there are a lot of return on investment, literally that day. We like that, we justify our position. I tell our staff all the time we see for our supper, if we’re not generating results and revenues for our clients, we’re gonna go out of business. And so that’s really what’s driven us over time, and we’ve made people … I’ve been involved in companies that have sold for $500 million that we helped build from nothing. I know that our performance based model works. It’s not for everybody, I mean creative agencies have a position out there. But I just like to know what’s working and what’s not working.

Phil Singleton: Well I love that you lead with that, I mean it’s like performance based marketing, got a lot of folks out there especially some executives, particularly small business owners, when they hear marketing, any form of marketing or advertising, it’s this kind of creative or fluffy thing, it’s hard to analyze or determine what the ROI is on it. But, you’re coming out, right, basically and saying, “Hey, our service … this is how we position ourselves.” And I think-

Greg Gragg: And it’s great. The clients love us. A local company, he owns a school in Kansas City and he’s trying to do it all himself, and he’s a great guy, he’s a Scot and I’m a Scot, and so we get along really well. But, we took over his marketing and really helped him see that the analytic side of day to day operations as marketing is important, and freed up a lot of his time. Gave him peace of mind. It’s nice to know when it’s working and if you’re spending a dollar marketing, that you can make $6 or $7 in sales off of.

Phil Singleton: Exactly. You guys put the science kind of in marketing it sounds like, versus the just kinda guessing and hoping something works type of a thing.

Greg Gragg: And I got buddies, I mean I’m friends with John Godsey, the creative director over at VML, and he and I have been buddies for 30 years. We used to run accounts in the Bahamas. And we, you know, he has a different perspective of marketing than I do, you know, they’re down in Tennessee running Tennessee tourism campaign and doing some really cool stuff with Jack White. I’m up here with my sleeves rolled up making sure that I hit insurance numbers. And so, it’s a different world, but certainly enjoy his company and I can enjoy the perspective of the creative side of it. But, we’ve never considered ourselves creative-centric, we are strategic-centric. Most agencies are creative agencies or creative-centric. They build their programs around the strength of their creative strategy. We build ours around overall strategic, you know, what is the overall marketing strategy, and then creative is a part of that. Media channels are a part of that, social content is a part of that. And so as long as we’re on strategic guidelines and return on investment guidelines, we’re happy. But it’s more work, it’s a lot more work than just putting together cool, creative campaigns with Jack White, nothing against that, and throwing them out there.

Creating New Technology Companies

Phil Singleton: That’s awesome. Tell us a little bit about how … I mean obviously you’re like a really entrepreneurial person. You’ve grown this company from nothing to what it is today, and now you use some of that success to start and grow other companies. Tell us a little about that, how did that happen? Obviously there’s a part to you that’s like, you know, you’re very driven. So, what-

Greg Gragg: Yeah, well a lot of it is dumb luck. Integri Shield, which is an internet security compliance company, was born out of the fact that the Obama administration came in and started regulating online lead gen and data management. And so, with Elizabeth Warren creating the CFPB, which had no oversight at that time, the CFPB was rogue. They had no oversight, they reported to nobody at the federal level. And so these guys were out there shutting people out and they issued things called CIDs, which are demands from the FTC, the FCC, and CFPB. And to defend yourself against a CID is a minimum of $350,000.

Phil Singleton: Wow.

Greg Gragg: And you have no recourse. When the FTC, FCC, CFPB are at your door, you don’t have a lot of recourse, you’ve got to saddle up. We looked at all of that and said, “Holy crap, they’re holding people liable for content or activity on the internet that they know nothing about.” As you build out websites and manage traffic, you know that somebody in Russia, or somebody in China can still traffic and redirect traffic, or falsify a website, or scrape aside and redirect consumers. In addition to that, people even in the United States doing that or doing false listings or utilizing brand names or brand strategies or optimization strategy to redirect traffic, which porn sites were doing and the double and triple. And so what happened was the CFPB, the FCC were holding these clients liable for the activity on the internet because they really didn’t understand what was going on on the internet. And then so these clients were like, “you’ve got to protect us, you’re running us all these marketing programs and driving traffic to us, and if it’s not in compliance, then you have to be liable for it.”

