As part of my initiative to spend more time with agencies that target, I recently spent time with Christopher Faust of Fastlane, a boutique strategic marketing and communications agency headquartered NYC.
Fastlane is a leader in maritime marketing. They are the owner and moderator of the Maritime Network on Linkedin with over 100,000 members (the largest group of it's kind) and have such nameplate marine clients as AER Supply, Domestic Group, MasterVolt, My-Villages, Cruiseair, ProMariner, McMurdo and others.
Chris shared a few insights on how Fastlane has grown, including through targeting.
1. Get off to a Fast Start with Key Accounts
Fastlane was born out of the 2008-09 recession, which hit many of us pretty hard. Chris had sold his previous firm just prior and launched Fastlane during this precarious time to be starting an agency.
What Fastlane did very well out of the gate was aggressively pursue key accounts, healthy anchor clients that would provide cash flow into the firm as well as be impressive references. These were *not* necessarily accounts in a target vertical, but were accounts that would lay a foundation for future growth and future targeting. Trew marketing, in a previous blog post on agency targeting, describes this as 'gettting oxygen' - acquiring clients and cash flow - in the early stages of growth to get off the ground.
Fastlane also incentivized early key accounts with discounts or additional services. In general, I'm not a big fan of incentives, however I'm less opposed in a case like this, especialy if there is an equal exchange of value.
When you are starting an agency, as Fastlane did, you are asking your clients to take on at least some risk. You minimize that risk because you have talent, smarts, reputation, previous successes, etc, however your early clients are still investing in you before anyone else does. Fastlane returned the favor by investing back in its early clients with incentives. It helped Fastlane get liftoff.
2. Target Smart
When I asked Chris if there is anything he would have done differently in growing Fastlane, he mentioned that he wished he had started targeting sooner. Besides the Maritime vertical, Fastlane has also made investments in the terchnology, financial, and healthcare verticals among others.
I was most interested in how they grew the Marine vertical. Here were a few things they did that helped lead to their success.
First, recognizing they wanted to target marine but also that they lacked expertise and relationships, they made a strategic hire in Gaspare Marturano. Gaspare has deep marine industry marketing experience not to mention being an active auxilary member of the Coast Guard. Can you get much more maritime than that? Each party was stronger working together than either was alone.
Second, they put a priority on growing community within the vertical. They started a Martime Network Linkedin Group, and invested in it so that it now has over 100,000 members and is the largest group of it's kind in the industry. Part of the value in owning and moderating the group is of course building their thought leadership. However, Chris mentioned it's real value has been being able to listen in on industry conversations and being able to get to know industry decision makers and their thoughts.
As an additional initiative to build community and thought leadership, Fastlane is also launching a monthly Maritime Webinar series in 2015 to share knowledge and best practices.
3. Don't Stop Adding Depth
The fact that Fastlane started during the recession left a mark on the agency. Even though their current targeting is successful, they realize they are still susceptable to the economy, some verticals more than others.
In light of this, Fastlane has started looking for verticals that would be less susceptible during economic downturn. It has found at least one and is currently in partnership talks with an agency who focuses on this vertical and whose skillset is complementary to its own.
On this blog in the past, I've covered the need for an agency to target multiple verticals (see #5). However, it was in context of building an initial targeting strategy. Fastlane demonstrates that an agency should never stop diversifying it's target verticals.
Chris did share two challenges as Fastlane looks to continue to expand and grow. Number one, it would like to sign more key accounts. It's biggest challenge here is being able to get in front of decision makers. Secondly, they'd like more solid metrics by which to measure and improve it's business development process.
These aren't uncommon challenges, especially for agencies who have grown on the shoulders of its founding members sales talents, but need to get more structued with sales to get to the next level. It will be interesting to see how Fastlane builds off these challenges. We'll stay tuned!
Thanks to Chris for providing his experiences and insights. Add your thoughts in the comments below. If you are an agency who has targeting tips to share or who wants to talk about your own targeting challenges, give me a holler. I'm on the lookout for good stories and practices.