Episode 167 | Posted on

Differentiating Yourself From The Competition with Ken Jurina

In this episode, we are going to peel back the curtain on marketing agencies, learning about how they handle scope creep, attribution and misattribution of their efforts, setting and resetting client expectations, retainers, performance-based pricing, leading and lagging metrics, dashboards, negative keywords, and a lot more. This episode is a success story 25 years in the making. Our guest is Ken Jurina. He founded his company, Top Draw, in 1993. In the early days, Top Draw was a humble graphic design agency and he was the sole employee. When he realized he was going to face some pretty stiff competition in the graphic design space, he knew he needed to differentiate himself. That is when he recognized that the internet represented a massive opportunity to grow his business. Fast forward 25 years, Top Draw is now a fully integrated digital marketing agency with dozens of employees and an impressive client list.

These days, Ken is focused on business development and SEO which he has had the foresight to realize would give him a massive advantage over his competitors back in the ‘90s. Ken was also Cofounder and Cochair of the Canadian Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, which establishes and promotes ethical internet marketing practices and guidelines in Canada. It is a meeting of two OGs. That is SEO and digital marketing veterans for those of you not familiar with the jargon on this episode on Marketing Speak. If you are in the mood for a masterclass, keep reading because you are about to read some tips and secrets drawn from years of blood, sweat and tears.


Ken, it is so great to have you on the show.

Thank you much for having me, Stephan. I appreciate it.

We have been friends for a long time. You have morphed your agency over the years. It has gotten rebranded. You were Epiar and Top Draw and then you merged those together. Tell us a bit more about how you started and how you morphed the agency into what it is now.

We started more as a traditional ad agency back in ’93 prior to the Google days, back when there were AltaVista and Magellan. All the good stuff is still coming about in years to come. Then we moved into both a traditional agency with the web Division and then the web took off. Top Draw in 2001, decided to spin off a separate company, Epiar, which was our search engine optimization and marketing agency and we focused on developing a suite of proprietary tools for us to conduct keyword research and do link mapping and optimization and ran both those companies in tandem up until 2011. At that point in time, we did not have to convince as many people that they needed a website or that it should be optimized and ranking in the search engines. We found the bulk of our clients were working with both of our companies.

To make things a little more centric for them and less paperwork on our side and also take down some artificial walls, we had almost created between the two companies even though we ran into the same office, we decided to merge both together into one organization and keep the parent name, Top Draw. What ended up happening was one plus one equals three in that respect where we are now offering a more diverse set of services from one company. It gave us a real differentiator from other competitors in our space. We fast forward now where we have taken some sub-brands now of Top Draw. We have Haste Post Haste, which is a branding and human-centered experiential agency that focuses on understanding how people purchase and consumer behavior, and of course it still fits into the digital side. We still have Top Draw as a results-based digital marketing agency that is delivering ROI for our clients. Then we also have a separate division a third one called Truuve. They are an automotive dealership digital agency where we are helping dealerships across mostly Canada to focus on generating more leads for their different dealerships. That is the way we have evolved and it seems to be serving us well.

Do you still have a lot of SEO-specific clients over at Top Draw or is it mostly web development plus SEO as an additional service for those folks?

When it comes down to setting expectations for a client, what they deem as success and what you deem as success may be two different things.


We have retained and grown the search engine optimization clients. The way we look at it with our clients is we took a step back and we look at, “What is our client trying to accomplish? Ultimately what is their goal?” Often, clients do not really have a good idea as to what the goal is, or the goal is not smart in that it is not well-defined with specific metrics, numbers and time-bound. What we would like to do is take a look at helping the client understand ultimately what they are trying to accomplish. It is not something generic like, “We want some more awareness or we want some more leads.” What kind of awareness and for what purpose? What leads and what impact on your organization? We start to get more into some consultative questions to truly dig into the opportunity and then we devise the strategy and the tactics that come out of it.

Search engine optimization works into our paid advertising or content marketing or improvements on their site from usability and conversion rate optimization point of view. Every client’s approach is different in custom to that client. We are leveraging the suite of services that our organization provides for each of our clients. In that way, we are able to provide them. We find the best return on their investments not doing something that is cookie cutter and makes a good quantifiable improvement for their organization based on a custom solution versus some standard out-of-the-box type solution.

Are you writing brief strategic plans for your clients as part of this process?

Yes, 100%. Every project as far as when we kick off with the organization, we sit down and do a deep dive and we pull together traditionally either a full year plan, if a client is willing for us to look out that far at least to a quarterly plan. Those plans are broken down to a monthly work plan. That is where we sit down and even meet with a client strategically to talk about their business and ebbs and flows in their organization or in their industry. Some things they may or may not have control over so that we can adjust and work with them as the best partner to help them meet their goals. We do have overarching goals and we do have work plans that are put together that help us understand how the company’s business is going to evolve and the different goals that may have over time, so that when we boil it down to our specific work plans for each month, we are factoring in those bigger picture goals and everything always rolls up to that bigger strategy.

What would be an example of a strategic document? Do you do a marketing plan? Do you do the website brief or functional spec for the new website? What strategic plans or briefs are you preparing for your clients?

