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Rob Murray: Hey Mike, thanks for having me.
Mike Grehan: Good, glad you could make it. I have to stop just for a second, there’s a little theme that’s coming on here and you’ll see why. In 2015, I’ll celebrate 20 years in digital. That’s 20 years since I came online. Most of the people who I work with running around in short pants back then. Of course, when you’ve been in an industry for 20 years, you get to meet a lot of people. This is where the theme comes in. I’ve begun to discover, since we started doing this, most of my conversations start with the words, “We’ve known each other for a very long time,” or, “We go back a while.” Today’s no different.
Rob Murray: Fifteen years.
Mike Grehan: Yeah, about 15 years since you and I started working together when I joined iProspect.
Rob Murray: Absolutely.
Mike Grehan: Way back in the day, and do you know what I was thinking? When I joined iProspect, and I was racking my brains earlier on to think about this. iProspect had just re-branded. What was it called before it was…
Rob Murray: Response Direct.
Mike Grehan: Response Direct, that was it.
Rob Murray: iProspect was a much better name.
Mike Grehan: Well it sounded like a direct response company then.
Rob Murray: That’s exactly right.
Mike Grehan: Let’s just get a bit of your background, because you’ve had a really very successful career in digital, which started back then. You were a successful consultant in Boston.
Rob Murray: Yes, with Bain and Company.
Mike Grehan: Yep, and you meet Fredrick Marckini, and what happens from there?
Rob Murray: Fredrick and I got introduced by a mutual colleague of ours, and this colleague was actually Frederick’s accountant. He said, “Hey I know this guy Frederick, he’s got this cool idea putting a board together, and he’s really like some different perspectives for advice.” I joined the board of iProspect in the beginning of 1999. I spent that first year while I was working at Bain on the board spending a lot of time advising Frederick on how to build service organizations, how to provide world class service.
Then after about a year, Fredrick was like, “You and I get along well, I like your advice. Why don’t you quit your really good paying job at Bain and come and join me?” After about a month or two of sort of noodling it, I said, “Yeah, what the hell, if I don’t do it now, I probably never will.” I never looked back.
Mike Grehan: No, it turned out to be a great move for you. When you and Fredrick first started talking about this idea of joining the company, honestly, did you know what search engine optimization was?
Rob Murray: Oh no, I was a digital native back in 1999. I’ve learned a lot in the last 16 years, but no. Everything was very new then. Back then, SEO, we used to be able to get 29 of the first 30 listings in Lycos for the term “car parts.” It was a different day and age back then as to what SEO was. It was a lot of meta tags, and that was about it. If you could just optimize the meta fields, you would actually do pretty well.
Mike Grehan: I’m doing a bit more research on some stuff that I’m writing at the moment, and I actually went right back to the very first Search Engine Strategies conference, which was in 1999 in San Francisco. There was like less than 100 people there and Fredrick was there representing iProspect. His session was on how to create doorway pages. You get banned for that now.
Rob Murray: Yeah, you would.
Mike Grehan: You’ve joined this thriving startup, iProspect, and it was very exciting at the time. When I joined, already you were going international because I was manager and director of Europe. From that startup base, you managed it, Rob, and took it to what is now the largest search marketing company in the world.
Rob Murray: It’s the largest global digital marketing agency in the world. We re-branded or re-focused around performance marketing, which encompassed a lot of RTB and digital media beyond search, but search was always the cohort, still is the number one way to reach your consumer. We took that from a five-person shop in a little tiny office, remember in the back of the bank there on Mass Ave on Route 60 in Arlington? To, last count when I left a year and a half ago, we were about 1,800 people in 70 offices in 55 countries around the world. We were Google’s largest customer globally. That was an amazing run. Quite an amazing run.
Mike Grehan: Interesting, because I actually, with all of the traveling that I do and have done it over the years, found myself sitting in the iProspect office in Beijing one day thinking, “Wow, I remember when this was a startup in Boston.”
Rob Murray: Absolutely.
Mike Grehan: What are the key moments that you remember? Obviously the acquisition of iProspect, which was a huge thing in the industry at the time.
Rob Murray: I’ll tell you certain important milestones. Certainly the work we did with you and the first foray into Europe was a big milestone for us. I would say the acquisition was certainly a big catalyst for us. We were on a good growth path to begin with. We were only about the second or third truly search firm to get acquired.
Mike Grehan: For the largest sum as well I think, yes? At that time?
Rob Murray: Well yeah, for at the time it was quite a bit of money. What that gave us was the platform with a much bigger parent corporation to take what was primarily a U.S. brand and grow it out globally through organic growth, as well as through acquisition. Aegis was certainly a great partner and allowed us to take the iProspect masthead and make that its default performance marketing brand that it wanted to get behind globally. That was an exciting time, and I spent nine years as part of the network after the acquisition and most people were like, “Wow that’s a long time to stick around usually after you get acquired.” It was an exciting time, and we got to really build something special.