Well when that happened, we created a sass, we created a crawler and a spider on the internet and programmed it so that it would go out there and find criminals. And so when we first launched the beta, it went out there and found, for one client, it found 10,000 violations. And so once we had cranked in the FCC, the FTC, state’s Attorney Generals, CFPB guidelines, and the program and have the crawler go in for it, it pulled back all of these violations on the internet, and have of them were client violations because the owned a ton of URLs out there and they abandoned some of them, and those URLs were out of compliance. And so, we started cleaning up. I mean, you can think about having 60 clients and then finding 10,000 violations per that would get them in trouble with the federal government, you can imagine the freeze in your brain that occurs there.

And so, we remediate. We go out and we clean it all up now and so we work with over 100 clients across the country in a variety of different verticals, managing their internet security and their internet content and then minimizing criminal exposure on the internet. And so that’s Integri Shield. Lever1, so it was built out … Integri Shield was built out of necessity because we were being threatened. Lever1 is a different story. Lever1’s a PEO, Professional Employer Organization, and what we found is we own 5, 6 different companies under the Blue Chair umbrella, and we were gettin’ beat up on healthcare and we were gettin’ beat up on unemployment insurance. And so I looked at this PEO model and worked with our CFO then, [Erica 00:25:10] Brun who then took over Lever1 as president, and I said, “I need a company that will lower my medical, dental exposure.” And the PEO system allows us to do that, we co-employ it. And so, we started co-employing our own companies, even though we had different entities, we could co-employ them and we could get better rates. Well, we started selling that product and, I don’t know, Erica’s been on the cover of every magazine in Kansas City, she’s been up for Entrepreneur of the Year.

And so we work with her to grow that company. And now there are over 2,800, which means we co-employ over 2,800 people through that company. Every day’s payday, we co-employ white collar, gray collar, blue collar, so we have to deal with time sheets and stuff like that. But, what was happening with that company is the PEO model, whether you have two employees or whether you have 1,000 employees, we can lower your unemployment insurance, we can lower your worker’s comp, we can lower your health insurance. And so we’ve done a great job with that company and I mean literally we are writing business everyday. People are calling.

Phil Singleton: What I love about that is you basically solved your own problem first and then commercialized it, which is like an absolute no brainer, right? You created your own dog food, you ate it, and now you’re selling it to everybody else ’cause it works so good.

Greg Gragg: Well you know, again with a ton of stress. You know, again, my better half, she tells me that I’m impervious to stress. Suzanne is her name and she … you know, her and I talk a lot about stress and my ability to not get rattled when things are hard. And I think every business owner needs that, you need a bit of calm in your brain that says, “Okay, I’ve gotta think through this problem. I’m not going to let it beat me. I will find a solution.” And sometimes that solution comes to you at four in the morning, but you’re right. All these companies were created out of necessity, and within that we created sass within each company, and so now we have all this proprietary sass that we manage. We run time sheets for a variety of different companies and automated payroll, and we compete against the EDPs out there of the world, but we’re higher service, we’re higher touch. We make sure we take care of the small guy, which I think is another good point for business owners out there. Service will always be king, and if I’m in front of the client, if I’m talking to the client, if I’m providing them good information, they’re going to trust me at a greater level.

I always push our groups to be high service, Integri Shield’s high service, Gragg’s high service. TDM’s high service. And then Blue Chair’s high service to do their company’s. I’m with every president every week talking. There’s not a day that goes by I don’t talk to every president of every company. You look at that and it’s a ton of hard work, but it’s a lot of service. Take care of your customer. Get in their head. And most people have this feeling, you call it a sixth sense, but really it’s not a sixth sense Phil, it’s just you being able to be intuitive enough to read your customer. And if your customer is not talking to you, and you haven’t talked with them in two weeks, there’s probably something wrong there. Keep your customers close, and you know, have good conversations with them, talk strategically with them, think through the problems and they’ll see-

Phil Singleton: Let them know what you’re doing sometimes, right, ’cause sometimes it’s just they get used to really good service and then it just starts to become stale if you’re not in contact right?

