Industry Interview – Jeremy Knauff – Spartan Media

If you don’t know Jeremy Knauff, or his company Spartan Media, I thought it would be a good thing to interview him and share that here.  Jeremy is someone I admire both because he really cares about the work he and his agency do, and because of his experience in the Marines.  He is a true American patriot, and veteran.  The fact that he ended up in this industry was something I wanted to know more about, so here, for your reading pleasure, I present my interview with Jeremy…

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Jeremy - Spartan Media1.  So – how does a U.S. Marine, who (thank you very much!) was willing to (and  did) put his own life on the line in the service of this country, end up in the marketing industry?

The short version of that story is that during the last year in the Marine Corps, I spent all of my spare time (and in the infantry, we don’t have much spare time) putting the pieces together for a company I wanted to start with a partner. Everything fell apart before the company even got off the ground, but through that process, I taught myself graphic design.

After I got out and applied for a few design jobs, I realized I had become pretty damn good. When I explained my thought process behind some of my designs during an interview, the founder of a particular design firm told me that I knew things that most people he has interviewed with an MFA didn’t know.

As time went on, I added to my skill set by learning web design, which eventually led to search engine optimization and PHP programming. Each new skill was self-taught by pouring through gigantic books—the 4″ thick kind that you’re old enough to remember, online tutorials, which weren’t anywhere near as plentiful or easy to find as they are today, and lots of old-fashioned trial and error.

Along the way, I had some great mentors who generously helped me in their area of expertise when I got stuck. That being said, I’d like to thank  Donna Cavalier (Fontenot), John Carcutt, and Gillian Muessig for taking the time to help me get to the next level.
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2.  Your company, Spartan Media, offers a range of services – from web design to SEO, social media, and beyond.  Do you find these days that clients want the entire range, or they’re more likely to want/need one or only a couple services?

Ha! Yes, most clients want everything, but it’s a lot like those real estate shows where their wish list almost never seems to align with their budget.

I don’t think most clients need everything, especially all at once. I usually recommend that they start on the smaller side of a realistic budget so that they can afford to maintain it until it starts to deliver the kind of results that make it sustainable. It’s almost always a good idea to take one aspect of the bigger online marketing picture, and invest the time and money to do it right.

In most cases, the website should come first since that’s like a home base where you can drive customers to from other sources like social media or PPC, as well as using it to build your mailing list. (You have started a mailing list, right?)

Since the website and list go hand in hand, you should generally tackle them together, then move on to one social network and build up a solid, engaged following before moving on to another. SEO, PPC, online advertising—each element should all be launched one at a time.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but if you spend your time jumping around, you’ll never get the traction you can by focusing. Think of it like compounding interest; eventually your money invested in one account will generate so much interest that you’ll have a much greater ability to invest in additional funds, but if you spread it around from the beginning, it takes much longer.

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3.  If there was one thing (yeah, there’s never just ONE) you think business owners need to understand most when hiring an agency to provide their online marketing services that they might not understand before you work with them?

That they are hiring an agency for a reason.

I don’t tell my doctor how to do her job, but way too often, new clients try to tell agencies how to do theirs. Fortunately, data proves us right pretty quickly.

We had a client who insisted on having us develop content about how they were the best, they were the only company who offered their service, they were the biggest, they were “nationally accredited,” whatever that means—none of which were true. I don’t have to explain to you that the only person interested in that kind of content was the owner.

After we showed him the traffic and share stats of the ego-fluff he wanted us to write compared to the content that we recommended from the beginning, the difference was mind-blowing. In fact, one of the articles we developed  had achieved more traffic per day for about one week than the entire site usually received.

The bottom line is that if you’re going to invest your money to hire a professional, you need to let them do their job—otherwise you’re wasting your money.

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4.  What do you think the biggest challenge is to running an agency these days?

I think there are three big challenges:

  • Keeping employees inspired and happy so they will do the best job possible for clients. It’s not just about the money—work environment goes a long way!
  • Setting realistic expectations for clients and communicating effectively so they feel cared for.
  • Staying up to date on industry trends and technology.

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5.  How does your experience in the Marines translate in regard to running an agency or serving clients?

Improvise, adapt, and overcome.

I wrote an entire article on the subject, titled 14 Things the Marine Corps Taught Me About Running a Business.

Distilled down to a single sentence, Have a plan, have a plan for your first plan to fall apart, work hard, always improve, never give up, and take care of your team along the way.

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6.  I know a little from interacting with you in social media that you’re a family man – tell us a little, if you would, about your family – where and how you met your wife, how many children you have…

We’re just your typical family trying to build a better life than we had for our kids.

My wife hates when I tell people this, but we met online. I don’t know why… I think it’s pretty common today. In any case, it worked out well for us and led to two of the most beautiful kids and more than I could have ever asked for. One boy and one girl, polar opposites from each other.

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7.  One final, yet important question.  You care about helping and supporting our brother and sister veterans – I know that care is genuine, I’ve gotten to know you enough as a human to recognize that.  What is your message for others who might not know about the needs our veterans have these days – the biggest issue(s), for example. And what can my readers do to help?

There are a lot of organizations out there, so if you want to donate money to help, please do your homework first. There are some great ones, but there are also some really bad ones, and it can be hard to tell the difference on the surface. One that I can personally vouch for is 22 Until None.

It’s a totally volunteer organization founded by a Marine, and they’re doing big things all over the country for veterans to fight the veteran suicide epidemic.

I think an awesome approach is as simple as picking up the phone.

Everyone knows at least one veteran, and a lot of them are struggling—often with invisible issues. These are the kind of men and women who signed that blank check and put their life on the line for every American out there. They are warriors and protectors who aren’t used to asking for help no matter how badly they may need it, and that’s why we’re currently losing 22 veterans every single day to suicide.

Pick up the phone and check in on them from time to time. Sometimes, all it takes to stop them from making that fatal choice is knowing that someone gives a damn.

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Well there you go – Jeremy went from ground pounding life-on-the-line selfless service to running a marketing agency – not unlike others in our industry, yet unique in what I find to be a fascinating way.  And his understanding of client thinking, as well as how to help them achieve their goals, is something I appreciate.  So I encourage you to follow Spartan media over on Twitter, and if you think you or someone you know could use their services, visit their site and reach out.