Sam Hurley is a lateral-thinking digital marketer holding 6+ years’ self-expedited experience in both agency and client-side settings before launching his own digital consultancy venture: OPTIM-EYEZ.
He has achieved success for SMEs, national to international blue chip organisations while being ranked as the world’s #1 digital influencer by Webinale and #2 most influential digital marketer by Onalytica.
Catch him on Twitter for heaps of helpful tweets on entrepreneurship and marketing!
Interview with Sam Hurley
Karin Schroeck-Singh: If I would go on the street and ask people “What does a Growth Hacker do?” I wonder how many people would be able to explain it the right way. So please explain what your job is all about.
Sam Hurley: We live in a world full of marketing buzz words!
Cutting through the hype – my interpretation of growth hacking is simply; clever, crafty, ultra-modern marketing that drives rapid growth of your business and achievement of granular goals no matter what the budget.
It can incorporate many types of marketing all rolled into one…so commonly, a growth hacker is expected to be a jack of all trades who is able to quickly adapt to any situation and utilise everything to hand. Unconventional thinking plays a huge part – as does the ability to recognise any slack, the reasons behind such occurrences and fast reactions to trash underperforming experiments before they eat up precious time and money.
It’s fascinating because even if the term ‘growth hacker’ wasn’t around, I would still be doing exactly what I’m doing now…I believe it’s more of a personality description than a job role.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: Congratulations for your achievement of being the #1 most influential Digital Marketing Expert in the world. Currently you have a followership of 143,000 people on Twitter. How long did it take you and what was your strategy?
Sam Hurley: Thank you! In true growth hacking spirit, I gained that number of engaged followers in just 15 months.
My strategy consists of 5 pillars:
- Pure dedication
Practice makes permanent. Spend enough time learning and you will become great. The sheer desire to achieve blended with sustained commitment eventually pays off big time. You can never exercise enough reading, research and listening.
- Effective communication
Everything we do as marketers is based on how we interact with our audiences; capturing imaginations, inspiring actions, evoking emotion and driving conversions. How we engage people is key to success and the best communicators know exactly how to craft the right messages at the optimal times to the best audiences while building solid, lasting relationships.
- Constant agility & experimentation
Keeping up with tools, tech and trends is one thing – seeing what’s ahead before anyone else (and adapting accordingly) separates the best from the rest. The cream rises to the top and those who remain a step in front are the leaders of the industry who many aspire to follow.
- Ability to absorb and apply multiple skill sets
As the revolution of ‘solopreneurship’ takes hold, more and more of us take our hand to several levels of expertise simply because; we have to!
- Willingness to help others
This one goes without saying – I’m a firm believer in humility and karma.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: What are the most positive aspects that you enjoy in your new role as the founder and CEO of Optim-eyez?
Sam Hurley: The freedom is so liberating. Being able to do what I want, when I want, dealing with those who I actually like and speaking to these people as I would my friends is just the craziest, most exhilarating feeling imaginable.
I was often extremely frustrated in employment…silly office politics, friction and cliques; even involving bosses! I always knew I was destined for better things and I was nothing but determined to make them happen.
Nothing beats the mental reward and I’m quickly compounding the financial return too. It’s just incredible and I love making a living doing something I genuinely love.
I must interact with 150+ people every day and build 2 or 3 strong connections during that time. That’s pretty astounding and I feel so fortunate to experience such a feeling.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: What are the negative aspects that you wished you could change about your job?
Sam Hurley: The sheer time and energy it consumes! Working alone can really take its toll, especially in this ever-changing industry…but then I think about all the positives and they greatly outweigh anything else.
I will eventually adapt my business to scale further – right now, I don’t mind working 16-19 hour days but I definitely don’t intent to do that forever 🙂 I know the effort has to be injected at this point in time for the desired heights and I won’t stop until that happens. It’s an insatious thirst that keeps me going.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: What are the 5 most important lessons you learnt in your career so far?
- No bad experience lasts forever
As rough as some times are, they are only temporary. They very much toughen you up. You will use these incidents to drive you forward in future.
- People show jealousy in many ways
I have been through a lot in my career and encountered many personalities. I’m very down-to-earth and don’t talk BS. Over the years, I’ve learnt that it seems those who are quite the opposite, may see people like me as a threat from fear of exposure or competition – although I really would just rather get along with everyone.