It is going to vary based on where a client is at. Some are going to have a need for a brand-new website. Some may have just launched a brand-new site, which may or may not be performing well for them. Some might be looking to position themselves in a different marketplace or expand into a different geographic area or launch a new product. Depending on what their real needs are for the organization, we might be looking at doing a business canvas model where we walk through and understand who their target customer is, they may not have defined who their target markets or secondary or tertiary markets are. We will plan out personas for that client.

We will work through an actual digital touch point map where we understand the different phases in the purchasing cycle. Going all the way from awareness through to the complete purchase, being an evangelist at the end, and all the steps in between to understand how we are going to go through and break out how we are going to interact with that target market over those different stages. The content we are going to put together and the tactic we are going to use to employ to connect with those different personas as they go through their buying journey. Often in any engagement we start with is going to have a strategy behind it but the components that are in the strategy could be everything from research activities such as personas and business small canvases and journey mappings, for instance, as well as social media audits and search engine optimization and usability audits. All of these are different deliverables that wrap up into what the strategy document will be. Then there is the execution that happens outside of that document where we have specifics around identifying the biggest impact points where we can make the biggest opportunities or the low-hanging fruit, as sometimes people like to say, to be able to start to execute where we can see the biggest ROI.

The idea behind it is that there are a lot of tools in the tool belt that we pull out with the client once we understand their business challenge and their goals and help to quantify how we are going to then measure those goals with the same definition of a measuring stick. It is important because when it comes down to setting expectations for a client, what they deem as success and what you deem as success may be two different things. Even salespeople versus the folks who are doing the work also may have had a different definition. It’s making sure that you are setting those expectations with the client, understanding what success means, and the team having a common understanding and literally writing down what that goal is and what success looks like. Even to the point where you understand, “We will be fired if we do not accomplish this or generate this type of result,” and having a common agreement that is something we think we can agree to. Those are reasonable expectations or if they are not reasonable expectations having those tough conversations at the outset of the arrangement with the client and the engagement with the client.

There are not any misunderstandings three months down the road where it is like, “You are not quite delivering as we expected.” “What was your expectation?” Obviously, I have done a good enough job of knowing that at the outset and that comes with years of experience at the very beginning. It also means that sometimes we decide to not engage in working with clients or potentially fire them before we even start working with them. If sometimes the cheese has been moved as far as the goal we are trying to go after. Once it was realistic and now it has become unrealistic. There are times where it is not a fit anymore.

Do you like that book, Who Moved My Cheese?

I do.

It is a classic.

If you get your client set up on what success looks like and that is written down and agreed to, you are going to have a lot longer journey of success with that client.


It is indeed.

Setting reasonable expectations or resetting the client’s unreasonable expectations is very important. Do you have any kinds of tips, tricks or maybe some fun more stories you want to share with our audience around that?

It is important you understand all of the expectations. You may have a main point of contact. You may have your VP of marketing that you are dealing with or your marketing manager, but are they the person who has collected correctly the expectations out of the organization? Does the president have a different opinion? Does maybe the sales manager have an opinion? Does the sales manager feel they are allergic to leads that come from the website and it is going to jeopardize their job and take away people who are on their staff and their sales team’s security for a job? Understanding how your work is going to impact that organization and various departments of that organization and thus then the goals and expectations of different people in that organization is what a good partner is able to do.

In our earlier days and even not too many years ago, we would be in situations where the point of contact or the VP of marketing is singing our praises and they are just so excited. Things are going so well. We are making them look like a hero or so they thought until we got fired and the marketing director said, “I am not quite sure. Apparently, it is a budget or I do not have a good reason why.” When the reality is it is after we have dug down deep those 120 leads, we created them over the last three months. They have never been looked at and the marketing manager or maybe more so the sales manager in that case, is not a big fan of the internet and does not think the leads are as qualified but never took the time to even take a look at them and see if they were or they were not.

For us, a big tip is going to be understanding who are all the different people that are impacted. Ultimately understanding and getting, in the kickoff at the very beginning, the right people. The way you do that is you start asking questions around things like, “Where is your biggest profit margin on certain product lines? What kind of bandwidth do you have to be able to scale up in certain areas? What are your actual financial goals or objections for the different divisions of your company?” When you start asking more of those C-level executive type level questions, you start getting those people who start appearing in the kickoff meeting. You start to get to be introduced to all the different players in the project who are going to be impacted by the digital marketing work that you might be doing. Maybe you are starting to put together a custom dashboard that is going to be provided to that executive suite on the metrics that also matter for them and for us that we have agreed on and you have got everybody bought in. Then there’s going to be a less likelihood of you having some surprise where you thought you were doing great but yet you’re still being fired.

You have this custom dashboard that takes into account the different stakeholder’s key metrics for determining the success of the engagement and you make sure that if there are unreasonable expectations, you reset them and you buy in on that or you walk away.

