Darian Kovacs’ work in PR, digital advertising, and social media has taken him from organizing events as a teenager to founding his agency, Jelly Marketing. Emma Bullen caught up with him to talk about his career path, company culture, and what marketers should learn in 2018.
EB: Tell me about how you got to where you are today.
DK: When I was 14 years old, Almira Bardai who owns Jive PR was doing a project with her twin sister for ICBC. They got a group of students to help organize and put on a conference about road sense and leadership. I learned about what it looked like to market, promote, and get press about an event. I watched as Almira hustled the media: she got the newspapers, the TV, and the radio out to cover this event. As I gained experience, I became drawn to the way that we can tell a story in a way that the press would want to cover it.
When you think of a PR job, think of a dating agency. Our job is to get information about a brand and make sure we know it well. This way, we can set interviews with either a reporter, a news outlet or even an influencer for the brand we are representing. When it’s that good of a fit, they make beautiful story babies. It’s a fantastic thing.
The thrill of setting up your friend with another person and it works is that same thrill we get every day. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called The Tipping Point, and he talks about three different archetypes of people: including the connector. That’s the definition of the job of a PR person.
EB: How did you go about setting up your agency?
DK: I went on to study visual arts, photography, and Child Youth Care at UVIC. While at university, I started a charity which gave me the experience in marketing and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
During this time, I started managing large-scale events, and people assumed that I was an events guy! However, I was more interested in the lead-up and the challenge of how we could promote them. How much press can we get for each event? How much coverage can we get for what we’re doing? How do we create a wait list for this event?
Before I started Jelly Marketing, I dabbled in all sorts of careers. I worked in publishing, at various non-profit charities on the foundation side as well within the charitable sector. I worked at a software company, and I started an app company where we build apps for other businesses.
Through this process, I realized that my strengths were in creating packages that were a mix of PR, social media, and visual ads. While designing and launching apps, I was also creating these marketing packages, and they were doing very well – people were excited about them.
I changed my focus: stopped building apps and launched Jelly Marketing.
We were the first agency on the market that brought PR, social media, and digital ads into the playing field. When we started five years ago, you either hired a PR firm or you hired a digital ad agency and a social media agency separately. Now, we’re starting to see PR agencies and even digital ad agencies bring social media in-house and adding it to their workload. I think people realize more and more the importance of PR working hand-in-hand with social and digital advertising.
I think people realize more and more the importance of PR working hand-in-hand with social and digital advertising.
On top of PR, social and digital advertising, we are also known to be data geeks. We are often brought in by other agencies to deal with data analytics to marketing attribution. We help people find out where leads are coming from and why they’re converting.
EB: Tell me about your decision to sell CIMC (Canadian Internet Marketing Conference)
DK: CIMC was an event between Jelly and Marwick, and it was an event that breathed “fun.” Christian and I wanted to put on a marketing event that looked and felt like a marketing event, and it became bigger than we imagined. The deciding factor to sell was that we wanted to focus on our agencies so we started looking for someone who could take CIMC to the next level. We wanted to make sure that person could take it seriously and give it the attention it deserved. When we heard Agency Media’s vision and their desire to grow CIMC – we knew we found the right partner.
EB: When you’re doing something that’s as successful as CIMC, you run the risk that you could become well-known for that event when you want to be well known for your agency.
DK: The best part was that when people reflected on the event, they frequently commented on the quality of the PR, the social and the ads. For this event, we were able to experiment a little because CIMC wasn’t a client, it was our baby. We were also able to bring in some amazing partners who did incredible work for the event (Drive, Popcorn, Brix, Kinetix, Smart+Savvy, Native Ads etc.). It affirmed our ability to ‘play well with others’ and focus on our knitting as an agency. I loved how CIMC was able to bring so many great agencies together for one common purpose.
EB: How do you differentiate yourself from other agencies?
DK: Being able to do PR, social, and digital ads well and get those three services to collaborate with each other.
We don’t work with brands that don’t have analytics, who don’t have any goals, or a clear and measurable purpose so that we can hold ourselves accountable and they can hold us accountable. We only work with brands where we can measure their results.
We love to teach others – so much so that we just launched Jelly Academy! Our academy provides training for brands who want to do what we do but in-house. We train them, give them the knowledge, and the resources – they then are presented with certificates. Jelly Academy keeps us on our toes to stay on top of industry trends and reminds us that what we do is not rocket science. It keeps us humble enough to know that anyone can do this in-house.
Our academy provides training for brands who want to do what we do but in-house.
We’re a registered, and qualified trainer for brands in both BC and Alberta and the government reimburses two-thirds of the training costs. We take our curriculum very seriously! Our courses are online, and we set clear learning objectives and measurable outcomes. Setting these measures keeps us even more accountable, and we make sure that we are creating practical and pragmatic training.
