Email on Tap, Episode 20: Simms Jenkins, Founder and CEO, BrightWave, an Ansira Company

Anthony Chiulli, from our product marketing team, met with Simms Jenkins, founder and CEO of BrightWave, an Ansira Company, recently to film this episode of Email on Tap. Together, they talked about the history of BrightWave, Jenkins’ work in the email industry, and where Jenkins sees email going in the future.

As an innovation-focused leader, email marketers will want to hear Jenkins’ perspective on what the next generation of #emailgeeks can do better and how today’s leaders can prepare them for the future.

Check out the video:

Total Run Time: 16 minutes

00:30 – The creation of BrightWave and Jenkins’ journey
02:00 – Jenkins’ take on the rate of mergers and acquisitions in the industry
03:42 – BrightWave’s 2020 priorities
05:30 – Characteristics of the email community, allowing it to thrive
06:52 – Jenkins’ opinion on what makes a great email
08:00 – Jenkins’ leadership style at BrightWave
12:19 – How innovation needs to play a larger role in future digital marketing


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Transcript

Anthony Chiulli
Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Email on Tap. I’m your host, Anthony Chiulli, and I’m thrilled to have as my guest today, Simms Jenkins. He is the founder and CEO of BrightWave. Simms, thanks so much for being on the program.

Simms Jenkins
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

AC
How are you?

SJ
I’m doing great. Great trip out here.

AC
Yeah, I would agree. To get to get us started, tell me a little bit about BrightWave and what motivated you to start the company.

SJ
Yeah, well, BrightWave is a very specialized agency recognized as the leading email agency in the country. And we were acquired by Ansira, which is a very large marketing technology company based out of St. Louis and Dallas. And we work with some of the best brands in the world, really taking their email program to the next level.

I started about 16 years ago, which is crazy to believe, but I had previously run CRM for Cox, one of their divisions. And after the dot com meltdown, 9/11, the economy was just not good. And the job market, of course, was terrible. I really didn’t have plans to start a company, but it was very hard to find a job. So the alternative was, you know, to be a scrappy guy that tries to find something that drives a little revenue. And I knew email. I knew that there were a lot of people that invested in websites that were trying to figure out how do I stand in front of my customers? BrightWave slowly but surely came out of the ashes of all the economic meltdown and started as just kind of a lean company that took on a couple of clients, slowly hired some employees. And then we continued to stay really focused on the email channel, which I think has been, really, probably the key to our success and had a lot of great fortune along the way.

AC
That’s a great story. Almost two decades, obviously, with BrightWave at the helm. What are your thoughts on the recent rate of acquisitions and mergers, obviously, including your own by Ansira?

SJ
Yeah, I mean, obviously, I think today, this M&A market is just highly active across all sectors. And you look at, you know, the last decade or so, so many great companies, ExactTarget, Responsys. A lot of marketing clouds have picked up email service providers, seeing email really is kind of the central hub of the future of customer experiences, customer journeys, and, you know, a great, steady recurring revenue stream.

I think, you know, the first phase was the kind of the technology infrastructure of email. And now this next phase is kind of the parts that really complement that, whether it’s service companies, point solutions, I think we’re going to see a lot more of it. I mean, there’s so many companies that have either popped up for the last five, 10 years or maybe they’ve been a little bit longer like us that are really, you know, strong companies that have proven themselves to be a key part of the economic engine for large enterprise brands. And certainly, folks like you guys are really figuring out how to, you know, how do you complement folks where people are spending a lot of money in digital marketing, but they’re not taking to the next level. So, it’s really exciting to see a lot of these emerging companies kind of elevate email to the next level to share. I think, you know, you’re going to see a lot more M&A over the next couple of years.

AC
Yeah. It’s been hot, heavy. It seems like every year, it outdoes the previous year, it hasn’t slowed down. I mean, I certainly think it’s a sign of the health of our industry and email’s not going away. It’s not dying, as everyone chants from the rooftops. Looking ahead, as week as we get deeper into 2020, what are some of the top priorities within BrightWave to continue to meet the new demand of kind of this evolving marketer?

SJ
Yeah. You know, I think we’re finding that a lot of our clients certainly have higher expectations when it comes to email, when it comes to really driving revenue and driving a better customer experience. We’re really all about, how do we continue to push our clients forward, drive significant revenue and meet those expectations? And a lot of that comes through, I think, in innovation. I think email, that’s one of the key reasons why is this thriving channel as opposed to a channel that’s mature but not necessarily evolving. And so I think our view is absolutely, how do we do things that make the customer experience much more dynamic, much more in line with the rest of our clients’ channel experiences, whether it’s retail, e-commerce, or other digital channels. And email finally has those capabilities to just be this dynamic channel where you can do everything you want to do or that you can do in an app. And as opposed to email—legacy is more, gets you to the next place. Now email is really exciting where you can buy something in an email, do a lot of different things. And I think that’s very much what we’re trying to push forward with our clients is, don’t think about email as just this kind of list that you can hit with some impressions. There’s a lot of great brand engagement that can be done, but I think we’re just trying to make sure our clients are thinking about email and all the possibilities that certainly are richer than they’ve ever been before.

