Paul Roetzer – Founder and CEO of PR 20/20

[quote style=”boxed”]Once something has progressed far enough in my mind to become a priority, I isolate myself with a laptop, white board, caffeinated beverage and an iTunes playlist, and I eliminate all other distractions. I’ve learned over time that creative breakthroughs often require a quiet mind.[/quote]

Paul Roetzer is founder and CEO of PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency specializing in public relations, content marketing, search marketing and social media. PR 20/20 was the first agency in HubSpot’s value-added reseller (VAR) program, which now includes more than 800 certified firms.

Prior to launching PR 20/20 in 2005, Paul spent six years as a consultant and vice president at a traditional public relations agency.

His book, The Marketing Agency Blueprint, serves as a guide for building tech-savvy, hybrid agencies that are more efficient, influential and profitable than traditional firms.

In 2011, he launched Marketing Agency Insider, the hub for marketing agency news, information, resources, training, education and engagement. The website and academy are dedicated to building a more open and collaborative agency ecosystem.

In 2012, Roetzer and PR 20/20 released Marketing Score, a free assessment tool and marketing intelligence engine designed to help organizations devise marketing strategies; select the right marketing agency partners; allocate time, money and talent; and adapt resources and priorities based on performance.

He is a speaker, writer and advocate for change and innovation within the public relations and marketing industries. In 2010, he was recognized by Smart Business with an Innovation in Business Rising Star award.

What are you working on right now?

I’m building a software product, Marketing Score, which is something I never intended to do. For years we’ve patched together software solutions in an effort to increase efficiency, productivity and performance for our agency and our clients. Now, we’re taking the next step, and developing products to solve complex marketing challenges, specifically around integrated marketing strategies and campaigns.

Where did the idea for PR 20/20 come from?

PR 20/20 originated from a feeling of desperation, and a moment of inspiration.

Sitting at my desk in February 2004, I had grown weary of the billable-hour battle being fought every day, and the marketing agency world’s obsession with meaningless metrics to validate outputs that had minimal impact on the bottom line. I believed the industry needed a “new vision,” so I typed “ PR 20/20” at the top of the page, and began writing my manifesto of sorts.

That document served as the basis for an evolved agency model, which I launched in November 2005 after 21 months of planning. It was the most exhilarating and exhausting time of my life. Fueled by a powerful cocktail of youthful exuberance, adrenaline, and caffeine, I spent what seemed like every waking minute outside of my day job (VP at a traditional PR agency) building a dream.

I loved the agency I came from, but I had become convinced there was a better way. I feared that if I stayed where I was and continued to follow traditional marketing agency methods, then I would always regret not taking a chance on something in which I so passionately believed.

So, at the age of 27, I left the comfort and security of my career to turn my own vision into reality.

What does your typical day look like?

We start every day sharing “daily priorities (DPs)” on an agency Yammer thread. This includes no more than three activities that each employee will complete that day. The idea is to keep us focused on achievable outcomes, and hold us accountable to each other to be as productive as possible.

I spend the vast majority of my time in three areas: 1) recruiting and retaining talent, 2) setting and pursuing the vision, and 3) driving growth. So, much of my day comes down to planning, writing and building—and making every effort to avoid getting distracted by unproductive meetings.

7:00 – 8:15 am: Email, social networking, priority task planning
8:15 – 8:30 am: Agency huddle (daily meeting with all employees to review major notes and milestones)
9:00 – 11:00 am: Productivity Block #1 (standard agency-wide, two-hour blocks of uninterrupted focus on outputs)
11:00 am – 1:00 pm: Email, social networking, meetings, calls, lunch and the little things
1:00 – 3pm: Productivity Block #2
3 pm – 5 pm: Email, social networking, meetings, calls, and the little things
9 pm – 11 pm: Email, planning, social networking

How do you bring ideas to life?

Most ideas start as an EverNote (synced across my iPhone, iPad and laptop), and then I build on them over time whenever inspiration strikes.

Once something has progressed far enough in my mind to become a priority, I isolate myself with a laptop, white board, caffeinated beverage and an iTunes playlist, and I eliminate all other distractions. I’ve learned over time that creative breakthroughs often require a quiet mind.

