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The B2B Marketer's Powerhouse Trio

Kerry Guard • April 23, 2024 • 21 minutes to read


Kerry Guard, CEO of MKG Marketing, joined Ranmay Rath on the "eCoffee with Experts" podcast to discuss her career shift from media planning to digital marketing and her leadership at MKG Marketing. She shared insights on MKG’s focus on SEO and digital advertising for B2B tech sectors, particularly cybersecurity and SaaS. Kerry emphasized the importance of authentic engagement and data-driven strategies over traditional cold calling. She also touched on the challenges of running a niche marketing agency and offered financial advice for new entrepreneurs. The podcast highlighted Kerry's approach to leveraging her podcast for business growth and concluded with personal reflections and a light-hearted rapid-fire round.

Key Moments:

MKG Marketing's Genesis and Focus:
Kerry Guard shared her journey from traditional media planning to digital marketing, leading to the founding of MKG Marketing with her partner, Mike Krass. They focused on creating a digital advertising firm that delivers measurable business outcomes, particularly specializing in SEO and digital advertising for cybersecurity and SaaS sectors.

Value of Podcasting in Marketing: Kerry emphasized the importance of her podcast in building relationships, staying informed on industry trends, and generating content. She noted that effective podcasting requires a good host, significant upfront production work, and consistent engagement to harness its full marketing potential.

Entrepreneurial Insights and Challenges: Reflecting on the challenges of agency leadership, Kerry highlighted the importance of understanding financial fundamentals to ensure sustainable growth. She shared personal anecdotes on balancing work and life, illustrating her hands-on approach to both business and personal life management.

Take a listen:


Ranmay Rath [00:00:15]:

Hey. Hi, everyone. Welcome to your show, e coffee with experts. This is your host, Ran Meha. And today we have Kerry Gaud, who is the CEO of MKG Marketing with us. Hey, Kerry.

Kerry Guard [00:00:25]:

Hi, Ranmay. How's it going?

Ranmay Rath [00:00:27]:

All good? Yeah. It's been your week so far?

Kerry Guard [00:00:29]:

It's been good. It's been good. The sun was out a few days here in the UK, so I was soaking it in.

Ranmay Rath [00:00:35]:

Lovely. Okay, before we move any forward, why don't you talk us through your journey? Let's get to know the human behind the mic and talk us through your journey. Let us know what MKG marketing is all about. What do you guys specialize in? And we take it from there.

Kerry Guard [00:00:51]:

Yeah, I'll try and make it short because it's twofold. There's my journey. Yeah, because there's my journey. So I started as a digital. Nope. I started as a media planner in New York City at Universal McCann on the traditional side, so grps with tv and placements in print right before the 2008 crash when everything switched to digital, which is then when I also switched to digital and worked at publicist modem on the general Mills account as an assistant media planner planning the Yoplait for General Mills and $10 million account. And I worked long at typical New York grind. I worked crazy hours, but I learned a heck of a lot before then.

Kerry Guard [00:01:35]:

Before I met my now husband and moved to Seattle where I picked up a job at MEC, which was a digital agency in Seattle where they worked on the Microsoft account. So I got to break in the b two B. And it was an interesting account because Microsoft has their own website, And what they would do is they would run their own products and brands across that website. And so we would manage all of that and do all the data. And that's where I really found my love of spreadsheets and data and haven't really looked back since. From there, I went to a smaller boutique agency in Seattle called Wong duty. I'm not making that up.

Kerry Guard [00:02:18]:

That was the name of the agency. Needless to say, they were more of a creative shop that happened to have a media department of two, which was me and my now business partner, Mike Krass. Mike and I would stew in the back office after hours and cook up like if we started an agency, what would this feel like? Because this is it. And we're a side note, and we're working with companies that want to know how much money we made them. But everything we were doing is awareness. We cant actually drive business outcomes and we had a company show up to Wang duty for a travel company for hotels. So you book hotels through their website and were like oh my gosh. We could actually measure revenue.

