Q&A: Steve Grant, head of strategy, Modea

Steve Grant, new head of strategy for the digital and creative agency Modea, discusses how this small agency is taking on some its biggest competitors, and what he believes is the future of branding. 

Direct Marketing News (DMN): You’re a smaller digital agency with a lot of big-name competition, but it appears you’re growing and are known for having a positive company culture. How does that equate to value for clients?

Steve Grant (Grant): The Harvard Business Review recently issued a study that talked about how the most profitable companies had the most engaged employees — even in the downturn. To me, engagement is another way of measuring employee happiness. When your employees are digging into the creative and intellectual challenge of cracking problems for clients, it’s emotionally satisfying, which in turn, provides value for clients. [With digital], you need two things: You need a computer with bandwidth, and people. The way we punch above our weight is we have an enormous focus on talent. Here we have a cadre of very senior people who are industry veterans who know what they’re doing. We [also] hire really young people … to give them the chance to get started and get their hands dirty.

DMN: The agency is doing a lot of hiring right now, split into two groups on your website: “people we should have hired already” and “people we’d better hire soon.” Is this a turnover situation or are you really expanding — and if so, by how much?

Grant: It’s not a turnover situation. There’s very low turnover here. For the most part the people we hire who fit with us performance-wise tend to stay because they are engaged. What I got out of that is I can do big-boy advertisements and make money that could be competitive [with a bigger agency]. The hiring we’re making is strategized on an explosive growth track. Over the last six years in business, we’ve seen a 1,335% growth rate in terms of revenues. So we were one of the fastest growing companies in America over the last five years. We started out as a small digital shop really doing projects and have been working our way up the value chain.

DMN: As the agency’s new head of strategy, what do you believe you can do to grow the agency, and how do you feel like the agency must evolve to compete with the bigger competition in the digital marketing sphere?

Grant: Our whole thing is about being able to punch above our weight. On the one hand, we have to be able to understand the business challenges and engagement challenges of our clients. I’m still able to plug in to these kids who are 25 years old, and they have a facility with [technology] that big shops wish they had. We had an idea on [a] Friday afternoon, and a couple of our tech guys and creatives were like, ‘We’re going to work on this over the weekend.’ They came in on Monday with a working prototype. The client was just floored. I’m the new guy here. I bring a framework; these guys have the tools, the ability — it’s remarkable. I’m so excited about what these guys can do around here. I feel the results we’re delivering are so tangible.

DMN: On the agency blog, you and your colleagues talk a lot about the “future of branding,” from Twitter brand pages to how to get people talking using digital channels.  How would you sum up what the “future of branding” really is?

When people think clean, they think of Tide. The pinnacle of branding would be one-word equity. The fact of the matter is, in the digital space, the future of branding is the brand as a tool that creates positive change in the life of a consumer. With digital tools it becomes a reality. Take the Domino’s pizza tracker. Delivered in 30 minutes or less — that’s old-school branding. New-school branding is I see the pizza getting here in 30 minutes or less. So suddenly it’s gone from this abstract thing where branding is a friendly ghost to something that’s real. Like my iPhone; it does things for me. A real brand now should do that. A consumer now thinks Tide and can go to the stain catalog. That’s real value to the consumer. Any brand that isn’t rendering that assistance … isn’t making an argument for its existence for the consumer.

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