Lasting – Insite

Episode graphic for "An Agency Story" podcast with Nicki Purcell - title Lasting - Hosted by Russel Dubree - picture of Nicki smiling in the lower right corner with blonde hair and black blouse.
Nicki shares her entrepreneurial journey and discusses the importance of storytelling in connecting with listeners. She emphasizes the need for positive and informative content that can inspire and promote engagement. The episode explores the role of Insite in driving PR efforts, driving web traffic, and delivering brochures at trade shows.

Company: Insite

Owners: Nicki Purcell

Year Started: 1998

Employees: 26 – 50

In this podcast episode, Russel Dubree interviews Nicki Purcell, the President of Insite, a digital marketing agency.  

Nicki shares her entrepreneurial journey and discusses the importance of storytelling in connecting with listeners. She emphasizes the need for positive and informative content that can inspire and promote engagement. The episode explores the role of Insite in driving PR efforts, driving web traffic, and delivering brochures at trade shows.  

Nicki offers valuable advice for agency owners, such as surrounding oneself with great people who fill the gaps or blind spots, creating a roadmap for success, and staying true to one’s goals. She emphasizes the importance of perspective, context, and being a calming voice amidst the noise.  

Throughout the conversation, Russel and Nicki touch on various topics, including Insite’s future direction, the significance of listening to clients, and the value of taking breaks to clear one’s mind. They also discuss the idea of a book filled with tips for agency owners, where Nicki shares her pro tip of providing perspective and context.  

Notable quotes from the episode include Nicki’s Insite that “perspective and context are critical” and her advice to agency owners to “take a break and to walk away, even if it’s only for 15 or 20 minutes, and to be able to clear your mind.”  

Enjoy the story.

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Show Transcript

Welcome to An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world. From the excitement of starting up the first big sale, passion, doubt, fear, freedom, and the emotional rollercoaster of growth, hear it all on An Agency Story podcast. An Agency Story podcast is hosted by Russel Dubree, successful agency owner with an eight figure exit turned business coach. Enjoy the next agency story.

Russel: 

Welcome to An Agency Story podcast. I’m your host, Russel. On this episode, we have Nicki Purcell, the president of Insite, a digital agency based in Dallas, Texas that provides design and development services for technology platforms. I’m not sure you could have more descriptors for my relationship with Nicki, from client to coworker, collaborator and friend, I’m very excited to have her on the show. Having a unique perspective as a non founder running an agency, Nicki offers valuable advice for agency leaders, such as surrounding oneself with great people, fill the gaps or blind spots, creating a roadmap for success and staying true to one’s goals. She emphasizes the importance of perspective, context, and being a calming voice amidst the noise. Enjoy the story. Welcome to the show today, everyone. I have Nicki Purcell with Insite with us here today. Thank you so much for being on the show today, Nicki.

Nicki: 

Thanks for having me.

Russel: 

It is my pleasure. To let the folks at home know, this is a special episode. This is probably the person I’ve known the most, a friend, colleague, client, fellow UT fan. There’s probably a lot of adjectives we can throw in here, but yeah, this is a special one.

Nicki: 

I Appreciate it. It’s fun to get to reconnect.

Russel: 

Always. If you don’t mind, start us off. Tell us what Insite does and who do you do it for?

Nicki: 

Insite is a digital agency. We’re based here in Dallas, but we work with clients across the globe, primarily in North America. We are a software development firm. We do website development as well as business applications and even some native applications. Fortunately, we’ve been in a position to do this for a long time. We are celebrating our 25th anniversary since the company was founded this year.

Russel: 

25. I’m only 24, so been around longer than me.

Nicki: 

Now, I haven’t been here 25 years, but at least the company was founded in 1998, a mere eight years after the commercial internet was born. We’ve been around for some time.

Russel: 

That’s crazy. I want to get more into that. What’s behind the name? Where did the name originate?

Nicki: 

Insite was founded by Adrienne Palmer and she is the quintessential entrepreneur. She wanted to develop a new company, get things started, love technology. One of the things that she recognized is it wasn’t about learning everything you could about the web and how to help solve clients problems. It was to gain insight for herself and to be able to learn more about her own personal journey, and why it was something that was important for her to start this company. Insite made sense. It’s I N S I T E, as in the back half of website. It’s also providing great insight to our client partners, as well as her personal journey when she founded the company.

