Case Studies


Selling Client Education and Credentialling, with Darian Kovacs – Episode 117




Last updated Nov 3, 2023


Selling Client Education and Credentialling, with Darian Kovacs – Episode 117

Last updated Nov 3, 2023 | 0 comments



We have the pleasure of being joined by Darian Kovacs, of Jelly Marketing, to discuss selling client education plus recruiting diverse staff with diverse voices and perspectives!

About Darian Kovacs

Darian Kovacs is the Indigenous (Metis Nation) founder of Vancouver-based PR, digital ads, and SEO company Jelly Digital Marketing & PR, alongside the digital marketing school, Jelly Academy. The host of the podcast Marketing News Canada, he’s also on the board of NPower Canada. Darian specializes in mixing PR with digital marketing and has worked with numerous internationally renowned brands on developing and executing their digital marketing and PR strategies.

Darian lives in Fort Langley, BC with his wife and four children. In his spare time, he likes to mountain bike, swim, watercolor, and enjoys diving into a good book!

Points of Interest…

  • How Darian elevated the Jelly Marketing brand 1:48
  • Pivotal digital marketing change over the last decade 3:55
  • Importance of credentials in digital marketing 6:49
  • Backing your operational strengths 9:26
  • How credentialling is changing the industry landscape 12:18
  • Industry diversity and the positivity it brings 20:25

How Darian elevated the Jelly Marketing brand

Darian and his team at Jelly Marketing tick all the boxes in terms of SEO, digital marketing, both traditional and digital PR, and merge them into a one-stop shop for mostly small to medium enterprises. The result? A pretty damn successful agency – largely thanks to its diverse team.

As with most successful agencies, there have been lessons learned along the way. As for the most important one in terms of growth? They sought out opportunities with charity events and sponsoring galas. Let’s face it, if you wanna grow, you wanna get in front of the right people.

“When we started, we were basically in the storage closet of this web firm, Domain Seven, and we needed to get our name out there. We offered various galas that had ticket price points of typically $250 or more. We said, ‘We’ll do your video, we’ll do your photography, and we’ll do your swag bag at the end of the night.’ We put a jelly jar in everyone’s seat as a little gift for all the attendees. It was great!”

Not only did they get the Jelly name out there, it was alongside a load of other known brands that were donating tens of thousands of dollars to sponsor the same galas. Darian’s savvy swag move instantly elevated Jelly to the same sphere of brand recognition. Not only that; they got to give back to amazing causes they really believed in and facilitated less expensive events.

“They didn’t have to hire a videographer, a photographer, they didn’t have to worry about the swag bag. It was really cool ’cause – still to this day – we have people that are like, ‘Man, I saw you at this gala’, or ‘I recognize that logo.’ So, going into meetings we were more recognizable.”

This builds up that all-important trust factor. Especially on the B2B pitch side of proceedings.

Side note: if you’ve got a process for how you go about defining your scopes for projects, it’s best that you install a regular cadence to review and tweak these numbers based on past performance as time goes on. The Agency Profit Toolkit is a free resource that has meeting templates that you could directly apply to this, among other goodies. Grab your copy below!

Pivotal digital marketing change over the last decade

A lot of stuff has changed in the last decade – in the digital marketing landscape and the work that Darian does, plus in what it means to run a firm. So, I’m curious to learn of some of the most notable changes he and his team have had to adapt to over the last 10 years running a firm. How does he see the future of running an agency panning out?

Well, approximately five years ago, he was approached by a client who said she wanted to learn some of Jelly’s processes with a view to taking it in-house. Traditional schools weren’t offering SEO, digital ads training, or Google ads. There was some stuff online, but she wanted a form of hands-on educational experience.

“So, we trained her and subsequently thought, ‘Hey, what if we try it again and train a few other clients?’ In some cases, they kept us on as a client and just wanted to better understand what we do better. Or, in some cases, they insourced it. And then the Canada Jobs Grant was amazing, they covered 60% of all of this training to get your emoloyees upskilled.”

From there, Darian and the team offered an Open Cohort Learning Package, delivering training sessions every quarter. Once they started filling classrooms, this turned out to be one of the most pivotal things in terms of agency expansion – especially as they had already branched out into Zoom offerings pre-COVID.

“Hundreds of students go to our Jelly Academy every year now to learn digital marketing skills, but focusing on these 11 Micro-credentials from Google, Facebook, and Hootsuite. It’s amazing because they go through it and then graduate with globally recognized universal certificates.”

In Darian’s experience, the last decade has seen the appetite for clients wanting to earn more about digital, while taking on some of the scope of work themselves, has increased. ***I bring some further observations of clients starting to take on the work, and how agencies can lean into that, from 6:34 minutes***

Importance of credentials in digital marketing

We need a shift in mindset, not just around seeing clients wanting to have more ownership over their digital marketing (it’s an opportunity, not a threat!), but in terms in generative AI. From my perspective, AI is helping to lower the technical barrier when it comes to execution across all the creative disciplines to a large extent. As for Darian’s perspective?

“If you wanna be a lawyer, you’ve got to pass the bar. I think we’re almost there where people who are going into digital marketing and marketing are starting to get certificates… Those elements, I think, are more crucial than ever. There are so many folks who can use AI, or can say ‘I’m an AI ninja, or I’m a guru’ – and they work out of their basement. It’s scary, right?”

All too often, Darian is seeing clients getting poor service because the work is being undertaken by a North American “agency”, when really it’s being outsourced to someone on Fiverr. So, it’s about raising the bar for the industry and, as a byproduct, the industry is taken more seriously. Historically, there has been very little mechanism in marketing, especially in digital marketing, to validate somebody’s skillset. The ability to earn a cert in SEO is only now becoming part of the post-secondaries curriculum.