Understanding how your work is going to impact an organization is what a good partner is able to do. Click To Tweet

That dashboard may be different for each client, but the thing we make sure with the dashboard is that we do not have a client who is demanding metrics within the dashboard that our numbers that do not matter. Where they rank now or where they rank tomorrow or the percentage of traffic increase or decrease, there may be some different metrics that may be interesting to know but they truly are not the most important metric. We try to make sure at the outset what we are even agreeing to, what is going to appear within the dashboard and what we are agreeing on, that we have our client focusing on the right things. Realign and reset what their expectations are so that they do not start going in doing a search every second day going, “I still do not rank on this phrase.” That has never searched or that even if it is searched, we validated is never generating leads that are converting into any kind of sales.

If you get your client set up for proper identification and agreement on what success looks like and that is written down and agreed to, you are going to have a lot longer journey of success with that client and a lot more successful projects or a retainer with them. Plus, you are going to have a lot of happier employees that are working for you as well because if your team is out there like my team, what puts energy back into their bucket is seeing that the work they are doing is fruitful and meaningful. It is validating that they are making an impact for their customer. At the core, that’s what we love to do here is deliver metrics and measurement and elevate brands through digital experiences, which is our purpose statement.

Metrics that do not matter are things like vanity metrics or vanity keyword, rankings for those vanity keywords that do not deliver business value. They are just keywords and rankings that the CEO or C-suite, for whatever reason, are fixated on. Back in the day when I was working with Kohl’s department stores, they were fixated on the term, “Kitchen Electrics.” They wanted to rank number one for that keyword because that was an industry term that was very important to them. Nobody ever uses that phrase in a sentence in the real world. It was irrelevant. They would potentially lose their jobs. They would lose their heads if the CEO googled for kitchen electrics and did not find Kohl’s on page one.

We have had a similar scenario with a company that does body supplements for working out and so forth across Canada. It’s a large brand. We would see their competitors ranking on different key phrases that they thought were “key.” We would track that they weren’t generating traffic but even if they were generating traffic, it was not traffic that was converting. We are more than happy that that competitor pained and wasted their budget to rank on phrases and yet, again from an ego perspective, you may have clients who go, “If they are there, we want to be there as well.” We even went and did a great job of separating out those phrases and put them almost into vanity campaigns and showed the actual ROI from those phrases. Sometimes you cannot win. Sometimes you are in a situation where, regardless of whether you are generating an ROI or not, the client just wants to see their names, sometimes in lights on phrases that are important to them. That is where we get to the point where if our golden rule and if logic and rationale do not prevail, we tend to separate. That is where we get to a point where we part ways with the customer because we know we are eventually going to be fired there. Their money is going to eventually run out when they are wasting it, spending it appearing on phrases that are not delivering enough of an ROI for them.

Let us move from metrics that either matter or do not matter, to metrics that can be leading or that can be lagging metrics. Leading metrics give you a view into the future of where things will end up whereas lagging metrics are things like, “Let us see what the sales that were driven by SEO over the last month were.” That is a lagging metric. If you are purely using lagging metrics to set the direction of your business, it is like driving a car purely looking in the rear-view mirror. It does not work very well. What are some of the leading metrics that help to indicate you are on the right path with the client and their website, their SEO?

Setting out first tracking each of the individual sources of traffic independently because some are going to be metrics that are more leading versus lagging. Then understanding how they are causing sometimes something with an impact. Even when you say this, what it reminds me of is more proper attribution modeling where you are understanding how different parts of your marketing and advertising contribute to a sale and properly corresponding a percentage of sale to the different touch points a person may have with the brand along the way. You do not kill a portion of your marketing campaign. It may not be the last click, the last thing that they did to generate results but it was something that does contribute in possibly a decent percentage of the campaigns to the actual sale.

Leveraging negative keyword property truly is going to be able to generate the best value of ROI that you can get from your paid spend that you are paying with Google.


Another key point to consider is if you are doing proper attribution modeling versus looking at your last click attribution, then you will truly understand how you can support components of a campaign that are generating results for you. A display ad, for instance, may not be something that is going to directly cause people to go through and click can purchase something. What if it comes up as something that is a component of the journey people go through? You find that sources of traffic that are coming through that have seen that display ad in conjunction with other things in a certain sequence causes a higher percentage of conversion. You would not want to go through and kill that. Something else important for people to understand is that when people are working, you have to understand everything that is attributing to an actual sale versus just the last thing people ended up doing. Folks often tend to look at and usually is what is default when you are looking at certain dashboards or analytics that are out there.

That is called last click attribution. There is a right first click attribution. It is the first thing that they did. Let us say an affiliate brought the person in and there is a 30-day window, a 30-day cookie. As long as the person then converted at some point in those 30 days, that sale gets attributed to that particular affiliate even if they came back eventually on a paid ad. You paid money for the last click but you have to give the affiliate credit because they came in through that affiliate link first.

If you are doing that correctly, then you are not going to go ahead and pull the rug out from under you on a campaign and components of a campaign that you are running without properly understanding which parts of that campaign or which parts of that journey the person is going through are contributing. A lot of folks are common to attributing 100% of a sale to the last click and not necessarily looking at the different things that happened along the journey that contributed to that actual sale.

That discipline of attribution, is that something that you need to install a certain software or you buy a certain book and you read it and then you are good to go? How do you implement best practice in terms of attribution? What would you tell our audience that they need to do?