Russel: 

I love good plays on words. Makes perfect sense. Let’s get back to some of your story. As you mentioned, you didn’t found the company, and so there was a career before even agency life. Let’s go back before that. What was young Nicki wanting to be when she grew up?

Nicki: 

Young Nicki actually wanted to be in the broadcasting world. I had a grandfather who had been in television news for more than a number of decades, and I was fortunate enough to get to hang around news stations. As such, I grew an interest in that and my degree’s in journalism, broadcasting specifically. I thought that’s what I was going to do, anchor the news one day, and ultimately decided not to pursue that career. That morphed into something that’s very tangential, which is public relations. I went to work for my very first agency, which was a PR agency. From there, lots and twists and turns to get to where I am now. Thinking back to that now, we’ve even recently tried to acquire some video footage of young Nicki and her identical twin sister sitting on my grandfather’s knee when he brought us on to introduce us to the San Antonio audience after we were first born.

Russel: 

You got a taste of being an anchor in the early days when you mentally decided that wasn’t for you?

Nicki: 

You could say that.

Russel: 

And then, went to UT and then have a son that’s at A&M. How are you dealing with that household rivalry?

Nicki: 

In hindsight, I should have seen that coming. I am married to an Aggie. When I think about how we raised our son, certainly there were days where he was dressed in burnt orange and others maroon, but I’m not entirely sure if my husband had more brainwashing involved. No, seriously, both are great universities. I root for each of them when they’re not playing each other, but clearly next year with the SEC, there could be a whole different level of competition in our house. I’m grinning and bearing that decision, but I know it’s the right place for him.

Russel: 

That’ll be a fun day when that game happens. We won’t go down that bag of worms and all the conference realignment and stuff. This is an agency podcast show. You talk about some of those twists and turns, you went to work for at least one large organization that I know of and a couple others. What was your goals once you decided you weren’t gonna do the broadcasting route? What career path were you following?

Nicki: 

As I look back, I actually feel like most of the career path that I had was chosen for me. I don’t look at it as though I set specific goals. In fact, sometimes I set goals that were opposite of what I ended up achieving. I feel like work and opportunities found me. Maybe it was serendipitous or maybe I was blessed, but I didn’t set out with certain goals. After I decided not to go into broadcasting, I had an opportunity to join a public relations firm. I was doing PR and I was doing it for consumer based brands first, followed by high tech brands. When I started working in technology, I loved it. I found the advancement of technology would be fascinating. A lot of what you do in PR is you drive the news media analysts back to clients websites, or you deliver brochures at trade shows. A lot of the clients, especially if they’re startup tech companies, they didn’t have a lot of resources there. I remember going to the owner of this agency and saying, we should start offering things like website development, collateral materials, et cetera. This is a strictly PR firm. I said, okay why can’t we start offering that? He said, cause we don’t know how to. I said, let me try it. Let me do it. Let me go see what I can do. I’m going to use our existing clients as a good bellwether and a test for whether or not we can get into this. I had the other account managers introduce me to their clients. I did research up front to identify what they might need in terms of a more full service marketing agency deliverable. I started selling and it took off. Over the course of a couple of months, we transitioned into a full service agency and I loved it. It’s one of those things where I felt like I was getting to be entrepreneurial in spirit, but with someone else’s capital and the base of a nice brand to be able to do that on. That wasn’t a goal. One of the things that happened is one of the clients that I worked on, a marketing client that I brought into the agency, asked me to come work for them. I thought, I don’t want to make this leap to what we used to call client side, but certainly fewer hours, a generous paycheck were things that came with that. I said, okay, and I left at the opportunity. That’s where I first experienced working for a larger organization, a corporate America job, as they say, in air quotes. Ultimately, I have a couple of years in different backgrounds in some of those jobs, but I would say the path I traversed was somewhat similar to what they call the sort of drunken walk of the entrepreneur, and then I went big corporate America job. Went back to an agency, went back to corporate America. Back to an agency, and part of that was again, the opportunities that presented themselves. It wasn’t what I drove from a career goal perspective. It’s what happened to me. I remember having a fairly milestone birthday, probably about a decade ago. I decided, okay, instead of having my career pick me, what do I want to pick? How do I want to make the next decision? Something that meets the needs of things that I enjoy most and feel like it meets all the tick boxes. A lot of this career and the path I’ve taken has not been defined by goals I set way back when I was a longhorn at UT in Austin.