Greg Gragg: Well yeah, but I mean most people understand that relationship and you knowing that … when I’m on the phone, like I was on the phone early this morning with a client and they appreciate me taking the time to look at their business. And that’s why I have analysis sent out every week on every client, and I look at everything every week, and that’s my job, you know, to look at things, to make sure things are running properly. And if they’re not I’ll send an email directly to the client. I mean I don’t serve the service teams, but I certainly will get involved in the dialogue and say, “Okay, I don’t understand this,” or “This doesn’t look right to me,” or “What are your guy’s thoughts?” or “Can you reexplain this?” So, I’m not short of jumping in and sending an email and asking the question, and the Gragg staff, the Integri Shield staff, the TDM staff, the Lever1 staff understands that I’m visible, and I tell them all, “I’m accessible,” and I want them to ask-

Phil Singleton: That’s so awesome that you still, you don’t … I guess some people get to your size or whatever and maybe take too much of a step back, and it’s great to have systems and stuff, but at some point you gotta be at the customer client level, right? Just to know kinda what’s going on, let them know that you care and really you do care.

Greg Gragg: Well, you do care, and like this interview with you, I’m about education. I’m a firm believer in teach people how to do things the right way. And I’ve learned a ton and I’ve had to evolve and that ability to evolve in these environments that are rapidly changing. Ten years ago marketing was significantly different than it is today, and so I’ve gotta make sure people evolve with me and keep up with me and keep up with the trends and the marketing trends, and we add new media channels, and blah blah blah blah.

Phil Singleton: Right.

Greg Gragg: You look at yourself as a coach.

Phil Singleton: Love it.

Greg Gragg: Myself as a coach.

Lead Generation for Digital Agencies

Phil Singleton: Let’s wrap up with a couple of just one of the questions I’m gonna ask you, one other thing too. But just in terms of an agency of your size that’s been around doing this, can you give us some insight and things that you guys actually do to market yourselves? Do you guys … you’re obviously out there doing, I don’t know, PPC, do you guys go to trade shows? I know you’re a great networker and you go out there and get involved with I’m sure business associations, but what is a larger agency do in terms of kinda marketing itself? ‘Cause we got a lot of listeners out here who are solo-preneur, agency types, and some that are maybe more boutique and have a small team. A lot of us don’t get insight into the bigger more successful agencies that have been around for a long time. What kind of things do you guys do to drum up business?

Greg Gragg: You make yourself look big, you make yourself bigger than you are and I mean this podcast is a great example. You wanna create environments where people are actually interested in what you are doing. We’re part of community based programs, Chamber of Commerce, you’ve gotta get out there and be part of those and develop relationships. Presidents are small, single operators that are out there, I would join groups that are part of those groups, not just AMAKC or Ad Club or something like that. I would join entrepreneurial groups with other entrepreneurs that are just like you, and a lot of people say, “I don’t want to take the time to do that. I don’t have time to sit in a room and do code therapy with a group.” And that’s really what it is when you get a bunch of CEOs, ten CEOs around talking to each other, it’s therapy. But it’s well worth it, I mean those are cost-effective ways to get out there and meet people and develop relationships, and once you develop those relationships you’ll probably gonna get some business from those people once they trust you. And so that’s a good way to grow your business.
Webinars, podcasts-

Phil Singleton: Do you guys do any trade shows? I mean is there actually any-

Greg Gragg: We’re in industry verticals, we’re in insurance, we’re in education, we’re in mortgage, we’re in loans, and so we have to go to all of those trade shows and participate in all of those trade shows.

