The Rise of the Internal Ad Agency

Once upon a time you hired an agency to build amazing ad campaigns, and place that content in places people congregate. Not much has changed.

What Do You Do?

I recently sat down for coffee with an old friend from the advertising business. We talked about sustainable marketing. And Jesus.

Doing Content. Right.

“Johnson, get in here.”

Johnson appears like magic in front of the CEO and snaps to attention, his hipster beard vibrating with excitement.

“We need a new sales strategy. I hear that this content thing is effective.”

Sustainable Marketing Explained, Part 3


The following is the third post in a three-part series about sustainable marketing. In the first post (here), we defined sustainable marketing, took at look at a case study, and, yes, established my credibility as a qualified voice in the sector. In the second post (here) we looked at the difference between traditional marketing and sustainable marketing, the role of content and why it’s important to share your story with your audience, and how content from different departments within your organization is important to telling your brand’s story. In this post we’ll cover the role of SEO and Google, and talk about social media. 

As we established in the previous posts, sustainable marketing is based on three primary tenets: content (storytelling), SEO, and distribution.

A Very Important Thing. 

If having an internal program in place for fresh, relevant, and sharable content that engages your audience and drives traffic to your website isn’t enough, perhaps the most important reason to implement a sustainable marketing program is search and SEO.

(Before we go on, yes, I realize that there are other search engines out there. But mostly those other guys attempt to emulate Google, so for the purpose of this article, Google represents all search engines)

Your website is already the hub of all your marketing communications. Your white papers live there. Your videos. Your “About Us” page. Your case studies. Your awards.

But a beautiful website alone isn’t “doing SEO.” In fact, if you’re not routinely publishing content, search engines see your site as a static wall. And no amount of keyword loading will help.

During the 12th annual Advertising Week Conference in New York City, recently, Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP, was quoted as saying, “Google search remains, in my view, the most potent thing.”

Sir Martin is no dummy.

Did you know that every day Google processes more than 3 billion search queries worldwide? No, this doesn’t mean that 3 billion people are looking for your products and services every day. But it does mean that Google is pretty important to driving traffic around the internet.

Here’s how it works: when you have a website, Google spiders visit and index it so that when someone searches a term relevant to you, they can include your site in the search return.

Only, getting listed at the top of these returns requires more than just a website these days.

For a long time, the Google search algorithm was top secret. Google didn’t want to give any information away to competitors, after all. That’s because Google’s primary revenue stream comes from advertising via search. (Yes, you can advertise with Google like you can advertise in your local newspaper, but, for the purpose of sustainable marketing, we focus on organic search.) And they have a lot of ways to advertise. But let’s consider sidebar ads for this article. The more that people use Google for search, the more Google can justify advertising rates for those types of ads. So it behooves Google to provide the most relevant returns possible for someone performing a search.

If suddenly Google started returning spam sites for searches, its users would go to Bing or Yahoo. No, Google wants to provide the most relevant, authentic websites to its search customers.

So Google created some best practices for websites to utilize. One of these best practices is frequency of information. The more you post, the more the Google spiders see that as activity. Another one of these best practices is relevancy. When you consistently post about similar topics, the spiders report back to the mothership that you’re an expert on those topics. Then there’s the idea of authenticity. It turns out that being who you say you are matters to Google.

Why? It all comes back to advertising. By returning the most relevant, authentic sites to a search query, the happier this makes the person doing the searching. Happy searchers mean continued use of Google, which, in turn, helps Google justify rates to advertisers.

The last thing Google wants to do is piss off their customers (the people doing searches). And the easiest way to piss off customers is to return bogus websites filled with backroom keywords in an attempt to fool the Google spiders into thinking that they’re something they’re not.

And so a few years ago Google started tweaking its algorithm to not only recognize and flag these bogus sites, but also to penalize them.

Authenticity matters.

When you routinely post content that reflects your brand, you’re actually satisfying the SEO component of your sustainable marketing program. You win. Google wins. And Google’s customers win. The hard part is simply starting a program like this.  It’s non-traditional and requires internal accountability.

But it’s also essential if you want your marketing to work going forward.

The Role of Social Media in Sustainable Marketing

As we’ve discussed, the three core principles of sustainable marketing are content, SEO, and distribution. And while it’s true that social media is an important part of the program, sustainable marketing is NOT social media marketing. Social media marketing is something else altogether, like print ads to a comprehensive advertising campaign.

