In conversation with Joseph Skibbie
JRS is pleased to participate in this interview with Digital Web Solutions
For this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, Dawood Bukhari caught up with Joseph Skibbie, Founder & Director of JRS, Marketing, and Communications, based in Illinois. The interview had many interesting parts where Joseph talked about strategies and skills that can help scale agencies and set businesses on a higher growth trajectory.
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Hello, everyone. Today, we have Joseph Skibbie, founder and director at JRS Marketing and Communications. Joseph, thank you for taking out time today and coming on the show excited to have you.
I’m anxious to talk to you and appreciate the invitation. Thank you.
Joseph, before we dive deep into what you do and try to get some knowledge bombs out of you, it would be great to introduce yourself and your company to our viewers.
Sure, Joe Skibbie with JRS marketing communications. We started in late 2008, having graduated with an MBA from the University of Dallas. And being the face of the two prior organizations I worked with, I felt it was time to hang a shingle. I had been in small business banking, in a marketing capacity early in my career, and then transitioned into public policy. In 2007 with 6 -7 years of career experience, I started to see the power of digital-related to advocacy. I took my long-term career goal of actually the long term career goal had a commercial in the Superbowl. But I think now we can do better with that budget, and then 30 seconds of TV, and then a couple of million impressions. So here we are going on 14 years later, starting as a complete solopreneur opportunity. And now, a team of six fully distributed with 12 to 15 subcontractors, depending upon the work environment, and a range of clients and industries from professional services, b2c, b2b, not for profit in association work. So our passion is the marketing services and the creativity and the analytics that go into it. And we enjoy working with different industries to learn the different success metrics within those and provide better service to future customers.
Joe, you started as an entrepreneur, started your own business. But what do you think are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Yeah, forethought is number one. Even when I started, and I didn’t know what direction the business was going in, I always thought about what was next. And what potential pitfalls, landmines, and challenges could come up. So having the ability to look 1-3-. 5 years down the road, because markets shift on a dime today, and the services that you provide to your customers today may change due to algorithm changes, updates, industry trends, and consumer sentiment, those change on a whim, so you have to be responsive to those needs. The ability to multitask is also something. Again, having started as an entrepreneur, I was the copywriter, I was the graphic designer, I was the one building lists for media distribution, and I was the one posting on social. Today those tasks have changed into human resources and legal insurance. So a natural curiosity maybe would be the third and then the ability to multitask. So forethought, the ability to multitask, and I just lost the third one, catch it on a roll.
So it has also been difficult to start delegating; you start with doing everything yourself, and then when you are growing, you need to delegate work. How how do you handle that?
It’s a learned skill. I think all entrepreneurs are faced with; do it my way is the right way, and not being dictatorial. But that’s how it’s worked in the past. I read the E Myth revisited, which was a real pivotal book in my career when I read it. I was doing everything. There wasn’t enough time in the day. I couldn’t successfully satisfy the requirements that I had to provide for my client. You can’t manage, execute and implement. You have to break those things up. So even today, that’s something I struggle with. I go through my daily calendar, have my twice-weekly meetings with my A project manager, and look at what I should be doing? Is this the best use of my time? And try and route those accordingly. But delegation was not a natural skill to go with those necessary entrepreneurship skills, but a learned behavior and something that we’re still working on.
How do you plan to grow from here, and what does the strategy look like?
Yeah, so we make an annual retreat, and that was in November. And we had some predictions, some budget, and some scoped growth that we hoped to achieve. But the business plan that we wrote 13 years ago has been achieved, maximized and exceeded. So now it’s a matter of how we want to grow, and the way we are going to grow is going to be dictated by that. So we want to increase prices, and we’ve realized we’re working too hard for those dollars for the results that we’re driving internally, within clients, for the team that we’re growing. Or do we want to stay at a value model where we keep prices low and grow through 100 120 150 accounts? We’re on the fence on that right now. We are; if it’s not broke, don’t fix it in terms of what’s gotten us here. And then the flip of that is, can I continue to support a growing team? Am I being compensated appropriately? And does the work not suffer in that environment, which is ultimately the biggest priority to continue to be a business. We don’t want to lose clients because of a decrease in value or return on ad spend.
So it can be an obstacle for any entrepreneur; in your experience, how did you overcome that?
These are questions that always tripped me up. Because I understand fear. I understand having fear. When I started the business, it was understood that I passed these big businesses on my commute. I’ve been exposed to these businesses in my networking. And I’m, quote, unquote, doing it better than they are. So I don’t look at it from; Is the big guy going to squash me? Is competition going to put me out of business? It’s; I can do better than that guy. I can do better than that midsize company. Realistically, I can do better than a large company at a lower budget point. I’m meeting our larger team at large. But operating in fear, I think, is an obstacle, and it gets you in trouble. It limits agility and speed. And those are the biggest benefits of operating a small enterprise are agility and speed. Especially as we watched, we consumed a lot of content around major enterprise-level marketers. And one of the biggest impacts that COVID gave them was speed. And that was a big red flag for us. Because it’s maintaining that on top of their ad spend and the budgets that they work with their teams, we’re in real trouble competing as a boutique-level company.
