By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire
⏰ 5-minute read
Erik Huberman is the founder of Hawke Media, an award-winning digital marketing agency whose “outsourced CMO” model makes it stand out amongst competition.
Using his experience in e-commerce and consulting, Huberman dreamt up an a-la-carte agency model that appeals to a wide range of potential clients.
Furthermore, word of mouth and a focus on execution were critical to Hawke Media’s impressive growth.
For 32-year-old Erik Huberman, the journey started as an entrepreneur. Since launching Hawke Media in 2014, Huberman has grown his company’s value to over $75 million and scaled its team from seven to more than 150 employees.
His story is one of gathering experience, dreaming up new business models and constantly pushing for more.
Hatching Hawke Media
Before founding Hawke Media, Huberman launched two e-commerce brands: Fame Wizard, a technology platform for aspiring musicians, and Swag of the Month, a subscription fashion company for men.
With these successful startups under his belt, Huberman then worked as VP of marketing for Ellie, another subscription service company. Next, he started a solo career as a consultant.
By the time he started consulting, Huberman had a wealth of knowledge in e-commerce and digital marketing. And his experiences as both a bootstrapped entrepreneur and a VP at an established company afforded him insights on the challenges faced by a wide range of organization types.
So when Huberman’s consulting business began to grow faster than expected, he identified an opportunity to build a new kind of digital agency.
The “outsourced CMO” model
Hawke Media was Huberman’s answer to the challenges companies faced under the traditional agency model: long contracts, a one-size-fits-all approach, poor execution and lackluster results.
Tackling these problems, Huberman developed an agency model around an offering he termed the “outsourced CMO.” Hawke Media, he envisioned, would offer a broad range of digital marketing expertise under one roof, with a focus on data-driven client plans. The agency would sell not long-term partnerships but rather individual services baked into month-to-month contracts. Under this model, businesses could access a team of digital experts for less than the average cost of hiring a single executive. Essentially, Hawke Media could become a company’s “outsourced CMO.”
The subjects of Hawke Media’s case studies come from many industries. One is Topo Designs, a backpack, bag and apparel manufacturer that hired the agency to increase its sales through Facebook advertising. Hawke Media defined new consumer audiences, dreamt up a high-performing product ad and enhanced the brand’s retargeting efforts. The new strategy led to a 900 percent ROAS (return on advertising spend) for Topo Designs and increased the company’s Facebook ad revenue by 550 percent. Hawke Media's success stories like this are many and speak to the agency’s success with a-la-carte offerings.
Why did Hawke Media succeed?
Like many famed startup founders, Huberman recognized a previously unidentified problem in the market and crafted a solution, which automatically poised Hawke Media for growth.
His previous experience in e-commerce and marketing were critical in acquiring the first round of clients, but it wasn’t going to work long-term.
“Our initial growth started because I had a reputation in the space,” said Huberman. “But that only takes you so far.”
Word of mouth marketing quickly proved integral. Satisfied customers told other businesses about the effectiveness of the “outsourced CMO” model, and the a-la-carte aspect uniquely positioned Hawke Media to work with a broad range of businesses that showed interest.
“Our initial growth started because I had a reputation in the space. But that only takes you so far.”
According to Huberman, clients stay loyal because the agency places a high value on execution and serves as a strategic partner.
He shared a story of a company who initially passed up Hawke Media’s pitch and went with another digital agency. It returned six months later nearly bankrupt, Huberman explained, with a website that didn’t work and series of ads that had fallen flat. The company was gearing up for a “Shark Tank” appearance and needed a new website, pronto. Hawke Media built one that could handle heavy loads of TV-generated traffic and helped the company grow to an eight-figure value over the following two years.
“Many other digital agencies don’t execute,” Huberman said. “We do.”
Overcoming growing pains
In his role as CEO, Huberman was tasked with scaling his organization very quickly. He experienced some challenges early on but has since developed a foundation for expansion.
When Hawke Media first launched, losing any key personnel was a big hindrance to workflow, Huberman said. In those days, he hired aggressively to support the increasing number of clients and develop management layers that would coordinate efforts across the agency.
More recently, he’s focused on executive-level hires to prepare for further expansion. The latest hires include a head of people, a controller, a general counsel and VPs of sales, content and marketing. The goal is to hire talented executives and adapt their talent to the way Hawke Media works, explained Huberman.
Of course, “It takes some time for our new executives to get up to speed,” said Huberman. “But in the long run, these hires will be crucial to our growth.”
Problem-solving is a big part of a CEO’s role, explained Huberman, and that’s even truer when you’re at the helm of a fast-growing company. To maintain strong forward progress, he recommends facing problems head-on.
“A lot of my time is spent firefighting,” Huberman said. “... Don’t shy away from problems. Run into the fire.”
"Don’t shy away from problems. Run into the fire.”
The most influential trend in digital marketing
Huberman also succeeds by fixing his gaze on the future of his industry. As costs rise for digital ads, original content is becoming a critical facet of any digital marketing program, he said.
“Advertising is becoming a lot more expensive, and Facebook advertising alone doesn’t work anymore,” said Huberman. “The goal is for brands to become publishers. Content engagement is key.”
Case in point? WeRecover, a platform helping people with substance abuse issues, contacted Hawke Media for help building content to reach its target demographics. After studying WeRecover’s current strategy, Hawke Media ideated editorial articles better-suited to catch the target audience’s attention. It sourced a team of expert addiction writers and enhanced WeRecover’s web presence through SEO. The resulting repository of addiction recovery articles tripled WeRecover’s organic search traffic and led to 10 first-page keyword rankings.
The case study suggests that companies must produce content in addition to buying ads, explained Huberman. Both are necessary for a well-rounded digital marketing strategy.
Hawke Media’s future
Huberman’s aspirations for his company and the “outsourced CMO” model don’t stop here. Expanding Hawke Media’s regional footprint is top on his list.
“We just made our first New York hire,” said Huberman. “Territory expansion is our next goal, and having people on the ground to work with clients is a crucial part of that.”
Hawke Media is also launching a venture fund, which will give it opportunities to acquire businesses and become an even more powerful player in digital marketing.
Plus, “We are making a lot of acquisitions, growing businesses and picking them up,” said Huberman. “We’re acquiring other agencies already.”
For example, Hawke Media recently acquired Execute.LA, a marketing firm focused on startups and early-stage consumer product companies. The goal was to invest in “forward-thinking marketing practices” to offer more solutions for clients, according to a press release.
Further down the line, Huberman wants to become a global partner for companies. He cites consulting giants Accenture and EY as examples of Hawke Media’s ideal scale.
If the agency’s rocket-fueled growth is any indication of future success, it could very well come to pass.