Don’t get me wrong, social media is an amazing thing. It may well go down as one of the most important innovations of our lifetime. Except, it wasn’t originally created as a commercial endeavor (unlike traditional media.) Social media was created to connect people to people.

Back in 2009 when I was working these new media channels, I was able to generate buzz for the Boxman Studios brand from my personal network. I’d established authentic connections with real people who, as it turns out, were interested in the work I was doing with shipping containers. When I’d push this content into my streams, people read and shared it. And so the ripple effect took hold, and word about Boxman grew.

But way back then, most brands were reluctant to jump on board with social media. They stuck to their traditional guns and waited to ensure that it was safe to engage in the social spaces. Because let’s face it, being authentic in real time is risky. Especially when you’ve been used to having one-way conversations for so long. But then, ever so slowly, brands started using things like Facebook and Twitter. And by 2014, if you didn’t include your Twitter handle in your print ad, you were doing it wrong.

Yes, social media is a great way to distribute your content. My case study with Boxman is proof that it works. But its most valuable commercial function is in the discovery and engagement of fans and customers. That said, social media alone only goes so far. Unless you have a team in place to monitor its constantly evolving environment, the primary function of social media in the sustainable marketing realm is distribution.

Create. Distribute. Monitor. Repeat.

One of the best things about the digital world is that there are analytics for everything. Want to know which pages of your site people visit, or bounce away from the most? Want to know which blog posts are shared most often? Want to test whether Facebook or Twitter is your best option for distribution? All this information, and a lot more, is available to you today through analytics. Which makes it even more essential to start a sustainable marketing program so that you can tweak it to maximize its reach, relevance, distribution—and ultimately to convert more customers.

This sounds too good to be true. There HAS to be a drawback. 

There is one thing about sustainable marketing that you’re not going to like. Success doesn’t happen overnight. This isn’t a billboard campaign, after all. And unlike the traditional media salespeople who promise huge returns right away, you’re probably not going to get that via sustainable marketing. Which doesn’t mean you won’t. Heck, your first blog post might be so damn compelling that it’s shared across the globe—driving web traffic and sales inquiries. But more than likely, it will take six months to start to build up a measurable case study to determine what’s working and what isn’t.

With diligence and consistency, however, after a year you’ll be well on your way to reducing your dependency on expensive, unsustainable traditional marketing practices by tapping into the wealth of resources already within your organization.

In Conclusion 

Sustainable marketing isn’t rocket science. But it’s also not traditional, so it does take some adventurous foresight to adopt a program like this.

But when you consider how the world is moving along digital lines, how Google influences decisions and drives traffic, and how people are becoming desensitized to traditional advertising, the question isn’t whether you can afford to adopt a sustainable marketing program, but rather whether you can afford not to?

Clearly, there is a lot more to a sustainable marketing program than what we’ve covered in these three posts. I’ll explain everything in my upcoming book on the topic.

In the meantime, reach out to me directly to talk about creating a sustainable marketing program for your organization.

Click here for the first post in this series. 

Click here for the second post in this series.


Jim Mitchem is a writer, consultant, and entrepreneur. He’s been in marketing and advertising a long time. He gets audiences to think differently about things. He published his first novel, Minor King, in 2015, is collaborating on a book called Gone Dogs, and is currently writing a book on sustainable marketing. He has a wife and two daughters. He likes dogs. He really hates writing about himself in third-person.

Image credit Don Graham

Sustainable Marketing Explained, Part 2


The following is the second post in a three-part series about sustainable marketing. In the first post (here), we defined sustainable marketing, took at look at a case study, and, yes, established my credibility as a qualified voice in this sector. In this post we’ll look at content and why it’s important to share your story with your audience. Click here to read the third post.

As we established in the first post of this series, sustainable marketing is based on three primary tenets: content (storytelling), SEO, and distribution.

Time for a Change

When I talk about sustainable marketing with people, I get some interesting responses. Recently someone actually said, “Nobody cares enough about my product for me to adopt a content strategy.”

To which I responded, “Bullshit. Every brand has an audience, otherwise it wouldn’t be in business.”

But the response I get most often is, “We already advertise. We don’t need a different strategy.”

Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that advertising is dead. That would be sensationalistic and irresponsible. Traditional advertising isn’t dead. It’s just not as relevant as it once was. Marketing and advertising today means thinking differently. Sustainable marketing is still marketing, after all. A sustainable program doesn’t replace your current marketing scheme. It supports it. And yes, over time, based on the metrics, it can reduce your dependency on traditional marketing and advertising methods.

