In Conversation Series with Bonnie Merrill Limbach

Our In Conversation series continues with another look inside the mind of one of our many talented marketing communications pros. In this edition, we explore the career of Director of Communication Strategy, Bonnie Merrill Limbach. Read on to find out how Bonnie came into the marketing field and some insider tips on the importance of a comprehensive marketing strategy. 

Tell us about your background, and how you chose communications as a career.

I’m a born storyteller, perhaps because of my Appalachian heritage, and I have loved to write for as long as I could do it. Thus, when I finally got the opportunity to go to college full time (and because I haven’t the attention span to write a novel), Mass Communications called my name. By the end of my sophomore year, I was editor of the school newspaper and president of the state collegiate press association, so the passion seemed mutual. For decades now, our love story has continued through stints in journalism, corporate and crisis communications and marketing. 

Why is strategic messaging so vital to organizations?

Strategic messaging is purposeful and persuasive communication, and the sheer process of developing it is, in my opinion, its primary strength. It forces leaders to hit the pause button for a little while to really think about where the company/organization/governmental entity has been, is and wants to go. It’s amazing how often our clients have discovered that they’ve been too busy succeeding to actually take advantage of it, communicating their evolution and truly preparing for the next level. 

Many organizations get caught up in the ever-changing, fast-paced nature of digital marketing tools. What do businesses miss when they fail to enter into a messaging exercise?

Digital marketing tools give companies unprecedented reach. But, without a solid knowledge of the various tools, their purpose, and their users, companies can wind up standing out in the wrong way. Without a unified approach to string all the tools together, a company can end up reaching the wrong audience with the wrong message at the wrong time. Creating an affinity for your brand, it requires mindfulness of whom a company is targeting, and how they prefer to be communicated to. A messaging exercise explores all of these components and gives an organization a cohesive strategy.

You’ve provided messaging counsel for businesses, governmental agencies and politicians. What’s at the core of drafting a messaging platform, regardless of the entity you’re drafting it for?

As Lewis Carroll famously noted (and strategists like to quote): “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” A platform gives you clear direction, a pathway to follow. Key components are messaging goals, desired positioning in the market, a strong value proposition and a brand promise only you can make to set you apart and clearly show differentiators. Key messaging then can be developed with supporting points to create and maintain a consistent voice. 

A messaging session can sometimes feel like conducting a “DNA” eval on an organization. Is this a fruitful analogy? Why or why not?

I see it more as a therapy session. DNA denotes something you’re stuck with from birth, for good or for bad. A messaging exercise is a dynamic process, a deep look into both structure and personality, with decisions made that can change or accelerate a chosen course. It’s a matter of taking control vs. stasis.

We know a messaging document can help a client understand their own organization, but how does a messaging document improve an agency’s ability to generate deliverables?

An approved messaging document is a ticket on an express train. No back and forth is needed, and, with also approved strategies and tactics, work can be completed expeditiously and with – again – purpose, moving steadily toward stated goals. 

What is the greatest advice you have for companies approaching a strategic messaging exercise?

 Specifically, I would say don’t forget the people in the trenches, that is, those in sales, customer service, etc., who actually deal with prospects and customers. Their input can be invaluable. In general, I would say to relax and enjoy the introspection and honest evaluation of the organization and its potential. I honestly can’t remember a client who didn’t find the process enlightening. That’s our goal, and, so far, we’ve succeeded. 

Three Things to Know When Picking a Salesforce Partner

by JT Grano

As Sarasota’s only certified Salesforce Partner, we at Next-Mark are uniquely positioned to help you understand what to look for when integrating the Salesforce software into your business. Salesforce is a powerful tool to add to your analytics, but with that great power comes a great responsibility to leverage the data correctly so that it increases your bottom line rather than clouding your sales flow with more noise.

For years, we’ve been helping clients in a variety of fields—from healthcare to ride shares to publishers—utilize the platform to unleash the full potential of their client relationships by maximizing their digital marketing environments. When it’s time for you to choose a Salesforce partner, here are some insights we’ve learned about the competencies you should look for:

1. A Good Listener

No two businesses are built the same, even when in the same industry and offering the same service. It’s important that you find a Salesforce partner that takes the time to listen carefully and conscientiously to your organization’s specific needs. We have seen too many times how a templated approach to digital marketing solutions prevents businesses from standing out from the crowd. In the end, our job is to translate your unique business processes into the Salesforce platform, which is only maximized when it aligns with your needs. In addition, a strong start to a Salesforce migration ensures a solid architecture to build future processes on.

