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NI Digital Expert interview: Mark Haslam

So far I’m incredibly happy with the feedback on my NI Digital Experts interview series. People seem to enjoy hearing about all these amazingly talented and dedicated experts living and working in our wee country.

This week we’re interviewing Mark Haslam, founder and MD of PPC agency Loud Mouth Media.

Mark and I operate in the same space (Google search) but we do entirely different things. I get sites to rank organically, whereas Mark specialises in paid ads on Google’s search results. In spite of that, or perhaps because of that, Mark and I get along great, and I have huge respect for his accomplishments.

In fact, I consider Mark and I to be the good & evil twins of search engine marketing in Northern Ireland; he’s the PPC guy, I’m the SEO dude. And I’m pretty sure I’m the evil one – after all I’ve got the facial hair.

It’s easy to get started with PPC but it’s hard – very hard – to do well. Mark does it very well indeed. When it comes to PPC, Mark’s agency Loud Mouth Media is the only one I would recommend; they are at the top of their game and can deliver superb results.

So let’s hear from Mark and how he got started in the digital industry.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in to the digital industry: how you discovered the internet, and how you became so involved with it?

So, there is a simple answer to this one: I love tech and marketing. Going back to when I studied at A Level, a long time ago, business was the only thing that interested me, and this became even more obvious when I received my A Level Results! (Not good!) As a result I didn’t get the Uni place I wanted but eventually graduated with a 2:2 in Business.

The next number of years saw me floating around a number of sales jobs in telecoms and advertising, until I arrived at a pretty huge telecoms company where I was selling advertising space to local companies.

As the market moved on, my focus shifted pretty quickly to the possibilities within digital and fortunately for me so did that of the company. I moved over to a new online sales team where I cemented my love of digital products due to the transparency and measurability! (Big word)

From there I decided that I could do it even better myself and so I walked out of that company, with no job, no prospects of getting one, and my wife had just had our second son. Great timing I’m sure you’ll agree!

Then after a couple of months of faffing around and deciding that I was largely unemployable, I set up Loud Mouth Media, named after my dear mother in law! (Don’t worry, she knows and loves it!) From then on I’ve become absolutely immersed in everything search, display & social advertising.

The key for me is that I absolutely love it! I get to use my experience I have built up in dealing with people of all types and also my love of tech. (And possibly my OCD tendencies getting a hit from all the stats and measurable results.)

Your formal education is in business. If you could go back, would you choose to study the same at university, pick a different topic, or skip university altogether?

As I sort of touched on there I stumbled into Uni to study a degree that was far from my first choice. If I look back, I probably should have left school after my GCSEs but I’m not sure I would have landed where I am now if I had. There weren’t too many digital marketing courses available back in the very early 2000’s so I probably did as best as I could.

My advice to my kids and anyone willing to listen now is ‘if you are going to Uni, study something you have a real interest in doing when you leave, don’t just get a degree for degrees sake‘.

Personally, when I look at CVs I am more interested in the person and their experience rather than their education, although it does play a part.

You spent years working in-house at British Telecom before you set up on your own. What made you decide to start your own business, and how did your experiences at BT shape your entrepreneurial journey?

Arrogance probably! I decided after about 5-6 years in BT that I could do things better, rightly or wrongly. I decided that I wanted to be building relationships with clients and become an important part of their marketing team, rather than someone that shows up every 11-12 months looking for more commission.

Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t have done what I do now without BT as it taught me a number of great lessons. (Like where all the best cafes are around NI!) I had always wanted to start my own business and this was only fuelled by seeing my brother doing so well with his.

The difficulty in being a sales person that wants to start a business is you need something to sell, and until the Google AdWords product came along I didn’t feel I had that offering.

Your agency Loudmouth Media is dedicated to online advertising. What appeals to you in advertising, which is seen by so many (myself included) as one of the internet’s primary polluters? Why should we take ads seriously as businesses and as consumers?

Baz, I love our conversations on this topic! I’ll be very honest, there is a bit of a stigma around the Paid Advertising industry and I completely understand that. Let’s face it, day to day we are bombarded by ads for things that we have no interest in, we didn’t ask for, and in no way impact our lives.

The appeal for me is being able to place strategic advertising in front of users with a genuine need for what we are showing. Thanks to the various new means of targeting that Google, Bing, Facebook, Twitter etc afford us, we can put things in front of people based on such a vast array of interests, demographics, wants etc that we get rid of the spammy feel and go for the targeted approach.

I feel that’s what makes us different and ultimately has laid the foundations of our success. We don’t want to spend all of a clients budget just because we can, we want to spend as little as possible and achieve the maximum result.

Why should ads be taken seriously? Good question! To be blunt, they shouldn’t be unless they interest you. Lazy people place ads in front of just anyone. People that know what they are doing from a strategic marketing view place ads in front of users based on a need, want, desire or action. As a result, everyone wins! The advertiser spends less by being more specific and the user wins by actually seeing what interests them! Bonus! I’m more than happy for the majority of the ad industry to do it the old way though!

With the rise of ad blockers and an increasing focus on consumer privacy, online advertising seems to face an existential threat. Where do you see the online advertising industry headed in the near future? And what about the industry’s long-term prospects?

My feeling is that the industry should feel threatened. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone clicks ads, but a hell of a lot of people do! I feel that the search engines should be forcing relevance and therefore users would be less inclined to use things such as ad blockers.

In saying that, we have a hell of a lot of clients that are doing very well and getting better every month so I’m not too sure ad blockers are having the effect some (you Baz) feel they are!

Tell us a bit about your hobbies outside of work; what do you enjoy in your life outside of the office?

Outside of work I am generally still stuck in front of my laptop, much to my wife’s dismay! I have 3 young kids and everything I do is to make their lives as enjoyable as possible. I love spending time with them, although it can be hard sometimes, but they are everything to me, as is my wife.

I love a game of golf and I turn up to football on a Tuesday, i’ll not say ‘play’ as that’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination! I love to watch sport on TV and I enjoy a beer with my mates.

Lastly, give us one website or app that you feel is vastly underrated and deserves a wider audience.

From a work point of view Xero is a life saver! It saves so much time on mundane accounting stuff I couldn’t do without it. Personally, Talk Sport is my go to app. Cant get enough of it!

About Mark Haslam

Mark Haslam

Loud Mouth Media, Mark has a wealth of online advertising knowledge and experience. As well as speaking at industry events and lecturing for the Digital Marketing Institute, Mark has built Loud Mouth Media from a one-man-band in 2011 to currently one of the top SEM agencies in the UK.

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