We do use a combination of planning out when we talked about the digital touchpoint mapping and understanding what the journey is that we want people to go through. We have almost a hypothesis of people seeing this and then that, and then this and then that is going to cause them to convert. Setting that up and tracking that, for instance, within your events within Google Analytics and understanding how people are going through the funnel within your site to see whether are they following this path? What content are they seeing in what order that is contributing into it but then taking a further step out and saying, “Outside of my site, what information are they seeing?” If we are wanting to take a look at what combination of either display ad or newsletter or remarketing ad or whichever.

Software can definitely help when it comes down to that. One that we like to use is a company out of Canada and Calgary called ActiveDemand. They allow us to be able to take a look at proper attribution modeling to understand what is contributing to a sale and then it feeds into a dashboard that we look at to understand even for our own marketing purposes as to how people are making a decision to engage with our brand at Top Draw. It also helps us to score the quality of leads that are coming through. If a person is engaging more with our brand doing different activities, they will get a higher score. If I see that there is certain content they have seen in a certain order, I can understand that this may be a better-quality lead.

What puts energy back into a team’s bucket is seeing that the work they are doing is fruitful and meaningful. Click To Tweet

A person coming to the site and then seeing its services page and then looking at certain case studies and then looking at a pricing page and then filling out an actual lead form versus someone else who sent in a lead who just went to the Contact Us page, was there for seconds, copied and pasted maybe an RFP or something and hit submit. They are probably doing some tire kicking and looking for numbers, versus someone who has spent five, six minutes and has been on our site two or three different times and can, as we can see, has seen a different ad and we have been remarketing to them and they are on our newsletters. All these different things have contributed to that person submitting their inquiry. That platform for us tends to work. I know there are others that are out there. I myself do not work with too many of them. Maybe more of our different campaign people and account managers internally but I know that that is particularly one that we tend to like to use ourselves because there is a lot of technology that is in features that are wrapped up into it.

Are you spending quite a lot of money as far as the percentage of your marketing budget on paid advertising to get those leads in the door or are you doing other things?

Spend on paid advertising is going to definitely vary depending on the industry and how competitive a space may be or even how likely it is for us to be able to get a good organic impact on our ROI for our clients as well. For the most part, it is a combination. Typically, a combination of paid and organic, being a big umbrella around, be it local or even social media and trying to generate good content and good information there organically within social channels, content marketing and PR. Organic is a bigger beast. It’s setting the expectation with the client but that is usually the longer-term play. Usually, it is not as many quick wins that are able to be happening in organic, especially in a competitive space. The paid, of course, is going to have that opportunity to generate a quicker return and a faster return but possibly at a higher cost depending on how competitive it is. For us, we are doing back to a combination of services for the client based on their industry, how competitive it is and also, what kind of budget they possibly have. It’s having to manage those expectations because if for instance paid is off the table but there is a big opportunity in it, then we have to make sure the customer understands how it is going to impact their ROI from the marketing that they are spending or the marketing dollars budget that they have got.

Would you recommend that clients spend money advertising under their own brand name?

We do. I am not sure if that is a common thought across the board. Brand defense is something that we feel strongly in and we have enough data to support that while you rank well organically possibly on your brand and hopefully you are doing enough right things on your brand to be able to own that number one position. If you are not, that is first and foremost where you want to be because organic is still getting a good lion’s share of clicks on the search result pages but owning your paid spot in your paid position so your competitors do not have a chance to know cyber squats on your coattails of your brand causing your brand to be a higher cost per click. Plus, normally the algorithms in AdWords, for instance, are set up such that they will give a better reward naturally because the search results and the landing page are coming too when you are doing paid advertising on your own brand, is a positive one. You are paying for ABC brand and your company ABC and you are sending them to the ABC website. How could competitors ever be necessarily as good as that? We do not want to make it easy for our competitors to ride your coattails. Our recommendation is to still do a brand defense campaign, track it separately as well, and show that it is generating results. We find that it does. It is a recommendation that we give to most of our clients.

What if there is nobody that is also paying for that keyword? You are the only paid ad for your company name and then you are ranked number one organically as well. Maybe even with site links but you paid for a paid ad like a Google ad that has site links. It is a site link ad as well. You have got a whole bunch of screen real estate taken up by that paid ad but most of these clicks would have ended up on your website anyway. You are paying for them instead of getting them for free.

A lot of us try to do as much of the automation of leveraging technology as possible, but great strategy, and great ideas still take hours and manpower.


That is where I know the statistics that our staff would use when it comes down to looking at is a brand defense campaign in that case really required or not. You obviously leave yourself open to others being able to advertise on your brand. Of course, you are paying per click, so if an individual is not clicking on the page listing, then it is not costing you anything. You may be providing something of a defense there or even for folks who may consider to cybersquat on your brand. If they see you are doing paid advertising then they may give it some second thoughts as to, “Is this going to be an easy battle for us to win if that spot is wide open for someone to potentially come at the taking?”