2. A Strategic Planner

The integration of Salesforce is not a simple, short-term solution to your organization’s needs. Managing, tracking and automating requires frequent upkeep over the duration of the process, which is comprised of a long string of milestones. Make sure your Salesforce partner demonstrates an understanding of how those milestones are achieved and tracked over the full breadth of your relationship, with KPIs established early on. In addition, make sure to choose a Salesforce partner with a proven track record of long-term client relationships, as this helps reveal a partner’s ability to reliably evolve and grow in tandem with your organization.

3. A Team Player

A large component of Salesforce implementation is your organization’s ability to navigate the platform. The right partner, rather than keep you in the dark and keep the expertise to themselves, should exercise patience and enthusiasm when walking you through the software’s capabilities and utilization. That’s why at Next-Mark we developed our Next Methodology for Salesforce implementation, which lays out our collaborative approach from the initial conversation to the go-live result and emphasizes a educational dialogue along that entire journey to ensure our Salesforce clients know how to utilize the platform. In addition to helping foster transparency and open communication, this collaborative approach inevitably leads to more creative use of the software. The more perspectives from knowledgeable users, the more new ideas and techniques can be leveraged to make the team stronger than any single individual.

Next-Mark Adds Three New Hires, Expands Client Base

The Sarasota-based marketing and communications agency announces the addition of three new team members as it expands client footprint locally

SARASOTA, Fla. – Next-Mark, a full-service marketing and communications firm serving clients in Florida and nationwide, announced today the addition of three new team members to meet demand for its growing roster of clients and service offerings.

Each team member brings a unique blend of experience and skillsets that bode well for the agency’s new and existing clients. “I’ve tried to build a company that champions three main traits in team members; expertise, talent and kindness,” says Next-Mark founder Joseph Grano. “With these three additions, I think we’re ready to keep growing in 2022.” The new hires include:

Manager of Client Experience, Kristen Lundy, a Sarasota-native and graduate of University of South Florida, comes to the firm with a background in Professional and Technical Communications. Seamlessly blending her technical proficiency in website management, marketing platforms, and writing skills, Lundy manages some of the agency’s biggest clients.


Like many Sarasota residents, Client Experience and Development Manager Travis Cornwell joins Sarasota from the Midwest. A graduate of Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan, Cornwell brings a background in journalism, broadcasting, marketing and public relations. His friendly disposition, penchant for community outreach and intimate knowledge of marketing will serve to expand the agency’s client base.


Andrew Fabian joins the agency as its new Content and Creative Specialist after serving as Senior Editor for a prominent regional lifestyle magazine. With a degree in English in which he concentrated in fiction and literary non-fiction; Fabian balances a humanistic, emotive approach to storytelling with a deep understanding of how to craft different voices for different clients.

In addition to immediately lending their skills to the firm’s existing clients, all three new hires are also involved in some of the agency’s most recent, marquee local projects, including the launch of the City of Sarasota and Downtown Improvement District’s “Fresh Fridays” events programming, and the development and management of marketing for the Downtown Improvement District. “We love the challenge of working with our big national clients, but I think it’s really important to stay connected to the city we call home,” says Grano. “Kristen, Travis and Andrew have done a fantastic job of not just taking on these projects, but really believing in their positive impact on the greater Sarasota area.”

In Conversation Series with Creative Director, Ryan Hoevenaar

In this blog, we present another edition of “In Conversation,” which invites readers into the Next-Mark offices to meet our talented team of marketing and communications professionals. For this edition, we caught up with our Director of Creative Strategy, Ryan Hoevenaar. Born and raised in a small Midwestern town, Ryan dishes on how his upbringing helped him value faded storefronts just as much as contemporary graphic design, and sheds some light on how he creates visual assets that helped Next-Mark take home 13 Addy Awards at 2022’s AAF-Suncoast competition.

Paint us a picture of your youth in rural Illinois.