As I have grown older, I’ve learnt to swap the roles and be the first to identify those people…it’s then much easier to deal with such folk appropriately instead of letting their jealousy bring you down.
I can’t stand mind games, belittling, bullying, trolling etc…it really grinds my gears and if I witness anybody else on the receiving end, I will do my best to step in and make things right; witnessing such situations and simply not doing anything to intervene is as bad as being the perpetrator/s. The world can be very mean sometimes but you have to be strong and deal with these people. You get better at doing so as your experience grows.
- You have to step out of your comfort zone to move forward
Feel comfortable? Great. If you have no further ambition, cool. But if you do have aspirations and have done absolutely nothing to move close to your goals, you’re wasting valuable time. Nobody becomes successful by standing still.
- Nothing ever turns out like you planned…
…and guess what? That’s fine. Plans are made as a guideline – a path you set yourself to follow. There will always be twists and turns, deviations you could never have anticipated. Ride the tides and adapt.
- Relationships are your saviour
It doesn’t matter what Google, Twitter or LinkedIn do next – as long as you have built solid relationships, nothing or nobody can ever take these away from you. Stop relying on technology and begin genuinely interacting with the good people around you.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: Who is your ideal client? Are you planning to offer your services to a specific niche or do you welcome any client regardless of their type of industry?
Sam Hurley: I’ve done the whole business model thing quite differently to most; breaking the rules many adhere to – you must have a niche, right? You MUST have a website…?
I don’t have either! I like to go against the grain and for my particular business model right now, going broad works. I welcome any industry, brand or individual. As long as they are serious about their marketing success and are genuinely nice, happy people – that’s my criteria! (Keep a look out for this on the website when it’s live.)
Karin Schroeck-Singh: What is the problem number one that companies nowadays are struggling with when it comes to their online marketing strategy? What do you think is the reason for that?
Sam Hurley: I think the main issue is lack of focus. We are constantly bombarded with new trends, tech and techniques…
“Link building. Cool! Let’s do that.”
“Oh! Now we have to be on Snapchat.”
“Everybody is saying we must live stream…”
“Brand X wants us to appear on a Twitter chat tomorrow.”
“Darn! Marketing automation. We’d better start using that.”
Just because the world says we should do something, doesn’t mean it’s right for us. Every business is different and each has its own unique route to success.
Figure out your unique objectives and reverse engineer your marketing campaign from these goals. Don’t veer off track. Be aware of trends but steer clear of noise and distraction.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: Is there any episode with a past client that was particularly memorable, funny, out of the ordinary or scary for you? It would be great if you could share your experience with my readers.
Sam Hurley: I love to build a strong rapport with my clients. The funniest example was on April fool’s day!
Firebug was put to good use in manipulating a head-shot of a client on Google image search…the tool allows you to change text and pretty much everything else that appears in front of you on the fly, so it looks as if the internet is actually showing your edits, live! This can be done with websites, Google…anything.
To the side of the head-shot image result, I altered the text on Google to show ‘WANTED: For double murder. Armed and dangerous. I also added a little blurb on the crime details!
I then proceeded to screen grab the image and email to the client…they called me straight away, sounding quite panicky and shocked, wondering what to do. I played on it a while before coming clean…
Such strong bonds pay dividends in the end. This is only the result of a great investment of time and energy.
Sometimes it’s good to let loose…we seem to live in such an uptight, PC world these days. Laughter is good for the soul! I can’t stand corporate seriousness.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: How did you acquire the knowledge, expertise and the skills that you have? What do you consider as the best way to learn about digital marketing? Doing a degree (which might be outdated by the time it is completed), self-study by learning as much as possible from online resources, enrolling in courses, starting as a trainee and learning on the job, a mixture of different approaches or anything else?
Sam Hurley: I get asked this all the time. The only way to truly master something is to get out there and do it. Unfortunately, this does involve long stints in employment. I worked for 6 years across companies and digital agencies which provided me with the invaluable experience to go it alone.
You can read many blogs and attend as many conferences as you want – but without implementation and real-world pitfalls it’s impossible to become an expert. Nothing can prepare you like jumping head first into positions of responsibility. You have no choice but to perform and learn, very quickly.
It’s all about the hustle and perseverance. Sure, I got rejected while pursuing jobs, you can’t win them all. After preparing and presenting 35 slides for a successful agency as part of an interview in front of 5 senior heads, I even got told I would probably be better suited to something like media buying! (Ermm…what?!)