Russel: 

Walk of the drunken entrepreneur. Is that the quote that that I’m going to write down here because I like it?

Nicki: 

Yes. Or you can call it the stumble, right? But when you think about the drunken walk of the entrepreneur, it’s from the perspective of twists and turns that are unexpected, that take you down paths that you didn’t plan for. It’s a real thing. We talk about it in design school, when we’re launching businesses and trying to identify, is there a real path here?

Russel: 

I got my adjective misplaced there. Drunken walk of the entrepreneur. Very cool term. I imagine a lot of people can identify with that. Let’s talk real quick about where our stories started to come together. That was when you were at the Dallas Morning News and made the big leap to decide to hire our agency to work with you, which is again, the start of our relationship. You seem like you’re a person that’s not afraid to take risk and chances, and I can’t remember exactly how big we were at the time, but we were a smaller agency. Does that characterize your approach to business is, find an opportunity and seize it or what’s your thought process? What the heck were you thinking, maybe is the other word I’m trying to say.

Nicki: 

I believe in relationships and people. Perhaps Lifeblue at the time was a smaller agency to support the size of client that I was when I was able to meet you guys, but in the end, there is risk and you always have to offset that risk and identify what plan B, C or D might look like. The relationship was strong. The consultative process and the ideas that were brought forward were stronger than anything that we felt we needed to pick something that was what I call maybe a safer bet, at the time. When you ask, am I potentially that risk taker or am I more risk averse? I would say that as long as I felt like I always kept a strong network and I work hard at keeping that going, that I take as big a risk as I feel necessary to make a step change or leap change. Ultimately it’s proven itself well in corporate America jobs and elsewhere. A lot of people live in fear, and sometimes when you set goals for things that you actually want to achieve, that’s the most common way of doing it. I remember somebody giving me advice once and they said, okay, when you write down all your goals, also write down all your fears, because if you don’t know them, you can’t address them. You might actually step on one of those or ignore something that you naturally should have take you out of your comfort zone if you chase the goal. Ultimately, the risk is there, but the larger risks often come with larger rewards and in that case, it certainly paid off.

Russel: 

As long as I’ve known you, in this episode I’ve already picked up a couple of new Nicky-isms that I find inspiring. When you’ve got your goals write down your fears. I can see where that would be very helpful exercise. It’s about, effectively, risk mitigation if you know what the risks potentially are. We’re not going to spend a lot of time on it and I’m sure people are like, come on, Russel, do that. But you eventually came to work at Lifeblue and take over the helm, go back to the agency world, go back to the small business world. Talk a little bit about that moment in time and what that leap and journey was like for you and what you were thinking in that timeframe, in that particular step of your drunken entrepreneurial path.

Nicki: 

It came from a lot of things that fit into it. I had finished what was my second stint as an officer in a publicly traded company. Very large corporate America experience. Naturally, there are great things and there are challenging things when you’re looking for that next opportunity and deciding what to do. There’s a lot of questions that flood in, and I’m sure that’s one of the times that exercise I described of writing down your fears as well as your goals came into effect. This was probably one of the only times I gave myself a real window of time to think through what it is that I want to do next. It wasn’t expected that I would leave to go to a much smaller company and be there as the lead. I chased what would be a natural career track position was fortunate enough to win that role, was made an offer. I remember the day I called my husband and said, guess what? I got the job. He said, that’s fantastic. I said, but you know what else? I’m not taking it. There was a long pause and he goes, what are you talking about? Sometimes you have to get something that you’re chasing for so long to realize you don’t want it. There was a real hesitation in me taking that opportunity. I went back to the drawing board and said, okay, think through this. What is it that you want to do? It’s funny, at the time, completely serendipitous, had nothing to do with what was going on career wise. I had moved into a relatively new house, was attempting to decorate it. I’m terrible at decorating. My twin sister got those genetics, I did not. I was looking on different sites to select art for my home office and pick a painting. There was a painting, and I can see it now, I stare at it quite frequently, but it is a painting of a fork in the road. When you’re coming up to this work in the road, it’s trees, but way off in the distance, faintly, you can see this person walking down one of the paths and you see well off in that distance, even further, the outline of a house. It’s a home. The other side going to the left is blank and the name of the painting was When Going Left Wasn’t Right and left was away from the home. Personally, I have three boys. I felt as though the position that I won and it was my considerations that would have put me back on the road quite a bit, traveling a lot of times and actually quite a bit internationally. I felt like I wanted to be more present and more home and be able to focus on a better balance of life if that whole work life balance thing even exists. I was excited about the opportunity of thinking about a very different position that I had held. That became a great opportunity when there was the chance to join LifeBlue, something that was already somewhat familiar to me after having worked in partnership form as a client, to be able to join and take that leap. That was an overview of how I ultimately made that decision.