I grew up in what would be considered the archetype for a Midwestern town—an endless sea of cornfields punctuated by long forgotten farmhouses, a rifle still at the ready over an ash-filled mantle, that kind of thing. My town had a central cloister of stores and churches along with a Walmart. I remember intermittent advertising of both salvation and rollback prices. I spent a lot of time in a web of creeks where I’d corral tadpoles with friends and kick around bricks from fallen bridges. There were train tracks that served as late night teenage hangouts, which may or may not have been my stomping grounds. It was very much a town where the history could still be felt in creaky floorboards and faded hand-painted billboards. Think Norman Rockwell but moodier.

Was there a specific moment from your childhood when your parents made a formal acknowledgment of your creative predisposition?

My parents identified and cultivated my love for art at a really young age, so I can’t really remember a time when art wasn’t a part of my life. The family fridge was always filled with my paintings and drawings and the kitchen table always had the beginnings of a sculpture made from neon colored Play-Doh. My parents still have stacks of dinosaur drawings and landscape finger paintings in their closet. Of course, then in grade school I was always known as the “art kid”—usually in the bottom 10 of being picked for pick-up basketball in the gym but always picked first as a partner in art class.

Were there resources in your small town—magnet schools, workshops, galleries, etc.—where you could develop your creativity?

My town had very few outlets for artistic expression. Like most small towns, high school football reigned supreme. But the big city outside of our small sphere had galleries and art collectives that I would later tap into in my college years. There were all these old industrial factories that had become hubs for your stereotypical starving artists that would all push themselves and each other in their craft. Being a part of this scene in my early 20s really influenced my perception of what art was and what it could be. In a lot of ways, I still feel that way when I design, as though all those voices are looking over my shoulder encouraging me to try new things.

What’s your medium of choice in your art?

I’ve dabbled in a lot of different mediums, but I always come back to collage, specifically found ephemera collage. The idea of creating something new from things that have lost their initial purpose makes my mind soar. To weave bits of history and bygone culture into something new fascinates me. I think that probably comes from growing up in a small town that had experienced that same decline in industry that so many small towns did when manufacturing started being outsourced. I really came to appreciate the beauty of found objects, the aesthetics of Mid-Century advertising, the fender lines of rusty old Fords, even old candy wrappers.

Are you a designer first or an artist?

I would say that’s not even a distinction worth making for me. The only real difference is that design incorporates the input of the client while my art is dictated purely by my whims. But I think both my art and design capture my preoccupation with grid-work and layout. I’d like to think it’s the Scandinavian in me that loves to have objects in a well-organized grid where angles and sides of objects line up in a way that’s almost mathematical but still visually interesting. I think, again, when you look at the faded advertising and logos that dotted my small town, those designers and artists were exceptional when it came to composition and balance. You figure they all probably had more formal training in fine art because graphic design was still a fairly new field, and their work had a great sense of color and alignment. I think a lot about vintage gas station logos with their boldness and clarity or hand-painted storefronts with their highly detailed line work that can make a regular font feel special. I’d like to think I bring some of that appreciation into my work here at Next-Mark, even when it’s for a client that you don’t really think of as requiring much flash. It all gets the neurons firing to varying degrees and is really satisfying to do. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do for a living.

Next-Mark Shines at Suncoast Advertising Awards

The Sarasota-based marketing and communications agency earns a company record of 13 awards for creative excellence.

Next-Mark, a full-service marketing and communications agency serving clients in Florida and nationwide, announces it earned a company record of 13 ADDY® Awards at the Advertising Federation’s annual competition hosted by AdFed, the Florida Suncoast’s regional AAF club.

The awards span multiple categories that directly impacted the success of Next-Mark’s clients. Clients for whom Next-Mark won awards include: St. Armands Circle Business Improvement District, Sweet Sparkman Architecture and Interiors, CMX CinéBistro, Elsevier, The Met Sarasota, and Next-Mark’s own marketing. Categories of excellence included integrated marketing campaigns, video, ambient media, branded content, and digital media, among others.

Specific work recognized included the CMX CinéBistro Coastland theater launch in Naples, St. Armands’ “Sol of the Circle” event series, The Met Sarasota LookBook, the Sweet Sparkman Architecture and Interiors website along with three architectural videos, an Elsevier tradeshow design, and Next-Mark’s capabilities LookBook.

