Profile: Greg Gragg talks about what’s exciting in EDU

By Shahnaz MahmudFebruary 25, 2015

“LeadsCon is always what I would consider a ‘bizarre bazaar,’” quips Greg Gragg, Chairman and CEO of Blue Chair, LLC and CEO of Gragg Advertising. “It’s full of great trinkets of information — as long as you are going to go out and talk to people and glean from it. You get people from all different types of industries and arenas. There is never a day at LeadsCon where I don’t learn something new.”

Gragg will be speaking at the upcoming LeadsCon Las Vegas conference in March on the "Opportunities in Education: Marketing Strategies for the Entire Student Journey" panel.

These were actually Gragg’s parting words as we were hanging up the phone from our very interesting interview. Gragg exudes a lot of passion — as entrepreneurs do. I found him to be equal parts animated in talking about his panel and his background.

Full of vinegar and chutzpah

He founded Gragg Advertising 22 years ago at the age of 28. Gragg says it was a lack of knowledge that led him to create what was then a traditional advertising agency. “I was full of vinegar and chutzpah and didn’t really conform to normal corporate strategy,” he says. Having worked for such heavy hitters as Time Warner and already being minted as a director at an ad agency, Gragg found that he wanted to do things his way. “I saw inefficiencies in the way things were being done. I’d make suggestions that weren’t being taken, and I decided I could do it better myself — or I thought I could with selfish reason. I didn’t know everything I thought I did and learned a lot in the process. So I think foolishness, as well as determination [were some of the main reasons]. I was indignant enough to start my own business and do it my way.”

Through many successes — and mistakes — he points out, Gragg Advertising has morphed into a marketing technology company. And the ad agency now sits within Blue Chair, LLC, a Kansas City-based holding company focused on growing small businesses and promoting opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Gragg notes that Gragg Advertising moved into the digital front some 15 years ago, building lead aggregation/management systems to help clients determine on a metric level what worked and what didn’t work from a lead generation standpoint based upon prospects per lead, prospects per conversion and lifetime value. He and his cohorts conceived Alpine, a customizable engine for clients back in 1999, which has evolved — and keeps evolving — ever since. “It’s a robust 80,000 variable engine that helps our clients manage daily lead flows, lead caps, pricing structures, delivery channels, acceptance levels, manages all of the vendors and the leads that go through that pipeline at Gragg,” he describes.

The ad agency is led by Darryl Mattox, president, day-to-day, with roughly 80 employees and over 100 clients. The majority of those clients (75 percent) are in EDU lead generation raking in approximately $55 million in annual sales, says Gragg, sizing up the agency to be the No. 2 player in the EDU marketing arena.

Opportunities in education strategy

During the panel, Gragg indicates the group will focus on opportunities in education strategies for the entire student journey. “What we look at [inside the agency] is performance, the lead field and what’s going on as this lead field in EDU matures,” he notes. In the nineties, Gragg continues, lead generators did what they were supposed to do and pushed leads through the pipe — and clients bought them blindly. The problem was the illegitimate lead generators pushing inquiries and data lists that were not any good. “What we quickly found out is that we needed to start segregating those lead channels that are out there and analyzing the performance of each of those channels,” he says. In the last 10 years, Gragg Advertising has been focused on cleaning up the lead generation pipeline for EDU. This will be on the table for discussion. 

Another topic will be regulation. “We as a group need to self-regulate ourselves, not only in schools but also in the EDU lead generation,” stresses Gragg. “We need to focus on working with Congress and working with legislation that’s going to move forward and promote a healthy lead generation environment — that’s something that I am going to talk about.” Gragg adds that the leads group hasn’t done a very good job of taking out the poor performing or “suspect lead generators” that exist. He calls for the industry to do a better job of self-regulating. “This is not the Wild West of the nineties in lead generation,” he says. Gragg points to programs being created by such entities as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Fraud Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Department of Education, among others, looking at the industry at a lead generation level. Those other commissions, such as insurance and real estate, are all looking at education at a lead generation level. Consumer privacy, misleading, falsifying bait and switch — these are all going on in lead generation, warranting many scrutinizing eyes.

Lead generation in general will be discussed during the panel as well, examining areas such as social media strategy, the pay-per-click strategy and how EDU groups are keeping relevant. Gragg urges LeadsCon participants to attend the panel. “The panel is full of EDU experts,” he says. “If you want to know something about EDU lead generation, that is your opportunity to glean some interesting information from some very knowledgeable people.”

Learning was at the heart of this interview — whether it’s the topic that will be discussed or what has guided Gragg’s journey to where he is now. From what I gather, “learning something new every day” is a part of his standard regime.

Click here to register for LeadsCon Las Vegas 2015. 

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