One of the biggest problems with traditional advertising is that people are inundated by it and, as a result, have become desensitized to it. Thanks to the proliferation of advertising and branding, consumers have learned to ignore most of what they see.

Advertising has always been a disruption, “We’ll be right back after these important messages.” Only now it’s virtually impossible to escape. And believe me, we try. We use DVRs, we pay for satellite radio, and we block internet ads (even on mobile). Sure, salespeople for these media will tell you that their particular platform is still effective. But of course they do! That’s their job. They’ll even have numbers to prove how effective it is.

I just don’t believe those numbers anymore.

I can’t recall any time during the past 10 years when I’ve been enticed to buy or do anything because of advertising.

Maybe that’s because I’m in the business and know the man behind the curtain personally. Or, maybe it’s because a one-way conversation from a brand just isn’t a compelling enough reason for me to act the way the brand wants me to. If my own teenage daughters are any indication, this trend of indifference toward advertising is even more prevalent in younger people. They see what’s happening. Traditional advertising simply doesn’t affect them the way it affected people in the 1990s. If you stick to your traditional guns, good luck marketing in a few years.

So What Do You Do? 

You can be honest, that’s what. People today want to hear from brands that are authentic about who they are and the products they make and sell. They want to be told stories. They don’t want you telling them to notice you. They want to feel like they discovered you. And you help them do that through storytelling.

Look, every department within your organization is critical to making your company go. If not, those departments wouldn’t exist. However, did you ever stop to think that every department has a story to tell that contributes to the brand’s promise of value? Probably not. But from R&D to HR, and customer service to sales, the people within your organization have a critical role in making your company go farther. With sustainable marketing, your best brand ambassadors (the people who already work for you) become part of the story the brand shares with its audience.

Back To the Traditional Thing for a Moment. 

Traditionally, to reach your audience with marketing you’d hire an ad agency that would find where your audience is, create messages that resonated with them, establish vehicles to carry that message, then launch these vehicles at the audience. Direct mail, television, radio, outdoor, email, banner ads online, the list goes on and on. If you were lucky, they’d work. But only for so long. You see, unless you have an unlimited marketing budget you can’t run a TV spot forever.  A billboard only runs for a few weeks. Email gets deleted or flagged as spam. Then what?

Then you’d do it all over again.

And you did it all over again because that’s the way things were always done. You bite the bullet and keep on keeping on. Hoping, wishing, being sure that the bounce you see in sales from the clever campaign your agency deployed will reach higher than ever for a longer period of time. Except, it doesn’t.

Traditional marketing and advertising is unsustainable. Oh, and it’s a one-way conversation with people who are bombarded with advertising and who have learned to ignore it.

I know. It bums me out too. I’m a copywriter. Creating clever ad campaigns was once my speciality. Oh well, everything is in flux. The key is to roll with the changes.

Onward Thru the Fog. 

Sustainable marketing is different. But it’s not a new concept. The foundation of sustainable marketing is the same as marketing’s always been—tell a story that engages your audience so that they take favorable action.

A well-conceived and well-executed print ad in a newspaper might get someone’s attention, but does it really engage them? Do they share it with their friends? Does it last more than 24-hours? No. And thanks to our growing indifference to advertising, it’s becoming less and less likely that anyone will even see it, much less engage with it.

However, the content you create and post to your blog or website never disappears and is sharable across digital platforms. Furthermore, because it’s crafted with a goal in mind, and to a specific audience, it’s relevant. Finally, because it’s coming from you, and not an ad agency, it’s authentic.

Granted, television ads during the Super Bowl get talked about. But can you name another time when that happens? Exactly. Plus, I’m guessing that creating and running a Super Bowl ad probably isn’t in your annual marketing budget this year.

Producing relevant, sharable content that reinforces your brand’s promise-of-value helps your audience find you (via search), share the content and engage with you (via social media), and take favorable action (via qualified, inbound leads.)

But We Don’t Have Time To Write Blog Posts. We Have Jobs To Do. 

I get it, everyone in your organization is super busy doing their jobs. (No one has any downtime to do things like, I don’t know, check Facebook.) As a result, Sally in HR doesn’t have time to write blog posts for the marketing department.

Except, I believe that she does.

And it’s not for the marketing department. It’s for the company. The brand.

