Kimm Lincoln started her career at Nebo, a digital agency in Atlanta, as an intern in 2006. Since then, she has quickly risen through the ranks of the company, making a major impact on revenue growth (she helped lead Nebo to a 350 percent increase in overall revenue growth since 2010) and its accolades (named Inc. 5000 fastest growing company for five consecutive years). The digital marketer reached the top of the Nebo chain when she was named president early in 2016 with the support of the agency’s co-founders Brian Easter and Adam Harrell.
Her marketing chops were instrumental on the launch of the ChooseATL campaign as a member of the original committee. Most recently, Lincoln was named Marketer of the Year at the 60th Annual Atlanta Marketing Agency Awards as well as Interactive Marketer of the Year at the CelebrateATL Awards. Her leadership continues to hone in on Nebo’s human-centered approach and focus on marketing that complements customer’s lives.
“It’s true that we’ve grown quite a bit in 13 years, but it’s been very deliberate. Our goal is not to be the biggest agency in the world, or even in Atlanta. Our focus now is to continue to hone our craft and do better work every day,” says Lincoln of Nebo’s future path.
Take notes! Lincoln shares more about her journey at Nebo, what human-centered approach in marketing means, and her advice for marketing professionals who are just starting out.
You’ve been with Nebo Agency since 2006 and rose through the ranks at the agency to become president. Can you tell me a bit about your journey so far and your biggest accomplishments?
I started as a paid media intern in 2006, and had no idea what paid media was at the time. Thankfully, I learned fast and loved the work. I quickly realized what a special place Brian and Adam had created. I was supported both personally and professionally, and I loved the people I was able to work with everyday. Over the years, I was given the opportunity to prove my value and moved from intern, to specialist, to manager, to director, to VP and now President.
In that time, we’ve accomplished a lot — we’ve grown every year, done great work, won a ton of awards, been recognized by our peers, the list goes on. But, the accomplishment I am most proud of is that I played a part in building a company with such a strong and distinctive culture. In thirteen years, we’ve never had to lay anybody off. We’ve donated millions of dollars in time and resources to causes we believe in. We’ve seen many people start their careers at Nebo, who worked hard and were given the opportunity to grow into leadership roles at Nebo and elsewhere.
It’s kind of a joke now that every company wants to “make the world a better place through X.” But, I don’t think it’s a joke if a company is actually living that value. Our greatest accomplishment has been that in our 13 years, we have made a positive impact on the world, in our own small way.
You’ve been at Nebo for 10+ years, something so rare nowadays. What were the benefits of staying put and how did you leverage that ongoing knowledge about the company in your career?
We have many people who have been at Nebo for more than five years. Staying somewhere for that long does give you a certain advantage. There are things that you learn over time — you just start to know what will work and what won’t. You know when you need to make changes. You know how to work with people to get things done. I believe that if you feel like you are still learning and know that your work is valued, it benefits you to stay at a company until you no longer feel that way.
I see a lot of advice articles targeted to millennials telling them they need to jump ship every two years to advance in their career or salary. The whole “the company isn’t loyal to you, why should you be loyal to the company” thing, and I find that pretty sad. I know that can be true for some companies, but it’s been my experience that if you find a place that fits your values and you work hard and are honest about what you want, good companies will support you in your growth. My goal at Nebo is to do just that — by either helping people to achieve their long-term goals at Nebo, or supporting them however I can to help them to build the skills to take their next step elsewhere.
Nebo Agency puts value in human-centered experiences. How have you helped customers understand this and put forth the strategy in their campaigns?
Usually, our key points of contact understand the value of our approach. But, it can sometimes be a challenge to shift an entire organization’s mindset from a direct-response focus to a buyer-journey approach that values awareness and consideration. So we put a lot of emphasis on educating our clients about the benefits of our approach, with a series of ongoing educational workshops.
That said, we haven’t had too many challenges, because we work with great clients who share our values. We’re not a sales-driven organization and we are privately owned. We have the benefit of being choosey about who we work with, which allows us to work with partners who believe in our approach.
Why is important to connect with customers on a personal level, bring that humanity back into campaigns?
It’s important because tactics that worked in the past for marketers just don’t work anymore. You can’t simply publish a billboard with a slogan and sell products, or buy a bunch of media and plaster display ads all over a site. Ad blocker usage continues to climb, people continue to choose to ignore content because there is just so much bad content out there, and the sad thing is that our industry brought this on ourselves.
Our industry created a culture of interruption marketing and it’s our responsibility to change that. If done right, marketing can actually add value to people’s lives, not just to companies’ revenue. Our job is to give people the information they need to help to solve their problems, make their lives a little bit easier, or to just bring them some joy.
That’s an approach and philosophy I can get behind, and that’s what still makes me excited to come to work. I couldn’t wake up every morning and think “I can’t wait to try to trick somebody into buying something today.”
In the end, (and I hate to say it), my mom was right (love you, Mom). Treating others as you would want to be treated — as a human speaking to another human — is the key to the approach of any successful campaign.
With new software and products coming out every day, what role do you think tech plays into marketing?
You can’t even separate tech and marketing. People talk about “digital” and “traditional” marketing, but the truth is that we live in a world where people seamlessly interact with both throughout their entire day. Technology has transformed how we live our lives and how we consume content.
Tech changes, products change, the world changes — that’s why it’s so important for us to keep that human-centered focus at the core of our campaigns. It’s an approach that leverages technology in ways that help us to better understand our audiences, but is not in danger of being disrupted by a technology.
What’s your advice to marketers or non-tech professionals wanting to get into startup life?
Things move fast. Be ready to learn new things every day and get comfortable with change because in a startup, everyone is trying to figure things out on the fly. I wouldn’t call us a startup at this point, but we are still constantly attacking our own processes and services to adapt to an ever-changing environment, and that is part of what has made us successful.
You’ve taken a part in inspiring the city with ChooseATL and other organizations. Why is it important to nurture talent in the city?
This city has given us a lot. It was the perfect place for Nebo to get our start. There were big brands we could pitch, top talent from local schools, and our competitors even gave us advice and helped us to get our footing.
But most people across the United States don’t realize all that Atlanta has to offer. We were tired of traveling to NYC, Austin, Chicago, etc. and hearing what people thought (or didn’t think) about Atlanta. Atlanta’s given us a lot and we wanted to do what we could to support our city and change people’s perceptions about it. That’s why we started ChooseATL.
Atlanta is a city with the perfect combination of big opportunities and a high quality of life. It’s important to nurture talent in the city because the people are what makes the city. We want talented, smart, ambitious people to understand what Atlanta can offer them, and for them to want to make Atlanta their home.
How does Atlanta/Southeast weave in your career?
It’s home. I’m not from the south, but I’ve been here my whole adult life. When I first moved here, I couldn’t wait to graduate high school and move back up north. Now, I can basically see my dorm room from my office. Atlanta, and the people in Atlanta, have given me many opportunities and tons of support. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in without that support. I think Atlanta still has something to prove to the rest of the US. I’m proud to be a part of that movement.
What’s next on the horizon for Nebo Agency?
Nebo wasn’t started as a business. It was started as a reaction against the failures and norms of the industry. In the beginning, we didn’t have a business plan with a five-year plan or seek funding from investors. We saw a broken system and we believed there was a better way. We wanted to do great work and make a positive impact on the world.
And, over the past 13 years, we’ve done that. This year, we have goals to do that on a much bigger scale. We have an amazing team, great clients and ambitious goals. I’m proud of all that we’ve accomplished, and I think our best years are still ahead of us. I’m honored to be a part of this team and excited to see where the next 10 years take us.