Phil Singleton: So do you have booths on the ground or do you actually put up booths or just people working them type of thing or-

Greg Gragg: If you can afford a booth, put a booth up. It makes you look bigger than you are. It’s expensive, but-

Phil Singleton: And it yields results. Obviously you guys wouldn’t do it, right? ‘Cause I hear a lot of people that go out and hit the verticals and they come back with new clients from trade shows in the professional service.

Greg Gragg: Don’t think that if you put up a billboard people will come. And there’s one panacea, there’s no one cure all you know. Our strategy for trade shows has always been to dominate the customer. How do I dominate the customer when I go to a trade show, because if I just send salespeople to trade show and set them in a booth, I’m not gonna generate any business. And so we have this huge thing called the bible for every trade show. And it details every activity, every great restaurant in the area, times of speaking opportunities and we speak at pretty much every trade show we go to, and so I’m educating people at these trade shows with what we know and giving good information.

But then, man I’m at breakfast, I’m having coffee, I’m at lunch, I’m having cocktails in the afternoon, and then I’m at dinner, and then I’m taking clients out at night. And so, I mean it’s … when you’re at a trade show, our belief is it’s a 20 hour day. And so in Vegas, it’s not unlike I’m up at 7am having breakfast. Then I have coffee at ten, I may go catch a seminar or something at a trade show, but then I’m at lunch, then afternoon I’m at cocktails. And then I take clients to dinner, and then I’m out at night at a club somewhere with five clients. And generally we gain prospects and clients together because if one clients touting your benefits, the prospect hears that and it builds credibility. We’re big on these 12 person or 15 person dinner tables in Vegas, and yes, you’re gonna drop a lot of money.

Phil Singleton: Right.

Greg Gragg: But, what happens is you develop all of these great relationships and that money from a relationship standpoint is better spent. The relationship is always stronger with a client if you go outside of just doing the work for them.

Phil Singleton: It’s really unbelievable, ’cause you kinda think of it as one of those outbound traditional type things, but I’ve talked to a startup here in Kansas City a little while ago, and they were like, they got in on trade shows on their own I think and got so many leads and yielded so much ROI for it, they wanna do like 50 this year. I was like, “Wow! It must be pretty awesome” Are you guys doing that level, is it one a month, a couple a month, one a week? Are you always constantly having people out at different shows?

Greg Gragg: Well, probably any one company probably does anywhere between 10 and 20 shows a year, and so we have a budget for it and I’m a big everybody has to write their own business plan. We know what shows we’re going to and we have a budget before we even get out of the gate in January.

Phil Singleton: Like you said, people on working on it. They’re not just sending somebody to just show up. You actually gotta be active and have a plan, otherwise it can be I guess a waste of money.

Greg Gragg: Yeah in the early days we had a lot of fun with it, I mean we would buy trinkets and I would literally throw dollar bills on the floor with fish line and draw them to my booth. I just did a lot of stupid stuff and had fun with it and people laughed. And then we graduated to when Guitar Hero got popular we had a big Guitar Hero promotion in our booth, and tied it around a for the year. And then one year we had a golf thing in our booth, and then we had a cocktail booth one year. I mean every year were themed and we have a strategy to draw people to the booth even when we were small, and we still do that today. But then again on the other side of it, you can’t just set up a booth and expect people to come. You can’t stand in a booth and expect people to come. There’s 20 other people that are doing what you’re doing. Get the trade show list in advance if they’ll give it to you, do an email marketing strategy, do a texting strategy prior to the trade show, set up as many lunches, dinners, cocktails, breakfast, coffees as you possibly can while you’re there. If you’re spending time in a hotel room at a trade show, you’ve lost the entire meet.