Kerry Guard [00:03:01]:

This is amazing. And the agency turned it down because it was small peanuts to them. And Mike and I were like not small peanuts to us, lets go. And we asked if we could pitch it. They said yes and we were basically off and running. We didnt end up winning that business, but we had to get everything up and we had an idea of what we wanted to do, which was really work with companies where we could run media from digital advertising and actually measure if we made the money. That is still true today. We've pivoted a whole bunch from the traditional digital media planning of rfping direct websites or working with dsps.

Kerry Guard [00:03:36]:

And now we're more into the down the funnel PPC side as well as the SEO, and using those two to really make sure that we reach the right audience. And what's interesting about what our journey is, we ended up landing right out of the gate, the account, and it really broke us into that tech b two b space and we just haven't looked back. And then even. It's always an evolution this right as an agency. Start high level anything for money. Mkg's had three lives. The first live is anything for money. And then as we started making wonderful relationships with our clients and they started moving around, it became clear that we ended up specializing naturally in certain areas, and those two areas ended up being cybersecurity and SaaS.

Kerry Guard [00:04:25]:

And it's been really interesting because this isn't your typical b, two b clients, because they're marketing to really tough audiences in the practitioner side or CIsO side, where they don't want anything to really do marketing and sales is a necessary evil in their eyes. And so it's like how do you build that trust in the marketing and sales to really bring those people in to say, we actually want to help you do your job better, and we're not here to use fear, uncertainty and doubt. We really want to make sure that we're the right product for you or not. And using that messaging and showing up where they are and being there when they're ready to talk rather than cold calling and bothering them essentially. So it's this really wonderful audience and it's a really wonderful group who have this. They really want to make a difference in the world. So it's really nice to work on products that are trying to make a change and to support them and to feel that fire. So that's where we are, that's what we do.

Kerry Guard [00:05:24]:

And it's been a wild ride. I love it.

Ranmay Rath [00:05:26]:

Lovely. Quite a journey. Great. Do you feel cold calling in the b two B space has really died. What is your take on it?

Kerry Guard [00:05:35]:

From a cold outreach standpoint? For emails and phone? I believe that it is dying off, if not already dead. The audience has been really clear in my eyes. If you listen to people who've done the research, like Danny Wolf or you listen to sales practitioners and their numbers, it's not there. And on top of that, you're working with an audience that isn't any endless. So you're burning bridges. It's not a numbers game anymore. You can't just call as many people as you want as humanly possible and hope that you get to that 1%. It's not that big of an audience, especially when you're talking about an industry like cyber.

Kerry Guard [00:06:14]:

So you have to be really intentional with your outreach. Marketing has to pull their weights in surrounding the audience, getting them the information they need, nurturing them through the funnel, and letting the audience make the decision of when they're ready to talk to sales. And I think that's a better use of sales as time they get to cultivate relationships with people who are more interested in really learning about the product and it being helpful. I think it's better for from a human connection standpoint, from a number standpoint, and from an ultimate revenue, bottom of the funnel standpoint.

Ranmay Rath [00:06:48]:

Yeah. Yeah. That is what I feel as well. Your sales should not be introducing your product or service or your company to your prospect. They should be knowing about it beforehand, informed about why the meeting is being scheduled and why are you guys meeting. Right, so before you do that versus sales guy walking in, doing the presentation, making the company understand what they do and all that stuff. Quite a valid point there, talking about agency ownership. Kerry, you have been in the spot for quite some time now.

Ranmay Rath [00:07:19]:

Right? So give us the challenges of running your own agency. How difficult was it initially when you started out? Right. And to keep the lights on as an agency, we take all sort of businesses initially. Talk us through your journey as an agency owner, how difficult it has been. I would not say how difficult or easy because I know it is not easy. How difficult it has been so far?

Kerry Guard [00:07:43]:

I don't think it's been. I think there's been moments of difficulty, but overall I relish the challenge. It has definitely been a challenge. Or in the early days when it was just Mike and I it wasn't. The hardest part of being a business owner is knowing when to stop. I still know that I've learned that lesson, even to this day. But it's ultimately like that work life balance of not checking your emails at 10:00 at night before bed and really making sure that you put work down for a minute and walk away. So I think that was, like, for us initially, when we got up and running, it was not being on the clock all the time.

