Frank O’Brien is the founder of Conversation, focused on strategy, client growth and guiding the agency vision.
Conversation is an agency that bridges the gap between old and new. They call it “the new traditional.” The world no longer operates through just a few media channels. Digital, social and mobile marketing have made our world more interactive, but Frank is quick to point out that we still interact with the offline world. Through campaign design, interactive development, strategic planning or execution – Conversation helps companies and brands understand and excel using the new media mix.
MO: I love the name of your agency, how did you come up with it?
Frank: The name “Conversation” recognizes that advertising is more than one-way communication, which is a theory that may have been the case years ago, before concepts such as social media and mobile technology came along. Now advertising is a two-way “conversation” between the brand and the consumer. We keep that in mind during every project we embark upon. This is a day and age where consumers truly appreciate being able to give feedback and, in many ways, determine what is relevant and what is not.
MO: You were featured on television when your agency competed for an account on AMC’s reality show “The Pitch.” Can you talk about your feelings about the experience and what you hope that viewers came away with? Is there anything that you were nervous or uncertain about?
Frank: The experience was great, although it was certainly interesting to see how they edited the show. We hope viewers came away feeling that we’re an agency that really delivers on its mantra, which is to create and execute highly strategic campaigns that really “move the needle.” What’s unfortunate was people didn’t see the hard work that went into our campaign outside the pitch itself. Tons of research and testing go into every campaign before we present to the client. I feel viewers did not get a sense of that after seeing the finished episode.
MO: What are some ways that you help companies and brands excel using a mix of media?
Frank: We look at the intention of the company or brand and try to assess the campaign to get the most ROI. Some clients aren’t exactly sure what they want before they come to us. For example, last year one of our retail clients came to us with several different promotions that were all unrelated. When we stepped in, our main objective was to increase their consumer engagement. We did this through creating an integrated campaign that involved everything from street teams, to QR codes and coupons, to holiday promotions. By fluently connecting each tactic, we came away with a very engaging campaign. The client’s Facebook fan base jumped from 150,000 to over 650,000 in just six months.
MO: Congratulations on being named to the New York Enterprise Report’s “10 Best Entrepreneurial Places to Work” for 2012. Why do you think that you were chosen and did you intentionally set out to create a unique company culture?
Frank: Because we have an awesome team! We practice what we preach, which is “work hard, play hard.” It may sound cliché, but what makes Conversation thrive is the fact that people here genuinely like each other. When people like each other, they are always willing to lend a helping hand, and that is reflected in the results of our work. While we each have our defined roles, the lines blur sometimes because everyone is always willing step in at any time. I think we conveyed that when the New York Enterprise Report reviewed our qualifications. That, combined with the fact that we keep our clients happy, leads to a very desirable place to work.
MO: What would your advice be to a young company on a tight budget who needs a marketing strategy?
Frank: Consistency is key. Inconsistency, particularly with something like social media, is where most companies falter. It’s the small things that can get you through the door. Try tactics like direct mail, local sponsorship or social media – anything to get your name out there. But I can’t stress it enough, remember to be consistent. Don’t let anything slip through the cracks and leave no stone unturned.
MO: You and your agency are involved with many philanthropic organizations. Where does your passion for philanthropy come from and how do you decide what causes to support?
Frank: I think that our generation is very philanthropic by nature. We have been raised to help people. That is what encouraged the company to reach out to groups such as Live Out Loud, which is dedicated to helping lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, and the Lower East Side Girls Club, helping with programs devoted to serving girls and young women from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Many Conversation employees have philanthropic aspirations outside of the company, as well. Individuals are involved with organizations such as Little League Baseball, Autism Speaks, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the American Cancer Society. I am personally a member of the New York Better Business Bureau Board of Directors and have made sure to reach out to students participating in the BBB internship program. Conversation is not particular about who we decide to support. We are simply involved with as many organizations as possible. All we ask is that they have good intentions.