Propel Marketing: The Evolution of a Digital Agency

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At BIA/Kelsey’s recent Engage conference, Gatehouse Media‘s Peter Newton shared a detailed look at how Gatehouse’s digital agency wing Propel Marketing is expanding its scope and relevance for its SMB customers. Today, Propel is moving well beyond media into events, finance and even helping SMBs raise money and manage their SaaS-based IT services.

Newton’s presentation was part of a “Media Transformation Case Studies” session hosted by the Local Media Association.

Propel was founded within Gatehouse in 2011, the outcome a survey of small business customers who identified a need for help in “navigating the digital marketing landscape.” Propel launched with a set of services addressing the spectrum from presence through customer acquisition through customer engagement.

“Now we are solving not just for advertising and marketing but for all of local businesses’ pain points,” Newton said.

Again using survey and focus group data, Propel recently identified IT services and access to capital as two pain points it can address.

“We are moving on both of these fronts,” Newton said.

Regarding access to capital, Propel is pursuing partnerships with lending startups like OnDeck and ForwardLine to help SMBs find capital that has been much harder to come by since the 2008 financial crisis.

“We are partnering with some of those online lenders to figure out where we can create value,” Newton said.

On IT services, the concept is very similar to what Propel and many others local media sellers have done to aggregate marketing and advertising solutions for SMBs.

“Many SMBs are confused about what they should be doing with their tech infrastructure,” Newton said. “What is the cloud? Who should they trust.”

Propel is developing a cloud service brokerage offering, which basically aggregates and integrates best in breed cloud-based business software for SMBs.

Newton’s presentation is a revealing look at the progression digital agencies and other local media sellers (Yellow Pages, online directories, newspapers, broadcasts) are likely to make over the next few years from services focused on demand generation to customer engagement and retention through to the basic operational tools for businesses (IT, HR, finance, payment processing, etc.).

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