“We are committed to delivering impactful creative content driven by a strategic business approach across client categories” said Next-Mark president and founder, Joseph S. Grano, Jr. “To be recognized by our peers is a testament to our results-driven process, as well as the commitment of our team in delivering exceptional work on behalf of our clients.

About Next-Mark
Next-Mark, LLC is a full-service, award-winning marketing communications agency based in Sarasota, FL. It helps business leaders beat their growth targets by delivering better competitive insights, more powerful branding, stronger strategies and faster results. Breaking away from the constraints of traditional marketing service organizations, the Next-Mark team facilitates new conversations about a client’s brand, integrating experience, analytics and innovation in developing strategic marketing solutions to meet clients’ individual needs. Next-Mark focuses on internationally and nationally recognized brands along with growing companies across a broad spectrum of categories, including healthcare, technology, hospitality and entertainment, technology, tourism, retail, destination, real estate, environmental, marine products and tourism. With clients from Beverly Hills to Amsterdam, its roster includes industry leaders such as Comcast/NBC, LexisNexis, Elsevier, Neuroflow, Nuance Communications, CMX/Cinebistro, Medecision, CGI, California Pizza Kitchen, along with Florida-based clients including The City of Sarasota, St. Armands Circle, Sweet Sparkman Architecture and Interiors, Sun Protection of Florida, Yarnall Moving and Storage, CitySide Apartments, and The Met Sarasota among others. For more information, visit its website at www.next-mark.com.

Getting Personal, Seventeen Years and Counting . . .

As we complete our 17th year in business and reflect on the year that was for Next-Mark, I keep coming back to one word: grateful.

2021 was a milestone year for our business. For that, I have to thank the existing clients who maintained their relationships with us, the new clients who put their faith in us, and our insightful, creative staff who always gave their best to each and every one of them.

2021 also was the year Next-Mark “came home” in a sense. After 16 years of meeting the needs of mostly national and international clients, we found ourselves also working in our own backyard, as various local organizations and governments came to us for communications support. As a Southwest Florida business, it has been immensely rewarding to participate in the betterment of our local communities and be part of such a vibrant, growing area.

Last year also saw a significant progression of our newest endeavor, as a certified Salesforce partner. We obviously filled a need, as we continue to help a growing list of national and international clients bridge the gap between strategic content and full utilization of their Salesforce Customer Relationship Management platform, enabling them to work smarter and more efficiently.

This combination of serving existing clients in fresh ways, helping new clients recharge their marketing communications, and developing additional capabilities ourselves has built a powerful platform for Next-Mark in 2022. It is one we greatly appreciate and intend to build upon.

Our goals for 2022 include:

  • Continue to build our team and continue to serve our evolving client base
  • Build on our capabilities as a certified Salesforce partner
  • Partner with our clients locally, nationally, and internationally in bolstering their brand promise and value proposition.

So, thank you to all who got us here. I look forward to seeing how far we all can go. If we can be of help, feel free to contact me directly at josephgrano@next-mark.com or at 941.544.2765.

Ever Considered Podcasting as Part of Your Digital Marketing Strategy?

by Travis Cornwell

Have you thought tirelessly about how to enhance your digital marketing efforts? Ever consider launching a podcast? A podcast can provide your business with a tremendous amount of upside potential. When done properly expect not only a great ROI but an increase in your brands’ awareness and additional traffic to your website.

Starting a podcast can be challenging, but it deserves a place in your digital marketing strategy. First, consider what you will need to get started. Whether that be equipment, booking guests, planning out the content, or writing the scripts; you should know what your budget is and go from there. Once those are established, just go for it and have some fun along the way.

Measuring Growth

When you have successfully launched your podcast keep in mind that it will take time to see results. The three biggest ways to measure the success of your podcast can be the number of subscribers, the number of listens/downloads, and social media engagement (shares, comments, likes, etc.)