Russel: 

Yet another inspiring part of your journey. I’m not even sure if I even knew that. Gosh, this is such an enlightening conversation. Obviously, you’ve gone down a path and for very good reasons and you’ve had this amazing opportunity with Insite. What did that represent for you and the next step in your journey? Your drunken entrepreneurial journey?

Nicki: 

To be clear, I am sober, but it’s a walk. It’s a euphemism. What was new to me in joining Insite primarily was the first opportunity to have equity and be a co-owner of a business. It wasn’t an opportunity that I was necessarily looking for, but when it came and it was during the pandemic, and you think about those people who made big career changes or life moves during the pandemic. It’s one of those things that ultimately a lot changed in 2020 and it caused us to rethink everything that we knew about our current state. I felt compelled to be a part owner of an agency and have the ability to drive decisions differently and feel like I could set the foundation for what I think is probably the most fun part of my job, which is working with people and setting up a culture that enables people to do the best work of their lives, to be able to, in a very sort of democratic way, involve them in the strategy. Understand what their goals are and then make it a reality. It’s a fun thing to be able to do that. Uniquely, I felt like ownership in the agency was what provided that opportunity.

Russel: 

From what I know, I feel like it is, and I don’t know if it was initial risk aversion, but you’ve inched yourself more and more so into a true entrepreneur and as you said, ownership. You’re a savvy, smart, hardworking business woman. Has there a thought ever crossed your mind, maybe I should go start my own agency from the ground up, be a hundred percent owner and do that, or is that not appealing to you?

Nicki: 

The short answer to your question is no, I never thought about it. Seriously, there was a conversation for a period of time where actually my twin sister and I thought about, let’s go start our own thing, the two of us together. But outside of that fleeting moment, which was fun to think about but never fully vetted or explored, perhaps because I have the experience in business and the thought there. I wanted to make sure that some of the groundwork was already laid. Some of the processes were in place, that there was brand recognition already. Those are things that have significant value. The ability to be able to come in, have some ownership but also lead a company with those things in place is difficult to even put a value on versus having to build those all the way from scratch. Now, I’ll tell you, it is daunting in a different way. When you’ve had a history of now 25 years, you got to make sure you don’t come in and you’re the one that screws it up. Can you imagine if, on your watch, everything sort of changes or goes the wrong direction? That would be the opposite. When you’re an entrepreneur and you’re starting it and you make mistakes, it’s expected. People say, of course, you’re going to make mistakes. That’s okay. Pick yourself back up and get back to work. When something is established successful, for the most part, living off of referral business from happy client partners, the last thing you want to do is be the person that comes in and messes that up. It’s a very different perspective, but it enables me to certainly live out what is an entrepreneurial spirit that I say always lived inside me, even when I started that sort of marketing division at that very first PR agency. Now, instead of doing it on someone else’s capital, I’ve been in a position to put my money where my mouth is.

Russel: 

Now that you’re in the helm, you’ve been in there a little bit now, where are you trying to take Insite to? What does the future look like?