I probably have to default in that case to what a specialist within the team would do here as to if there is a better way to leverage that paid advertising in another campaign that is performing, especially if no one’s doing any paid advertising against your brand. It is still a good precautionary measure when it comes down to it. If we find that a lot of folks for whatever reason are clicking on that paid listing versus the organic, you could start to take a look at it, “Is that something that we need to be paying for?” We are in the mindset that we like to take up as much of the screen or real estate as we possibly can, in the paid, organic, local and in every way that it is above board to be able to get our clients to be in the search result pages. If that hopefully deters a competitor away to starting to fish in the pond, that rightfully should be ours based on our own brand phrases, then that is a positive thing.

What about a keyword like, “Your brand sucks?” Something where it is a negative keyword. Somebody is looking to see if there are haters out there about your brand. Do you buy that keyword?

Normally, that is where we started to incorporate things like negative keywords when it comes down to that. It is obviously interesting to know if you’ve got folks who are searching for that. There is also an opportunity to direct people to maybe a different landing page that is going to talk about your benefits or talk about your USP’s and so forth. It depends. If you find that you have got yourself a PR issue that is happening and there is an opportunity there to take some action to redirect people and to re-educate or to do maybe some comparisons if you are wanting to go head to head against us some other competitor or whatnot depending on what situation you might find yourself in and you want to do some comparison matrix on the screen.

For the most part, we do not want to be wasting impressions and wasting dollars and cents. If there are different phrases that are not relevant necessarily to you or if you have an acronym or a brand name that happens to have something more of a general term that is used in your industry. There are ways that obviously you can be wasting some dollars and cents. We are big believers in maximizing the use of negative keywords within campaigns so that we do not have wasted impressions and that we are getting the best quality scores that we can and click-throughs and so forth. Dollars are being spent as most efficiently as possible.

Let us talk about negative keywords. Essentially what you are buying in a paid search campaign are certain keywords on a broad match, partial match or whatever. Then you are removing from the campaign other keywords that could end up wasting money if you did not turn those off individually. For example, you buy the keyword shoes if you are Zappos and you remove the keyword snow like snowshoes, brake shoes, horseshoes, free shoes, used shoes. These are not good keywords for you to be spending money on if you have a broad match or partial match keyword-based campaign. You created a whole offering years ago around negative keywords where you would do a massive list of negative keywords for clients. Let us talk more about negative keywords and what people should know about them for AdWords or Google ads.

Your money is going to eventually run out when you are wasting it. Click To Tweet

It is something that maybe people do use in general. I am not as hands-on but I know at one point in time, but there was a limit on a campaign level that you could do up to 10,000 negative keywords. There was the time where we were creating very exhaustive negative keyword lists in the keyword data mining that we would do with our software. We would collect all the different phrases that were being searched and take a look at what we were calling the co-occurrences where we would have how frequently are other words being associated with a term. If it was shoes, what are all the other words that are being associated with shoes? If you are selling shoes, there could be some negative terms or like you said, ‘used’ or ‘cheap,’ if that was not necessarily associated with your brand.

As we look at the number of people who are searching for these phrases, the most frequently used words in conjunction with shoe or whatever your products might be or service maybe, you can start to take a look at groupings of words that are negative. This is something that is more proprietary to us than technology that we have but what we ended up finding out is that we were saving a substantial amount of money on wasted clicks on phrases that were not relevant or were a negative association to your brand. It is how we even picked up some clients because we would take a look at different ways in which they were wasting money and having their ads displayed in the search results. Then be able to say to them, “Why are we wasting dollars on these negative brands or these differences, in some cases, humorous ways?”

We have had examples where you have got Microsoft paying on virus software, probably not something that they sell or the Hilton Hotels ranking on Paris Hilton type phrases. There are different examples where they are not relevant to the brand. Money is being spent and clicks are happening. Bad experiences are hurting the quality score. Leveraging negative keyword property truly is going to be able to generate the best value of ROI that you can get from your paid spend that you are paying with Google. It is something that I do not think people do leverage as much as they should and I do not think enough time is spent in understanding that there are so many different ways people search online that it is impossible to target them all. Flipping that around and saying, “Let us start removing things and understanding the most often negative associations and words.” There are different ways in which you can go about doing that even without the technology that we have to start to see common terms that are not relevant to your brand or that you should not be wasting your money on.

If you are spending a lot of money on Google ads, not just a few hundred dollars a month but you are spending thousands and thousands of dollars, you should make sure your negative keywords are dialed in. If you are only doing a dozen or so negative keywords, you are not doing a good job of it.

We have had clients where they are spending $10,000 upwards to $100,000 on paid advertising per month. When you have clients that have some of those bigger budgets or even bigger, the savings that you can make in property leveraging negative keywords can pay for your cost for service. We have paid for our own services and sometimes multiple times over by optimizing our client’s paid campaigns and decreasing their paid budgets but increasing their click-through rates and increasing their quality scores, even helping them to rank higher without paying more per click because they have got such a great quality score as a result. It can be something that pays for itself in spades and allows you to take home more budget because now that money is not being spent to paid advertising, maybe that budget is freed to be able to do other campaigns or add on other different services for your client.

Your agency management fees, whether it is 10% of media spend or 20% or whatever, that can be completely covered just by the savings from doing a much more effective job of negative keywords.

Clients will want to work with you when you are showing quantifiable measurable impact for them and you are delivering.