EB: What do you think is the one thing a marketer should learn in 2018?
DK: Google Analytics is key. Similar to learning a second language in Canada, as a marketer, your second language should be Google Analytics. I also recommend taking courses through Facebook Blueprint. Facebook continues to be a force to be reckoned with, in spite of being a networking site. Blueprint gives you the tools to understand how and why Facebook works, how ads work and how social media works in general.
EB: Tell me about some of your favourite campaigns that you’ve worked on for clients. If you had to pick a beloved work baby, who would it be?
DK: There are just so many campaigns to choose! One of the ones I’d highlight is Operation Christmas Child. Every year we see brands, influencers, and traditional media get excited about such an important charity! OCC gets people thinking about individuals and families living in other countries – especially children. Their goal is for you to fill a red shoebox with toys and presents for a child living in a developing country. It’s so fun seeing people taking the time to promote this fantastic cause.
One thing I get excited about is being the connector between clients as outlined in Tipping Point. For example, we connected La-Z Boy with the WHL Giants team, and they created a contest where you have the chance of winning the opportunity sit in a La-Z Boy chair to watch a Giant’s hockey game!
Another time we matched a water charity with Pacific Bottleworks, a bottling company based in Fort Langley. This link between the two businesses generated a new water brand that donates the money collected at every purchase to a charity called ACTs.
We also had the chance to work with Spence Diamonds who never dabbled in digital marketing before. It was an incredible opportunity to expose their brand to a new crop of influencers! We successfully rebranded them in a new and fresh way.
EB: How would you describe your company culture?
DK: We think about culture a lot. At Jelly, we operate off five core values. We intend to hire people who feel free to be themselves, to operate freely and creatively, and look forward to Monday’s.
Our core values drive how we operate. Our five core values that we live by create a healthy foundation and grow a healthy culture. To explain this, think of a SCOBY nurturer: the infrastructure of kombucha is a good SCOBY. I think every company needs to know what their SCOBY is. Finding what that is, comes from values that you live by and operate.
The infrastructure of kombucha is a good SCOBY. I think every company needs to know what their SCOBY is.
The first of our five values is fairness: we believe in doing the right in everything that we do. Being fair to our clients and being honest with each other.
The second is prudence: we encourage our team to put thought before action.
The next is humility: it’s about doing our duty but also serving others. The marketing industry in particular breeds pride and arrogance and people are encouraged to be the best. We want to flip that on its head and say “hey what does it look like to act with humility?”
The next one is temperance: our industry tends to burn people out. We try to temper what we do here because we value our team’s health.
The last is the most important value and that’s courage. Courage is about confronting fear with the right actions. In PR, you’re always fearful of rejection, or you’re dealing with new ideas. If our staff dare to try things, to experiment, to go in fearlessly into pitching them, we know we’ll see excellent results.
EB: How many people are on your team at the moment?
DK: We are fourteen full-time in-house and then we’ve got a group of three contractors that we work with, an accountant and a web developer.
EB: Are you hiring at the moment?
DK: We are! We currently have a job posting for a PR role.
EB: What’s your favourite question to ask in an interview?
DK: I have three fundamental questions I gravitate toward: I to ask interviewees to imagine I’m an editor of a magazine, and they have to pitch to me. I also like to ask them, “what’s your spirit animal and why.” The third question is, “what question do you have for me?” I evaluate the level and wisdom in their question asking.
EB: What’s your spirit animal?
DK: A tree monkey. They are curious, social and they like to discover new things.
EB: What’s the quality you look for in every employee?
DK: Our five core values: courage, humility, temperance, prudence, and fairness.
EB: What’s the most useful career advice you’ve ever received?
DK: Volunteer and intern, anywhere and everywhere. I still volunteer at places, and I’m continually learning. This process helps you learn about how organizations work. I suggest that you keep asking questions, stay curious, and get a good mentor – or even multiple mentors! Surround yourself with people who inspire you.
EB: Do you have any advice on how to get a mentor?
DK: I think you can start by asking someone who inspires you “I have a question for you.” If that goes well, you keep meeting with that person and asking questions. Then naturally or organically, you’re going to build a great relationship.
EB: What’s the book that you most often recommend to friends?
DK: Career-wise, I recommend reading both ‘Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell as well as ‘UnMarketing’ by Scott Stratten and Alison Kramer. On a personal level, I love the Shack by William Paul Young – which I find very refreshing. I also recommend ‘You Are Special’ by Max Lucado. Although it’s a children’s book, it’s honestly one of the best books I’ve read about how you can find your confidence and identity.