David Ohandjanian is founder of both Adao, a digital agency, and Up Hotel Agency (which offers full service hotel internet marketing and development).
We chatted to Ohandjanian to see whether founding an agency and working in travel is all it’s cracked up to be.
Here’s what he had to say…
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I’m the founder of two digital agencies but I definitely don’t sit aloof on a throne. I love to be involved in the everyday activities of the agency. I’m a creative designer at heart with a love for marketing. In fact, you’ll often catch me perched on the edge of various desks in our office getting excited about the websites we create and the digital campaigns we run at Up and Adao.
I love to share my experience and try to ask the right questions to challenge my team.
When I’ve finally finished complaining about the number of emails I get, I also help to direct the growth of our agency strategically in terms of team, services and client growth.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Being the founder of the agency, I don’t generally report to anyone. However, I feel responsible for each client we work with so in a way they are my direct reports.
I also appreciate and encourage feedback from my colleagues. Although it sounds a bit cliche, I’m always keen to learn from them and improve myself.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
It’s definitely helped to have a hands-on background, previously working with UX / design and digital marketing directly. Understanding these areas has helped me to both have awareness of the challenges and to be creative and push the boundaries a little.
Although running an agency sounds romantic, some of the most important skills to have are patience and persistence.
I think it’s important to be creative, well organised and willing to spend time with your team to understand their challenges and needs. Emotional intelligence is also very important in all areas of the business whether it’s client facing or internally managing teams.
Tell us about a typical working day…
Most mornings I arrive at the office via the gym, it’s great for my body and mind and get’s me ready to hit the ground running. I smash down a quick coffee and usually have a quick catch-up with the team and prioritise emails.
No two days are really the same (which I enjoy). Typically, I’m floating between internal meetings, sales calls, design briefings and running to buy doughnuts from the shop to fuel the team.
I’m also quite involved in the sales side of the business, so I’m very active in visiting clients old and new.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
The best agencies are made up of the best people. It’s as simple as that. I love being able to choose who I work with and I’m proud to feel confident of the work that we produce and the tangible value and results that we provide to our clients.
Being able to maintain creativity in a variety of ways is exciting and keeps me interested in my role. I love pushing myself mentally and solving challenges so I can do this both internally by managing my team and externally by keeping active with project work.
I also get to travel a decent amount and meet talented people as part of my role which I enjoy and gives me great perspective.
Time is always a challenge and I like to give personal care and attention to clients and colleagues. It’s sometimes difficult to juggle this and still work at the same time in a growing agency.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
The biggest goal I personally have is to maintain the quality of work that we produce as we grow successfully as an ecosystem. I love being proud to show the work that we produce as an agency. If the team is producing great work, the results are naturally good and the client is happy. Voila, we’ve hit agency Zen!
We are also building a tasty set of neat tools for improving website conversion that other agencies can easily use called Sweetnr. It’s an exciting move into the world of product development for us and we can’t wait to incubate the sweet success during 2019.
From an agency perspective, the most useful way to measure success is to actively collect feedback from our clients.
When helping clients measure success; we don’t have a one size fits all style for reporting.
The needs, goals and KPI’s for each client are designed for each client to match the distinct business needs. Once we define these areas; we can truly understand what success looks like and work towards this in a focused and measurable manner.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
We use Google Drive and share documents for collaboration; having a central hub has really helped team members work in tandem on projects.
For project management, we’ve used Asana, Trello, Basecamp and Smartsheets. Although we don’t limit our team to one platform due to our clients and projects having different needs, we find that a central place to manage projects helps to avoid lost emails and comms.
Being a Google Premier Partner allows us access to the Google team and extra insights and market knowledge and also forces us to maintain a high quality of skills on our accounts by passing regular exams.
Ensuring we’re very competent with Google Analytics and Data Studio really enhances our reporting of tangible returns for clients relating to their goals.
Don’t forget a whiteboard and a few good minds in a room. Having a well organised and productive ideas session can produce exciting results.
How did you end up starting a hotel agency, and where might you go from here?
I grew up with entrepreneurial parents who ran their own business together and their confidence that I could also be successful has always inspired me. Working alongside them when young helped me to understand the incredible amount of work but also the rewards of creating a successful company.
It’s not impossible for a creative person to run a profitable business and have a lot of fun along the way. The real secret is building the right team around you and not giving up. It’s also important to be flexible and agile enough to adapt. Don’t get stuck in your ways.
So why start a digital agency for hotels and hospitality? It’s sometimes very difficult for agencies to differentiate themselves, even if they have great people and awesome work to pitch. Focusing on a specialism like hotels allows you to hone best practices, really understand the vertical and the specific challenges.
Talking the right language, providing tangible returns and the useful reporting helps a lot. Even more so, gaining a relevant portfolio and referral business really helps. Moving forward, we will aim to grow our agency team whilst still aiming to maintain our quality output. We are also in the process of creating some more digital products like booking engines for hotels and developing the website conversion tool Sweetnr.
Which travel campaigns have impressed you?
I enjoyed Airbnb’s “Let’s keep travelling forward campaign”. In the shadow of Trump’s travel ban being upheld by the supreme court, Airbnb positively reinforced the message of travel being heavily related to the progress of the human race. The campaign managed to position the brand as proactive and relevant whilst not being too politically driven or insensitive. The short advertisement was executed fantastically and helped to shape the brand personality.
What advice would you give somebody who wants to work in travel in a marketing role?
Don’t limit your inspiration to other travel marketing campaigns or techniques. Keep open minded and really look to understand the product you’re selling.
It’s fun to work in this area and occasionally you get to personally sample the product which can be a lot of fun. Try to get your head around the nuances of selling experiences and get ready to learn a lot of three letter acronyms.