With a career spanning 12 years at IBM to owning his own agency, Chris O’Neill (CAS’96) is a marketer through and through.
O’Neill is now the CEO of a company made up of two prominent digital brands, The Ocean Agency and Logical Media Group, and on October 26 he will be in Chicago, speaking to Terriers about the Art of Business Innovation, with Tom Stat (CAS’74).
In anticipation of his talk, we caught up with Chris to learn more about his journey to success.
Every new business has hiccups. What were some of your biggest challenges when launching your company?
Bootstrapping is very difficult; there has been a significant sacrifice in my life and the lives of those around me. I am now, only 10 years after building The Ocean Agency and Logical Media Group, beginning to reflect on these sacrifices and make changes about my life to limit them. The focus of that effort is work and life balance. Working 100 hours per week is unhealthy for you and everyone around you. I have two children and an amazing wife that have sacrificed significantly too, and I am very conscientious these days about making sure I have balance.
In 2014 you bought the web design company, The Ocean Agency, which later merged with Logical Media Group. What was your motivation behind this merger?
This was a very strategic acquisition for our business. Logical was a digital marketing agency and our go-to-market strategy was to partner with web design firms to find new business. Web design companies (their clients) needed our services and we (our clients) needed theirs. After the acquisition, we made a conscious effort not to fold the Ocean Agency brand into Logical Media Group, but rather keep both brand names alive as separate services within one company, while promoting our expertise in both disciplines. Digital marketing and web design are young fields, and collectively our two brands have more than 20 years of experience at the expert level. This is our competitive advantage.
How do you use your background in finance, and past experience working with IBM to drive business decisions today?
Financial management of any organization is paramount to its success. My experience at IBM gave me insights into how to manage a P&L (Profit and Loss Statement) for a business. Each of IBM’s divisions has their own P&L that roll up to a companywide P&L. We structure Logical and Ocean in a very similar manner where each channel team (PPC, SEO, Web Design, etc.) all have their own P&L, so they can be managed as a roll-up business inside the overarching company. I like to think I always had a good work ethic, but after a decade at IBM, I think my pace on delivering work has increased, and that is a habit I have instilled within the culture of our organization.
In 2016 your agency was ranked #3 in Chicago for Advertising and Marketing, what do you credit this milestone to?
We are blessed to have achieved such a ranking. I credit hard work, and both making and also preserving the right relationships. At the end of the day, if your product is good, it will be referred, but our product is not our most valuable asset. After being in business for more than 20 years—having been an employee, a manager, and now a business owner—there is one consistent truth I have found within successful organizations: People are a company’s most valuable asset.
I always say there are three “Ps” in business: The first is product; you have to have something someone wants to buy. The second is pipeline; you have to have opportunities to sell. The third is people; the first two are meaningless without the third. Your people are your most treasured asset, and looking after them, while developing them into leaders, should be one of the primary objectives of every organization.
Let’s throw it back to your college days. Is there a lesson you learned at BU that sticks with you throughout your career?
I should have been playing hockey all those years!
If you could fast forward 10 years: What do you think the industry will look like?
I think mobile will absolutely continue its trend, as well as VR. However, I think the biggest evolution to the digital space will be IOT (Internet of Things) and what marketing will be available on those devices. With the recent release of Alexa, Google Home, and Siri, we are already seeing people ask questions and search for things using full sentences. Search Engine Marketing keyword phrases have definitely made the same shift, and users are searching on longer tale sentences, versus shorter search queries.
At what moment did you realize your business was going to be something great?
I think there is a small part of me that keeps grounded to the fact that we are a small startup working out of my home; this sentiment keeps us gritty and willing to roll up our sleeves.
For me, we have several milestones that stand out and indicate that we are growing and accomplishing something special. They are: hiring our 10th employee, moving into our first office, getting health benefits, getting a 401K, moving into our second (bigger) office, getting a Keurig, getting a beer fridge.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs trying to break into the world of media and marketing?
When we hire new employees, we are looking more for that “X” factor than your knowledge of the industry. We will be able to teach you everything about our space, but what we can’t teach you is the passion and drive to become something great. Be honest with yourself and commit to being a lifelong learner that is loyal to your value system and passionate about learning, and ultimately managing, digital marketing for businesses.