Kerry Guard [00:08:24]:

I think for us, in retrospect, comparatively, as you get bigger, you just develop different problems. So the early days feel like, oh, they were a walk in the park. I'm sure it was really hard in the moment. I remember my business partner making 40 some cold calls to. And this was back in 20, 11, 40 some cold calls to VMware alone just to try and get a meeting. Which he did. Which he did. He made it happen.

Kerry Guard [00:08:52]:

We did win the client, and we did work with VMware for quite a while. And the clients that left there and then brought us along to their other companies, that was a huge moment for us. But I remember him just getting up in the morning and just dialing just to get somebody on the phone. So those initial new business lands was definitely hard.

Ranmay Rath [00:09:14]:


Kerry Guard [00:09:14]:

Then it was. I don't want to say it was easy, but then it was coming to us. Right, like I said. So we landed VMware, and then those clients left. They went other places, and then they brought us along, and that was. There was stint there where you could actually tie all of our clients. We had eight clients, and you could tie them all back to VMware. It was wild.

Kerry Guard [00:09:30]:

Like, six years later, all back to VMware. It's the referral, right. That's how all agencies generally grow out of the gate is the referral piece, and we're still there. It's still very referral based for us. We are breaking out of that. I would say that's our current hurdle is, okay. You can't rely on referrals forever. And so where does that new business come from outside of referrals? Which is another really tough leap to make, because it has to be done again.

Kerry Guard [00:09:58]:

Coming back to that notion of cold outreach not really being effective anymore. It has to come back to building relationships and finding the right folks to build those relationships with, and not expecting everything to be a sales call. So even with my podcast, I have so many times where people show up after my show or days later or even a month later, and be like, I still don't know what you do, I'm like, that's cool. I'm happy to tell you now, but I just wanted to, I'd rather have that authentic conversation of them being curious rather than coming in and being like, this is who we are. Just want to make sure you know it. It's really tough when you're trying to build that initial relationship to immediately launch into that. I've been really intentional and it's taken. I've been doing the podcast for four years, and at the end of the day, a lot of the people I've had on my show, we've had a couple pieces of new business come out of it, which has been wonderful, great people to work with.

Kerry Guard [00:10:47]:

But at the end of the day, it's been a referral piece for us. So we have wonderful people on. We build these wonderful relationships, and then they're on the show, they share it, and they go out and they talk about the great experience they had. And so that's been a really interesting piece that I wasn't. That was lovely and unexpected. But that's really where, like, that intentional marketing needs to come in to get away from that referral, which is where we've lived for so long. So I'd say as an agency owner, that's really been the hardest part. It was hard to get that first few pieces of business, and then we rode the referral for a while, and now it's making that new leap.

Ranmay Rath [00:11:24]:

Lovely, lovely. I was coming to that. How do you see podcast as a sales or marketing engine for any brand? What is your take on it, since you have been doing it for four years now and you would have had your successes like you spoke about, what do you feel in general about podcasts as a sales machinery or a marketing strategy?

Kerry Guard [00:11:44]:

I think it's phenomenal. You do need some stars to align. I don't know that it's for every company and every person necessarily. You do need a couple things. One is you need to have an audience that even wants to be on a podcast. You need a person who can be a really great host, who's a bit outgoing, who can be curious, who can ask questions. It actually took me a while to learn that. I knew podcasting was going to be a great vehicle, but I didn't know how to be a host.

Kerry Guard [00:12:16]:

And it was like, I would say the first year was a lot of sitting in an uncomfortable place of just making sure I had enough I could get comfortable in the moment of asking the right questions. Like, that was really hard. Now I can just, I don't do a whole lot of prep for my shows. I just get on and have fun. But there was a learning curve there. So having a great host who can really cultivate that and lean into it is something else that's really necessary to have a good show. And then there's a whole production piece that you don't even see come in. You're like, I'm going to start a podcast and it's going to be great.

