VGTM_Nicole Mahoney_Edited_ Transcript
Corey Quinn: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Vertical Go To Market Podcast, where you'll discover new opportunities to grow your business from seven figures to eight from the world's most successful agency and B2B SaaS executives. I'm your host, Corey Quinn. Let's jump into the show. Today, I'm joined by the founder and CEO of Break the Ice Media and the author of Stronger Together, Nicole Mahoney.
Nicole Mahoney: Oh, I'm so excited to be here, Corey. And wow, I love your radio voice. I feel like, so like a superstar here with that intro.
Corey Quinn: Thank you. I've, uh, I've been told that my voice is somewhat distinctive. So thank you. I appreciate that. I keep hearing that. Maybe I have a second career waiting for me.
Yeah. I appreciate that. So would you mind just sharing a little bit more about yourself and your background with the audience?
Nicole Mahoney: Yeah, absolutely. So I've been self employed and I guess I would call myself a serial entrepreneur because I've been self [00:01:00] employed since 1998. It took me some time to find my way to the business that I have right now, but I launched in 2009, Break the Ice Media, and I launched it as a public relations.
And at the time I thought social media agency that was going to help small businesses. And the reason why I picked that is because just prior to launching that I was just doing some freelance work in my downtown community. And a lot of small businesses were asking me about this thing called Facebook.
And my background was in public relations and event planning. And I saw this thing called Facebook as a As a way to help amplify earned media, the work I was doing in PR and to give small businesses a way to tell their own story. So I thought, okay, I'll launch this agency focused on that. Well, I soon found out that focusing on small businesses was too broad.
And I ended up with small businesses like HVAC companies and a retail client and a technology startup and just [00:02:00] an, a range of small businesses as clients. And was having a real hard time scaling because I just was trying to be too many things to too many different people. And so a few years in, I learned that, geez, if you niche, if you pick a niche, you can scale much faster.
And so a couple of years in, looked at the client portfolio, looked at what was making myself and My other two employees at the time, you know, really excited about the work we did and it was in the travel, tourism, hospitality space. So decided to really focus there, as I said, as a way to scale the business and as a way to really be able to figure out how we could differentiate ourselves and market ourselves.
And we really, we've. It's, we're in our 15th year now, so I like to say it seems like all of a sudden or all at once, but it's been, it's been a climb, but things really started to fall in place once we picked that niche.
Corey Quinn: So just for a moment, I'd love to just [00:03:00] dig in. So at what point. Along the journey, did you get to the, get to that realization?
Like, Hey, I need to niche down because we're too broad. We're having a hard time scaling. How long was that year three about?
Nicole Mahoney: Yeah, it was about year three. And what I realized was, you know, in our regional market, there were a lot of ad agencies that were bigger than us, had more experience, had more case studies, had, you know, more team, more staff, more resources.
And so I was like, I don't really want to compete there. I don't want to try, you know, it seems like a really big. to try to fit in or to try to compete with these folks that were way ahead of me in terms of where they were in their business development and where we really saw our passion was in this travel and tourism field where we had a lot of the good case studies was there.
So we just decided. This was the right move and it wasn't me figuring that out on my own. So I actually had, I was at a point where I was like, I can't get over and I'll just use numbers. [00:04:00] I couldn't get past half a million dollars. I'm like, how do I get over half a million dollars? This is, why is this so hard?
And I Googled, how do you do new business for ad agencies? And I came across a conference that was called. New business for ad agencies, and it was being put on by Michael Gass for people who are in the ad agency world have probably heard of him. And so I traveled to Nashville. It was like three or four weeks after I had found, had made that Google search, this conference was taking place.
And a lot of the speakers there talked about a lot of different things you can do to scale your agency. But one in particular was Drew McClellan from the Agency Management Institute. And he talked about niching and that was really what clicked for me. So, A, I got to a sticking point. B, I didn't want to stay stuck, so I looked for resources and ways to help me get unstuck.
And then I found that particular conference, which led me to Agency Management Institute. And that was the first idea that I adopted was we have to niche.
Corey Quinn: And yeah and just, [00:05:00] just for reference, Drew is the one that introduced us. Thank you to Drew for that. And his business is AMI, Agency Management Institute, and it is a great resource for agency owners to.
Connect to support each other in their growth, to learn, and so highly recommend agencies go and check that out. So, fast forward to today, just for contrast, this is about three years in, you had this ceiling, the 500k ceiling, and you were looking for different ways to break through that. Where are you at today?
Anything you're comfortable with sharing with regard to number of employees, number of clients, revenue, anything?
Nicole Mahoney: Yeah, absolutely. Always happy. I'm very transparent. So we just ended with our biggest year ever and we're at now at a two top line revenue, 2 million. And 13 employees, and we're projecting this year to, we'll probably be top line between three and three and a half.