This is particularly true in a time when everyone is focusing on becoming an expert in their field by niching down. If everyone is picking the things they’re really good at, from a serving client perspective, that results in its own set of potential challenges.

Backing your operational strengths

In a time when everyone is niching down, see this time of flux as an opportunity to define your operational business strengths. For context; let’s say there’s an agency that’s really good at execution, so they lean into doing white-label stuff. Then there’s an agency that’s not actually great at execution, but they’re super at sales and excel at strategy.

So, it’s about asking yourself such key questions as “What are we actually good at? What’s the most valuable thing that we do?” From there, you can start specializing beyond just the problem you solve into specializing at the business unit level. Given Darian has naturally branched out into Jelly’s successful educational component, it positions their services much more strategically. How has Darian viewed this evolution over time?

“We ended up splitting out the training from our agency into its own company called Jelly Academy. However, we’ve seen fewer people doing the training in-house; more of our training now is to get people into the industry, which has been really cool… A lot of students now say ‘Hey, I was in the industry, but I’m coming back after mat leave’, or they want to upskill.”

The rising tides elevate all proverbial boats resulting in the digital marketing industry being taken more seriously. In turn, this results in the ability to charge more for your skills. After all, digital marketers are professionals with a specialized craft, not merely some SEO dude rubbing snake oil on a screen and hoping for the best.

***For information on how Darian created a Digital Marketing Sector Council to review the Jelly Academy’s syllabi every quarter, make your way to 12:18***

How credentialling is changing the industry landscape

LinkedIn put out a report earlier this year stating that ‘Growth Marketer’ is the fastest-growing job in Canada right now. Therefore, Darian views their role at the Jelly Academy as key when giving students the industry-focused micro-credentials required.

So, I’m interested in how Darian sees this prevalence of credentialling impacting the industry landscape long-term. Because, historically, the most dominant example of this has been HubSpot (tune in from 16:06 for more big names in the credentialling businesses to date***). Will it become standard in the industry?

“That’s my dream and hope in the next 10 years – to push out the quote-unquote “ninjas and gurus” that have soiled our industry. We have come across clients who have been really hurt and damaged by someone who took advantage of them. Or a large media outlet that was like, ‘We’ll just hire my nephew and niece who just graduated high school; they know how to use the internet’.”

We could spend all our time highlighting how Google, HubSpot, Hootsuite, and (to a certain extent) Meta could be more onboard with promoting the language of analytics (***we touch on it from 17:15***), but the real industry shift Darian has seen is increased awareness around diversity.

“Since BLM and, and the awareness of the lack of diversity in our industry, we’re getting more diverse voices into our industry via those credentials. They are able to open those doors. Whereas before, traditionally, you needed a post-secondary degree.”

Over the last few years, Darian has been behind a podcast called Marketing News Canada. They decided to a Marketing Hall of Fame Award and, guess what? Every single jury member and winner in the last three years was white. To quote Darian…

“It was like a whites-only club. And women only represented less than 10% of those winners and jury members. I was shocked and sad ’cause I thought I was part of this super artsy, diverse, inclusive industry. I was blind to it.”

In addition to becoming the first marketing awards jury with non-white jurors – and non-white winners – Darian and his team started actively trying to figure out how to get more diverse voices without just hiring consultancies to provide those diverse voices.

Industry diversity and the positivity it brings

I’ll be the first to admit it; go through my own podcast guest list. If you run through the list, there’s not a lot of diversity there. And of course part of that is it’s representative of the sample, and that is the challenge, innately, right? How do we change that sample? How do you get more people involved in the industry?

While micro-credentialling is one way to provide more equal access to leadership positions within the industry, what are some of the other changes Darian sees as necessary for more inclusion?

“Well, I might be your first indigenous person on your show, which is very exciting, right? Start by getting voices that are perhaps not in mainstream outlets. Also, lean into and intentionally say, ‘Hey, we wanna hire people to work at our agency that have a diverse perspective.’ Because two things happen. One is you get a really creative different perspective. One cool thing about indigenous people right across the country; they have an innate skill and taught skill of storytelling.”

As for the second thing? You will begin to see more creative ways and perspectives – instead of the typical “same old, same old” ideas and slants. All of a sudden, you’re gaining insight from an array of voices and sensitivities; from days that your clients could be celebrating, to ways that you can view an issue or things that we should be more sensitive to.

In turn, it will make your agency more profitable. It makes your agency more interesting when you go to pitch meetings, present ideas, and when you service your client. By showcasing that you’re an agency that possesses a holistic view of life and therefore a more rounded perspective at tackling issues, clients will naturally gravitate towards you.

I provide some thoughts on how our own experience at Parakeeto echoes this from 23:12***

Key takeaway…

So we’ve covered a lot of ground today. We discussed the origin story of both Jelly Marketing and Jelly Academy. We’ve talked about credentialing and the pivotal changes seen in the industry. We’ve also spent a little bit of time talking about diversity, the importance of that, and how it’s being supported by credentialing. The most important takeaways, however, are the following…

Diverse staff = stronger perspectives when going into problems with client issues

More diverse staff = ability to do more diverse work as an agency

More diverse staff = not always pulling from the homogeneous talent pool

See more from Darian…

Did you learn anything new from this episode? Let us know in the comments below! We have helpful blogs designed to bolster your agency profitability, such as How To Calculate Your Billable Employee Cost-Per-Hour.

Our next installment of #APP, on July 26th, will see Marcel talk with Courtney Tarrant for our 118th edition. Our previous blog – Episode 116 with Paul Bellows – can be viewed here…

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