Tell us your favorite client’s story.
Favorite client’s story. So for the true entrepreneurs out there, I will start with a story on failure and our first customer. Again, I was in transition. I relocated to the Chicago area, in late 2008, with 12% unemployment, freshly graduated MBA, ready to conquer the world, but no takers in terms of giving me a pathway to do that. So in networking, I came up with a fitness professional. And essentially, her energy and excitement around her product were infectious. So I got excited; we positioned after multiple coffee and price negotiation meetings and gave her a website with some content support. The designers brought in a project that we could all be proud of. And the edits that came back were a kindergarten-level Word document with five different fonts and eight colors. I was like, I’m sorry, we can’t put this out and put our name on a project that appears now best practice for your interests. And then the relationship went south after that. We hadn’t learned how to approach creative differences at that point tactfully. So a great learning lesson and a wonderful initial stumbled at the basement of the economic recession that started with a failure. There was nowhere to go from there but up so that’s been our experience.
Well, thank you for sharing that. Thank you for saying that.
Thank you. Yeah, great opportunity.
What does your SEO process look like?
Yeah, we position the basics, and the foundational things include meta descriptions, keyword phrase allergy selection, and interlinking. But there are over 200 factors, right. So there’s no unique recipe for each client. Once we satisfy the on-page requirements for our Google overlord that we all serve in this industry, you start to look at unique content opportunities. Besides link building and traditional PR outreach, we’re using tools like scission to build those media relationships, influencer interviews, podcast opportunities, and earned media. And then, we also manage social media as part of our SEO plans. And again, social with a business goal in mind, you could have the biggest organic social audience of our customers who drive a single penny. So our SEO transitions into online regeneration, really trying to satisfy the desire conversion action, and trying to again, obligate those customers through recent reciprocity for the form fill the schedule, the purchase, or the phone call.
Trying to rank for a rich answer like snippets has a lot of value. How do you strategize for it?
I mean, that’s the evolution of the FAQ page, right and optimizing for the questions that someone would have in the market for your product or service. The proof is always in the pudding early on. And the X sharpening rights, I’m going to cut down at cherry trees, in six hours, I’m gonna spend five hours sharpening my axe. So really understanding, again, not having a particular industry that we serve its exposition, interviews with the clients, potentially small focus groups working with their primary client personas or their ideal customers, and understanding what those queries may look like. And then making sure that the answers are in the content that we provide from within that are best in class can potentially be the desired content to be served in those panels.
How do you plan, structure and promote your blog for traffic? You know, best practices for creating an editorial calendar?
Yeah, it’s a framework that gets tweaked by industry. So we’ll start with a blog post. And again, trying to understand, are we early in the funnel? Are we late in the funnel? How is that piece slated for the progression? Is it just a complete awareness piece where we don’t have to get into depth? Is it an entertainment option where it’s a very short sales cycle? Or is it a manufacturer’s rep for commercial handling equipment with much longer content to be created to communicate that solution? Once you identify that, then make sure that it is the best in a class piece of content, not only interlinks, but the appropriate homework, the correct commercial links, and then starting with those entities for the media outreach opportunities, looking for earned media, and then ways to place native content and paid opportunities to get that content distributed, augmented through both organic and paid social. The distribution, again, it’s not the most important part, but the greatest article on Earth sits there on viewed if you don’t get the distribution right. So that is an area that differentiates our effort from some of our competitors is to get the message seen.
So, how have you seen link-building change?
Link Building has always been an unknown entity. I know John Mueller for the longest time would or wouldn’t confirm that it was links and then it wasn’t links and now it continues to be links. People still manipulate that process and drive questionable links and questionable resources to connect with those links. But again, for ethical, for Whitehead SEOs, the ability to connect is no different than relationship building. No different than content marketing 100 years ago as marketing remains very similar to their ad spend. Historically, the data, pulse check at a moment’s notice, and outreach opportunities as immediate tools available have changed. And that allows link builders in particular, to be more effective.
How do you see the role of AI in digital marketing?
An interesting story of another fail opportunity here is; we were working with a client a computer software development firm, firmly entrenched in the belief that or the terminology and understanding that this was an artificial intelligence tool, we were able to secure an interview with a Forbes tech writer, something we were very proud of. And then the tech writer just basically shredded their product and said, No, this is a business intelligence tool. Artificial Intelligence takes the information and does something with it. This is a dashboard that presents information. So I think from the vein of that experience, I would look at artificial intelligence in a people-driven marketing activity. We’re always talking about authentic stories, we’re always talking about connecting with relationships. I don’t know that artificial intelligence has found a way to do that. With that caveat, artificial intelligence can take the data points driven by those stories and then do something with that information. So with the forethought of an entrepreneur and a three to five-year horizon, we’re always like, is artificial intelligence going to replace our digital agency? Are we going to be necessary in the future? I think there will always be a human component and elements replaced. There may be smaller teams being more efficient through artificial intelligence.
Videos are gaining popularity. What are the best practices to create a persuasive video that prompts action?