Whichever model you have, whether it is a price for service that you are offering to the paid advertising and you do not take a percentage spend. That is the model we tend to look at. For us, we do not like to be motivated by getting a percent of the spend that is going to the third-party advertising, be it Google search engines or social media whichever. That does not necessarily mean it is the wrong way of doing. It’s just a choice that we have made. You can pay for your costs, your management fee, however you manage campaigns and choose to charge for it by decreasing the outspend by leveraging negative keywords well.

If you are, as an agency, motivated to spend more of your client’s money because you will get paid more in your management fee, that is a misaligned incentive. The goals are no longer aligned because if you are going to save the client money, reduce their ad spend and get them a higher ROI. It takes money out of your pocket because you are not getting as much of a management fee. That is going to be hard to motivate somebody in an agency to work that way because they will not get paid.

Some might think it is counter-intuitive when the way you are getting money into your agency is based on how much money your client is spending. You can look at it by saying, “We can now expand where you are spending those dollars,” maybe even use the same dollars but get more inventory, more phrases that you can start to now afford to spend on. You can up your spends or possibly add into new campaigns that you may not have been adding before or start to use some of that budget that was all going to, let us say AdWords, into now also doing some social paid advertising in Facebook or whichever. However, altruistically, the way we look at it is that if we are motivated to buy how much dollars are coming to us based on how much money is being spent and the percentage of that spend, it can be a little conflicting.

We like to set up our client accounts where the ownership of the account and all the account details get retained with that client and they share the account out. While we have access and while it is underneath our MCC-type campaign or agency account that we have. From our perspective, we like our clients to be able to have full access to their accounts. They see all the metrics so that when we report, for instance, on the numbers per month, they can also take a look and validate that those numbers are correct by putting the same filters and report within Google AdWords or whichever platform that they are pulling that information from. That way, it also does not handcuff them. I am not a big believer of having a client handcuffed to you because you now own their data or they do not have access to it. If they leave, they will lose that historical information.

To me, clients should work with you because you are truly showing quantifiable, measurable impact for them. You are exceeding obvious yields at the cost of your service. They are staying with you not because they have signed some yearlong contract that binds them to have to stick to you no matter you are doing your job or not. They are staying with you because you are delivering. Even our clients literally go month by month with us even though we have clients who have been with us for years, even some literally over a decade now. They always know that we are trying to deliver every month and that we are motivated to be able to deliver every month not because of a percentage spend but because of the value that we are generating for that customer. It’s not the same philosophy that everybody has, not the same business model. It does not mean it is right for everybody but it seems to work for us. Maybe it is the Canadian in us that causes us to do this. We are too nice and too many pleases and thank yous and whatnot.

You apologize if you do not get them double-digit returns on investment for that month.

“We can do better.” When the clients are happy, “No, we can do more.”

Support your suggestions with good data. Click To Tweet

It was very frustrating for me when I worked with a Facebook expert who did not have that philosophy. He maintained all of the data himself. Then when we parted ways, we had to start all over again. We did not see any of the campaign’s setups and the audiences. This was purely Facebook advertising. We were not doing any Google AdWords at the time but it was very irritating. I feel like we wasted a lot of money.

It is very frustrating when that kind of stuff happens. Hopefully, you have built that rapport and that trust with the client where they are going to be willing to look at you and your recommendations as true experts. Sometimes that time span is very short. Certain industries, we found like the auto industry, for instance, is one where they want to see the impact in ROI pretty darn quick. They are motivated to move to wherever the opportunity is for which way the wind is blowing so you have to deliver quick and fast.

By the end of the kickoff meeting, right?

Hopefully, before you have even started. You have already got cars that you have sold and dollars and cents that are being saved. Wherever possible, start to set up that rapport with the customer and support your suggestions with good data. If you start to make some good impact on them early on, hopefully, they will trust you a bit more and you will have a little more opportunity to implement the changes and recommendations you are having because we have to be honest, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers. Sometimes they have been more than once bitten and obviously twice shy to take on yet another agency who sounds like they know what they are doing and looks like they have got great case studies and so forth. Sometimes that rapport is tough to build up at the very beginning of that trust and the relationship.

I have had that where a prospect comes to me and they have gotten burned by an SEO that was not good, not ethical. It got them penalized. They wasted all their money and they are skeptical walking right in. It’s like, “I do not know what to tell you. I have the industry book that everybody is using. I co-wrote it, I did not do it by myself, but what else do you need in order to prove my worth to you? I cannot help that somebody screwed you over before me.” If somebody is that negative going into it, it is oftentimes easier to move on and not even try to change their mind about you or the industry. Get a positive outlook type of client instead.

It is the agency’s responsibility to make the client well aware when they are asking for something that exceeds what is within scope.


It is a good point, learning to know when to walk away. There will be some companies where they have had such a bad experience or they have been so soured by some vendors in the past. Unless you have got that relationship that maybe is a referral that is bringing you to the table and they are willing to try this again. We set out ground rules as to what success means. In those cases, if you understand how the vendor has done them wrong before and where things went off the tracks and what the expectations are, sometimes you will find that as you ask those questions, it is just a bad client. The expectations are unrealistic. What they are looking for is unlikely to be able to happen within the timeframe they are looking for and it stops you from getting into a relationship with a customer that you are not going to benefit from.

