Cormac Farrelly has been part of the WSI network for twelve years. His background is in consulting and his most recent job before joining WSI was heading up Oracle's consulting practice in Ireland. In this video interview, he reflects on his WSI journey, shares his goals for the next five years and gives advice to new Internet Consultants.
Tell me a little about yourself and where you are located?
I’m married with two kids. I have a twin boy and girl, Aoibhin and Fiachra, aged 13. We live in Howth, a small fishing village 10 miles (16 km) north of Dublin in Ireland. We absolutely love sailing and the outdoors. So, living on a Peninsula is perfect.
My background is in consulting. I spent a number of years living in the U.S., where I was working for PeopleSoft. They were one of the top 4 Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software companies in the world at the time. With PeopleSoft, I consulted for organizations like Boeing in Seattle and then Northrop Grumman in LA and Dallas. Northrop Grumman is a big US defence contractor better known for developing the B52 stealth bomber! PeopleSoft relocated me back to London in the UK, which was gratefully closer to home, and I consulted with companies like Citibank, HSBC Bank and P&O Nedlloyd.
My goal was to get back to Ireland, so I moved to KPMG’s consulting division in Dublin where I headed up their Enterprise solutions practice and directed one of the biggest Government change management projects at the time. We outsourced HR functions across all Government departments and agencies for over 40,000 Public Sector employees.
My final move prior to WSI was with Oracle where I headed up their Consulting practice in Ireland. As part of that role, I set up a “near-shore” practice for deployment on projects across Europe and built a team of 50 consultants in Dublin.
Why did you want to become an Internet consultant and join WSI?
Coming from a consulting background, the WSI proposition really resonated with me. I already had lots of experience helping clients with solutions for their business. And, while digital marketing was new to me, the approach and the structure for approaching client engagements was a skill I could bring with me to this new role.
What’s the biggest value that you get from WSI?
I would have to say it’s the global network. We are so fortunate to have so many amazing professionals in our network from such a diverse range of verticals with really solid business experience. This is a huge differentiator for our local WSI agency in Ireland. The fact that I can reach out to colleagues across the world and pull them into a project where we can tap into their unique experience and knowledge… I mean, wow!
What job/business were you in before you started your WSI business?
Consulting Director with Oracle in Ireland.
Tell us about anyone who helped influence you into starting your own business?
My dad - he’s no longer with us now - was a big inspiration for my entrepreneurial endeavours. He was a medical doctor and was very involved in world medical politics, where he did a stint as president of the World Medical Association in 1977. In his spare time, he was chairman of two businesses, a crystal company called Cavan Crystal and a Fine Bone china company called Royal Tara.
I distinctly remember as a kid that Wednesday was meeting day in Dublin (we lived about 2 hours away at the time). During holidays from school, he would take me with him for the day and I would learn so much about business during that four-hour commute!
In terms of influence, I follow several entrepreneurs in the digital space. In particular, I’m a big advocate of Seth Godin. His philosophy is that “small is the new big”. My take on this is that the world is changing. There is a trend towards knowledge workers working in smaller teams. Smaller teams have less baggage, adapt quickly to changing market conditions, are more focused and, ultimately, get results.
So, I was looking for an opportunity to not only build a team, but also to have the autonomy to build a team culture that I could be proud of while still being connected to something bigger. WSI fit the bill. I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel from scratch. They already had a business proposition, as well as the marketing collateral and the delivery structure to run digital projects. I could focus on applying this knowledge to my local market and building my local agency.
How long have you been with WSI?
I joined in November 2007, so I’ve been with WSI for 12 years now.
I remember being out in Toronto in head office for my induction and training. It was one of the coldest winters in recent history. Brrr. It was such a great experience to meet head office staff and other consultants from around the world that were joining the network. Big shout out to my friends Daniel Depaz from Martinique and Andre Savoi from New Orleans, USA, who went through training with me and are still very active in the WSI network.
I had a consulting background but the digital marketing element was new. I absolutely loved it! It had a great mix of being technically challenging, cutting edge and was so relevant to helping solve business challenges. It’s safe to say I was hooked.
Describe your typical work week?
In this business, it’s hard to have a “typical week”! Having said that, it’s important to be organized, so there are a number of key meetings during the week that I always try to be there for.
The first is our daily huddle. This is where all of the team gets together to discuss their top priorities for the day. It’s a great opportunity for me to keep a handle on what’s going on in the agency and for the team to highlight any bottlenecks or issues that are impacting their workflow. Kristine, our operations director, runs the huddle and we keep it to fifteen minutes max – that’s the secret to its success. Apart from being on holiday, there is no excuse to miss the huddle.
I have a project meeting with Kristine, our operations director, every Tuesday, which runs from 60 to 90 mins, depending on what’s going on. Kristine is responsible for all client delivery and the purpose of the meeting is to discuss upcoming project milestones, new projects that need to be scheduled and any resourcing issues that we need to stay ahead of.