Kerry Guard [00:12:52]:

And then you realize you have to download it and edit it and then work on it and add the intro and outro and all of the things and you really need. It's a heavy upfront lift, but the magic of it is few things. One is you get to build amazing relationships with your ultimate audience and you get to know what's on their minds. Like, I feel like I'm on the cutting edge. I feel very comfortable in saying things like cold outreach is dying or dead because I've listened to enough shows, had enough people on who are experiencing this firsthand. So it's been wonderful in keeping me on the cutting edge from a digital marketing standpoint, knowing what's important to my audience, knowing what they're leaning into. ABM is another one. I was talking about ABM years before it really took off.

Kerry Guard [00:13:44]:

I had latin incontinent on my show in 2019 where she was like, ungate everything. And I was like, this is blasphemy, Latin. What are you doing to me? But now it's becoming a normal thing to do thanks to the technology. But I was on the cutting edge of being able to have some of those tough conversations. And the third thing it does is it's just endless content. Especially now with the technology that's available. You can create clips, you can have a transcript, you can have. Now you're having your show on eight different platforms.

Kerry Guard [00:14:16]:

That's all feeding back into your website. It's social media content for days. We have so much content now that we're actually able to group shows together and put them through AI to come up with an idea on what the trends are and what people are saying in relation to a certain topic. And so it's when you can really like, stick with it, it just has endless possibilities. But standing it up, it's a lift. Sticking with it is a commitment.

Ranmay Rath [00:14:50]:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Great. Because this is a burning question in terms of how podcasts can benefit out of it, and I see a lot of business owners trying to do that. Right? But like you mentioned, you got to understand your niche, the space that you are in what sort of guests you want to invite on your show, so that it kind of, end of the day, it provides value to the space audiences that you're catering to, and then you can think of the next steps. Right. So it makes a lot of sense there. Great job.

Ranmay Rath [00:15:22]:

Given the competitive nature of space that you are in the tech space. Right. How do you approach developing the strategy that kind of works and is successful? Because I would like to believe, I know that for them, as a matter of fact, that the space that you are in, you got a lot of competition, a lot of agencies who are really good at what they do. So they would have their clients fighting for the top charts there. So how do you fight off that competition to ensure your clients are staying ahead of the curve?

Kerry Guard [00:15:54]:

For us, that's then the beauty of being niche. Right. So there isn't a lot of competition in the cybersecurity space. There's a lot of agencies that do cybersecurity, but they also do a lot of other things. So they do finance and a bunch of other. Even though we can put CPG again in line of the industries that they serve, and CPG versus cybersecurity to very different approaches that you need there. So again, I think it comes back to really knowing the industry, knowing the audience. I keep coming back to the audience because it's so key in understanding of how to build that value.

Kerry Guard [00:16:28]:

At the end of the day, SEO is really about the value that you're bringing to your end user of what they're searching for, what questions they have, how you can show up and answer those questions reliably, how you can let Google know that you're a master in the space and building that foundation through the technical aspect of it, so that you're helping your whole website rise to the top and then showing up for those very particular keywords. And at the end of the day, the click through rate is what matters. You can show up from an impression standpoint all day long, but if it's not the value that they're looking for, it's not answering the question that they have, then what is it all for? So I think for us, it's really coming down to knowing what the end user is after and really meeting them where they are.

Ranmay Rath [00:17:17]:

Lovely. And you migrated from working with Microsoft, managing social campaigns, right, to leading your own agency. So what sparked that entrepreneur leap? And did you feel that any lessons learned at Microsoft helped in your journey as an agency owner? I'm sure it did.

Kerry Guard [00:17:39]:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. So at Microsoft, I was managing digital ads campaigns across dot. So I wasn't managing any social that a whole different beast that I had not yet dabbled with. And even now I would consider myself a dabbler in social. It's not a core competency of mine. I've gotten to know LinkedIn pretty well, but I'm still figuring. But the big thing that I learned at Microsoft and that I really took with me is the data aspect.

Kerry Guard [00:18:06]:

I would be exporting these monster outputs from Atlas, dating myself there. Atlas was Microsoft product for ad management and we would have just reams of data. And this was before you had a data warehouse, right. So it would end up in these giant Excel sheets. And I had to figure out how to get, how to create dashboards to read the data in a time where it was raw. Right. We didn't have a looker studio. We didn't have fancy platforms like improvado where you could connect everything from the backend and then just use looker studio to make it pretty and then read the data.