Who knows, it might even be litigious or something of that nature down the road. If you can start to see, “I see where these common errors came through,” and you can provide either case studies or examples of how your process will identify those issues at the outset of the relationship or the approval process, for instance, that involves the client in the process before something went up that they know was negative for their brand or different ways in which that you have, out of the School of Hard Knocks and years of being in the business and the industry that you can reassure them. Then sometimes you can win them over. In the end, if you have been spending a little more than the time than typical to be able to convince a client and they’re still a bit of a naysayer, it can sometimes not be worth the effort.

We have had a couple of rewarding situations though, where a client has become our evangelist and been a great referral source where they had a bad experience with a couple of different vendors. Now you have impressed them with the ROI and the way in which you conduct yourself and manage their accounts and technology or different strategies and tactics that are being put into place to impress them. We have had folks where you have been warned about them but we do our due diligence and see there is an opportunity when we bring them on and then, they completely go the opposite direction and start singing your praises. It is interesting how that 180 happens. It is rewarding when you are able to change someone’s perception about maybe some negative connotation around digital marketing or search engine optimization and they do see it as something that is working really well for their organization. You have got to choose those battles.

Another potential landmine with working with clients is scope creep. How do you keep that at bay?

This is the agency’s responsibility to make the client well aware of where they are asking for something that exceeds what is within scope. Be that services that you are offering within your maybe retainer that you are not including but they are asking them for. Whether it is based on hours that you are monitoring for work that is being done for an effort and you simply cannot do all those different initiatives for the month. For us, we will often take look at showing the client the tactics that we’re implementing that are making an impact for them. We can’t do the steal from Peter to pay Paul scenario where we rob to hours in time that is being spent in initiatives and tactics that are working to start a new activity that maybe something they are bringing to the table that does not have any proof of potential impact or results but they want to try something out. Often, we will find that if we do not bring the ideas to the table for the clients, if you give them enough time, they will bring the ideas to the table that they want you to try out. Some of them may not be the best and they want to rob money or budget from certain areas of your retainer that is going to be put towards something else that may or may not work.

Owning the relationship being that the agency that is bringing the ideas to the table, being clear with the client as to what can and cannot be done within either your hours or your retainer however it is structured, and then not being afraid to ask for that increase. As far as an increase in budget to be able to substantiate the extra work that they are looking for especially if you set out what success looks like and what the definition of success is for a customer. Usually their expectations, not always, but we find that often expectations are the lowest at the very beginning of the relationship with the customer. You could have different clip levels where you decide that if we are at this point in time and you want to do additional services on top, then that is going to require us to add on these extra amounts of hours or dollar amount to be able to do those extra services. Maybe I am going to add on social media or add on email marketing or add on PR work or even offline activities, if you are an agency that does not need that work. It is being clear with the customer.

It is rewarding when you are able to change someone's perception about some negative connotation. Click To Tweet

I always like to tend to use other analogies whether it is another professional service, be it lawyers or consultants where often in this industry, we are selling our time. Like they are in their industries, they are selling their time. If you are paying your lawyer for a will and you also want them to work on some incorporation paper or documents in the USA or something, these are net different things that you are asking them for that are all going to take more time for them to be able to do it. Wherever we can relate it back to an analogy that that works for the customer, then they will use typically get it because some people still think it is a button you push that causes things to get done or results to happen or there is some secret automated thing we have done.

A lot of us try to do as much of the automation of leveraging technology as possible but great strategy, great creative and great ideas still take hours and take manpower. Auditing and new technology coming into the marketplace to introduce to a customer takes time to test, to trial and to see what is going to work. These are all things that take time and your time is worth money. Being upfront and honest at least with our customers, it makes it easier and they will then respect the book ends we put around what can and cannot be done within that scope. That scope creep is something that is easy to identify, is identified by us. A change request gets put into place. The client signs off and that they understand the impact. They understand the budget increase and then we have now set ourselves a new budget and a new set of expectations with new deliverables and usually that works out quite well. For clients who do not want to pay the extra budget, then you’ve got to make sure they understand where the limits are.

It is going to come out of something like, “We will not spend X amount of time on this,” or whatever. I am assuming that you are mostly charging on an hourly basis like it is a retainer for the month and they get a certain number of hours. Is there a different model that you operate under?

For the most part, we do have a retainer. We do try to take a look at some value that is factored into it as well. If we are killing it for our customer and it is not taking as many hours to do that, the value that we are generating for that customer more than covers multiple times over the work that we are doing for the customers. We are not about holding back the good things that can be done. It still does come down to an amount of effort that is realistic to put against a retainer per month based on the budget that they have got. We do have some clients that we work with on a pay for performance model where we are putting in the effort on our side to be able to generate enough leads for them or sales. Then we will get paid per lead or paid a percentage of a sale or dealt a difference from where they are out to where we bring them to.