AC
It continues to be an adaptive, an innovative medium that continues to reinvent itself in the way that it can reach audiences, which I think is pretty cool. Reflecting back on your career as founder and CEO of BrightWave, what are some of the things that have surprised you most within this industry?

SJ
You know, it’s a resilient industry. It’s a resilient group of people. You know, there’s a lot of companies that a lot of people would have written off that they’re not going to continue to thrive, and they have. There’s a lot of companies that have really emerged over the years. I think that people certainly have a great fortune of being in a tight knit community. You have people that, regardless of what company they’re working for, they’re really kind of keeping it close as far as figuring out like, how do you do business? How do you really take advantage of some of the skill sets and expertise across the industry? And I think that’s really amazing, and not every industry has that. And I think that really helps. There’s a lot more partnerships in kind of business development, collaboration in our industry more than other digital industries. And I think a lot of it is because people like to do business with people they trust and they know. And like, you know, this conference where we are today is certainly a great example of that, where, you know, there’s a lot of things that happen out of this. And I think that that’s just, you know, people really trust people that understand the email channel and really try to help one another. And that didn’t happen across industries.

AC
Well said. I’m curious, as a consumer of email yourself, what do you look for? What jumps out at you when you receive an email that’s really relevant or targeted from a brand? What are some of the things that you tend to really care about or notice when you receive an email that makes you say, “Wow. This was a really good email.”

SJ
Yeah. You know, I think that it’s going to vary by brand, and everyone’s got their own opinions. But I think certainly you’ve got to first kind of jump out, where we’re all looking at our inbox, whether it’s after meetings, first thing you do when you wake up. A lot of people are doing triage of getting rid of all the emails they don’t really care about. You have to stand out first. I really appreciate any kind of cleverness in terms of, how do you deliver a relevant message in a way that’s interesting?

And I think, you know, how do you make sure that it’s something that doesn’t have to be offer-centric, but something that is appealing to me, whether that’s, you know, Delta Airlines related to my trip tomorrow or something related to a brand that, I buy six times a year from that’s knows the type of products and is going to tee up what they know that I’m probably looking for. I think it’s just that kind of simplicity of that are going to make sure that an email stands out that’s relevant and appealing to me. And that’s easier said than done, right?

AC
Let’s talk about your CEO leadership style for a minute. What do you look for in your employees? What talents really matter to you in hiring and staffing? And then are there any sort of mantras that are instilled in the culture that you try to create at BrightWave?

SJ
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think our company has been growing a lot. We have these different phases of employees that thrive. And I think some of the consistent things that have allowed are people to thrive, whether they’ve been hired in last year, been there for 10 plus years, I think flexibility is one of the key things. I think working for a company that is fast growing, I think you need to be somebody that can handle curveballs. That also applies to email marketing world as well as the services world where, you know, it’s tough to move from client to client. Some days it’s, you know, get things done and others it’s, how do you think really strategically? Flexibility is always high up there. And I think, you know, one or the other and it’s certainly one of our values is kind of intellectual curiosity. And I think so many folks in the email world, it’s always busy. It’s always about getting that campaign out the door. So we really try to push and look for people that are going to be kind of thinking about it from a different level.

It doesn’t matter what the statement of work says. It doesn’t matter about what the campaign brief says. But that person that’s like, what if we did it differently? What’s possible? And I think that kind of curiosity is something that email could use a little bit more of. So I really love people that are going to approach problems a little bit differently or, you know, kind of tinker with things like, I know this is how this client’s done it for nine months, but…

AC
Challenge the norm. Think outside the box.

SC
And I think that’s really fun, and those kinds of folks really thrive in our environment. I think that goes really well with probably the other value that it’s certainly essential to our business kind of fight and win like a team. You know, any business needs that. But certainly when you’re working on a lot of challenging clients and you’re in a growing, you know, somewhat chaotic environment, you want people that, every day is a little bit of a roller coaster. You want people that are going to have their teammate’s back and be there for the client. But, equally so for their teammates. You know, sometimes it’s sort of like a team where you don’t really know it until you been in a couple of games with them, whether they’re like that, they’re people that have really done well for us.