Also, on Tuesdays, we have our marketing meeting. My colleague, Enda, runs this meeting in which we discuss and get updates on the marketing strategy for the business. We are always running campaigns, planning and publishing content, scheduling webinars, etc. to promote the agency. Our goal is to “drink our own champagne” and be our own case study for clients. In my mind, it’s not reasonable to ask clients to trust our recommendations if we don’t take our own advice.
The final “structure” to my week is our Sales meeting on Thursdays. We keep this very brief and the goal is to make sure that we are being responsive to sales enquiries and are on top of live opportunities that are being nurtured in our marketing automation system.
About 18 months ago we also introduced the concept of off-site quarterly meetings for the entire team. It gives us a good opportunity to celebrate our successes as a team, and we discuss the challenges we are facing and what our action plan should look like for the next 90 days. We finish up with a fun team building activity and a few drinks.
I’m lucky to work with a fun bunch of people who like to work hard and play hard!
What highlights have you had since being with WSI?
Tough question. Over the past twelve years, there have been plenty of highlights. If I was to pick a few to single out I think I’d go with the attendance of the Global Conventions.
As you probably know, our Global Convention is held once a year and it’s been hosted in some fabulous venues like Miami Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Montreal. We’ve also had some great European regional meetings in Oxford, UK, Madrid in Spain, Bordeaux in France, and I was particularly delighted to host a couple of meetings in our home capital of Dublin. From a work perspective, these events are not only a great opportunity to chat with colleagues and understand what’s working well in their business, but you also come back with a host of great takeaways to implement in your own business. And, they are also great fun or “great craic” as we like to say in Ireland.
Another stand out was being invited into the Top Guns group. In addition to learning lots from the top consultants in the network, it’s also a great opportunity to give back. We are very fortunate that the WSI management team are always thinking about the future of the business. Personally, I love providing insights from the field that can help shape the brand direction going forward.
Thinking back, Francois Muscat and I shared some very special Top Guns meetings. I remember the meeting in the wine region of Osoyoos in British Columbia, Canada, where we had the “Zip and Sip” event. First, we got to zip line down the highest zipline in the world followed by sipping some of the local fine wines. On reflection, I think it was a good idea not to do this the other way round. A “sip and zip” tour might have ended up with some interesting results!
Another brainstorming session was in the beautiful Algonquin Park in one of the remotest parts of Canada. We literally canoed in to the resort and it was amazing as a group of digital marketers that we survived three days with zero Wi-Fi connection. The special part here was being in the moment, discussing ideas without being distracted by the web, email, calls, etc.
Thinking about Top Guns though, our most recent trip to Toronto is right up there, certainly in terms of adrenalin rush. We had a great meeting, and then we headed up to the CNN tower, Canada’s tallest building, where we literally hung off the building on a harness.
Now that I’ve been doing this for the past twelve years, it is great to give back. I remember when I first joined the network, I had so many questions I needed help with. Now it’s my turn to share some of my experiences with other consultants in the network. I enjoy presenting at our global conventions and other meetings. I’ve also had the opportunity to speak at other client and industry events, and I really enjoy this.
In terms of highlights, I have already made mention of being influenced by Seth Godin and the concept of “small is the new big”. One of my goals on my journey with WSI was to build a team, and I found this to be one of the most rewarding things that I’ve done. I have a fantastic team that makes me look good. We have a great company culture and have built an environment that’s professionally rewarding and a lot of fun. A number of the team have been working with the agency for many years, and it’s great to see them develop professionally.
What are the biggest obstacles that you have faced in running your business and how have you overcome them?
I’ve found that the type of obstacles or challenges changes at different stages of the business’ growth. When I first started, the main challenge was generating leads for the business. Leads were really the lifeblood of the company. This meant that it was really important to get in front of businesses and talk to them about how we could help them grow. I joined a number of networking groups like the chamber of commerce and BNI and used this as a platform to find my voice.
Once the business was up and running and we had projects to deliver, the challenge changed to resourcing. Who should be my first hire, then my second hire, and so on. Now, as the team grows, it is hugely important not only that we have the right people on the bus but also that they are on the right seats!
As digital marketers we work in a very fast-paced business – client expectations are high and, therefore, we need to deliver when we say we’ll deliver. Personally, I’m also a stickler for quality. I think this comes from working in professional services for the likes of KPMG and Bearingpoint. It’s become part of my DNA and it’s now part of our agency’s culture.
However, to do this you need a process. I’ve become an advocate of the EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) methodology for running a business. I hired Kristine as Director of Operations about two years ago, and she has really helped to implement some structure in the business, which has helped us to reach our delivery goals.