Nicki: 

I used to have an idea of planning for the five year plan. One of the things that we do in an executive position and sort of corporate America, particularly the C suite is what’s called long range planning. Let’s build the LRP. Sometimes they’re three years, sometimes they’re five years out. What I’ve come to learn, and certainly that I apply now is we have no idea what five years is going to be like. In fact, if we attempted to guess, we would probably be wrong. In that case, depending on the processes and plans we put in place, we’d have to renavigate and pivot. We try to focus primarily on the next one to two years and how we’re going to change things. I go into planning each fall, we identify where it is that we feel are opportunity areas for the agency, and then we build our strategic pillars around it for the next full year. We live against those with different goals throughout the quarters to set those. I probably cannot tell you what Insite is going to look like in the next five years, but what I can tell you is that there are some truths to our agency that we’ll always live on. Those are more of our values. We certainly want to and continue to collaborate with our clients to solve problems. We’re not prescriptive in nature. We want to make sure that we are listening and that we’re providing solutions that create value for them. People say, yeah, you always want an ROI. You always want this, identifying the right clients for us, making sure that we’re staying abreast of the horizon and bringing good solutions to our clients is what we’ve been doing for 25 years. Quite frankly, we want to continue to do that, but make sure that we’re having a lot of fun along the way too.

Russel: 

Got to have fun. Someone that’s, I think, again, in a unique position, a lot of the folks that have on the show and a lot of folks that lead agencies period are the owner or the founder. I don’t know what the exact percentage breakdown, but you’re certainly unique territory. What’s an advantage you feel like coming in, in your shoes, not being the owner, founder, and what’s a disadvantage, something you’ve had to overcome?

Nicki: 

I would say perhaps the advantage, coming into something that already has a rich history is the fact that it does have a history. You’ve got a team of people who have gelled, worked together for a number of years and already have processes in place and they’ve been successful. You’re not coming into what I would consider to be a turnaround situation, which is what a lot of my roles in business have been. I was one of those people that, I was tapped on the shoulder and said, hey, can you go solve that problem over there? I’d say, gosh, I’m not even in that department, but that was fun and interesting. I usually had around a two year, maybe three year max time period to take an area of the business that might’ve been struggling and to turn it around. Coming into a business like Insite, which is a digital agency that’s had a rich history, I didn’t need to do that. That was definitely one of the benefits, that it was a strong company and I was able to come in and then say, where can we take this? Maybe one of the downsides and one of the challenges is if there are opportunities for change, or maybe I’ll refer to as evolution, some of the challenges is that the process is in place, the people, et cetera, may be a little more averse to change. We’ve always done it this way. Why would we change? Why would we be open to a completely different perspective? I would say more on the operation side of the business is where I started taking a look at things that I thought were opportunities to be able to optimize. Making changes, whether it’s our sales process, whether it’s how we ultimately manage invoicing or for time materials or for value based pricing or how we go down the path of stage gate process and approvals, et cetera. All of those things I felt were open season for evaluating, asking questions for why it’s done that way and being able to potentially pepper in a different perspective to see how it might work. Some folks reluctant to change or to try things that they feel like it’s been proven.

Russel: 

Makes total sense. Again, from a unique perspective, and other owners out there might be interested in this, cause I think a lot of owners talk about, have a goal somewhere down the path, depending where they’re on their journey of this idea of succession planning. This idea of at some point someone else is going to step in the helm while they go do whatever the next stage of their adventure is. What advice, from your experience and Insite do you have to those folks out there? When evaluating the decision, when bringing someone in can make that better, smoother, set up that person for success.

Nicki: 

I think what you’re asking about is what I call succession planning. If I think about the next person that might come in and step into Insite, it’s not any different than I’d give advice for anyone that stepped into any position I would have filled, or that I took myself when I stepped into a brand new position. That is to know where your strengths are. You might be leading an agency. You might be the founder or even owner of it, but it doesn’t mean that you are the best person to do every role there. If you have a good idea of where your strengths are, make sure you find good people to surround yourself with. Let them be the people that are best at what they do and get out of their way, quite frankly. Because you’re in a leadership position, it doesn’t mean that you are then the best person to do every role. That’s a piece of advice I would give for anyone who would step in, is to surround yourself with great people, and particularly people who fill the gaps or the blind spots that you’re aware of. The second thing is, I think it’s very overwhelming to come into a new role, any leadership role. Not just one leading a company, but any kind of executive or management team role. I like to read business books and one of the best ones is where it set out the criticality for a 90 day plan. For me, it’s something that I live by every time I come into a new role, I say, okay, got to build the 90 day plan. My team will probably laugh because they’ll remember the original presentations of my 90 day plan that I shared with them after joining and it was pretty ugly, it included clip art, and I have designers I lead that were probably covering their face in shame. But besides how how it was designed, it was meant to provide a roadmap for what they could expect as well as what I can hold myself accountable to. There are so many areas to focus in when you’re a leader in an organization that what you have to do is identify what’s your most pressing, and then make sure that you stay true to that in order to have some goals that you can accomplish within the first 90 days.