But one of the, one of the key things is when I talk to my team, cause if [00:06:00] they listen to this podcast, they'll say, why is she quoting those top line numbers? Because I don't actually look at the top line. I'm all about what the gross number is. Cause you know, with, especially in the agency world, you've got your top line, then you have your media spend.
A lot of agencies do media spend. We do some, we don't do as much. But you do have, you know, these numbers that inflate your top line and you don't want to operate like you're a 2 million agency where our gross last year was 1. 4 million. So we're operating, right? We're hiring based on a 1. 4 million gross profit.
So that's just kind of how I think about it and how we kind of Stay true to who we are and how we build and how we scale because we don't want to scale too fast and Hire too many people too quickly or spend too much money too quickly So yeah, but that's where we're at and I'm proud of that and we're at 15, you know 15 years So here we are almost 10 years later after we niched and that's
Corey Quinn: how we've yeah And, and through the, through the pandemic, which I want to circle back to a little bit.
Nicole Mahoney: made an impact on how [00:07:00] long it took us to get here. I can
Corey Quinn: imagine. I can imagine. There's probably some trials and tribulations. I will circle back to that. But back, going back, you know, you're sitting in that, uh, that conference with, with Drew and he's talking about niching down and you realize, Hey, this could be our path forward.
And it sounds like based on what you shared, you, you looked at your book of business, you had case studies and good, good experience. You liked, it sounds like you like travel and tourism. Mm hmm. Yes. You made that decision or you started leaning in that direction. What did you do next? Like, how did you begin to evolve the agency so that it was more focused on this niche?
Nicole Mahoney: The, the biggest tipping point for us was when we actually launched our podcast. It wasn't immediately after we decided to niche, but that was kind of the next phase of where we started to find some real traction. So the first thing was we niched and then there was all, there was work and we can go into the detail of that if you want, but, you know, in, in really streamlining our clients and making sure we're focused on the niche, off boarding clients that didn't fit the niche.
[00:08:00] But then the next big pivot point was launching the podcast. And what that did for us is. It, what we were doing is giving voice to the industry that we were serving. And I, I had a personal point of view in terms of feeling like the travel tourism hospitality industry was not getting the recognition that it deserved because the industry itself makes such a huge impact on economies everywhere, but.
Usually, I can, when you think about economic development and economic vitality of a community, you're not really necessarily thinking about tourism and travel and hospitality and how that impacts it. And so I wanted to give voice to that. So I launched the podcast to give voice to that and what I was able to do was not only interview clients and people that I knew, but I was able to start interviewing people I didn't know and that took me outside of my region.
In terms of the recognition and the relationships that I needed to be able to scale. So [00:09:00] when I mentioned before, you know, there were these regional agencies that are much bigger than us, that, you know, were much older than us, had a lot more experience or whatever it might've been at the time. This took me out of that competition ring and put me into a different, you know, into a different place.
And the podcast really is the pivot point that was, you know, enabled us to do
Corey Quinn: that. Can I ask a detailed question on that? So when, when along the way, cause I'm using. 2009 is the starting point of the agency, about 2012 when you started really focusing in on the travel and tourism and hospitality vertical, if you will.
At what point did you start the podcast? 2016. Okay. So it was a number of years between there. And what, and still 2016 is still relatively early. It's like eight years ago in the podcast world. Yes. And I love, I love the perspective by the way that you, that you just shared about you had a strong point of view that this industry was underrepresented and you wanted to be a part of the [00:10:00] solution, right?
You wanted to bring more visibility and I don't want to put words in your mouth, but that was the sense of it, right?
Nicole Mahoney: Exactly. Yeah. Well, I was just going to say that also came from, so two years prior to that, there was a, prior to me launching the podcast, there was a internet radio show called The W's.
Called the WCEO Hour. It was a regional show and the host of that would interview CEOs from all over the region, primarily manufacturing or tech companies, you know, really big companies. And I got to know him and I had said to him, you know, you really should talk to travel and tourism folks because they're a huge part of this business economy here.
And I convinced him to interview two of the leaders of two of the destination marketing organizations within this region. And he invited me on to co host. So it was, it was really fun and it was a great conversation. He loved the content. His listeners seemed to like it. [00:11:00] And he and I were trying to explore how I could launch a internet radio show using his model, which was very expensive at the time and not as easy as podcasting is now.
And so I had the idea in the back of my head that I wanted to, you know, give voice. But it took me a few years before I found podcasting and, and was able to pull this idea off the shelf, if you will. Cause the internet radio show was just too expensive and too big of a lift for me to do at the time. But fast forward a few years.
And again, through my network, met somebody who did podcasts. And I said, you know, I have this idea for a podcast. Do you think it would work? And. That's, that's how that got launched. So yeah, it took, it was four years after deciding about the, the, to niche, but the idea came to me actually sooner than that.
I just didn't have the right. That's a great way to do it. Mm
Corey Quinn: hmm. Yeah. And so just for, for a detailed question, was it primarily an interview style [00:12:00] question, interview style podcast, excuse me, where you would bring in folks and how, what was the format and is that format still carried through
Nicole Mahoney: to today? It is still, I have carried the same format for eight years.
People seem to like it. I'll probably, I do change my questions up, but I have the same question flow for every show. Thank you. I don't always ask all the questions though because it depends on the guest and I follow their lead. So I like it to be very conversational like you and I have right here. But at least I have those as, you know, conversation starters.
And I also use the show now, it's evolved where I use it at, where I go out to trade shows, I call it my roadshow series that I do, and so I'll go, I'm going to a trade show actually this weekend, so there'll be 3, 000 people at this travel show that I'm going to in Nashville. And I'll have my show there.
I'll interview maybe 20 people from the industry and I'll put together a series. They're shorter interviews, like 10 minute clips. And then I'll put [00:13:00] together two or three episodes with those clips, kind of digging into a topic at this, you know, at this trade show, those go over really well as, as well.
People just love to be highlighted, you know, they like to share their smarts. So,
Corey Quinn: and just, are you targeting specifically current clients, perspective clients, thought leaders, authors, anyone, everyone? Like what, what is a good guest for your show thinking strategically? I
Nicole Mahoney: would say yes to all of that. Yeah, absolutely.
Um, prospects, current clients, thought leaders in the industry that, you know, of course can bring really good content to the show and that my audience can learn from. Authors, you know, I've had authors pitch me. I get lots of pitches now. A lot of them are delete, delete, delete, because people are not very good at writing their pitches and researching the shows before they pitch them.
Corey Quinn: a, it's a very much a,
Nicole Mahoney: yeah. But I do occasionally get a good pitch and sometimes, you know, it could be like recently I had an author on who wrote a book about [00:14:00] sales and even though the book wasn't for the travel and tourism industry specifically. Sales is something that, you know, people in the travel and tourism industry need to know how to do.
So I had him on and he, his show was great. So yeah, so it's a variety. I'm constantly looking for content that's going to bring value to my audience, but also I like to use the show as a way to build relationships and for business development. So it does serve that purpose as well.
Corey Quinn: Beautiful. So in those earlier days.
Did you find it difficult to sort of break into travel and tourism? It doesn't sound like, I'm gathering that you didn't have a career in travel and tourism prior to making this, sort of, this pivot. Is that correct?
Nicole Mahoney: That's correct. But what I had was a lot of relationships in this industry and where I live and where my agency is located is a tourism region in New York state called the Finger Lakes Vacation Region.
There's a lot of wineries here and now a lot of breweries [00:15:00] and arts and culture. And so this is where we started, which is why we had a lot of those clients when I first decided to niche. And then over time we added on. More clients within the state of New York. We had a really, and we still do have a very strong presence in terms of our clients throughout the entire state of New York, but then also through this process.
I. I recognized how our clients get funded. And a lot of our clients, if they're not private business, get funded through grant programs, through state matching funds programs or state programs. And I didn't want to have my agency all tied up in just one funding stream being New York state, because of things, you know, change, this is pre pandemic.
But, you know, if things change, governors change, you know, funding, legislative bodies decide to. But yeah, budget differently. So I really wanted to get outside of New York state and the podcast is really what helped me do that. And we now, we do now have [00:16:00] clients outside of New York state and actually even in Canada and all across the U S.
Corey Quinn: great. That's super helpful. So along the way, how did you figure out how to attract those right fit accounts? Those clients that were in travel and tourism, but just not even that, but like the right fit, the best fit, like what, what did, what process did you take? What did you learn along the way?
Nicole Mahoney: it is a process and it continually evolves. I think first, like we look at things like what makes a good client, somebody who, you know, comes prepared to our meetings, frankly, like somebody who's a good partner. Like we looked at things that aren't necessarily like how big is their budget. But more, how can we do our best work and what do, what does the client have to bring to the table in order for us to do our best work?
And so a, for example, is if there's one person within the organization that's in charge of marketing specifically. We find we work [00:17:00] better that way because we're not just working with say an executive director or a president or whomever it might be that wears a lot of hats that can never get to the marketing piece and can't get us what we need so that we can do a good job for them.
So we have, so we came up with, the team actually has come up with a sweet, what we call our sweet spot filter that we put every client opportunity through when it comes through the door. I love this. Yeah. And that helps us decide, we score all of the opportunities and it helps us decide if they're worth pursuing or not.
And it has things on it. Like what I just mentioned, if it's in, you know, if it's in our vertical, if it helps us expand our reach, we give extra score to it. Like if it's outside of New York state that we give extra score to it because that helps us balance our book of business. So there's, there's things like that.
And then budget size. And as we grow, you know, the budget size of what we're looking for, that's a good budget for us to work with grows as well. So we're constantly kind of adapting that to where we are in our growth [00:18:00] cycle. Because, you know, when we were smaller and we were a 500, 000 agency to pick up, you know, a piece of business that was 200, 000 would have Swallowed us, you know, we could have done it, but now we're getting, you know, 200, 000 to 300, 000 is a nice sweet spot for us and even more.
So it's just kind of knowing, you know, what size piece of business that you can, that you can actually accommodate. And then also what you need from the client to make you successful. Cause there's nothing worse than, you know, you can see it, you know, exactly the work that can be done. You know, you can do the work, but you can't get what you need from the client.
And then it. It turns on you, looks bad on you because you can't bring the results in.
Corey Quinn: It's truly a partnership, isn't it? Yeah. And how important is it staying within your niche in your ability to really kind of grow the agency consistently?
Nicole Mahoney: That is the only way I know how to do business now. So when I talk to colleagues of mine that aren't niched necessarily, you have to [00:19:00] be niched like in a.
Vertical like we are, I have agency friends who are niched in terms of like a specialty area that they work in. Like maybe it's just all SEO or it's all whatever it is. But with, I don't, I wouldn't know how to build the agency if I didn't have the niche. I wouldn't know how to build a generalist agency because the niche has kind of snowballed for us.
So we talked about the podcast and then you mentioned the pandemic. I'll talk about that real quick because it does
Corey Quinn: relate to this. Yeah, I'd love to talk about that because it's directly related to the specific industry and it speaks to the fear that a lot of people have about niching into a vertical,
Nicole Mahoney: let's say.
Exactly. And during the pandemic, a lot of my entrepreneurial peers, if you will, that aren't in agencies said to me, I think you should consider like diversifying. Like, are you sure you want to be in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry? Thankfully, there were programs that helped us, right? [00:20:00] PPP and all of those programs that helped us get through the pandemic so that we, I wasn't forced to, you know, lay everybody off and have, you know, when our revenues went down.
But what happened was in year one in 2020, in March of 2020, a lot of our contracts did get cut. We were. It was going to be our best year ever and we were off to a great start. And then, uh, in March, most of our business, I think it was roughly, I used to know these numbers much better when we were closer to that.
I think now I've tried to just forget them, but like roughly 60 percent of our business went away, um, you know, that month of March, but what we decided to do was to do what we had committed to do, which. was to serve our industry. And we decided to, we're right there with you. Their revenues went away too.
And they were also trying to figure out what to do. And so we looked around and we said, well, we have these platforms, these ways that we can help people, you know, connect and that we can share what people are doing, what they're going through, ideas on how to get through it. [00:21:00] And so we use the podcast. We had planned, we had a virtual summit that was planned for April, I think it was 1st and 2nd of 2020, that we had started marketing in like January, so it just so happened when shutdown happened.
We were like one of the only places that had this online event happening right after shutdown. It, I mean, it just so happened that way. We were already had this event planned, but we pivoted some of the content more, but we had a lot of folks find us because of that. We did our, you know, we had our blog series that was very helpful during that time.
And we started doing these things called executive briefings, where we would go to clients or even prospects and go in and talk to their stakeholders and kind of share. We take all of the Research that was being done in our industry. There was a lot of companies that were doing like visitor sentiment research and talking about what the trends were and what Expedia was saying about search volumes and things like that.
And we would take all of that and we try to [00:22:00] synthesize it and bring these executive briefings to both our clients and to prospects and share it just openly with them as a way to kind of help them understand. What was going on and what they could do. And then lo and behold, by the end of 2020, a bunch of our business came back because some of those clients had budgets and grants that had to be spent by the end of the year, which was interesting.
So we ended up running campaigns. Trying to build audience for future visitation because New York state was pretty much still locked down by the end of 2020, but we ended up ending 2020 flat overnight, 2019, which is an awesome accomplishment. We thought we were going to be over 2019, but you know, we were at a million dollars in 2019 and we did a million dollars in 2020, which was amazing, and then 2021 was actually our soft year.
So that's when our revenue went down slightly. And that's because still there was, you know, shutdowns were happening on and off. Like it [00:23:00] was like, we're open, vaccines. And I was like, wait, we got to close. So it was this very touch and go year. And then a number of our clients budgets are based on occupancy tax.
And because there wasn't much occupancy in 2020, that impacted their 2021. So that was a softer year, but those programs, you know, enabled us to keep going and by 2022, I mean, our, we're just on this upward trajectory every year has been over the other, like, so my 2023 number was 35 percent higher than my 2022 number.
And we're projecting 2024 is going to be about 40. We'll be up about 40 percent over 2023. So we're just growing at a pretty, pretty rapid clip right now. Agency
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You'll also get access to some early bonuses just by signing up to be notified today. Go to anyonenoteveryone. [00:25:00] com. That's Anyone, not everyone dot com. Now back to the show. That's amazing. And as you were sharing, I was reflecting back when, when I was at an agency. Working with small businesses during the pandemic, when the pandemic hit.
And I just remember the emotional tone at the time was so uncertain and so scary, especially for business owners. Like, how do you navigate this? And so I think the way that you guys approach it is, is beautiful because you. In some ways, based on what you shared with me, you were, you were helping to guide them through this, this uncertainty with relationship with, with data and information that was probably very helpful.
I think that's a very elegant way to do that. You also didn't lose any employees during that time.
Nicole Mahoney: No, we didn't lose any employees. We did have one employee who was attached to a specific contract and that contract just, it went through the end of the contract. It didn't necessarily get cut short. And so that [00:26:00] person, uh, you know, left, but that was a.
That was already going to happen anyway. And we, we did not lose any employees. And the other thing I wanted to say is that we gained so much credibility during that time because we went through it with them. So now when we have conversations about the pandemic, it's not like, Oh, you're that. You know, you're that, you're the agency partner, which, you know, we're a good strategic agency partner, but you didn't, you know, you had, you didn't have to go through what we went through, no, we went through exactly what you went through.
And that means a lot to people. And a lot of people found us during the pandemic because of our content. All over the world actually is amazing. A lot of people in Africa, Europe. And Philippines and like just all of these crazy places that, that start, you know, started consuming our content, content reaching out to us.
And so not that we have clients there now, but it definitely, you could tell [00:27:00] we were helping because people were finding us from all over the place. That's
Corey Quinn: just, that's just amazing. I think. The, the misnomer about this idea of niching down, people think of it as, well, if I have a landing page that talks to this, this vertical or this buyer that were, you're sort of niched down, but the, what I'm hearing from you is you, you have a much, much more deep, but deeper connection with the vertical.
You care about them. You have a point of view, the fact that they're being underrepresented, you're with them through the tough times and you're coming through, you've come through it now and you're right, you're, you're having record breaking. years. So I think that's, that's, there's a big lesson.
Nicole Mahoney: Yeah, absolutely.
I appreciate you pointing that out. Sometimes you don't even realize it when you're in it. Yeah.
Corey Quinn: Yeah. I mean, I see it. How that all stacks
Nicole Mahoney: up.
Corey Quinn: Yeah. Yeah. How did you navigate that as, uh, as the founder and CEO of an agency that's, that's squarely focused on the one vertical or one of the few verticals in the pandemic that has at least in the medium, [00:28:00] the most portrayed as the most sort of impacted, what, what carried your employees through?
Why, you know, prevented them from. So sort of jumping ship and maybe going and pursuing other opportunities. What, what do you think was the thing that kept them around?
Nicole Mahoney: We have a really strong culture. They believe in the work that we're doing. They believe in me, which is always feels kind of uncomfortable to say really, because right, but they really do.
And we, you know, we went remote. We had an office prior to the pandemic. We went remote during the pandemic and we've never gone back. We're. Still remote, and now I have employees, I have one in Canada. I have them all over the U S so I don't see us ever having an office cause we're, we're dispersed, but we quickly, you know, adopted the online technology and figured out how often we needed to get together.
We made sure that we were checking in at first. I think it might've been even daily, but we ended up with a regular cadence of. You know, status in the beginning of the week, a midweek check in and an end of the week kind of thing. So we were [00:29:00] constantly together and communicating, but I think ultimately they believed in the work we were doing and they can see how we were helping our clients.
I mean, they were on the phone with our clients, even the clients who, you know, had to stop their contracts. We were still trying to help them as best we could. And we were on the phone with them and doing what we could. I actually activated the team. I said, well, we've been given a gift because. Even though our clients, you know, we don't have the revenue right now, this is right after, you know, March of 2020.
We have, this PPP program's come out, so we can all stay on, but we're not going to sit back on our laurels. So they were part of making that content, doing the blogs, working on the executive briefings. We put together an online course, which ultimately the online course didn't work out the way we wanted it to, but the work we did on the online course.
What we decided we wanted to do is to teach our clients how to do their own strategic marketing plans. And so we decided to take our strategic process and turn it into an online course, [00:30:00] which we, uh, the online course didn't work. But what happened was we solidified how we do our work through that process.
Corey Quinn: Yeah. Yeah. When you teach, you learn, right?
Nicole Mahoney: That's how it works. So our strategy and the way we do our strategic plans are upleveled like hugely because of the work we did. But I engaged the whole team in putting that online course together, which ultimately turned into our. own internal strategic planning process.
So that was a nice silver lining from all of that as well. But one of the things I wanted to share with you is one of our clients, it was a company or is a company called Travel Alliance Partners. And that particular client was a collaborative of tour operators from both the U. S. and Canada. Who started that business in the early 2000s after 9 11, actually, as a way to help buy and sell each other's tours [00:31:00] and as a way to collaboratively market together.
And so we had been working with them when the pandemic happened for three years, we had been doing their marketing and running their organization for them because it was this collaborative. So it needed, you know. Operational oversight in addition to the marketing. Tor operators in particular, they went some of them two and three years with zero revenue.
Some of them had, imagine this 8 million or more on their books of bookings for 2020 that all had to be pushed to future bookings, say 2021, and then all had to be pushed again to 2022. Because of the, you know, because of all of the lockdowns and the, you know, you can't go abroad, you can't go to Canada or, or whatever, all of the restrictions.
And so these business owners were just really struggling and I became myself and my team really became kind of the shining light for them, if you will. I would come up with these [00:32:00] ideas of things that they could do to, you know, to continue their, their businesses or to work on future business that was productive.
And I'd bring them to them and a number of them just thanked me for, you know, for the ideas. They're like, geez, if we have a problem, we just give it to Nicole. I, I would come to a meeting with them. I'd say, so I woke up this morning with this idea because I literally will wake up in the morning. I mean, if you're an entrepreneur, you understand this with an idea.
And I'd bring them these ideas and things that they could do. And it just really, Helped them. And then what happened is that by the end of 2021, as things were really starting to open up again, these tour operators were starting to be busy. Again, they said to, they said to me, we need to focus on rebuilding our own businesses.
We don't really think that we can rebuild what we call TAP, Travel Alliance Partners. And so rather than letting them just abandon it, you know, close it or whatever they would have done, I actually negotiated a deal with them to acquire it, to keep it [00:33:00] going. And we were their biggest bill because we were their op, not only their marketing partner, but their operational partner.
And so I acquired that at the end of 2021. And that has been an actually, uh, a wonderful acquisition to help us, you know, with what we're trying to accomplish in terms of scaling our business. And that was definitely a result of not giving up on the industry during the pandemic.
Corey Quinn: Doubling down almost.
Yeah, exactly. So, how has that helped you, uh, with regard to coming out of this? Like, in what ways has this acquisition been helpful?
Nicole Mahoney: So as it relates to Break the Ice Media, one of the areas that we serve our clients in is this part of the industry that we call travel trade, which is those tour operators, travel agents, basically helping build awareness with these travel buyers and kind of like a wholesale market, if you will.
As it relates to travel, that's sort of the wholesale market. And by owning Tap, we actually have this direct [00:34:00] connection to the buyers of travel on that side of, you know, in this, and the wholesale side of the business. And with these direct relationships comes more insight and information in terms of how the industry operates, what the trends are, you know, what our clients can do to attract more visitation into their businesses, their regions, their destinations, whatever that client might be.
And it's been really helpful in terms of serving the Break the Ice clients. But the other thing that's been really helpful is on the tap side is bringing our Break the Ice, you know, strategy and. Different marketing tactics that we're really good at PR or digital, whatever it might be over to the members of TAP and helping them.
And so there's this cross pollination that happens. And then the third place that helps is TAP has much broader reach than break the ice, even though we have the podcast and all the things I was telling you about, we didn't have as many [00:35:00] relationships outside of New York state as we would have liked, but with TAP.
We have this huge database of what, what you call in travel and tourism suppliers, which are like the attractions and the destinations throughout the whole country, both the U S and Canada. We have the tour operators course that I was talking about. And then we also have this huge database of travel buyers, which are like travel agents that buy, buy the product.
And so now we kind of have this more full spectrum of offerings, if you will, for our clients, because we also, you know, we have the customers on one side in one company, and then we have the marketing and the clients in the other. And so they really do work very, very well together. And, and then the podcast works for both.
We use the podcast for both companies now. You're
Corey Quinn: vertically integrated. We are. In the vertical. That's awesome. That's right. You're a founder and a CEO of the agency. You're also an author. You wrote a book called Stronger Together, and it's all about collaboration. I have [00:36:00] questions about the book. I also want to understand what it's like to be an agency owner and write a book.
So we'll start with the contents of the book. Tell us about why you wrote this and really, you know, what is the primary, the core message in the book?
Nicole Mahoney: Yeah, so the core message in the book is really what my core belief is, which is that collaboration is a strategic imperative in order to survive in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry.
But I actually believe it for any industry. And I've, I've had friends of mine who've read the book who are in all kinds of industries who have told me it's, it's very, very helpful for the work that they're doing. And I can even point to collaborations I do as an agency with other agencies and how that works.
But the focus of the book is on. Not collaboration and teams, but collaboration, organization to organization and how that works. And we've done quite a bit of research on it. I've done two research studies on that and in my podcast I ask every, pretty much every guest about collaboration and [00:37:00] successful collaborations and what made them successful.
And so I used a lot of the transcripts from the podcast in writing the book. They're the stories and kind of the use cases for the material that I was putting out, and I also developed a framework for successful collaborations that I talk about in the book, and I talk about the research in the book, and so writing the book was really pulling all of my content pieces together.
under one, you know, in one content and one book, if you will. I don't know how to describe that, but, but really I used blogs that I've written. I use the podcast transcripts. I use the research we've done, the executive summaries from the research and pulled all that together into the book to really kind of show what our point of view is and help our readers and our audiences know more and be better at collaboration.
Corey Quinn: Did You write it with the The travel and tourism industry in mind specifically, or was this more for any business?
Nicole Mahoney: Well, my publisher had me write it for any [00:38:00] business, but the majority of the stories in it, yeah, the majority of the stories in it are travel and tourism stories because they come from my show and my show is all travel and tourism hospitality.
But I did pull in, I did look for stories that were outside of the industry and pulled in some personal experiences even of mine growing up in an entrepreneurial family and experiences that I had with my. in my father's business. And so I pulled other things that weren't travel and tourism, but and it's, it's being marketed as a business book.
Corey Quinn: And are you using it as part of your sort of content strategy as far as generating new relationships?
Nicole Mahoney: Yes, I'm using it for generating new relationships. I'm using it for getting speaking gigs, uh, to get on stages. I'm using it as, you know, thank yous for clients. Bring it to the trade shows with me that, yeah, absolutely.
Corey Quinn: Yeah. All of the above. And, um, would you recommend this as a, as a strategy for other agency owners to, to come up with a, you know, come up with a book and to bring that into their [00:39:00] overall marketing mix? Is that something that. Is worthwhile, you think?
Nicole Mahoney: I think it's worthwhile. I think it's, it depends on what you're looking to accomplish.
I mean, for me, like my primary content generator is the podcast, but then, but then as I've been talking through this, this whole interview is the podcast is actually kind of launched into so many other things. And so what the book did is actually enable me to kind of solidify my point of view. So it's all been sort of like, um, stacking on top of each other and additive additive.
And each thing that I do helps me get clearer on. You know, the point of view, the messages that, you know, that, that, that we're putting out there. And if we were doing this interview just on the book, like I know, you know, there's all these talking points. I know exactly what to talk about because I know exactly what's in there and it's really ingrained with me.
And so it took the book really to kind of solidify all that for me personally.
Corey Quinn: Having gone through a similar journey in writing a book [00:40:00] about The importance of taking a vertical approach and how to do that and, and, and all the stories that I've heard from the, the various business owners and the specifically the agency owners, has helped me to very similarly find the right words to articulate the, the message I'm trying to get out and the frameworks and all of that.
So I, I can absolutely relate to that. And honestly, I think there's, from a marketing perspective. A very clear, clearly articulated and strong POV is one of the best vehicles for building your brand. Yes. And so going through these experiences of building a podcast and writing a book, those will all help you to really build a performance.
My experience, much more profound POV, it sounds like. Potentially that's your case as well. Absolutely, yep. So, how do you differentiate? You're in a, even though you came through the pandemic, there's a lot of agencies out there who are targeting travel and tourism. How do you, how do you [00:41:00] differentiate or position your firm differently?
Nicole Mahoney: Yeah. So actually collaboration is how, is kind of our point of view is how we differentiate. I looked around and I respect there's so many agencies out there that serve this industry. And, uh, I've worked with and collaborated with many of them actually, but I looked around and no one's was really talking about collaboration the way I was talking about it and thinking about it.
And I felt like, kind of similarly to where I felt like travel and tourism wasn't getting the voice they needed. I felt like collaboration, people were just like, ah, it was just being taken for granted that it just works. And I knew it doesn't always work. And I really wanted to know like why it works so great when it does work.
Why it doesn't, what causes it not to be successful or collaborations not to be successful. So that was part of the interviewing, you know, learning from guests on my show, but also then doing research to find out why or what makes. Collaboration successful. And so that's really it. I want to be [00:42:00] known as, you know, the place that you go.
If you want to learn how to be a better collaborator, if you want to take your collaborations to the next level, the acquisition of TAP fits perfectly with that because it's a collaboration all by itself and in the work that we do. A lot of our client projects and programs that we work on are collaborations, and my team's right in there with the clients, helping them manage, you know, manage the different partners and manage the collaborations and are becoming experts at collaboration themselves, so.