Phil Singleton: This is great ’cause I love talking shop. A lot of people say, and I don’t believe this is the case ’cause I’ve talked to at least 15 different successful entrepreneurs in the last month, and it seems like everybody either some point early in their career or even to this day targeted cold calling still works for a lot of folks. So you see that still as part of something that works for like an agency? I know it definitely works for all sorts of different kind of businesses, even though I think a lot of people, everyone’s out there pitching how outbound stuff is dead and are all talking about how great in bound is, but I mean we know, I know for a fact that’s not a case ’cause it’s just really part of a whole integrated strategy as long as you’re back on the other side to catch the demand that you create. Anything, any thoughts on that? Does it work for agencies? You see it working for other clients or businesses in terms of some traditional, you know, things like cold calling and whatnot?

Greg Gragg: Yeah I mean people don’t understand, sales is like marketing. It’s about reaching frequency. We are marketing, it’s really about reaching frequency and always has been back to the beginning. And sales isn’t any different, it’s about reaching people through as many channels as you possibly can to build the frequency, to build the awareness of what you’re trying to sell. And so yes, cold calling is part of the deal. LinkedIn is part of the deal. Facebook, part of the deal. Emailing, texting, any way you can get into those people to get the attention that you need and awareness you need to tout your product. Now if you have something to say it’s better, with a selling proposition, it’s always better. The fact of the matter is have your shtick, get organized up front, make sure you have a campaign, make sure you’re doing your promotional emails on a monthly basis, your promotional text, your social media, your tweets, get everything out there in concert moving together. And then have your salespeople hit the phones and hit LinkedIn and at least make contact with people.
Phil Singleton: Love it.

Greg Gragg: What happens is just like what happened with me in the early days. When you’re calling 50 people a day, even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then, right?

Phil Singleton: It’s just timing, right, so eventually if you do enough you’re gonna hit somebody that’s like, “Yeah, we were looking for this just now.” I think a lot of people don’t realize, you’re not trying to always convince somebody over the phone, it’s like you said frequency, just by the numbers you’re gonna hit somebody at the right time. You’re gonna get a chance to get your message across.

Greg Gragg: Yeah, and people would tell me, “Nah, I’m not interested. Don’t call me back.” And in my mind I’d say any marketing director that tells me that they’re not interested, don’t call me back, I don’t ever want to hear from you again, I found over over the years that that marketing director generally gets fired anywhere between six and nine months, because they’re not listening to people.

Phil Singleton: At the least case you’re gonna get some good ideas, right, so-

Greg Gragg: That’s it. I have to listen to people, and I mean I’m big to reacting to inquiries to me, because it’s like I don’t know where the next great idea’s going to come from, and I wanna be there for it, you know. I wanna be aware of it and be in the race. My ears are open, and for a marketing director to shut you out, just keep calling. Call four months later because the odds of that marketing director being around for a prolonged period-

Phil Singleton: It’s gonna be a pretty good chance, that’s great.

Greg Gragg: Yeah, it’s slim, because they’re not listening, and I get a lot of calls from a lot of people and I’m like, “Okay, well here’s my deal and what do you got?” And they tell me and I’m like, “Okay, well I’m not interested right not. Call me back in six months.” I mean I treat it that way because … but then all of a sudden sometimes people call me and they’re like, I had a person call me last week and they’re like, “Okay, you gotta check this sass out because this sass is incredible and does this, this, and this,” and I’m like, “Okay, schedule a call for next Friday.” And so this Friday I’m going to go through their sass with them and learn something new. I wanna learn, and marketing directors who aren’t learning aren’t going to be around long.

Gregg Gragg’s Kansas City Favorites

Phil Singleton: Awesome. Last question I’m going to ask, just kinda personal about Kansas City. Give us something that you love about any restaurants, places you like to go, people that you have to take when they come from out of town? What things do you like about … Shout it out!

Greg Gragg: Yeah, some of my clients, you know-

Phil Singleton: Barbecue probably’s one of ’em.

Greg Gragg: We did a barbecue tour with clients. I loaded clients up…

Phil Singleton: A barbecue tour, all right, I haven’t heard of anybody doing that.