Driving Traffic to Your Website

Podcasts are a searchable form of content. Implementing them into your SEO strategy offers your clients a new and exciting form of content other than just a blog post. When your customers see a podcast link, hopefully, they will subscribe. Launching a podcast can help support your current SEO strategy and then help it skyrocket. The more website traffic you attract, the more Google takes notice and helps your algorithm overall. As you build an audience and attract more website traffic, you’ll soon turn those visitors into paying customers.

Building Your Brand

Sharing your podcasts on multiple channels allows you to build up your brand awareness. The more often people see your company name online, the better. With every episode they listen to, they pique more interest in your brand. Which builds loyalty and trust for your consumers.

Consistency is Key

Make sure you stick to a plan and be consistent with the process. Regular content provides a way to keep people connected with your brand. If you are consistent, over time you will build more awareness around your brand. Which will, in turn, result in more profit. Make sure you continue to measure your growth and make changes if necessary. If it’s not broken though, don’t fix it. As you make more and more episodes, compare and contrast your website traffic before the launch and after. An audience that regularly listens to your show will continue to come back to your website. This leads to increased revenue overall.

Seven Marketing Trends to Watch in 2022

Each year dawns with hopes of new opportunities and victory over existing business challenges. In this spirit, we look ahead at 2022 in terms of strategic marketing communications, with leading trends that could open new doors for, and break down impediments to, your business success.

1. Sustainable Branding for Long-Term Brand Equity

According to Forbes, more than 90 percent of CEOs said that sustainability, that is, successfully integrating environmental, economic and social issues into business operations, is fundamental for success. This phenomenon is expected to maintain momentum in 2022, as millennials continue to favor sustainable brands that promote social issues, apply sustainable manufacturing practices and, perhaps most importantly, exercise ethical business standards. Additionally, as reported in an earlier Forbes article, 81 percent of millennials expect companies to declare their corporate citizenship publicly. That makes it critical that companies say what they stand for and stand by those principles to assure positive consumer perception and brand identity.

2. The Power of Public Relations and Persuasive Content

Public relations will remain a cornerstone of brand creation and loyalty, when used to its fullest extent. While some people may equate PR with the occasional press release, it is far more. It begins with crafting messaging that will resonate with the right people in the right way, maintaining and building brand awareness. It goes on to propel a marketing plan built on persuasive content to create credibility, build relationships and educate consumers about your brand and show them how you stand out from your competition. Importantly, PR is about building a positive reputation for a brand that encourages consumers to trust – and choose – you. As such, it is an indispensable facet of marketing.

3. The Ins and Outs of Event Planning

They’re baaack! Live events are on the rebound, as consumers eager to end their isolation feel safer and more comfortable in group gatherings. As we’ve seen in our own outreach efforts for the City of Sarasota, St. Armands Circle and other clients, people of all ages will brave even bad weather to enjoy a good experience and the company of others. In the New Year, hybrid events also are expected to continue their growth, giving attendees the option of taking part in-person or virtually. In addition, as noted in Inc. magazine, we can expect to see more in-person events with a strong digital component and technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality enabling an immersive experience for all participants.

4. Putting the Next Generation of Social Media to Work

Social media will continue to be a powerful marketing tool – but one that constantly must be monitored, both as to emerging opportunities (such as the currently hot Tik Tok video platform) and whether your brand is getting the most out of the ones you’ve chosen to use. It must be remembered that those platforms are not all the same nor do they reach the same people. As explained in Business News Daily, each platform has a mission, purpose and unique audience. So where should your brand be in 2022? Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? Snapchat? Pinterest? Reddit? Instagram? YouTube? Tik Tok? The answer(s) to that question could have profound impact on your consumer outreach.

5. CRM Becoming a Constant

The integration of customer relationship management (CRM) marketing is becoming the norm in business today. As a certified Salesforce partner, we understand how CRM is the leading technology for managing customer relationships across the entire customer lifecycle, spanning marketing, sales, digital commerce, and customer service interactions. It quickly is becoming an invaluable tool for connecting business silos, identifying and categorizing leads, enhancing customer support and attaining insights into improvement. CRM is the largest and fastest-growing enterprise application software category, and worldwide spending on CRM is expected to reach $114.4 billion by the year 2027. It increasingly is important that companies get onboard with this technology, leveraging its many uses for optimal operations.

