Whether you’re a photographer, illustrator, artist rep or barista, you always need to be marketing yourself.
A native of Long Island NY, Keith discovered his natural talent for business and his intuitive sales and marketing abilities at an early age. Keith started his career with Agency Access as a researcher. Recognizing his flair and his passion for the industry, the owner of Agency Access at that time tasked Keith with building the company’s Sales and Marketing department. In 2000, Keith decided to “put his money where his mouth was” and bought the company.
A pragmatic leader who is well respected by his peers and employees, Keith thinks strategically and understands that leading people is the key to success. With an eye to the finer details required for building a successful business, Keith has become an innovative leader. Known for changing how the industry uses self-promotion, he is continuously looking for better ways to help drive his customer’s success. His highly motivational management style and focus on teamwork with both employees and vendors ensure that his customers receive a superior level of service that exceeds their expectations. This fixation on creating a positive customer experience has led Agency Access to achieve higher levels of subscriber loyalty, growth, and productivity than is the industry norm.
Under Keith’s strong leadership, Agency Access has become an industry must.
Where did the idea for Agency Access come from?
At the age of 19, I started working with Agency Access (AXS). The idea came from an Artist Rep that was tired of maintaining his database for his direct mail promotions. He had convinced his friend (businessman) to start the business because he knew there would be a need for the service. From 1996 – 2000, the company kept true to the business model of renting a one-time use list to reps, photographers, and illustrators. Artists and Reps would ship their direct mail cards to Agency Access, and we would handle the mail fulfillment and delivery of the promo cards to the Post Office.
In 2000, the owner decided to close its doors because he was unable to grow the business. I pitched the idea that I would buy Agency Access because I had my ideas of how to grow the business. We made an agreement where I would take ownership of the company while offering 15% in perpetuity to the previous owner. I later purchased these shares back.
I was always intrigued by marketing and advertising, so my goal was to turn Agency Access into a marketing agency for photographers, illustrators, and their reps. I was always very passionate about the first idea. Immediately we started licensing our database over a 12-month term, which opened us up to more market share outside our local area of NYC. We were now able to do business outside our regional area, and start picking up members in Atlanta, Chicago Dallas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco set the groundwork for international market share later on.
The database was the heart of the business and its core revenue, but it was the added services that would position us to the dominant global market position we enjoy today. My vision to add additional services such as consulting, design, email marketing, printing, telemarketing, fulfillment, and campaign management programs would be an integral contribution to the company. It was these ideas that would bring us closer to a marketing agency, and it was these services that would help the business find its true potential. The unique added services are the key elements used in making our members succeed in their marketing, which in turn, keeps those members renewing their subscription.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
These days my day starts with my eight-year-old Ava waking me up at 6 am to start our work out. She has been helping me get an early start, and it is the best training I’ve ever had. While my wife Victoria gets the girls dressed and serves them breakfast before school, I’m getting showered and dressed. Then, I take over for my wife because she leaves earlier than me, and I get Ava and my other six-year-old daughter Mia on the bus. Once the morning rush is over, I get to the office and start my workday.
I must make sure every department continues to run smoothly and is focusing on our company goals. As a CEO of two brands, I’m staying on top of financial budgets with my VP of Finance, I oversee Research, Product Development, and Business Development for both Agency Access and Found. I’m lucky in the sense that I have a strong executive and management team, and from a high level, I’m able to stay on top of what we are doing throughout both brands.
A typical day for me these days is focusing on development and marketing for Agency Access and making sure Found continues to grow and prosper. We have a significant focus on development these days because we are in the middle of the most prominent website launch Agency Access has seen in the 24 years in business. Reviewing wireframes and prototypes, spending time in sprint planning meetings, PI planning, testing, prioritizing MVP releases, developing and managing our product roadmaps, and determining its schedule and release dates.
With this launch, there is a heavy focus on marketing. Currently, I’m acting CMO. I’m in charge of the strategic marketing plan for the website launch, daily stand-up, and sprint planning meetings, our content marketing strategy, determining MVP for the front-facing website launch, developing and approving budgets, and more. With marketing, we are a small team of four, and we bring in some outside help on demand. I have a fantastic team, but I must take a hands-on approach to marketing.