You can either let that stop you…or fuel your raging fire. My choice is always the latter. Know that it’s not you missing out – it’s them.
Again, commitment and thirst plays a key role. If you aren’t dedicated to progression, you won’t advance.
If you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to search Google for vacancies, like this:
“marketing agency” “hiring” “enter locality here”
“digital marketing” “hiring” “enter locality here”
“digital marketing” “junior” “jobs” “enter locality here”
“digital marketing” “trainee” “jobs” “enter locality here”
Karin Schroeck-Singh: What is the average salary of a Digital Marketer in the UK?
Sam Hurley: All the salary stats are skewed because London salaries are usually higher.
Generally, they are all over the place. You can get paid anything between £12k – £150k per year for director level roles, sometimes more. It really is so diverse.
I’d say £20k to £50k is the typical range for employment.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: Kids with an entrepreneurial spirit are on the rise. What advice would you give to a tech-savvy teenager who is so inspired by you and would like to become a digital marketing expert too?
Sam Hurley: Just get out and do it! If you’re so focused at an early age, that really is awesome. Starting early will mean you are already ~10 years ahead of many and that is a colossal advantage.
Launch a blog, build relationships with industry leaders and begin making a name for yourself on social media. Being young also means you will attract attention – it’s not unusual to see headlines like, “At just the age of 17, this teenage entrepreneur…”
Making a little bit of money at that age often gives the younger of us a taste which leads to ‘the thirst’!
I do often wonder where I would be now if I had begun much earlier. I just wasn’t business-minded back then – too busy partying. But that’s cool! I’m experiencing the next chapter of life now.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: On the other hand, what advice would you give to a 50+ year old professional who wants to change career and thinks digital marketing is the only path to choose in order to succeed in this highly technologically advanced world?
Sam Hurley: It’s not for everyone. There are certain minds that suit digital marketing, just like some people suit quantum physics. Layered on top of that, it’s incredibly difficult to remain ahead of the curve in such a rapidly evolving landscape, even for those who have been in the industry their whole lives.
I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I’d imagine it would be extremely difficult to jump from another expertise into digital marketing during a person’s later years…it’s one of those things that just has to be in your blood from the beginning; and if it was, the career change would probably have been made much sooner.
If anybody is in that situation, I’d recommend heavily researching and learning for at least 12 months before making any sort of decision. Test the waters with a blog and social media personal branding.
The other difficulty is getting hired for crucial experience – it’s highly unlikely an agency or company will hire a 50+ year old for a digital marketing position if they hold no experience in digital. I know we live in a world where that’s not meant to affect anything…but it does. The only way would be to go it alone and that’s tough going if you’re looking to manage clients in an area where you haven’t had real-world experience.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: I love reading business books. Can you recommend two MUST books on modern marketing: one book for the complete novice and one for the marketing expert? Why do you consider them to be good?
Sam Hurley: You’re going to think I’m crazy. But if I spent time reading books right now, I wouldn’t get any sleep at all! I just don’t have the time. I use blogs, social media and videos as my sources of information so I can efficiently digest as I work – marketing books get out of date far too quickly.
That said, here are my favourite blogs:
http://searchengineland.com/ – Trending news in the world of search
https://econsultancy.com/blog/ – Lots of stats and in-depth research
http://blog.wishpond.com/ – Super helpful, friendly blog with lots of actionable digital marketing advice
http://thenextweb.com/section/insights/ – Edgy digital news and opinionated articles
As I’ve completely broken the rules on this question…I may as well continue!
Karin Schroeck-Singh: More and more people (me included) take advantage of earning residual passive income by providing online courses, eBooks etc. In a Huffington post article, you also mentioned that you are planning to offer insightful video courses and eBooks. Can you share a bit more detail about it?
Sam Hurley: I’ve got a whole load of videos and juicy guides planned – but my ideas for them keep shifting as my entrepreneurial journey develops, so I’m not going to unveil any specific information just yet!
You can however, expect my typical style and character to be strong in anything I produce – it won’t be classic run of the mill stuff. It certainly won’t contain any get rich quick schemes either, or “How I Made £100,000 in 1 Month”.
If you’re looking for down to earth, no BS actionable tips and tactics for fast business growth, OPTIM-EYEZ will be the place.