6. Marketing for Hires

Like the proverbial cobber whose children have no shoes, companies can get so caught up in marketing their products/services that they fail to market themselves to their own employees and prospects. Being the company people want to work for is part of an overall employment marketing plan that assures targeting of the right candidates and enables careful presentation of a company’s strengths and image. Laying the groundwork for attaining, and keeping, the best involves judicious use of social media and quality copy that gets returned in a search. It’s its own art within the art of marketing and one every business should consider when developing their communications plans.

7. Audiences Large and Small

We wouldn’t be us if we didn’t encourage video. Over the years, we’ve given you stats on ever-shortening consumer attention spans and the increasing preference for video over text. Here’s a new one that can’t be ignored: In 2020, nine out of 10 viewers said that they wanted to see more videos from brands and businesses. Thus, it’s critical that video be integrated across all your platforms to assure comprehensive reach. At the other end of the spectrum, podcasts are an effective tool, enabling “hypertargeting” and creating value for listeners needing information and insights into specific issues and topics.

There you have it, the latest insights and revelations as we looking to the year ahead. Be assured there will be more as the year progresses, and we keep you informed and up to date with each. Happy New Year from our team to you and yours!

Three Predicted Marketing Trends for 2022

by Kristen Lundy

The best marketers always look to the future. Since consumers’ preferences constantly evolve, marketing professionals have to anticipate what’s next. Each year brings its own set of challenges that marketing plans must adapt to. It’s no secret that these past couple of years have changed the dynamics of the industry. Understanding future marketing trends and how they shape strategies is crucial for a company’s success. Next-Mark team members believe in staying ahead of the curve to remain competitive. We always ask ourselves “what’s next?”—which is why we put together some marketing practices that we believe will trend in 2022.

Hybrid events

Despite obstacles presented with the pandemic, live events are back and better than ever. However, some individuals aren’t ready to get back into crowds, whether that be due to health concerns or travel restrictions. The solution to those who want to experience an event without having to actually attend one in person is hybrid events. A hybrid event combines both an in-person experience with virtual elements. Additionally, hybrid events allow people to attend from anywhere, which ensures the audience can participate in activities while working within their comfort zone.

With these notions in mind, we believe there will be a growth of hybrid events, as they offer many benefits for an organization. According to Brella, some of the benefits of organizing a hybrid event include increased reach and attendance, higher audience engagement, more sponsor opportunities, and reduced costs. In addition, a hybrid event allows for the capture of more content throughout the event, which will aid in content creation and implementation for months post-event.

Adapting content for shorter attention spans

Due to the contemporary digital era, content marketers find it harder and harder to have the full attention of consumers. Individuals are surrounded by screens almost every minute of the day. In fact, the average American spends about 7 hours and 11 minutes looking at a screen every day, according to data from DataReportal. With social media and digital news, there is hardly a time throughout the day that we aren’t enticed to look at a screen. HubSpot states that the attention span of the average individual has fallen to just 8 seconds. Additionally, more than 59% of people share Twitter articles without reading them in full, and more than half of page views last less than a minute.

What does all of this mean for marketers? It’s simple. We have to adapt our content to this reality when developing content marketing strategies. A few ways you can achieve this is by creating quality and visual content, investing in thought leadership and meeting readers’ attention spans half way by using headers or summarizing long pieces of content. By using even a few of these elements you will be able to grab the attention of your consumers, get your point across and make an impression to your targeted audience.

Personalization becoming more prominent

Through a variety of mediums, we are flooded with all sorts of information. Whether it be through social media, billboards, TV commercials or emails, brands compete for our attention. Due to this (sometimes) overwhelming circumstance, individuals tend to tune a lot of it out. This means that creating impersonal content when trying to reach your target audience most likely won’t end with consumer engagement. Using personalized content allows your audience to feel a deeper connection to your brand.

According to PieSync, marketing personalization means interacting with your audience and customers in a way that feels personal and human, taking into consideration their interests and preferences. The average customer wants to have a personalized experience. In fact, research conducted by Salesforce found that 58% of respondents view personalization as very important when engaging with a company. Creating a personalization strategy can include personalized ads, custom email campaigns and tailored content. By utilizing personalization in a marketing strategy, companies have proven to increase conversions and customer retention.