Let’s use Sally as an example. She spends all day looking for the right candidates to fill various positions at your company. Maybe she places an ad and has to sort through hundreds of resumes to find the perfect person for that special role. She schedules and conducts interviews. She’s busy. Really busy. But, she’s also the one person in your company who knows exactly what kind of candidate is a good match both for the open positions, and the corporate culture in general.

The information Sally has in her mind is invaluable. And it’s precisely that kind of information that needs to be shared with your audience.  “But I can’t. I’m not a writer, and I simply don’t have the time!” Sally sighs.

Only, with a sustainable marketing program in place, Sally doesn’t have to carry the marketing load herself. She’s just a small, albeit important, part of the overall plan. And you don’t need to be Hemingway to create content that people care about. If Sally were to commit to one 250-word blog post a month, or even a quarter, that could be enough. With important content coming in from different department across the organization, her contribution will be as critical to telling the brand’s story as the CEO’s.

You see, the company is bigger than one department or one person. And it’s certainly bigger than any ad campaign your ad agency creates and distributes.

The purpose of sustainable marketing is the same as traditional marketing—to tell your brand’s story in a way that gets your audience interested, and keeps them engaged. Everyone can find 30 minutes a month to help tell that story. Plus, every post penned by your employees helps make them subject matter experts. Experts who are aligned with your company.

So They Found Us. Now What? How Does This Content Spread? 

Let’s say that John, who has 1000s of followers on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, sees a post by Sally that interests him enough that he shares it in his social network. If the post also resonates with someone who follows John (birds of a feather flock together, after all), and then that person also shares it—who knows how far the content will go?

Sharing is the ripple effect of smart distribution.

And it doesn’t matter when someone sees it. Unlike print ads that disappear in a day (in the case of a newspaper, for example), a blog post lives forever. And the content will be relevant well into the future.

Plus, and this can’t be stressed enough, you can change the content. Let’s say that a post by Sally has a typo that was overlooked in the approval process. You simply go into the post and correct it. Try doing that with a billboard.

In the final post of this series we’ll cover the importance of Google, SEO, and social media, among other things.

In the meantime, reach out to me directly to talk about creating a sustainable marketing program for your organization.

Click here for the first post in this series. 

Click here for the third post in this series.


Jim Mitchem is a writer, consultant, and entrepreneur. He’s been in marketing and advertising a long time. He gets audiences to think differently about things. He published his first novel, Minor King, in 2015, is collaborating on a book called Gone Dogs, and is currently writing a book on sustainable marketing. He has a wife and two daughters. He likes dogs. He really hates writing about himself in third-person.

Image credit USFWS

Sustainable Marketing Explained, Part 1


The following is the first post in a three-part series on the concept of sustainable marketing.  

Click here for the second post in this series. Click here for the third post in this series.

Since launching Smash Communications, in April, whenever I’ve talked about the idea of sustainable marketing with people, I’ve been met with inquisitive looks. And that’s ok. It’s a new concept. That inquisitive look is part of the territory when you’re talking about something new. But it’s why I decided to write a series on the topic. Bear with me, as there’s a lot to cover. We’ll get to all the good stuff–but throwing a 4,700 word post at you would likely be too much, so I broke it into palatable chunks.

What exactly is Sustainable Marketing? 

Sustainability. It’s a been a hot buzzword for a while now. And I can see how you might be thinking “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me,” when used in context to marketing.

By definition, the word “sustainable” means: “a system that maintains its own viability using techniques that allow for continual use.”

And you’ll come to see that when I use the term “sustainable” with concern to marketing, I mean it quite literally.

Sustainable marketing utilizes internal resources to generate authentic, SEO-compliant content that resonates with the target audience, drives qualified web traffic, delivers inbound leads, reduces dependency on traditional advertising, is simple to distribute, and is both measurable and pliable.

Sound too good to be true? Well it isn’t. It just requires that you think a little differently about marketing in the digital age. Which, ironically, you’ll see is more like marketing in the human age.

The post that follows, along with the others in this series, explores, among other things, how and why sustainable marketing works, why you should adopt a sustainable marketing program, and how sustainable marketing differs from traditional marketing and advertising.

But first, I should qualify. After all, there are a lot of people these days who position themselves as expert marketers. And while some of them actually are experts, mostly what I see out there are people adopting theories established by others, then adding a tweak or a twist, and repurposing these theories as best practices that they sell to brands. Some of these people are amazing self-promoters, they just lack real-world experience. I, on the other hand, suck at self promotion. But I have been in the marketing and advertising business for a while, and even built a brand from scratch in 2009 into one of the fastest-growing companies in America in a little over three years by the utilizing concepts I write about here.