I’m also looking to get very personal with some videos so I’m looking forward to that – but it’s also quite scary. You’ll see why when the time comes…
Karin Schroeck-Singh: You mentioned once the 3 practices to stand out in 2016: video marketing, marketing automation, social media advertising. Is it too early to ask for your prediction for 2017?
Sam Hurley: Not at all! For 2017, brands may be preparing right now to:
- Become active on all social messenger apps
- Apply advanced marketing automation
- Deploy complex, multi-touch point social media advertising
Social media advertising is projected to generate $11 billion in revenue by 2017.
- Utilise influencer marketing (if feasible)
With more brands than ever hiring influencers to propel their message, costs are likely to increase and the chances of gaining the attention of influencers in a particular niche will become slim.
- Apply clever video, virtual reality & augmented reality campaigns which intertwine
24 million virtual reality and augmented reality devices are expected to be sold in 2018.
Syndacast predicts 74% of all internet traffic in 2017 will be video.
The 3 methods must be blended effectively to create a seamless customer experience that resembles a story.
- Deploy Artificial Intelligence
Brands leveraging such hi-tech methods will inevitably wipe the floor with those who aren’t, 1) because of sheer operational speed / reduction of resource and 2) they will gain all the top press attention from doing so, creating a cycle like this: PR = revenue growth = PR.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: What impact do you personally think will virtual reality and artificial intelligence have on companies’ marketing efforts in the future?
Sam Hurley: Things are moving fast – I think traditional businesses will gradually get pushed out of the scene because they are simply unable to keep up with the tech, trends or customer expectations of immediacy, quality and engagement.
Modern businesses will struggle too…there is massive change on its way as we are already seeing the adoption of AI / machine learning, VR and AR. That means more budget and huge amounts of time invested in fresh ideas, tech, systems and internal capacity.
Customer expectations are already extremely high…in 10 years’ time, I believe we are going to witness a revolution. Immediacy, ultra-personalisation and experience is only something the big players like Uber, Google, Amazon and Apple can deliver due to their colossal financial status. I think they will be the only survivors and it will become a sole battle of the giants.
It’s quite staggering when you really look into it. I actually don’t like the way it’s all going and I’m totally against superpowers – Google’s market cap is currently just a smidge under $500Billion.
Why should one company have all that money? Why should anybody have that sort of money? Power like that is not safe for anyone. That sort of money could solve all the world’s problems…or cause more.
Speaking of Google – AI is already in force on their algorithm (RankBrain) and we will be seeing much more impact from AI in 2017 in relation to SEO, CRM and chat bots.
VR and AR will mean huge investment needed for brand new VR/AR-ready websites, adverts and consistent omni-channel marketing campaigns that make use of these channels.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: Are you currently hiring new staff for your company Optim-eyez?
Sam Hurley: I don’t intend to hire staff – I’ve seen the strain it can lay on smaller companies. I like to keep it lean and have worked hard to build strong connections in the industry to lean on. Early days yet though, who knows what the future holds!
Karin Schroeck-Singh: (Even if not), what are the 5 questions that you would ask a potential candidate in a job interview in order to make sure you find the right one?
Sam Hurley: These would be my five questions:
- What makes you happy in a job?
2. What makes you sad or annoys you when working at your current job?
3. What do you consider to be the 3 most important trends in digital right now?
4. How would you spend £100k on marketing?
5. How do you envisage yourself in 5 years’ time?
Karin Schroeck-Singh: Great questions, Sam! Love particulary question number 4!
It was a real delight to interview you Sam. I feel really privileged! Thank you very much for your precious time and for sharing your experiences and insights with my audience.
Sam Hurley: It’s been a pleasure, Karin! Thank you for the opportunity.
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Author: Karin Schroeck-Singh
Karin Schroeck-Singh is a trilingual Career Optimizer at www.Careerheads.com. She has an MBA from the University of Leicester (UK) and gained 20 years of international work experience in various industries in Italy, the UK and India. Her passion lies in creating multilingual, high-quality content in career matters, giving highly engaging public speeches and helping job seekers to optimize their career by providing professional coaching. She is the author of several ebooks, among them “44 Tips for a successful Video Interview” (http://careerheads.com/product/ebook-44-tips-for-a-successful-video-interview/). She has written several career and business articles for international HR and Marketing companies. Her favourite motto is “Learn from anyone, anywhere, anytime!” Follow her on Twitter @CareerHeads.