With 2021 coming to a close and 2022 right around the corner, it’s important that we, as marketers, anticipate fundamental changes in the way we do our job. Over the next year, we are ready to learn and adapt to this ever changing industry. Our evolving techniques help take our clients’ success to the next level. At Next-Mark, we will never stop perfecting our practice and looking to the future. If you’re looking for an agency that will take your marketing plan to the next level, engage with us today. We’re ready for what’s next. Are you?

In Conversation Series with Joseph Grano

Over the next few months, we will focus on insights from our team members. We kick off this series with Next-Mark President and Founder Joseph Grano. Joe dishes on what makes him tick, offers some advice for success in business and discusses the importance of trusting your gut.

What are some lessons learned after 16 years in business?

The single biggest lesson I’ve learned is to stick to your core competencies, the things you do well. Sometimes, especially when yours is a new business, you’re tempted to take on projects you’re not ready for or that fall outside your current level of expertise. I think that’s how a lot of businesses get lost in the weeds – trying to be all things to all people. It doesn’t work that way. You have to be ready when you say “yes” to something. 

Once you understand your core competencies, another big lesson is to seek out clients that align with them. For me, I have an MBA that helped foster a more strategic approach to marketing. I seek out clients that are willing to be strategic and go on a longer journey with us. While I am confident we’ve done exceptional work for all our clients over the years, the best work we’ve done is with clients that have a longer view for their company and value the arc of a business relationship. A good campaign is about more than picking out colors and having strong creative components; it’s about telling a bigger story and aligning with the strategic direction of the business.

What do you think has helped set Next-Mark apart from other firms?

First, we’re very agile. We don’t have a monolithic organization weighed down by unnecessary systems and protocols that can bog down processes, as is the case in some corporate cultures. This enables us to have a short turnaround time for our deliverables, with the time spent actually doing the work. Something else that sets us apart as that we stay engaged with our clients at all levels and through all stages of the relationship. I’m personally in the trenches every single day with our clients, and I expect the same of our team. When clients see that the owner is involved in the day-to-day operation of a service partner, it sets the tone for accountability.

You mentioned accountability and agility. Are these things you look for when building a team, as well?

The single most important trait I look for is kindness. I don’t care how much talent someone has if they aren’t a genuinely kind person. But accountability and agility are definitely two requisite components of the collaborative approach we take here. We want employees who know how to function as part of a team and work collaboratively with each other and with clients. At Next-Mark, we check our egos at the door and truly listen to client feedback and direction. It’s also important that people love what they do and eager to see what each working day brings. That all lends to flexibility of thought that, in my experience, elevates our work to a sum greater than its parts. It’s about finding the right balance of humor, hustle and heart.

What concerns you most in business today?

In today’s digital age, people are allowed the emotional distance to feel comfortable in detaching themselves from others, which in turns makes it acceptable to ghost them. Although we hear about ghosting a lot in social media, I’ve seen it in business, as well. One day, you’re engaged with a client or prospect and the next day they’ve stopped answering calls or emails with no explanation. Business is still very much about relationships, and burning bridges is never a great way to operate. I completely believe there is a beginning, middle and end in all business relationships and true professionals understand where they are in that lifecycle. It’s always hard when relationships end, but it is critical to be transparent, honest and accountable.

As the industry and world continue to trend digitally, what comes next in Marketing?

The digital ecosystem of marketing has forced agencies to keep their eyes just over the horizon. We need to always be looking six months to a year or more out to make sure we’re prepared for change. I think the internet age has taught us that things can change remarkably fast with no warning, and it can feel sometimes like what you do today is obsolete tomorrow. So, one of the things we’ve tried to do is diversify. As a company, strategic marketing communications and public relations has been a powerful and productive niche, but now we have added another dimension to our business becoming a Certified Salesforce Partner creating new and innovative opportunities to better serve our clients.

What do you love about the work?

Honestly, my Instagram profile says it best: “I am a steward of creativity and a purveyor of ideas.” I love the creative process, especially when it’s part of a business strategy. I’m energized when we’re all in the room together brainstorming ideas for campaigns. I am a pathologically positive person; I can always find a silver lining. This industry is as much an emotional fit for me as it is a practical one—I genuinely love what I do and am excited about coming into work every day.