Another challenge that we face as digital marketers is keeping up with advancements in our ever-changing industry. It makes it an exciting space to work in, however, we need to be continually learning to stay ahead of the curve. We’re lucky to have so many leading light partners within our network like Google, Hubspot, Centro and SEMrush, to name a few, that keep us up to speed. But, as consultants, we do need to invest the time.
What do you think are the best skills that you bring to your business?
Definitely my consulting skills! It’s really important to enjoy what you do. And, I love this part of the job. I’m passionate about helping clients succeed and I, therefore, find it hard to hold back when I see an obvious path that I think they should follow!
As an agency, our core mission statement is around growth, innovation and commitment and we try to only work with clients where we can make a difference in terms of making them (and us) be more successful.
I’ve started to dial back from the day-to-day project work. I still do strategy consulting as it helps keep my skills fresh and my ideas clear. But, with Kristine on board as Operations Director, I’m taking a back seat now on projects and focusing more on growing the business.
What goals do you have for yourself that you want to accomplish in the next year?
I’m personally doing less project work. This means it is time now to take on board that old adage of “work on the business as opposed to working in the business”. On a strategy level, my goal is to transition to a CEO role where I help direct the future growth of the company.
Tactically, as an agency, we are going all-in on video. We have built a small studio in the office, and our goal is to lead our clients down this path. We have been talking up the virtues of video for a long time now but it has been an uphill push to get clients to embrace it. In the past, production costs were high and it has been difficult to clearly show the return on investment from investing in video. That’s all changed now, it’s cheaper to produce and the ROI story is now there.
When I think about the business, I feel the excitement of a start-up, the stability of a mature agency and the confidence of being connected to a global organisation.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years' time?
I’m highly motivated to push hard for the next five years. I’ve just turned 50, and I’m lucky to be in good health and still have plenty of gas left in the tank. I still see myself as leading the agency but my goal is for the agency to run really well without me being involved in the day-to-day.
I see myself getting involved in some global projects that I find interesting. As I said earlier, it’s really important to do what you love. One of the benefits of WSI is that there is always an opportunity to collaborate on projects with ICs around the world.
I mentioned earlier that as an agency we try to schedule an off-site meeting for the team once a quarter. We have 4 agency scorecards that we report on, namely Operations, Marketing, Finance and Culture. Responsibility for Finance and Culture currently sits with me. Obviously, the agency needs to meet its financial goals, but in some ways, I think the culture goal is the most important. If everyone is happy at work and finds it professionally rewarding, great things happen.
What advice would you give a new WSI Internet Consultant?
Never be afraid to ask the community for help – it’s how you learn. When you look at the profile of Consultants joining our network, many come from pretty senior corporate roles with diverse subject matter expertise and industry experience. I think it’s important for new Consultants to leverage this experience and their business networks when they first start.
Be a trusted advisor to your clients. This means you need to set the strategy using your consulting skills and you need to be innovative. When you start with tactical projects, sometimes it’s very difficult to steer the conversation towards strategy. My advice would be to start with strategy first, whenever you can. The reality is that a prospect often approaches us looking for help with a tactical campaign, like search advertising. However, many times they are lacking a digital strategy and plan, which they need to be successful. That is our differentiator.
As Digital Marketing consultants, our strategic thinking is our highest value product. We should not part with it without being paid!
Avoid loss leaders. Don’t engage with clients on low-cost projects today in the hope of turning them into profitable projects tomorrow. In my experience, that rarely happens. Start by setting the right expectations from the start.
Go to the global convention every year and attend our regional meetings. That is the benefit of being part of the WSI global network. Nothing beats face-to-face contact with other Consultants. In addition to the great golden nuggets that you pick up at the events, there is huge energy! Also, as an Consultant, it reminds you that you are part of something bigger far beyond the four walls of your home office – you are part of a global family!!
What would be your personal motto?
I love this quote from Babe Ruth, “You just can't beat the person who never gives up.”
In business, I think you face different challenges every day. But, the key is to keep on going even when you make mistakes.
I also like Zoey Hayward - in fact, she is on the wall behind me, “Don't wait for the perfect idea - take the idea and make it perfect.”
Digital Marketing is a very tough profession for a perfectionist. Of course, quality is important. But, at some point, you just have to go for it and hit the publish button! Waiting for perfect often means a lost opportunity…
If we went to happy hour, what would you order?
Well, coming from Ireland, I would have to say Guinness! They do say, though, that Guinness doesn’t travel, so when I’m travelling I’m more than happy to pick another tipple. Come to think of it, I really liked that Steam Whistle IPA that we tried in Toronto.
If you could be anywhere other than here talking to me - right this minute - where would you be?
Definitely sailing. It’s a life-time sport, and it’s my passion outside of work. If you’ve had a busy week, there is nothing better than heading out on the boat. It’s the ultimate stress buster.