The Search Agency provides an integrated suite of pre-click and post-click online marketing services including search engine optimization, search engine marketing, conversion path optimization, comparison shopping management, social media, and display media.
THE SEARCH AGENCY & STIBEL & COMPANY
The Art of the Win-Win Relationship
If your goal is to create one of the top performance-based digital marketing firms – that specializes in finding audiences through paid, owned and earned media – targeting the right person to lead the company at the outset seems like a sensible starting point.
That’s the story in a nutshell of how Jeff Stibel recruited David Hughes back in 2004 to lead The Search Agency. They’d just worked together at United Online – Hughes in a capacity of SVP, Corporate Development – and things had gone swimmingly. So when Jeff saw a new opportunity that fit Hughes’ skill set, he immediately brought him on to be CEO of the company he’d just co-founded with his partners from Simpli.com.
Now, 15 years later, Stibel and the team frequently partners with The Search Agency to support their portfolio companies with value-add functions ranging from evaluating SEO performance to generating new opportunities through the Stibel team’s network.
All Sides of the Deal
Through the years, Hughes has been impressed by the group’s teamwork, collective knowledge, expertise and strategic mindset when it comes to seeking out new partnerships.
“The team does a really good job of supporting their portfolio companies,” says Hughes. “They think about opportunities for growth and business development – they definitely help look through and drive which kinds of strategic opportunities make sense.”
It’s a not-so little thing the Stibel team calls the Office of the Chairman: the aggregate sum of the team’s talents being greater than any one individual’s efforts. It’s an all-in effort that has benefitted The Search Agency in many capacities – from outside-the-box support through challenging times to advisory on new acquisitions over the years.
One of the things that Hughes has marveled at most during these acquisitions has been the Stibel team’s ability to see the benefits of a deal from all sides. Something he attributes to the Stibel partners’ deep understanding of perspective and context.
“They are really good at looking at a business and figuring out how to make it better,” Hughes details. “They have a whole team who can go into businesses, rather non-disruptively, and make them stronger because they themselves are strong operators.”
That’s not to say they’re only thinking about one party in each deal. “They’re incredibly creative in how they think about deal structures – and that allows them to probably enter into things that other people might be afraid of doing,” reveals Hughes.
The team’s ingenuity is a byproduct of understanding the big picture from a unique vantage point – something that happens when you have such great expertise spread across the bench, from player one to eight.
Hughes credits it to the fact that they’re a very data-driven company – “very metric-oriented” – something he’s seen firsthand on a multitude of occasions over the years. “They’re very good at figuring out ‘what are the key levers to a business?’ and ‘how can you affect and improve those levers that are important to you?’” The team can then act on those levers to drive sustainable growth.
It’s been key to the team’s deal-making approach – for which Hughes has nothing but praise. “I’ve always thought that any negotiations we’ve had have been fair negotiations about trying to build ‘win-win’ deals and partnerships. They always want a good price, but they also don’t want anybody they do a deal with to lose.”
But win-win is a proposition that covers far more than just the Stibel effect on deals. Looking for the “win-win” is how Stibel & Co. forges true partnership. From being a sounding board on strategy to reviewing how to market and communicate more effectively, Stibel & Co. partners with companies as an open resource.
Hughes notes that while support often comes at times of trouble, it’s the Stibel team’s desire to assist at all levels that makes the biggest difference.
“They’ve been very supportive as we’ve gone through challenges and have been thoughtful about how we should manage everything from cash flow to our gross margins,” says Hughes, “They’ve really helped us hone in on what it takes to be successful.”
Another reason for the success is what Hughes cites as the “networking effect.”
“They have brought multiple opportunities for us to work with potential customers over the years, that’s of significant value,” offers Hughes. “Board members or PE firms typically bring you very little of that kind of value; but the Stibel team has brought a lot of it.”
It’s all in the name of building successful and longstanding partnerships.
“They’re building for the long-term,” says Hughes. “They’ve built things that are highly sustainable and are consistently performing at a higher level than people are typically able to.”
Maybe it’s because of the team’s unimposing nature, which Hughes has observed never comes with an ‘our way or the highway’ approach.
“The team has always come from a position of ‘We’re only successful if you’re successful, so how do we help you become more successful?’” says Hughes, before concluding, “In doing so, they can generate better returns and all the rest of it – from a partnership perspective as opposed to a vendor relationship perspective.”