The Agency Interview: 28 Questions with Thad Kahlow

November 22, 2016

The Agency Interview: 28 Questions with Thad Kahlow

Thad Kahlow founded his agency, BusinessOnline, in 1996. He comes from a family of entrepreneurs. His sister, Amanda, is the founder and CEO of 6sense, and his brother, Aaron, was the founder of the Online Marketing Institute. Thad is passionate about entrepreneurship, providing opportunities for those who have done without, and the power of digital marketing. We asked him 28 questions. Here are his 28 answers.

1. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Kale Smoothie and triple shot espresso. A punch in the face to get the day started.

2. What’s the last great book you read? Why was it great?

Grit. It describes the fact that successful people are very often not the most talented. They are the hardest workers, with part DNA and part drive that delivers success. Which validates my reason for being, as I’m a talentless hack that only has hustle as a key differentiator.

3. What’s your favorite vacation spot?

I like going off the beaten path: India, North Korea, Cuba, Zambia, Zimbabwe. I like to explore new cultures, where a completely unexpected adventure awaits. Live life.

4. What’s the biggest change in the agency business since you started?

The evolution of service offering(s). Data has become a central core of most marketing and sales departments, and agencies have had to follow suit. Which essentially equates to understanding the value we deliver to clients, constantly a moving target in the agency world. 

5. How have you (and your agency) adapted?

First, you have to be curious. You have to constantly ask, why, how, what. You need to peel back the layers of the onion to understand where the market is going and where you want to fit. This is never ending, which brings me to my second point.

Second, change. You have to be willing to adapt to change, to understand when you are chasing things, but ultimately understand that change is good. Change and challenge create opportunities that are ripe. You just have to be willing to be uncomfortable, test, fail. and learn.

Last, know what you are good at and where that fits in the market. Fortunately, BusinessOnline has long been a truly data-driven agency. We are rooted in data and analysis and have used it for our clients and how we serve them. We’ve used that same approach to be able to anticipate and realize changes in the market and how to serve it. We even have a separate Data Weld offering that is chock full of data nerds and integrated marketers to turn those numbers into trends and actionable ways to move business forward and prove ROI.

6. Is the industrial sector taking full advantage of digital marketing?

Unfortunately not. Recently we partnered with the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) to conduct some research about digital marketing in the manufacturing industry and found that about 65 percent of respondents said their digital marketing programs are still only new or in the experimental phase. There’s this disconnect between marketing initiatives and consumer buying patterns in the industrial sector, and we’re hoping to help fill that gap.

7. What’s your proudest moment in business?

When anyone who works (or has worked) for BusinessOnline grows, get a new title, adds new skills, or handles new challenges — even if it means taking on a new role or responsibility outside of BOL. I used to take it personally when people left our agency, now I celebrate it. We all need to grow and I’m most proud when we as an agency grow together, when our clients grow, and most important when our people grow.

8. In life?

Three rugrats I call India, Bodi and Crew. I love being a Dad.

9. What’s the most important way the rise of social media, from YouTube to Facebook to LinkedIn, has changed the way companies tell stories?

It’s made companies more accessible and humanized the entire customer journey.  Users can now have conversations with their prospects and reach them where they are already consuming information. It has also given us great data and context that we haven’t had before. The two-way conversation is a treasure of great insights just waiting to be discovered.

10. Digital ad spending is poised to surpass TV ad spending. Is this a problem for agencies or an opportunity?

It definitely means a more saturated market, and with everything being digital these days, there’s lots of white noise. So helping our clients stand out in their respective markets can be difficult. But you’ve just got to know what niche market you’re going after and really nail it. Hitting the consumer with the right content at the right time in their buying journey is more important now than ever with digital media surpassing traditional media in spend.

11. Is content marketing an evolution or a revolution?

I tend to think in revolutions. Living in B2B for so long, we are all just too willing to evolve slowly, painfully. This has created fertile ground for new companies to arise, compete and win. We need to stop thinking in terms of driving efficiency and cost cutting, and invent efficiently around the needs of our customers. They are moving much faster than evolving, and therefore so should we.

12. Why does the entrepreneurial spirit run so deep in your family?

I’m a third-generation entrepreneur. My Grandma (father’s side), Grandpa (mother’s side), my Dad and now all three siblings are entrepreneurs. It’s how we were raised, and part of it is in our blood. We don't mind risk. We can handle some pain. And this has created the three-headed monster that is my sister, Amanda Kahlow, CEO of 6sense; my brother, Aaron Kahlow, who was the founder of the Online Marketing Institute; and me at Business Online.

13. How do you use LinkedIn — for networking? For content marketing? Searching for talent? For sales prospecting? For staying abreast of news?

Yes – for all of it! It is simply the best media platform for creating demand with your targeted audience, bar none. With the first-party data LinkedIn owns, it has every firmographic, demographic, and all the contextual data you need to intelligently connect and engage with your audience. On top of it, it continues to outperform most other forms of media we test and leverage at a more effective cost to return perspective. 

14. How do you use LinkedIn advertising for your clients, and what’s working well for them?

With LinkedIn, you have a really rich database of professional users, which makes targeted advertising effective for many of our clients. We see high engagement with low-funnel content and webinars, something that grabs the user’s attention in their newsfeed and doesn’t look to sales-y. We still want our clients to be thought leaders in their space, to generate meaningful content that’s also shareable and valuable to the user, and using LinkedIn advertising to share that content has been super successful so far.

15. Why is the Girl Rising organization important to you?

I exist to do more than grow a business. I feel like the luckiest dude on earth; it’s time to give back. And I believe education is “the cause” and cure of my generation. Girls in the third world are in most need of this realization and opportunity.  And for the record, we are just getting started.

16. What is your top-secret superpower?

Grit. I don't give up, we will always find away. As I get years wiser, it’s working a bit smarter… but I will never be out hustled or outworked.

17. What sports team has broken your heart most often?

No time for sports: family, work, charity. I love sports but haven’t watched a full game of anything in about three years.

18. Who should play you in the movie version of your life?

John Candy. His character in planes, trains and automobiles probably most accurately covers me.

19. If you weren't at BOL, what would you be doing?

Building schools in India for girls to create data and analytics skills for employment. India is such an amazing culture of hard-working, smart people who are just ready for an opportunity. I’d love to play a part in providing that platform, which I will some day — I just need a bit more time.

20. What is your favorite Disney character and why?

Winnie-the-Pooh, because he is curious.

21. What do you have an irrational hatred for?

I try not to hate anything.  But I definitely have a hard time when folks don't vote their own interest. 

22. Best movies ever. Go:

“Braveheart.” Second to "Trains, Planes and Automobiles.”

23. What's your most annoying habit?

Never ending analysis of life.

24. How long would you survive a zombie apocalypse?

One day. I’d self sacrifice for the greater good. Maybe.

25. What jobs did you have in high school and what lessons did you learn from them that you still put into practice today?

Camp counselor — patience for children, people who are not you… create empathy.

26. What’s the best dinner you’ve had in the last week?

Sushi in South Beach — amazing.

27. What did you want to be when you grew up?


28. What are you most looking forward to in 2017?

Traveling with the wife and kids (hopefully to somewhere remote).

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