TIMA Tales: A Q&A with Karl Sakas

In the third of a periodic series of profiles of Triangle marketers, TIMA content officer Kelly Johnson interviews Karl Sakas, Owner of Agency Firebox, a company that helps marketing agencies solve their operational problems.

Karl Sakas Triangle Interactive Marketing AsosciationWhen Karl Sakas was naming his company, he turned to his lifelong enthusiasm for trains for inspiration. A firebox is the area that contains the fuel for the train — where the fuel is converted to energy to power the train. As a management consultant and business coach to digital marketing agencies, Sakas calls his business Agency Firebox.

His typical client is an agency owner with 10 to 50 employees. That agency owner may have stumbled into marketing, having liked one aspect of the industry — perhaps development or design. Maybe that client isn’t strong in payroll, client services, or sales, and he or she is busy, overwhelmed, overworked and needs help to move in the right direction.

“I’ve found there’s definitely a lot of need for help,” Sakas said.

Clients hire him because they’re struggling to run more efficiently, they want to boost sales, or they need guidance aligning to their long-term goals. Some want Sakas to help them fall back in love with their work.

Regardless of the region or state, digital marketing agencies are facing the same kind of challenges. The Triangle area, however, does seem to be more business-to-business oriented when it comes to marketing compared to other parts of the country in which he works, Sakas said.

The industry has a fair number of agency business consultants, he said, but it is rare for consultants to specialize in digital marketing.

Just as Sakas specializes, that’s often his advice for his clients: instead of being a generalist doing anything for everyone, specialize.

What attracted you to marketing?

“I love the challenge of figuring out the right approach to persuading people to take the action you want them to take. And marketers tend to be fun, interesting, creative people.”

How would you characterize the Triangle as a place to work as a marketer?

“The Triangle has a friendly, helpful, welcoming marketing community.

For a metro area of 1.1 million people, the Triangle has an unusually large number of marketing groups and Meetups: TIMA, of course, and the Raleigh-Durham chapter of the American Advertising Federation, the American Institute of Graphic Arts Raleigh, Crop, Function Pink, the International Association of Business Communicators, North Carolina chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, Raleigh SEO Meetup, Refresh the Triangle, Raleigh Public Relations Society, Triangle American Marketing Association, and more.

When many other regions have one or two marketing agency lists in their local business journal, we’re unusual in having five marketing-related lists in the Triangle Business Journal.”

How is the increasing focus on digital and more specifically, mobile, changing your approach?

“I’ve been doing digital marketing since 1997 so digital isn’t new to me. My clients (marketing agencies that get at least 50 percent of their revenues from digital marketing) are getting more and more requests for mobile-optimized work, whether that’s websites with responsive design or marketing automation campaigns that a busy customer can easily consume on an iPhone.”

What favorite new tools are helping you do your job better?

  • Boomerang makes it easy to stay on top of email
  • Trello makes it easy to organize all kinds of information
  • Dropbox and Google Apps mean I don’t have to worry about a hard drive dying
  • Join.Me makes it easy to do screen-sharing and run online meetings
  • Gliffy makes it easy to make org charts, flow charts, and other diagrams
  • WordPress keeps getting better and better as a website platform”

What’s the most important advice you would give to a Triangle-area student?

“Give before you receive — you’ll always win when you take a long-term view. For more, see the advice I shared with AIGA Raleigh’s Students & Emerging Designers group, and check out my articles about finding a job in marketing in the Raleigh area.”

What is the biggest mistake you see marketers make?

“Jumping from one-off to one-off, instead of creating systems to get marketing results on a consistent (or at least repeated) basis.”

What are the biggest challenges facing marketers today?

“Getting more done in less time while reaching consumers (both B2B and B2C) who see themselves as busier than ever.”

How will marketing evolve over the next five to 10 years?

“My clients at marketing agencies will figure that out — my job is to help them keep the business running while they do that. This includes helping them making time to do long-term planning, strategy and reflection, so the future doesn’t leave them behind.

Even as marketing changes, business fundamentals remain the same — agency owners and managers need to run their agencies with good client service, project management, accounting, recruiting, self-marketing and more.”

To learn more about Karl Sakas visit him online at AgencyFireBox.com or follow him on Twitter at @KarlSakas.

View More TIMA Tales: Greg Hyer, Richard Arvette

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