In those cases, we are a little more in the control or in the seat to make a decision as to how much more time and effort we want to put in. As long as we are meeting the numbers of clients is looking for and we are generating enough of a return on our time in the form of the commissions or the percentage that we are getting back to us, then it can be a fruitful way of doing it. Those relationships you have to nail down exactly all the variables and being as controlled as much as possible because as soon as there are other things that are not in your control on a performance-based rate relationship, you can find yourself spending a lot of time scratching your head as to try to figure out what is impacting the money coming to your pocketbook when you are not aware.

Pay for performance is risky for the agency. I rarely do it. I do it sometimes. I have a client that is on a pay for performance basis but we have not hit the target yet. My tier of what I am making is much less and it is not anybody’s fault that we have not hit that. It’s not on my side. It’s not on their side. I am relying on them to implement. What if they were not speedy with their implementation? I would not get paid, that is not fair. They have been. They have been good partners in this. It is just sometimes you cannot control the algorithms of Google and sometimes things go south. They have gotten an increase in organic traffic but the pay for performance criteria was based on organic delivered sales. They have seen the increase there as they have seen with the organic traffic. That is another issue.

Often we will find that if we do not bring the ideas to the table for the clients, they will bring the ideas to the table that they want you to try out.


Where we have gone into a successful relationship on pay for performance is often when we have both developed the site. We were the creator. We know how it is been built. We can rely on it. We have the keys to the kingdom to implement within the web properties that we are working on for that client. We pretty much have carte blanche to be able to do what we think is the right thing to do for that client. We do not give them a lot of say when it comes down to even creative or landing pages or techniques and tactics. We have obviously an understanding that we are not going to do anything that is going to be damaging their brand or anything that is going to be considered aboveboard when it comes down to digital marketing for them. We are pretty restrictive and thus we get into a few relationships when we are doing pay for performance. Where we have found it has been lucrative for us and for the clients. Sometimes years go by and the client will say, “This is working well but I feel like we are paying you a whole lot.” They are. Sometimes they have to reset what their relationship is where now they have been paying us more. It is not that they still cannot afford to pay that but they would just like to keep more of the money.

Which is not fair.

If you are delivering, exactly. That is what is changed in the relationship, we are still doing what you have asked for. We have agreed that this is a good amount and it is been fruitful for both of us. That is great. Sometimes the Canadian in us will say, “We might be willing to reconsider or renegotiate.” We have even helped some clients who have said, “We want to take this in-house and we want to try to do this work in-house.” Then we will switch their relationship will help them to educate and even train clients in-house. After a certain while sometimes you have worked with a client long enough. You have potentially made your money, helped them to grow and if they do want to go through and create their own internal agency or their own internal department, then what is necessary the harm in doing that. The times that we have done it, we have often found that we still end up retaining that client and then end up supporting that team internally. We still end up doing certain components of their digital marketing for them anyway. As much as they were well-intended and wanted to take things in-house and thought it would all work out well, there aren’t too many purple unicorns out there who can do everything that needs to truly be done to properly leverage all of what is available through digital marketing. They still have to find that they are using an agency. Instead of pushing against that, we support it and we find that it is continued to work in our favor as a result.

How would folks who are interested in working with you get in touch?

Anyone who is interested in touching base with us, they can visit www.TopDraw.com. I am also happy to answer anybody’s questions or concerns they may have around what they are doing with their digital marketing. They can reach me at Ken@TopDraw.com as well. Thank you for the time. It has been great.

Thank you so much, Ken. Thank you to the audience. It is time to take what you have learned and apply it if you are working with an agency or consider working with an agency. There are great tips for avoiding things like scope creep and getting aligned on the objectives with the agency, getting aligned with the pricing model and making sure that you are doing the right things in the right order. We’ll catch you on the next episode.

Important Links:

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

☑ Make sure to understand all of the client’s expectations and that it’s taken from the person who fully grasps the expectations out of the company.
☑ Ask questions that will get me to the right people. Those C-level executive type level questions are a good start so I can involve in the project all the possible players within the company.
☑ Create a custom dashboard with metrics that are agreed on by both parties. Be specific so that everyone’s aligned with what we’re trying to achieve.
☑ Never compromise and know when it’s time to let go. Sometimes clients will have a different perspective on things as they may focus more on ranking than on strategies that deliver enough ROI for them.
☑ Don’t quickly kill a campaign just because it isn’t directly contributing to the actual sale. Strive to truly understand how I can support components of a campaign that are generating results for me.
☑ Utilize software that allows me to understand the attribution of a sale. Ken uses ActiveDemand. It allows them to look at the proper attribution modeling to understand what is contributing to a sale.
☑ Create a brand defense campaign, track it separately and show that it is generating results.
☑ Focus on utilizing my resources as efficiently as possible. If there are negative keywords about my brand, I can create different landing pages that will direct people to talk otherwise.
☑ Maximize the use of negative keywords within campaigns so I can use my resources as efficiently as possible. Ken says that leveraging negative keyword is going to generate the best value of ROI that you can get from your paid spend that you are paying with Google.
☑ Build an honest relationship with my client and aim to always deliver a quantifiable and measurable impact for them.

About Ken Jurina

As CEO and founder of Top Draw, Ken Jurina has more than 24 years of experience in advertising and digital marketing. In 1993 he founded Top Draw, a results-driven digital agency focused on leveraging digital marketing and the internet to help companies achieve their business goals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *