A veteran entrepreneur, Michael Smith is the Toronto-based founder and Chief Executive Officer of MDS Media Inc., a disruptive integrated marketing firm. He has built a career solidifying his status as a Market Leader in Integrated Marketing – helping companies execute industry-leading content marketing strategies and achieve profitability at scale for more than two decades. He’s a savvy visionary who does so much more than lead a business – “he elevates the entire digital conversation”.
Throughout his career, Michael has earned many of the media industry’s top honours. In 2019, he received the GlobalTrend Video Awards’ Ascent Award as well as three Triumph Awards; W3 Awards for his work in Branded Entertainment, Health & Wellness, and Not-For-Profit Videos; a Davey Award for Best Social Campaign and two Summit Creative Awards. Michael recently received the highest honours at AMCP’s 2020 AVA Digital Awards in the Corporate Image and Social Campaign categories. Michael’s branding work is recognized alongside the work of globally renowned brands like Apple, Netflix, Disney, Google, and Pepsi. In 2020, Michael was recognized by MADCon as a Top 100 Global Leader in Marketing and Advertising, for setting standards for industry impact, innovation, and future-readiness.
Additionally, Michael is a frequently published Forbes contributor and Forbes Agency Council Member, where he leverages his experience and subject matter expertise to lead a global discussion about branding trends and best practices. He appears on several expert panels each year to share his insights on disruptive strategy, marketing, media, and agency-specific concerns.
Global Millionaire recently caught up with Michael to discuss his journey to entrepreneurship and here’s what went down:
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your business?
Business is about conversations – with your network, with your staff, with your audience, with the people you want to help. Growth will always be about maintaining and nurturing those conversations. So, when I think about maintaining and growing my business, it’s all about connection.
On one hand, it’s about the value I can provide to all of these people. At MDS Media, we are constantly innovating our marketing models as a way of communicating and providing value to our audience and internal networks. But on the other, it’s about staying visible, letting people know that you’re available to help when they need you, and finding ways to communicate that aren’t necessarily grounded in business. These are uncertain times, and whether it’s a piece of content, an email, or a video chat, I make it a point to check in and acknowledge what’s going on.
There’s tremendous value in cultivating relationships, as you never know what those relationships will blossom into at a later date.
What social media platforms do you usually use to increase your brand’s awareness?
MDS Media primarily operates in the B2B space, and we have found LinkedIn and Twitter to be the most relevant platforms for what we want to achieve. Our clients spend the bulk of their time on these platforms, and if we want to be an active part of trending discussions, we have to be there. Additionally, both LinkedIn and Twitter are really tailored to thought leadership. There are several passionate, niche communities on both platforms, and making meaningful contributions to them pays dividends, not just in actual business revenue, but in brand awareness, authority within our industry, and the expansion of our network.
What is your experience with paid advertising, like PPC or sponsored content campaigns? Does it work?
Paid Media and PPC campaigns work brilliantly if done the right way. I think where a lot of professionals run into trouble is expecting magic by simply running a campaign. A lot of the tools that are available now present themselves as turnkey easy, and it is quite simple to set basic parameters and get an ad going. But just like traditional ads, there needs to be a game plan, clear KPIs, and a goal. There are certain strategies and best practices that deliver results, and if you don’t invest the time in researching them, you can end up wasting a lot of money. So, for those business owners who feel like PPC and sponsored content campaigns are ineffective – this isn’t true. However, they do require expertise.
What is your main tactic when it comes to making more people aware of your brand and engaging your customers? How did your business stand out?
My strength has always been in content. Everyone who knows any of my brands is well aware that we go the extra mile with content to be seen as an authority in the space. The entire Neon Cake aesthetic and value proposition is what drove an audience to a sold-out launch. We pride ourselves on content that separates us from the rest.
We take the time to understand our audience and the greater content landscape. Then we craft messages that not only stand out in every newsfeed but also stand out to the right people. My team and I really understand the power that great content wields, and we know that publishing a few random blog posts isn’t enough to garner attention. We build out comprehensive strategies, we run tests, we dive into analytics, and, ultimately, we take it seriously.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
We have our own system we have developed over the years – it is a hybrid of content marketing combined with PR. Throughout our time as marketers, we found that agency and PR models were flawed. The way audiences discover content has changed considerably in recent years and continues to evolve at a rapid clip. The traditional models just couldn’t keep up with the speed of change, and that led us to create our own system. We have tested it with MDS Media, Neon Cake, and a number of Technology Experts, and the results have been incredible. We have had a wild amount of success with it.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
In the last few months, I’ve had to let go of things that don’t serve me. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t take anything for granted, especially when it comes to the business climate. Time is limited, circumstances change, and it just isn’t useful to waste energy and resources on relationships or initiatives that drain me or my business. That realization was tough because I’ve had to let go of some projects that I was excited about. But I had to be realistic and cut my losses. I know that down the line this kind of decision-making will only make me, and my business, stronger.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from (or something you’d do differently)?
If I could offer any advice, it’s to take your time and enjoy the process of building your business. A lot of entrepreneurs, especially new ones, are eager for growth. I think this leads them to spend too much money in general or waste it on things that they don’t need – to really focus on honing your product or service first, and once you have money coming in, be purposeful about where you spend it. Do you need a 20-person team, or can you go leaner? Does it make sense to expand into 5 new product categories, or can you refine your flagship product? Don’t rush toward success because it can lead you to make a lot of money mistakes that take years to recover from.
What new business would you love to start?
I would love to start an educational platform for entrepreneurs. I know that there are already nano degree programs and lots of individual classes hosted by successful businesspeople. But I’d love to create something comprehensive, that covers all the topics that entrepreneurs will encounter in their businesses and that’s presented from the point of view of someone who’s been there.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
I think this aligns with my answer about money mistakes. I’d really take my time, appreciate the journey, and pursue growth more naturally. I’d scrutinize every cost and expenditure, and I’d find comfort in the slow, steady race instead of focusing on the sprint.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
The best advice I’ve received was to pursue a purpose other than money. Sure, there are positive things that come from making a significant amount of money – you can buy nice things, and you’re recognized in your industry as a success. But if that success isn’t connected to something more meaningful, it gets tough to stay committed to your business when the times get tough.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
Learn how to position yourself – the importance of positioning yourself to your market is the single most important thing in getting started. It needs to be crystal clear not just to you but also to the customer why you’re different. You need to understand your value, your differentiators, and the best way to communicate those aspects of your business to your target audience.