That's how we, that's, that's the stake in the ground. That's what we picked. And it really took looking around and saying, nobody's doing this. There's a lot of people that are, you know, have different stakes in the ground, but nobody's talking about collaboration this way.
Corey Quinn: It also seems very authentic.
Nicole Mahoney: It is.
I mean, it's part of our culture. It's one of our core values, of course, but it's in everything that we do. And there's something I like to talk about my team and we believe it to wholeheartedly is this idea of coopetition. I talk about [00:43:00] how perceived competitors come together and cooperate or collaborate to do something more together than they can on their own.
And I do believe in that. And I've collaborated with many competitors and found success in it. And so we actually proved through our research that I, and I'm going to get these numbers wrong cause I, I haven't quoted this in a while, but, uh, something like 60 percent of the respondents in the research say they collaborate with competitors.
And so, but like 90% or 99% of the people we surveyed said that they collaborate. And so what we kind of think about that is that if you're not, if you're not collaborating with competitors, you actually might be missing out on something like, like you're, you know, I mean, I like that.
Corey Quinn: Yeah. That's a good, that's a good catchy
Nicole Mahoney: hook, right?
Yeah. Like 60, I think it might even be more than 60%. I might be quoting that wrong. Yeah. But, but yeah, I mean, Pete. If you're, it's working because 60 [00:44:00] percent of people, of, uh, organizations are collaborating with competitors and finding success in it. And so to really just be open to all those conversations is my
Corey Quinn: advice.
It kind of aligns with the thinking around like a growth mindset, right, that there's not a fixed pie of resources or clients or revenue or anything. What would be your parting advice, particularly for agency owners who are struggling with scaling?
Nicole Mahoney: Yeah. Well, my first advice is to seek information, like find, for me.
Not only was the niche instrumental in us being able to scale, but my peer to peer networks were instrumental in me being able to scale. And I'm in two different networks. One, we mentioned already through the Agency Management Institute, and then the other is a local women owned business network that I belong to.
But both of those networks, Help me kind of learn from what they're doing and what's working for them and also learn like where my blocks [00:45:00] are. I actually learned last year that the banking relationship I had was actually blocking me from being able to get to the next level and I didn't know that I should be out shopping that relationship.
And so my friends were like, you need to shop that relationship. So I guess you just, sometimes you can't see it, you know, in front of you. So those networks were so important. So my, my first advice would be to, to find a network to be part of. And when you join them to be transparent, because as long as you're open and transparent about what you're doing, what you're going through, where you're struggling, they'll help you.
You'll get the ideas that you need to, to get over that. And then my second set of advice is to find your focus and your point of view, your niche, to use your word, your vertical, because it has made all the difference for me and I can't imagine having to run a business that is not this ingrained in the point of view that we're in and the vertical that we're in.
Corey Quinn: Sage advice. Last question. [00:46:00] What's your motivation?
Nicole Mahoney: Oh, how do I, how do I, uh, sum this up? I get excited, I, first of all, I love business. I am, I just love business. Every morning I get up and think about what can we do to make the business better. I'm motivated not to sit in the status quo very long. Always like asking questions, very curious about how could we do this better?
Or are we even asking the right question? What should be, what questions should we be asking so we can get to, you know, wherever we're trying to get. So I think I've just got this internal motivation. You know, and strive to do better, to serve, to serve my company, my team. My team is actually a huge motivator because that, you know, they're so excited every day, so that makes me excited.
And then, yeah, I, I think just being able to build a company and to find your stride, this industry motivates me as well, the industry I found. So once you find, you know, your passion, I just, yeah, there's no question. You're just motivated. Cause it's, yeah. [00:47:00]
Corey Quinn: It's clicks. Clicks. Yeah. That is awesome. Where can people reach out to you if they have follow up questions or maybe they want to ask you more about the book or speaking opportunities?
That's a good place.
Nicole Mahoney: Yeah. So I it's Nicole Mahoney. You can find me on LinkedIn. You can email me, nicole at breaktheicemedia. com. My book, you can find at nicolemahoney. com or on Amazon. And I always love, you know, to meet new people and to have even virtual coffees to connect. So please reach out.
Corey Quinn: Wonderful. And we'll make sure to include those in the show notes. Thank you so much for joining Nicole.
Nicole Mahoney: Thank you for having me, Corey. This has been fun.
Corey Quinn: It's been great. Thanks again. All right, folks, that's it for today. I'm Corey Quinn, and I hope you join me again next time for the Vertical Go To Market Podcast.
If you receive value from the show, I would love a five star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. Thanks. And we'll see you soon.[00:48:00]