Greg Gragg: I mean you wanna talk about meat coma, I loaded like seven clients in a car and a van and drove around Kansas City and did a barbecue tour. And I think, where did we start, we started at LC’s, and then we went over to B.B.’s, and then by the time we got to Arthur Bryant’s and 39, I mean we were all just maxed out. We ended up crashing early because we just ate too much meat, you know, and drank too much beer throughout the day. But we started at noon and we ended up stopping I think at one in the morning. Twelve hours of barbecue tour and I mean to this day they all still talk about it. But, I mean Kansas City is a great opportunity for a lot of things, I love the town. You’ve got … I live out at Winnebago on Wake and so boating is always an opportunity for clients and have fun. But going out on the town, there are so many great restaurants in Kansas City and there’s…

Phil Singleton: Yeah, and for a west coast guy to totally become kind of a Kansas Citian, that’s kinda what you are now, right…

Greg Gragg: Actually I live part time, I’m in Washington, D.C. right now because I do so much lobbying, I live part time in Washington, D.C. and so I bounce back and forth between Kansas City and Washington, D.C. right now. And so, compared to Washington, D.C. which has ten of the top 100 restaurants in the United States, Kansas City has that type of cuisine and has that type of appeal. And my better half Suzanne has lived in D.C. her whole life and she’s a lobbyist and public relations person, and so she came to Kansas City and I brought her to Kansas City and I said, “Here’s Kansas City.”

And I took her around to the restaurants and she’s a vegetarian, and I mean she just fell in love with Kansas City. I think Kansas City has so many great restaurants, so many great opportunities, and I look for little nooks and unique little spots. When you look at … we’re downtown in the River Market, and so you look at Columbus Park and all the great little restaurants that are down there. You can go with some of the old main stage, you can go to the Lidia’s or you can go to The American or some of those main stays that are out there, but there are so many great little restaurants, and so I encouraged people to really look around these niche neighborhoods and you’ll find a gem there that you’ll love. And then you take your clients to it, ’cause the clients don’t really wanna go to run of the mill places. And one time I took a bunch of clients to Tapcade, have you ever been there?

Phil Singleton: I haven’t.

Greg Gragg: You’ve never been to Tapcade? So, Tapcade’s down by the Kansas City Star, right, it’s right across the street. And so you pay five bucks and the food there is not the greatest, and that’s not the point. But they have a ton of beer, right, they have this whole wall of beer. And then they got probably 50 old style video games, right, arcade games. You pay five bucks, they stamp your hand, you can get food and all the beer you want, and you play Space Invaders, Asteroids, Donkey Kong-

Phil Singleton: I’ve never heard of it, man, I’m down south so I gotta get up in the city more, but that’s really cool.

Greg Gragg: Yeah, I mean and I took these clients there and I mean, I kid you not, we spend four hours at Tapcade, playing video games, and they’re like, “This is the greatest thing!” And it’s not haven’t ever seen that before, you know Arcadia is a franchise that’s out there that does this, but they just had a great time doing it, and so you’ve gotta look for those little unique entrepreneurial gems that are out there that you run into. I certainly have my favorite restaurants that I like to go to, and I’m kind of a no-frills kinda guy, but the thing is there’s so much in Kansas City, I love that town. And it’s such a value for people.

Phil Singleton: Yep.

Greg Gragg: Being a west coast guy and having an opportunity to live on the west coast and then having the opportunity now to live in Washington, D.C., Kansas City is such a value, I mean I love that city, and I love the people. Suzanne, when she came to Kansas City, she was totally, I mean she’s like honking her horn all the time and she drives aggressively and she’s just east coast. And so when she comes to Kansas City, you know, we’re in Trader Joe’s in line, and we have Trader Joe’s out here, people don’t talk to you. So we get in line at Trader Joe’s and the cashier is like, “Well how are you doing today? What’s going on?” And she’s like, “Why are people talking to me here in the Midwest?” And I’m like, “That’s what Mid-westerners do. You know, real friendly, they’re upfront, they’re honest, they’re hardworking, they actually are curious about what’s going on in the world.” And she’s like, “I’m not telling people what’s going on in my world!” I’m like…

Phil Singleton: East coast hardened, yeah I know how it is.