Russel: 

Wonderful. Write that down folks.

Nicki: 

Another quote.

Russel: 

Yes. Highly quotable episode. As much as I’d love to interview you for hours and hours and pick up more nuggets, we will have to start to bring this close. As someone who’s been in the interesting path, as we’ve identified, the last big question I have for you, are entrepreneurs born or are they made?

Nicki: 

I’m going to say they’re born. The reason I say that is because even before I was leading an agency, I had an entrepreneurial spirit. I didn’t necessarily take the risk to go start my own company from scratch, but I knew and found pockets and ways to do that in the jobs that I had, whether it was inventing the marketing side of the business to that very first agency or being at a role like at the Dallas morning news, where we segmented a group of people, went and acted like a startup and built an entire sort of cottage site and solution for our audience. I think they’re born. I think it’s an innate curiosity and a spirit that has to be there. Some people could argue that but to me it’s what’s down deep inside.

Russel: 

If people want to know more about Insite, where can they go?

Nicki: 

They can visit insite.net, which is our URL. We’re also on all the major social channels, and fun fact, cause it’s our 25th anniversary of this year, we have a nice page that is built around our history, where we went and actually designed the page so you can see what Insite’s personal site looked like 25 years ago and then the evolution of it all the way to present day. I invite you to visit that or certainly follow us on social.

Russel: 

I bet there are some cool websites done and I’m sure that’s an interesting journey. There you have it folks. Again, highly quotable episode. Thank you so much, Nicki, for another opportunity to sit down and share your story and learn more about all the awesome things you’ve done in your career. Appreciate you taking the time to be on the show today.

Nicki: 

Thank you, Russel, for having me, and Hook’em Horns.

Russel: 

There you go, go Horns.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world. Are you interested in being a guest on the show? Send an email to podcast@performancefaction.com. An Agency Story is brought to you by Performance Faction. Performance Faction offers services to help agency owners grow their business to 5 million dollars and more in revenue. To learn more, visit performancefaction.com.

Nicki: 

On Monday, I got to teach a class at SMU. I do it as a guest lecture like once a semester. While I was in the class and we were talking about much more technical, less fun things like search engine optimization and Google analytics for and how it’s impacting, and content strategies. He stopped me and he said, hold on a second. Aren’t you an identical twin? I said, yeah. He goes, did I make up the story or did it happen where you guys pulled the old switcheroo on stage at work once? It’s actually a true story. My sister was the Chief Marketing Officer for her company and decided that they needed to rebrand. She had only been at this company for a few months, so most of the people there, hundreds of people in the company, didn’t know her or didn’t know that I even existed. Given that our lives are somewhat similar in marketing, web development and all those things. She said, okay, help me brainstorm. What should we do to kick this off, this big sales conference you have to do? What we decided to do was have me come out once she was introduced and I came on stage. I had the first like four or five slides of hers memorized and I started delivering the presentation. When I got to the point where I said, you might be wondering why we should rebrand, and it comes down to differentiation. Like for example, you might think I’m the best person to stand up here and give this presentation, but I’m not. It’s actually your real chief marketing officer, and then I introduced her and she walked out. The place was so A, confused, B, chaotic and crazy with laughter and three, with a standing ovation. It was a phenomenal way to introduce a fun topic that, in hindsight, we could only ever do once. I love that it worked because that’s probably one of the most frequent questions I get when people learn that I’m an identical twin is, did you ever switch places? I was like, hey, yeah, we have one of those stories too.

Russel: 

I guess it would have been cliche that I was hoping we’d get a twin switch story in here somewhere.

Nicki: 

How do you know halfway through the podcast, Carrie didn’t start talking instead of me?

Russel: 

It’s true. This is true. For the folks at home, it is actually very hard. I’ve had both sisters in the office and I have probably mistaken one of their identities at one point, flippantly walking by. It can happen.

Nicki: 

It makes life fun.