I am in a very unique and interesting position. I am more acutely aware of the changes at That! Company than anyone else. You see, I was an employee of That! company for roughly seven years. Then a couple years ago, I ventured out on my own. During this time, I often worked with That! Company on special projects. They have always been family, and we enjoyed opportunities to collaborate even during my time away. However, I was an outsider for the better part of three years. Last month, both That! Company and I had overlapping needs, and I was rehired to the very department I started with so many years ago. It has given me a great opportunity to see how things have changed over the last two or three years.
Maintaining security for our clients and their projects has always been a high priority for That! company. I can remember a time about eight years ago where a client discovered that their AdWords account had been hacked. Since we were managing the account at the time, we came under fire for allowing the hack. Every single step in our security process was analyzed and reanalyzed for weaknesses. About a week later, it was determined that the client’s own server was hacked by culprits in a developing country. We had nothing to do with it at all. However, it put us in a position where we developed incredibly stringent security protocols that we made sure were implemented on every client’s account from that point forward.
Or so I thought. Having returned to That! company, I am redefining the phrase “stringent security.” In my absence, That! Company has developed a whole new protocol to secure all the projects we handle. It involves multiple steps. It utilizes state-of-the-art tools. Frankly, it can be a real pain. But I absolutely see the value in this. Under the existing protocols, a disgruntled ex-employee who wanted to do something nefarious, would find their hands pretty securely tied. Under the current protocol, a hacker who was somehow able to successfully breach our security system (a daunting task in and of itself) would have a very small window of opportunity to do anything fraudulent before the whole thing reset on them. As someone who had to learn and get incorporated into the system, I can’t exactly say that I love it. What I can say is that I am impressed by it, and I feel our clients are more secure than ever before.
The European Union has passed a new law regarding online security and confidentiality called GDPR. This profoundly affects a small portion of things that we do. That effect, however, has sent ripples through the company. GDPR was a well-intentioned effort on the part of European leaders to improve the security and confidentiality for those who use the internet. Unfortunately, some elements were written by people who don’t understand the day-to-day operations of online businesses. Some of the provisions are at once virtually unenforceable and vastly overreaching. For instance, the “right to be forgotten” seems like a good principle for those individuals doing online business or even engaging in social or hobbyist activities online. However, when you consider how difficult it actually is to purge every single thing about a person from every single record that you might have, it is daunting indeed. Most firms do not even have a comprehensive view of all the records they have. That backup of your email list stashed away on a hard drive somewhere could technically be in violation of the GDPR.
We advise scores of clients across multiple continents. Many of them do business in the EU. We also advised dozens of white labels whose clients, which are our clients as well, obviously also do business in the EU. This is a tricky situation, because we do not want to advise other firms specifically what they need to do in order to follow these new laws. However, we need to make sure that everything we do is in compliance with GDPR. That means we have developed and are continuing to develop even better protocols for confidentiality. For instance, our standard operating procedure for any website changes was this: before working on any client’s website, do a backup of the site that we can later revert to or restore if needed. Technically, under the new GDPR laws, companies operating in the EU, must be able to purge their client lists from our backup files. We need to be able to purge those records of any personal information upon request, which means we need to know what is stored and where it is stored. It is now no longer enough for us to secure our data. We must also have records as to where we are keeping it and figure out ways to manipulate it as the law requires. As you can see, this has forced us to begin developing an airtight system where only certain people are allowed to store certain types of data in certain places, and we must keep track of what is in there.
I’m taken aback at the intricate step-by-step procedures That! Company has developed for a handful of processes. An obvious example would be SEO content. Of course, the requirements for a successful SEO article change over time. As they change, and as our understanding of them change, it behooves us to create longer and more detailed standards for our writers. Moreover, we have greatly expanded our circle of writers, in order to have a broader range of authors with unique strengths in a more diverse number of fields. This is a fairly obvious example.
A much less obvious example would be the development of processes regarding remarketing and look-alike audiences. I won’t get into the specifics of our proprietary methodology here, but it does involve creating different audiences over time based on filtered versions of earlier audiences. The team literally had to sketch it on a dry erase board for me to understand the new multi-step methodology. And I like where they are taking it. I can remember when That! Company was chosen to beta-test remarketing by Google many years ago. Everything was trial and error. It was the Wild West of digital marketing, with each emerging technology a new frontier, and That! Company was on the front lines of new innovation. There is still a great deal of trial-and-error for any client’s campaigns, but to see how elaborate the best practices have become (for certain types of campaigns) is a dramatic change. The Wild West has given way to law and order.
While That! Company has been steadily captained by our CEO (Ken), our CFO (Tina), and our VP of Operations (Ty), other leaders have changed. The Director of the PPC Department, the Director of the SEO department, and the Vice President of Sales all worked FOR me at one point. I am so impressed by how much they have grown professionally. They were always smart cookies. Every one of them. But they have truly blossomed. They each seem to know what their strengths are and play to them heavily. They each have learned to delegate in ways I would not have seen coming years ago. It is amazing to see how far they have come from their first days on the job. It is really an honor to be a part of this team.
But Some Things Stay The Same…Like Our Culture
The culture at That! company is, how do I say this, unique? The philosophy here can best be summed up with two statements: “Work hard and play hard,” and “Do the right thing.” I have already seen people pulling long hours, taking work home with them, and sweating over their clients’ results. I was welcomed home with a massive Nerf gun assault. The week I was rehired, That! Company’s “game of the week” was Assassin. There is a traveling trophy that is the pride of everyone who has won it. What most people don’t realize is that the Vice President of Sales and I started that game 8 years ago, and it is part of our “play hard and be competitive” tradition here. That! Company is already planning this year’s Halloween haunted house to raise money for charity. There are also heavy discussions about next month’s “Red for Ed” event, our fifth annual fundraiser for local school kids. I have already had multiple discussions with my supervisors which centered around the question, “What is the right thing to do in this situation?” That is different from the “what is most profitable” approach that a lot of other businesses take. It is still a great place to work, and my co-workers never cease to make me laugh. The more some things change…the more they stay the same.