The Backstory

Every brand on the planet needs marketing and advertising.

And the best marketing and advertising starts with a quality product or service that people can talk about. That’s because the best that advertising can do is lift a brand for so long before the truth rises to the surface. If the product or service is solid, the investment in marketing and advertising has the potential to pay off long-term. If it’s not, then the marketing investment might help deceive the audience for a while, but in the end word will get around and the brand will fail.

Currently, most brands employ a traditional approach to marketing to the tune of 600 billion dollars spent on advertising worldwide. From television to billboards, and from banner ads to email marketing, we tend to follow trends in how we take products and services to market. Even when those trends are archaic and generate inconsistent ROI.

When you’re following trends, you’re already behind the curve.

In 2009, I partnered with an entrepreneur who had a great idea, but no marketing or advertising budget. As a brand builder and ad guy, I had to get creative in terms of how to take his product to market. I relied on tight branding, digital storytelling, and smart distribution via this new thing called social media.

It worked. In 2013, Boxman Studios was named the fastest-growing privately held company in Charlotte, and in 2014 was recognized as the #120 fastest-growing company in America by Inc. Magazine (with more than 3000% growth from 2009-2013). The explosive growth occurred without the use of traditional advertising, and 90% of sales were the result of inbound leads from the marketing efforts.

The first few years of building the Boxman brand, I was the only person creating and executing the strategy. Then I hired an intern, and when I left the company, I turned the marketing over to him. Boxman continues to grow based on the techniques I developed early on, they still don’t spend money on traditional advertising, and the marketing engine doesn’t stress internal resources.

And this is the core benefit of sustainable marketing: low wear, high yield, simple to administer, and measurable.

Sustainable marketing is literally sustainable.

With this case study in hand, in 2015 I launched my consultancy to help other companies grow by utilizing these effective, modern marketing techniques. But so far it’s been a slow go. It seems that people are guarded against change. Even when presented with a case study like Boxman Studios. Even when considering that the traditional approach is expensive, inconsistent, is ignored by people, and doesn’t always generate a ROI.

Yes, I believe that all companies can benefit from a sustainable marketing program. No, companies should not rely on this concept alone. We didn’t have the luxury of a balanced attack when we launched Boxman. But you do. Over time, however, a sustainable approach can reduce dependency on traditional marketing and advertising.

Marketing in the Age of Sharing

During my first copywriting class in college, the professor opened the semester like this, “All of you are very clever people. That’s why you’re here. But let me tell you one thing straight away—the best ad campaign you will ever create will pale in comparison to word-of-mouth.” Of course we all rolled our eyes, but over time, especially since 2009, I’ve come to terms with this statement being true.

When you have a product or service people that people like, people talk. And if they try your product and don’t like it, they’ll still talk. Which is why I always stress that the best marketing and advertising starts with having a quality product or service that people can talk (positively) about.

But before people can fawn over your awesome product or service, they need to actually know that you exist. That’s marketing and advertising.

Assuming you’re engaged in some form of traditional advertising (print ads, banner ads, billboards, direct mail, etc.), let’s take a look at how people who aren’t influenced by traditional advertising (a phenomenon we’ll cover in parts 2 and 3 of this series) find you.

The two ways most people discover you are through search, and word-of-mouth (people sharing). We’ll get to search later, but first let’s talk about what people share. Today they share digital content. A lot of it. Ideas that live online. And while the distribution vehicles vary from Facebook to Pinterest, and messaging to email, exactly what people are sharing, in various forms, are stories.

But before you run out and try to make a “viral video” just know this—you have zero control over whether anything you create goes “viral.” So instead of putting your faith in a roulette wheel, you should focus on simply telling your story in an authentic way that helps your audience find you, and also keeps them engaged.

Sustainable marketing works on three core tenets: content (storytelling), SEO, and distribution. All of which we will cover in this series.

In the meantime, reach out to me directly to talk about creating a sustainable marketing program for your organization.

Click here for the second post in this series.

Click here for the third post in this series.


Jim Mitchem is a writer, consultant, and entrepreneur. He’s been in marketing and advertising a long time. He gets audiences to think differently about things. He published his first novel, Minor King, in 2015, is collaborating on a book called Gone Dogs, and is currently writing a book on sustainable marketing. He has a wife and two daughters. He likes dogs. He really hates writing about himself in third-person.

Image credit Edwin van Buuringen