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Swimming with the big boys

July 2016

Watching a jellyfish swim, your eye is drawn to its upward struggle. There’s a big push up, a bit of coasting as it gains its new position, then another push. Which is why it seems appropriate that the free-swimming marine animal was chosen as the namesake for Jellyfish — a digital marketing company with an impressive upward trajectory throughout its 17 years at the forefront of the industry.
“We started from humble beginnings as a purely PPC and performance agency,” says PPC director Allie Vadas. “We’ve since grown and developed into a full-service digital marketing agency, offering everything from search marketing to design and build. Today, we have more than 300 employees across three countries in seven offices.”
After several years gaining branding and direct response experience, Vadas joined Jellyfish in early 2014 because she enjoyed the small agency mindset on a big agency roster. “We have clients that are in the automotive industry, education, business-to-consumer and e-commerce,” she explains. “We really run the gamut in the breadth of clients that we service. It allows us to have a taste of different industries and go after different goals.”
From all these disparate companies, Jellyfish excels at extracting common strategies and successes — so that when one client has a breakthrough, others can share in it.

“Our vision is to be the world’s biggest boutique agency,” explains the Maryland native, who works out of the company’s U.S. headquarters in Baltimore. “What that means is that we are everything you’d expect from a smaller agency — the accountability, the autonomy and the flexibility. However, the truth is, we deliver scale and reach for a number of premier brands. We care, we’re accountable, we’re highly specialized and transparent, and our clients always come first.” 
That’s no small task when you have 100-plus clients all over the globe, from North America and Europe to South Africa and Korea. But what has fueled Jellyfish’s ascension isn’t its trailing tentacles or pulsating bell, but good old-fashioned data.
“We maintain a broad picture of everything,” Vadas says with pride. “We suggest strategies and tactics based on data. Everything is measured — but that doesn’t mean it’s not creative as well.”

An extension of the team

Part of this creativity is fueled by the company’s partnership with Bing Ads. Working closely with Vadas and others, the Bing Ads team assists with targeting the highly desirable, more-likely-to-purchase audience that its clients demand. It’s a valuable push, especially when you’re swimming upstream.
“The Bing Ads team does a great job of differentiating and scaling our accounts. We work very closely with them; their account service and their client service teams are exceptional,” Vadas says. “They really are an extension of our team. We talk to them regularly about different strategies and the different challenges that we're having, and they provide solutions as to what we can do for our clients.”

Strength in adversity

That isn’t to say that the waters haven’t occasionally been choppy. In 2009, Jellyfish celebrated its 10th anniversary and the staff had grown to 80 employees. Suddenly, the agency lost three major clients, totaling 60% of its gross profits. For many companies, that series of events could be fatal. Jellyfish, however, saw it as its dare-to-be-great opportunity.
“Whereas others would have made cuts, we continued to invest in the company, including opening the Baltimore headquarters,” explains Vadas, calling it the greatest adversity her company has ever faced. “The agency’s leadership chose to be transparent with employees, encouraged the team to pull together and focused on the future. In time, the agency secured new business and continued to develop, ultimately opening more offices and growing to where we now have more than 300 employees worldwide.”
So what does the future hold for Jellyfish? Although digital marketing will always be difficult to navigate, its upward trajectory continues — and with a firm plan in place, the waters are inviting.
“Not only will we be committed to delivering a first-class service, but also a comprehensive, cross-channel digital strategy and performance results that exceed expectations,” Vadas says. “Using technology, we are better able to see how paid search incorporates with the other channels, such as display, social and even natural search. The future of paid search is to understand the audience who is searching for your brand and serve them the right message at the right time. It will be less reactive and much more proactive in tailoring the messaging for the users.”