Some things in Anthony Shop’s life and career have gone full circle. But mostly, things have changed.
He used to be an MBA student at the George Washington University School of Business (GWSB). Now, he teaches there. He used to be reluctant to publicize that his business partner was also his husband. Now, he’s proud. He used to pitch ideas at business plan competitions. Then, he started Social Driver.
Named among the fastest-growing digital agencies in the US by the Agency Post in 2015, Social Driver is embracing the future and focusing on social technology. Its team of millennials communicate internally on Snapchat.
For Anthony, the future of marketing is clear. Rather than creating its own messages or slogans for its social media campaigns, Social Driver uses the latest technologies - data-tracking and data-analytics - to analyze customer behavior, find where there’s marketing potential and harness it.
A pioneer in the digital media field with a background in communications, Anthony co-founded Social Driver with his husband, Thomas Sanchez, during his last semester at GWSB in 2011. Since then, it’s grown from two people to almost 40, and is now a supplier for Accenture.
The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce named LGBT-owned Social Driver its supplier of the year for 2015. And while the LGBT tag does not define Social Driver, Anthony is proud to be a leading representative of a diverse and innovative business community.
How did the idea for Social Driver come about?
It was right at the tail end of my MBA. Thomas is a tech guy and I’m a communications guy. We both were doing individual freelance work and we decided to join forces and create a company together.
We participated in a couple of business plan competitions at GWSB. One, we lost miserably. The second one – a plan for a software product for car dealerships - we won. Through that process we launched the services of Social Driver.
What makes Social Driver unique?
We are really embracing the future of marketing.
The way I explain that is through an analogy of lightning striking. You think you see this bolt of energy coming from the sky, down to earth. Actually, it’s the other way round. There’s a charge of electricity trapped in the earth’s mass, an invisible bolt comes down, and, in an instant, it mines that energy and unleashes it; shooting the energy up into the sky.
In the 21st century, campaigns that try to throw lightning bolts - that try to create a message, a slogan, a jingle, a viral idea and push it out there - don’t work anymore. Instead, we have to do the opposite. We have to find where there is already energy, and create a channel to harness that energy so we can unleash remarkable results.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to run a successful social media campaign?
We’re advocates for the idea that all marketing should be data-driven, people-centered and goal-focused.
Recognize that, although you have a story you want to tell, the people you’re trying to reach are writing their own real-time autobiographies every day. It’s not about interrupting them with your message, it’s about doing something that makes you worthy of being part of the story that they’re telling.
With social media there’s more data available today than ever before. But how many Twitter followers you have, alone, means nothing. Engagement is more important than reach, because it tells you if what you’re doing is really resonating with people.
How far do you position Social Driver as an LGBT-owned business?
We are very comfortable embracing our identity as an LGBT-owned business. It’s not the only defining factor for our company, but it’s certainly something that we’re proud of.
I had a phase in my professional life where I would be reluctant to share that my business partner was also my husband, because I was worried about the reaction I might get from someone on the other side of the table.
I’ve learnt that what I used to be perceived as a liability, is actually an asset, because it means we bring a different perspective. Other small LGBT-owned businesses come to us for advice, and I think it’s our duty to help them, to be an example and to tell people that if they really put their mind to it, they can do it too.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at GWSB?
I loved strategizing communications and storytelling, but I didn’t have a very strong business background. I felt like that was a barrier, so I decided to get an MBA.
I wanted an international program with the right culture, that was strong in entrepreneurship. And GWSB was a great fit. Not only is it an international program, it’s an international university, in an international city.
At GWSB, people work hard but at same time they’re collaborative and want to help each other; it’s not a dog-eat-dog place.
Are there things you’ve done which you wouldn’t have dreamed of doing before your MBA?
Definitely. The resources that propelled me to become an entrepreneur, and have some success in launching and growing a business, all came from my MBA.
I went to Canada and participated in a case competition, I went to Utah, I had a lot of international experiences in Serbia, Chile and Argentina.
I keep in touch with my professors and my classmates. And I even teach a class there now – marketing career management strategy – to undergraduate business students.