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DMi Partners founder & CEO Patrick McKenna on automation, storytelling and the role of a digital agency

Feb 5, 2024 by Michael McNerney

Martech Record's Agency Speaker Series is made possible via our partnership with Affluent

Patrick McKenna, CEO of DMi Partners, has watched the world of digital marketing shift and evolve over the last two decades. 

When he founded DMi Partners 21 years ago, he saw an opportunity to leverage the internet as a powerful marketing vehicle. Back then – when advertising on Google and Facebook wasn’t an option – the digital marketing ecosystem was akin to the Wild West, he said, offering opportunities and challenges. DMi Partners worked to seize those opportunities and create innovative ways to engage customers.

The original mission of the company was a broad one, McKenna said. He aimed to take a three-pronged approach that included providing marketing for clients, starting and managing marketing for new businesses and engaging with various partners. 

"However, as the digital marketing space matured, DMi Partners leaned into the online landscape and transitioned to a full-service digital agency. Now, those at DMi work to offer what McKenna calls a "cross-functional marketing specialty." That requires the manpower and expertise to build a solution as a single-service offering for clients to power their affiliate and customer relationship management – two areas that DMi has honed in on as growth engines. 

“There’s a lot you can automate but there’s a lot you can’t automate,” McKenna said of affiliate. “There’s a lot of relationship management.” That requires a team of people, which is what DMi offers. The same goes for customer relationship marketing, where there are team members who can provide copywriting, strategy, platform and technical knowledge. 

“That’s a lot for a company to do,” he said. “It’s hard for an agency to do that, too. But we’ve built out a team of experts to do it.”

Reflecting on the growth of digital marketing, McKenna highlights the Dollar Shave Club campaign as one of the most memorable digital ad campaigns. The campaign's success, he said, went beyond the creativity of the video ads themselves and represented the importance of sending the right message to the right people at the right time and in the right medium. 

“The real creativity was seeing the opportunity in the market,” he said, adding that brands benefit when they can be the first ones to tell a story about solving a problem, meeting a consumer’s need or alleviating a frustration in the market.

Looking ahead, McKenna sees the future of digital marketing evolving with changes in consumer content consumption patterns. He anticipates new portals, apps, and interactive capabilities playing a pivotal role in reaching audiences in increasingly innovative ways. He expects changes in targeting to continue – which he said could bring both positive and negative impacts as marketers look for new ways to connect with their audiences effectively.