AC
That’s great. One of the things I personally respect about you is your involvement in other activities and ventures, including authoring two very respectable email marketing books. You’re also an active member in Leadership Atlanta, Forbes Agency Counsel, and, obviously, launching BrightWave’s annual conference, EiQ, which has been a huge success. What do those extracurricular activities mean to you in tandem with running a company like BrightWave?

SJ
You know, I view it as sort of it’s my responsibility to contribute back to Atlanta, to the digital community. They’ve given me so much. And so I you know, I view it as more where it’s just, I don’t want to be a one-dimensional leader or person operating in an industry or city. I think it makes us all well rounded. It gets exposed to a lot of different things. I think I’m a better leader. I’m a bit of a problem solver for the more I can be exposed to things where it’s not just in our little bubble. I think that’s important, and we certainly expect our BrightWave employees to kind of do the same. You know, where it’s important to go make an impact. And we don’t expect everyone that just to be in the BrightWave world. I think, you know, there’s a lot of things and opportunities that we’re all presented and we certainly want to give people the opportunity to do it. I’ve been blessed and certainly had a lot of organizations that have played a key role in our growth and our success. And I want to make sure that I’m contributing as well as kind of growing that next generation of leaders that are going to make an even bigger contribution.

AC
I’m interested in your unique point of view, again, of being a seasoned digital marketing veteran in this space. Are there things that you wish you would see more of? Whether it’s innovation or there are gaps in this industry, whether it be technology or elsewhere, that you think needs more improvement?

SJ
I mean, I think innovation is lacking from a kind of a consistent standpoint, and somewhat ,people get kind of get in the best practice trap or get in the, I have four campaigns have to get out this week, I’ll worry about doing something bigger, better next year or next week. I think innovation is something that we can all aspire for. And that’s been kind of a really kind of catalyst for launching EiQ. But I think there’s so many smart new folks that have joined the email marketing industry. And I think, how do we kind of have those folks step up to the next level, give them opportunities to contribute, be thought leaders?

To me, that’s really exciting because I’ve certainly felt, as somebody that’s been doing this for a long time, what’s going to happen to our industry in 10, 15, 20 years? And what if we can’t nurture that next generation? And I’m incredibly invigorated by seeing a lot of the people that are so much more well-versed than I ever was in terms of, they’re not marketers, they’re not technologists. They are somebody that completely understands all elements of digital marketing and email. And they’re just incredibly well well-rounded and sophisticated. And I think we just have to figure out how do those people get the chance to really make big contributions. I think, marketers tend to not be great at storytelling to the C-suite or externally. And I think that’s something that we have to figure out how to do better. I mean, email, as you know, is this magical weapon that just transforms businesses to the next level. But the whole world sometimes views it as, “Well, isn’t email dying?” And it’s we all know it’s the opposite, but sometimes we’re not great at really kind of telling that story. And to me, it’s like that next generation of leaders has a great opportunity to kind of do some of the things that hasn’t been done in the past as well as it probably should have.

AC
So, to close this out, it’s not every day that we have a CEO on the program. I’m going to ask you a series of questions in sort of a lightning round. These are very fun, lighthearted questions. So whatever jumps off your head, let’s hear it. Sweet tea or iced tea?

SJ
Like half and half. I’m not, you know, I grew up in Maryland kind of on the border, so I can play a southern or northern role. So, you know, but I can’t go full sweet tea. It’s a little too rich.

AC
I would imagine. Obviously, being based in an HQ in Atlanta, who has the worst traffic; L.A., New York or Atlanta?

SJ
L.A. In L.A. you have to take 40 minutes to go to the grocery store there. So it’s all about solving your bubble. Atlanta has got it. You know, like in Buckhead, where I live and work, it’s not bad. So it depends on, you know, really…I’m never moving to L.A.

AC
Something that I wanted to know, what is the meaning behind your first name, Simms?

SJ
It’s a family name. I’m actually the fourth. So my full name is George Simms Jenkins, and Simms is a Welsh name, which is on my dad’s side of the family. And I’m sure there’s a lot of history and cool things tied to family history that I should know and can’t quite recall. But it’s spelled with two M’s. Most people want to spell it wrong. My son’s actually the fifth, but he goes by Sam because there only needs to be one Simms in the family.

AC
Thank you so much for sitting down with me. I’ve had an incredible pleasure interviewing you and it’s such an honor to have you on the program. Thank you very much.

SJ
Thank you. It’s been great. And everything you’re doing from leadership standpoint in the industry is fantastic. So I really appreciate you having me.

AC
I appreciate that. And thanks, everybody, for tuning in. We hope to see you on another episode of Email On Tap.

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