Great question. And the statistics around media, video consumption in particular, are just mind-numbing. And you have to look at my media consumption in my mid-40s, and my kid’s media consumption in the preteen era. And then digital natives being born now that, you know, don’t really know what a magazine is, and only know how to swipe on a tablet or smartphone. It gets harder and harder to break through that clutter. Without mentioning the six-second human attention span, it wouldn’t be a marketing presentation. So as we look at where video fits in length, duration, and what we need to communicate within that time, and potentially a six-second window before you transition. Not everybody, depending upon your client persona, who you’re trying to message will consume seizure-inducing level content that’s constantly and rapidly changing, communicating at a bullet pace. So we always are advising if it’s three sentences or five-sentence paragraph, it should be a video. If it’s on social, it’s got to have some level of motion, whether animated GIFs, motion graphics or outright video. So you know, being able to communicate that information, again, from a wide range of clients and industries to the consumable snippet that your prospect will remember, is a challenge in every client engagement. To do that briefly, it’s kind of industry by industry experience.
What are the main prerequisites for a successful email marketing campaign?
Good list and good subject line. Potentially video early and above the fold. Good design. It’s always a question of chicken or egg. If the message is readable, great, but did it get distributed to people? Is the list of quality? And then are they opening it? Or are they engaging? Are they the next level question, and then how are you tracking that? Is it through the UTM code and campaign analytics within Google? Is it just the individual reporting for the distribution tool you’re using? Or are you steering that video traffic through to a YouTube channel or something else where you can count that engagement? All of that is strategic. All of that can be measured, as we as marketers understand, but explaining those things to the client who’s just like, send out a holiday message is a challenge that we all face.
Also, particularly in b2b, personalized emails are doing very well. We did a test recently where there was a campaign that was kind of a general campaign versus a personalized one, and I was amazed to see that people opened emails. I mean, at least in the US. People opening emails and reading SMSs is more than the responses you get on cold calls. So I think it also depends on your target market and the persona, but when you talk about emails like you said videos, similarly, personalized emails get better numbers when compared to the generic ones.
Every marketing Expo conference seminar we’ve been to, email marketing is still the least expensive and most effective, potentially with a three to 5% click-through rate, five to 10% open rate versus 15 to 20% email open rates and with personalization driving that higher again, depending on your industry. But again, that personalization can drive back to the list quality. And do you have emails? Do you have emails with name, address, phone, all those things that can allow for the automation to go into text messaging and other things? Factually, it has a measured impact on campaigns’ conversion rate as you combine those factors. It’s an uptick everywhere. Message frequency, is it an email that’s sent once? Is it sent monthly? Is it sent quarterly? What’s the follow-up for those people that have opened it? What’s the follow-up for those people from a sales activity that have opened your last three? So overwhelming amount of data? Again, for many businesses that don’t have the internal infrastructure to handle, that gives us an opportunity as it does other marketers to take advantage.
Talking about paid campaigns, is there any particular PPC platform that is providing the best results for increased sales?
So admittedly, we are in Google ads, brand Azuka, and the social platforms themselves. So this social platform on Facebook, and Instagram in particular, has skyrocketed in terms of cost per click since COVID. And especially domestically, as we look at the economy being flooded with resources from a PPP and idle funding from the government. Again, Brands Luca, a programmatic web and app-based banner and advertisement platform, has significantly decreased those costs per click. And then Google ads again is enough of a dashboard for us to get the information we need regarding efficacy and then reallocate budgets accordingly.
Any special advice that you would like to give our audience that they could use and gain benefits from?
Yeah, we do some presentations to entrepreneurs and startups and small and midsize businesses. We can’t hammer home the point enough to start with strategy. If I had a nickel for every client who said I tried to boost an ad once, it didn’t work. That’s not going to work. If you don’t understand why you’re taking on marketing activity and can’t tie it back to a funnel, a content strategy or a search engine goal, or a search engine optimization goal, you’re missing the point. All the marketing activity in the world in scattershot fashion without a dedicated strategy isn’t going to be impactful. It could be detrimental, especially on digital, where if your name, address, and the phones aren’t consistent, you’re not going to be getting the plus one of that additional profile. If your description is, a bit short and long-form business, descriptions aren’t accurate. If your Meta Descriptions aren’t reflective of the page, if the content you’re creating doesn’t incorporate the appropriate keyword, it builds and builds and builds. We use the work for Chicagoland engineering Association; they will do electric electronic engineering testing. To save money on the front end and have your plan test early. And then companies that are coming to us with five years of prior vendor experience that weren’t working towards a dedicated marketing strategy take a significant amount of resources to clean that up and get on the right path. So starting with the strategy would be the only most important tactic that I would recommend for anyone listening.
Joseph, in the end, I like playing a quick rapid-fire round of four to five questions.
Describe your style in one word.
One subject you would like to learn more about?
What is your go-to lazy dinner?
Egg and American cheese tortillas
A night in or night out?
I am a night out.
What is your last Google search?
Percentage of the millennial workforce in 2025. Fact-checking and discussion I had at lunch yesterday.
Well, Joe, thank you for your time. It was fun having you.
I appreciate it. That last bit got me thinking quickly. So thanks for the opportunity.
Thank you. Take care.
All right. Appreciate you. Thank you.