In addition to the Agency Access development and marketing, I’m running Found. Found is also a small team and a group of amazing creative professionals. My primary role with Found is marketing, product development, and publisher of the Found sourcebook we produce two times a year.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I love brainstorming with my employees and especially my Creative Director. I’m a visionary, and I love the big vision conversations. I’m a risk-taker and not afraid of failure because with failure comes new and sometimes even better ideas. I’m also a realist, which helps me move on and keep trying new ideas. Lastly, I have OCD, which helps me bring these big vision ideas into reality because I’m able to break them down into small bite-size pieces. I guess this makes me a visionary, a realist, and a risk-taker with OCD.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m always intrigued by technology application trends. I like to see what businesses like HubSpot, Slack, Front, ClearBit, Invision, Intercom, and MailChimp are up to and what they are developing. Part of it is staying on top of the competition and getting ideas for my company; it also excites me to see all the new and fresh technology they are implementing into their applications.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Easy, my OCD. For years I struggled with this, but once I got it under control, I realized it’s my best asset and the reason I’m successful. Keeping an organized inbox, neatly printed out department goals in a binder, organized meeting agendas, documented processes and policies in a standard memo format, product pricing organization, and art direction are all items where OCD helps me. I’m confident this makes me more productive as an entrepreneur.
What advice would you give your younger self?
– Trust your intuition; it’s your number one asset and the best tool you have.
– Sometimes you will feel like you can save and change everyone, you can’t, and it’s better to move on and make the decision for you and sometimes them as a leader.
– Don’t hire friends and family, listen to that advice you got and don’t think you will be different.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
All employees have a level of authority to make decisions for my company. It can be a department decision, a manager to employee decision, or even a decision to help keep a member happy. We are responsible for making sure members have a pleasant experience. However, sometimes employees suggest they didn’t know they were allowed to do something or make that decision for the company. If an employee makes the wrong decision, we will discuss and learn from it. They should never feel like they can’t make the necessary call at the exact moment a decision was needed. They should feel empowered.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I listen to my customers for feedback and their needs on how to help them be successful. I share this with my employees and listen to the employees to help them be successful in their role with the company.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I like to pitch my ideas to employees and members I trust and get their opinion. However, it’s their initial reaction that dictates if I feel my ideas would be good for the business. If I don’t get the response I’m looking for, but feel passionate about the idea, I often sit on it for a few weeks and circle back for a second opinion. I believe the people around you are essential and drives the growth of your business; you can’t do it all on your own. Your employees and members are your best asset, and you should never forget it.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In the past, I let conversations with employees, industry partners, or even business consultants excite me too much and set me down the wrong path. Not only has it wasted my time, but it cost myself and the company valuable time and money. Due diligence, sleeping on it, drafting the pros and cons, and discussing things with people I trust, has helped me make better decisions these days.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Appreciate and remind your employees how valuable your members/customers are. Without them, you don’t exist, have jobs, get to come to this amazing place you call work. It’s your members that allow you to pay your mortgage, put food on the table, and do what you love to do. Never take it for granted and try to tell at least one member/customer a day how important they are to you and your company. The feeling will be infectious, appreciated, and reciprocated. It will set the tone for a fantastic day!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I purchased the Nintendo Switch for my two daughters. As much as I love spending time with them, I couldn’t handle the barbie dolls and the nail salon much longer. Now we can continue to spend time together, and I get to have some fun in the process! Family time is important, and one of the many reasons I do what I do here every day.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
– Frontapp.com – Email software that allows teams to communicate, assign emails to each other, and integrate with other software to help centralize important information and communication in one place.
– Monday.com – Project management software that allows the marketing team to organize their sprints stay on top of tasks and communicate with team members. The organization of Monday has been amazing.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
One Minute Manager was a book recommended to me years ago. It’s a quick read, it’s still relevant, and you can read it more than once. If you are looking to be a better manager and need more time in your day, I recommend this book.
What is your favorite quote?
“Don’t let others convince you that the idea is good when your gut tells you it’s bad.” – Kevin Rose co-founder of Digg
- Focus – Our business has always focused on artists, and the more we remain focused on our core products, the more successful we become.
- Persistence – We’ve been at it for 24 years, and we don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
- Organization – I’ve learned to use my OCD as an asset to keep the ship going in the right direction and keep business operations effective and efficient.
- Marketing – You have to market yourself. You cannot simply start a business and hope it will be successful; you have to get creative and aggressive in how you put yourself out there.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.