Kerry Guard [00:18:45]:

Right. I had to create that from scratch. And really living in the data created a love for me of knowing that was the magic. Right. Like it's all, well, I'm going to run ads. What did it do? I still have that today. I've actually been sitting with my team unpacking a current client and I'm exporting, they're like, Kerry, there's a dashboard over here. I'm like, I know, but I need to, like, I need the raw data, I need to pivot it and I need to work with it and I need to go down the rabbit holes and I need like full control over it that I just can't get in a fancy, fancy dashboard.

Kerry Guard [00:19:20]:

And so I really think that having that core competency and building NKG from a place of business outcomes and measurable media, that was our tagline for the longest time. Measurable media is what set us apart for a very long time. And even to this day, I think leaning in as an agency owner, as a business owner, being able to speak to my clients in that capacity of knowing that they have leadership that they have to answer to in how much revenue that they're driving. I understand that to my core, not both as an agency owner, as a business owner, and having lived in data for most of my career. Yeah, that I would say that's how that bridge happened.

Ranmay Rath [00:20:07]:

Lovely, lovely, great, Kerry. But yeah, I would like you to give us top three tips or some advices to our listeners today. You know who are trying to make a mark in the digital marketing space or let's say, you know, trying to start their entrepreneurial journey or trying to start their own agency. So, yeah, since you have been there, you migrated from a typical corporate setup. You're starting your own agency, doing really good nowadays. So, you know, watch as an advice would mean a lot. So give us those tips that you might have been, that might have been.

Kerry Guard [00:20:41]:

Helpful for you as an agency owner. Understand, or as early, as soon as humanly possible, what finances, okay, from revenue to your expenses to your profit margin, and then pay close attention to that profit margin, because at the end of the day, you can be making all the money and all of the land. But if your expenses are outpacing your revenue, then you're growing broke, and this is not an upside down world you want to live. I may be speaking from experience, understand how finance works, and figure out how. How to keep your expenses in line with your revenue. So you get, like, a 18% to 25% profit margin that's on the high end. That's, like, really good. So if you're hitting those numbers, hats off to y'all.

Kerry Guard [00:21:40]:

That's like the sweet spot. So if you can do that early on and then stick with it, you're going to be in good shape and know what cash flow is, know how to work your contract so that you're getting paid in a way that you can pay your people and not get caught off with having to burn cash to do that. So I would say I wish I had understood finance sooner, and those would be the things that I wish I had known. I know now.

Ranmay Rath [00:22:12]:

Great. Lovely. Let's play a quick rapid fire then. Now.

Kerry Guard [00:22:16]:

Oh, gosh. Okay.

Ranmay Rath [00:22:18]:

All right. Your last Google search.

Kerry Guard [00:22:20]:

My last Google search. Oh, does Google Drive count? No, I'm just kidding. I use search for everything. I use it in email, I use it in drive. My last Google search, I feel like I should look it up. Oh, I know what it was. It was the. I heard that Ryan Gosling did a Kenanuff performance at the Oscars, and I just had to see it.

Kerry Guard [00:22:41]:

So that was the last thing I googled.

Ranmay Rath [00:22:44]:

All right.

Kerry Guard [00:22:44]:

It's excellent.

Ranmay Rath [00:22:45]:

Lovely. You're a celebrity crush, Ryan Gosling, of course.

Kerry Guard [00:22:50]:

So I had to go watch the Kennet video.

Ranmay Rath [00:22:52]:

All right, where do we find you on Friday evenings?

Kerry Guard [00:22:55]:

Friday evenings recently, on my sofa with a glass of wine, watching something terrible. Probably a blast from the past, like a Gilmore girls or an episode of Friends or decompression time.

Ranmay Rath [00:23:08]:


Kerry Guard [00:23:09]:

Kids are in bed, work is done.

Ranmay Rath [00:23:14]:

Lovely. Great. Yeah, I'm not really any further. Thank you so much for taking your time and doing this with us. Really appreciate it.

Kerry Guard [00:23:22]:

Thank you. Good to meet you, Renmay. Thank you for having me.

Ranmay Rath [00:23:25]:

Great. Thank you.

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