I tend to think best in the agency conference room or lounge, however, some of my most inspired thinking has come on long flights and trips.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Social networking in the enterprise is an area that intrigues me. Platforms such as Yammer offer marketing agencies the ability to expand services and provide solutions that help clients build social-savvy businesses that are more collaborative, efficient and productive.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I can’t say that I ever had a job I didn’t enjoy. I caddied at a local country club through high school and college, which was an incredible experience that taught me the value of networking, hard work and long hours. And then I was lucky enough to land an internship my junior year in college at a PR agency, which led to an entry-level position upon graduation. I worked at that agency for six years, and then founded PR 20/20.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Not a single thing. I’m grateful for where I am, and having the time of my life building PR 20/20. I’ve made mistakes, and learned some hard lessons, but they collectively have gotten me to where I am today, personally and professionally.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Take chances. Push the boundaries of your comfort level every day. A healthy dose of fear is a powerful motivator in business.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Although top-line revenue goals are important benchmarks for many businesses, rapid increases in sales and staffing can quickly lead to costs rising out of control. If these are not carefully planned and managed, then revenue growth becomes a zero-sum game

No business owner wants to talk about not making payroll, or having to choose which bills to pay late, but cash flow shortages are the reality for every entrepreneur, especially in the early days.

While it’s great to see revenue increases, those dollars have to translate into positive cash flow to keep your business stable and profitable.

For me, that meant being realistic about the cost of running and growing the agency, and then putting funding and systems in place to keep us on track.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There is an enormous market (20+ million U.S. businesses) for marketing agencies that figure out how to profitably service small businesses, in essence functioning as outsourced marketing teams for companies with no marketing staff. It’s what I originally set out to do with PR 20/20, but we quickly shifted our focus to midsize and larger enterprises.

It won’t be achieved through a traditional service model, but rather a mix of education, training, services, software, support and consulting. Advances in technology are making it possible, but I haven’t seen an agency model yet that can scale to meet demands of the mass market.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

This is such a deep question, with so many possible directions. I’ll keep it simple. Everyone has a story, unique experiences that make him or her different, and define who they are. Sometimes these differences lead to preconceived ideas about character, capabilities, value and potential. I wish that people would take the time to listen and understand before they judge.

Tell us a secret.

When I was five, my neighbor, whom I was very close to, died of cancer. I vowed to my mom then that I would find a cure some day so no one I loved would ever die of cancer again. Thirteen years later, I went into college as a pre-med student for that very reason.

Unfortunately, pre-med wasn’t the right path for me, and there was a time early in my college career where I felt like I had failed. But, everything happens for a reason. I believe I’m on the career path I was meant for, and hope that some day it affords me the ability to have a greater impact on cancer research then I could have had if I had followed the original plan.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

HubSpot: Inbound marketing software that enables us to run marketing programs for our agency and our clients that produce bottom-line results, specifically leads, sales and loyalty.

Yammer: An internal social network (think Facebook for the enterprise) that possesses the power to transform communications within companies. We’ve used Yammer since 2010 to encourage collaboration, transfer knowledge and perpetuate culture.

Basecamp by 37Signals: Project management system we use to run the agency, and manage client campaigns.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Well, besides The Marketing Agency Blueprint:), I think Automate This by Christopher Steiner is a very important read for business leaders. It’s only a matter of time before algorithms have a significant impact on every industry, and the businesses that are proactive have the greatest opportunity to capitalize on their potential.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Mitch Joel, a brilliant marketer, and a great guy. Scott Brinker, a marketing technologist with a fascinating perspective on the convergence of marketing and technology. Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of HubSpot, and one of the most innovative minds in marketing.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

This morning. My daughter just turned one, so pretty much everything she does makes me laugh!

Who is your hero?

Hall of Fame running back, Barry Sanders. He was my role model growing up. I was always intrigued by his vision, professionalism and humility. In my eyes, he was the greatest running back of all time, and yet he never celebrated a touchdown, showed others up on the field, or flaunted his wealth and success. And, when the time came, he walked away on his own terms. It was never about the money, it was about the love of the game.

What advice would you give to young professionals and future entrepreneurs?

The only limitations in life and business are those that you place on yourself. Anything is possible if you love what you do.

What is your favorite quote?

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” – Steve Jobs

Paul Roetzer on LinkedIn:
Paul Roetzer on Twitter: @paulroetzer