Greg Gragg: Yeah, I’m like really it’s such a great thing. And so over time, she’s softened and now she loves it and she’s used to talking to people and chit chatting. I said, “Suzanne, you get on an elevator here in the Midwest, people are gonna talk to you. They’re gonna wanna know where you’re from and what you’re doing, and they’re generally interested.” And that’s just another thing I love about Kansas City, it’s just so personable, and I’m a true Midwesterner nowadays and I believe in that philosophy, and it carries you forward. When you’re out here in D.C. and you’re friendly to people, or you’re in New York City and you’re friendly to people or Fort Lauderdale, Miami, people look at you a little differently, they’re like, “Okay.”

Phil Singleton: Makes an impression, different. Yeah.

Greg Gragg: Yeah, and I was … I’ll tell you one more thing and then I’ll stop ’cause I could talk forever but I was in front of a guy yesterday out here in D.C. and he asked me how I was, and I told him. And then I stopped and I said, “Well, how are you?” And that’s just true Midwestern philosophy, if somebody asks you something, you ask them that back. And he was a little taken aback by, you know, he didn’t know, I mean I think pleasantly taken aback, he was like, “Oh, well, you’re interested in me too, that’s good!” And that just gets back to people love to talk about themselves.
Phil Singleton: Yeah, and I think we take it for granted here, if you’re not getting out about, you’re don’t realize that that’s kinda how a lot of us are.

Greg Gragg: Yeah unless people don’t care about you, everybody’s on a mission in New York City and they really don’t care about each other, but I always believe you take the time to care about other people and what’s going on and try to help your fellow man.

Phil Singleton: That’s awesome. Look, Greg, this has been, I mean such an inspiration. You do Kansas City proud. A lot of us in this space look up to you, and I can’t thank you enough for spending this much time with us and sharing your insight. Is the best place to maybe follow what you’re doing online, can you tell us where our listeners can find you?

Greg Gragg: You can get on Gragg, we give webinars every month, and I give webinars about a variety of things. We just did a government relations webinar last Friday about what’s going on in Washington, D.C.

Phil Singleton: Are these kinda opened up or are they just for clients? Or do you open it up and anybody can sign up?

Greg Gragg: Anybody can get on the site and check out when the next webinar is, and we talk about marketing. We may be talking about a specific industry, but I mean a lot of those strategies within each of these verticals carries over to any other vertical. We’re a firm believer in integrated approach and marketing works, all media channels work together one way or another, and so we talk about that a lot, how attribution occurs from old media, and we talk about giver and taker media channels a lot and how things are working and we do research every year. We have four research studies that we promote every year that we do. We analyze and have the ability to analyze attribution from say radio to the internet, and so we track those regression models on what’s working and what’s not working. We talk a lot about that, so you can get on the Gragg site, Integra Shield’s the same way, Lever1’s the same way, everybody gives webinars and educationals. We’re blogging all the time, we’re posting all the time, we’re tweeting all the time. If you wanna follow us, just jump on and start following us.

But more so, I tell this to everybody, and I’ll tell this to you that we’re 100% accessible. Phil, if you wanna talk to me, just email me and talk to me. I really don’t hold back. If somebody wants a question answered, email me.

Phil Singleton: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for spending this much time. I can’t wait to get this episode aired. In fact, we’re gonna probably bump this one up because this has been one of my favorite ones to date. And thank you for your generosity and spending this much time. I know you’re a busy person, and really, thank you so much.

Greg Gragg: No, yeah, if you want to get together later, I’m always open and if you want to talk about something or if you’ve got an idea and you want to bounce it by me, or do another interview down the line, or if you just want to get together for coffee…

Phil Singleton: Yeah, I know I’m gonna take you up on this, because now that we’re talking about this, there’s a couple things we could maybe get drilled down to and get a little more granular on at some point in the educational sense, and I might take you up on that.