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We don't believe in coincidences which is why we are convinced that the partnership between KAYAK, a Canadian agency leading in SEO and online marketing and Iconis Agency, specialised in web design and development did not happen by chance. Randy Milanovic, CEO of KAYAK visited us in late January in order to define the details regarding our partnership and start working on new international projects.
During his stay in Rijeka, we took the chance to talk with him and covered various topics such as his first steps in marketing, favourite beginners lessons, founding and development of the agency, as well as the secrets to successful communication and making quality content. We are going to publish the interview with Randy in two parts. In part one we will discover what is the most important part of advertising and how Randy, after fighting serious illness, founded what turned out to be one of the leading digital marketing agencies in Canada.
The second part of the interview is going to focus on SEO, content, sales, communication and how those are interconnected.
1. How did you decide to work in marketing?
It took me a long way to figure that out. I went to school to become a graphic designer so I started by freelancing. As a teenager I used to sketch a lot so when I was in college, I freelanced in order to help pay for my tuition. I ended up doing what I loved, and even worked for some agencies. That is when I started getting job offers from agencies and I ended up working under some great creative directors for 4 years. During that time I got some great lessons. And some bad ones.
There is a particular one, I found the most important: fancy design does not add to an advertisement, it is the communication that matters. Communications actually number one and, although things have to be aesthetic and appealing to the reader, the reality of it is, if it didn’t have communication, it didn’t matter how pretty it was.
During those years, we applied for just about every award we could. One of our works came up second or third after a Cannes Lion, which was the highest we got, but we won about 60 awards before I realized that the material winning the awards isn’t necessarily the material that works. At that time, the creative that worked was the one that said „F**K“ in the title. And I think that doesn’t sell anything, that’s not changing behavior nor is it raising awareness, that’s just being rude to get the attention.
I decided never to enter an award showcase again and decided to focus on the communication. I wanted to focus on the business building and not awards.
Communication is the most important!
2. Was it then that you decided to leave the agency and start your own?
Back then, the agency was a sweatshop. It was just work,work,work, you would come in early and leave late at night. And we used to come in 7 days per week. Different agencies would say they need you and you could just work even more, which just sucks life out of you. That is when I decided I needed a change and I had to take a chance. I only had 700$ in my pocket, which is not enough money to get you anywhere so I knew I had to start getting work quickly. I started freelancing again and gathered a group of freelancers, who were also ex-agency people like media buyers, illustrators, photographers, copywriters, the whole bit. We had a working agreement that worked well with everyone, we respected each other. We weren't each other's employees but a group of independent individuals. Whenever any of us brought in a client, they would become the boss. After a ten year period, I kind of worked into the project management/creative director combo role and eventually, clients started coming to me. We had a commitment to one another, so it worked quite well.
3. What was the big turning point in your career?
In the year 2009, there was an economic downturn and everything crashed. At the same time I was diagnosed with a stage IV cancer. I went to the hospital, and it was really bad. I was shrinking and I was literally dying. But I never once thought of myself as dying. The only thing I thought about was surviving and moving on. While lying in the hospital, I remember hearing myself perfectly clear saying just one thing: I haven’t accomplished enough yet! It was like thunder booming in my head. And as I said that, I felt myself rise up again. After many chemo’s, and visits to my doctor, on January 7th 2010, he finally said „Randy, I can’t even find the cancer anymore. I can’t even tell you had cancer.“ After that I spent nearly 18 months just researching and thinking what I was going to do with my business. My colleague Paul was running the business during my absence, but we were losing clients very quickly and I wanted to know why. So after my research I found that people were asking for .pdfs and websites instead of brochures and AdWords instead of Ads. What I saw in that was the ability to change things very quickly, you don’t have to go back and print 10000 brochures when you are online. I thought back to a lot of web projects that we were doing. I remember we used to team up, one team would design the website and then send over the Photoshop layers to the developer who then made it pixel perfect, as we used to call it at the time.
4. What was the trigger that made you found Kayak?
I realized that we weren't paying attention to the content other than: here is our product, here are our services, call us...typical brochure kind of thing. We had clients who used to come back to us after six or 18 months from doing a website for them and I thought that was a big expense for them. Of course, it was a bonus for us, because we were making money that way but we weren’t making the websites actual investments, but costs. Repeating costs.
We weren’t building any kind of legacy and we had even come to a point where we lost a client because the developer wasn't fast enough to satisfy all their needs. I thought: We better learn how to do this.
During my research I found a pattern in which content on social and content on website worked together. If those two are well coordinated, there is an opportunity to actually generate new business. And I mean real people who are really interested in what you are doing and selling. They would actually come to you asking for it. As I was thinking of this concept, and of how it hadn´t been proven, I got an email with a 20$ Google AdWords coupon. I had to pay those 20$ to get a 50$ worth of Google advertising. I thought that was my missing piece and in two weeks’ time, I actually generated 12 000$. I was still skeptical and thought I could have gotten lucky. So then I hired somebody, not telling them that I have only a couple of months’ worth of pay. We tried with content without ads. We put all our effort in it for a couple of months and actually generated 300 000$. So I said this absolutely does work.
So right there, from scratch, we devised how we do things you can see on our website.
As for the part on how we came up with Kayak. It was through my recovery period from my cancer. Since I was so weak, I needed to do something to build up my strength again. And since I am not the gym type of person, I remembered that, as a kid, I used to do a lot of boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing and so on. I decided to get a pair of kayaks so when I go kayaking, I can take people with me. Even until today I have a pair of kayaks and recently I invested in two more sea kayaks so we can go in bigger water. I still have a standing invite to anybody who shows up: if you want to go, we'll go.
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