The Power of Partnership: An Exclusive Q&A with Laura Kirby-Meck of Merchant Link

by Jenna Sindle

lauraExceptional marketing campaigns are the product of testing, coordinating, reworking and nurturing.  There is another element, however, that can make or break your campaign: the right partnerships.

Marketing teams can only get their messaging so far alone. Bringing in organizations that share your mission or are aligned with your solutions to help spread your message can be invaluable. Here, Laura Kirby-Meck, EVP of Sales & Marketing at Merchant Link, shares her insight on the power of partnerships.

 Tell us a little about your professional background and your role at Merchant Link.

I’ve spent the last twenty-five years working in sales and marketing for hospitality and or high-tech companies.  Prior to joining Merchant Link I had the pleasure of working for Oracle (at the time it was still MICROS).  During my tenure there I led our Independent Hotel team, Government Solutions, and New Initiatives as well as I participated in Mergers & Acquisitions.

While managing a variety of business units, I was able to see trends before they were trends and help clients identify what and when they needed solutions.  Following MICROS, I opened my own company, Sonata Venture Solutions, a boutique strategic marketing firm.  While the client base changed somewhat, the needs were still the same – clients wanted someone they could trust and guide them to the right plan or solution.

In my role at Merchant Link, I’ve been able to combine my passion and skills to help grow the company exponentially.  I oversee our large and small market sales, channel sales, account management and marketing teams.  Over the past five years I’ve helped Merchant Link grow in the hospitality industry to become one of the most known and respected payment security solutions providers.  We have a great team and are nimble enough to work with large and small merchants alike.

You also provide counsel and guidance to clients via your own marketing consultancy. What are the benefits and challenges you face while juggling these two roles?

 Yes, I do provide strategic marketing consulting for Sonata Venture still.  While the daily activity is overseen by Elizabeth Lilley, I have held on to a couple of clients that are flexible enough to meet with me outside of my “day job.”

There are many benefits and many challenges to juggling roles.  At the end of the day, it truly comes down to time management.  I’d be completely lost without my planner!  I’m passionate about my Sonata Venture clients, because they are small business owners and entrepreneurs and when I can guide them to that “ah-ha” moment, it’s absolutely thrilling.  To spend time with someone who’s quite literally putting it all on the line for something they love makes it worth working nights and on the weekends.

Merchant Link is quite different from Sonata Venture Solutions.  It’s corporate, owned by two large banks, and as such has a certain amount of policy and process that exists which can sometimes slow down a rapidly growing organization.  It has been my goal at Merchant Link to lay the proper foundation when it comes to our marketing strategy, to plan as far in advance as we can, and to put the right people in place to execute and report.  We establish KPI’s for each of our campaigns and measure its success following the program’s completion.

The biggest difference working with both a corporate entity and a small business owner is the time it takes to make decisions and execute.  Small business owners can decide and execute with little to no discussion, where a larger organization with many department stakeholders often find it necessary for additional input, analysis and planned execution.

 Strategic marketing partnerships bolster the visibility and impact of programs. Can you speak to some successes you’ve had with strategic partnerships in your time at Merchant Link?

 When I first joined Merchant Link, Strategic Communications Group was leading the charge for Merchant Link in social media and social messaging.  This supplemented the efforts of the one person, at that time, in marketing.  Together we developed our blog [SecurityCents] which continues to grow and has a respectable following.  Had Strategic Communications not been in place, I don’t believe we would have the level of brand recognition we do today.

Other partnerships include those with our VAR’s [Value Added Resellers/Referral Partners], bank processors and ISO’s.  Working with a variety of strategic partners allows us to dig deeper into the solution, cross-market and to truly grow our business.

What are your tops tips for building integrated marketing campaigns around events and industry conferences?

At Merchant Link we do over 60 trade shows and conferences each year.  This has grown three-fold in the last five years.  As you can imagine with managing this many events, managing marketing and integrating, cross-pollinating is crucial. Every August I sit down with our Marketing Manager and Marketing Coordinator and look ahead to the coming year.  We develop our strategy, plan and branding campaigns as well as our budget.

It’s important before booking a show or an advertisement that we know what we want to get out of it – and that we can report effectively against it.  We also review the last two years activities, budgets and campaigns and refine for the coming year.

Now, I’m not saying that we don’t deviate – we do, but having a foundation to launch from has led us to some very successful campaigns.  For example, we work with one partner – one of our top 5 – that has several shows, divisions and activities each year.  We work closely with them to align our goals, cross-market when possible and campaign pre, during and post event.  We’ve seen a significant growth just from this relationship.

At the end of the day great marketing doesn’t happen by accident, rather it’s something planned, nurtured, reviewed and coordinated.

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