Agency Breakout Summit/2021: Accelerate Your Agency From Member to Strategic Partner in a Year

Agencies want to accomplish two things: grow, and deliver terrific results for their clients year after year. Learn how Code & Theory leveraged WP Engine’s Agency Partner Program resources to grow more profitably and deliver greater client impact.

Video: Accelerate Your Agency: From Member to Strategic Partner in a Year

In this session, Code & Theory CTO Dave DiCamillo and WP Engine Partnerships Senior Manager Tony Gilharry discuss:

  • Specific ways to leverage a partnership with WP Engine and create client success
  • Benefits of the WP Engine Agency Partner Program
  • Support, continued training, and the WP Engine Academy

“WP Engine has modernized the WordPress space, and provides a lot more of the tooling that we’d expect as an agency dealing with those Fortune 500, Fortune 200 clients. We need to be able to move very, very quickly, and WP Engine allows us to do that with a lot of the DevOps, CI/CD tooling they have in place…Just being able to have that modern software ready to go without having to set it up ourselves has been huge in our ability to get to market quickly for our clients.”

Dave DiCamilllo, CTO, Code & Theory

Full session transcript

[TONY] Hi, welcome to accelerate your agency, from member to strategic partner in a year. I am Tony Gillharry, I’m the senior manager of partnerships at WP Engine. And I’m joined by Dave DiCamillo, CTO for Code and Theory.

[DAVE] Hi Tony?

[TONY] What’s up there Dave. Let’s go and just hop right into it. Welcome to this session, and tell us about yourself and Code and Theory.

[DAVE] Yeah. Thanks for having me, I’m excited to be here. So I’m Dave DiCamillo, I’m the CTO of Code and Theory. I’ve been with Code and Theory about eight years, I’ve seen some pretty explosive growth over those years. When I first started, I was just over employee number 100, and now we’re verging on 900. Code and Theory is probably best known for a lot of our publishing work, we were founded about 20 years ago. We did a lot more work in the product realm, where we deal with apps and websites. And today we’ve sort of grown into more of a full-service shop, where we still got that deep pedigree in site projects and app projects, but also helping people from an AOR or helping clients from an AOR perspective.

So it’s been a very nice time growing and helping the tech team get to where we are today, which is about 50% of the agency.

[TONY] Yeah, that’s amazing. 20 years ago, I mean you’ve seen so much growth and I’m sure you’re supporting a lot of big clients and things out there and seen a lot of stuff and a lot of work that you guys have done over the years. Want to highlight any of those?

[DAVE] Yeah, absolutely some of our current large clients and engineering perspective in particular, if there’s any fans of CNN out there who watch CNN during the election, our friend John King would be at the magic wall. And Code and Theory had the opportunity to actually work with CNN, to help build that product, which is a big opportunity for us. On top of that, we’re working with Xerox right now to help re-envision with their e-commerce platform and CMS will be for their digital properties off into the future. And working with a handful of others to help reinvent who they are from a digital perspective, and bring them into a more modern way to market themselves on the web.

[TONY] Yeah that sounds totally aligned, that’s great. Thank you, definitely for bringing all that experience to the table, we’re really excited to have you. Yeah, today’s session I really want to hear about just that journey with WP Engine, and the partner program. I think you have been around for a while with our program as well, we launched in 2017 seems like it was just yesterday of course. But Yeah, tell me a little bit about your experience with the program.

[DAVE] Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean our partner journey as an agency has actually taken some twists and turns. When we first came out and started doing some larger site builds, we actually advertised ourselves more as tech agnostic. We wanted to come into the room and earn the client’s trust, and not look like we had partners in our pocket that we were just shills for, right. We wanted to come into the room and say, look, we can work across anything that you guys like and actually coach them to help make the right decision.

In recent years, that has been not our strategy and it’s paid huge dividends to us, for us to anchor down with the key partners out there, WP Engine being one of our top partners, and really say these are our recommended partners. These are the directions that you should be going to clients. And having that expertise on our side, which we can’t know everything about all the platforms out there, we’re just a small little agency with a number of engineers. So having you guys be the experts in your own product, and tapping you guys into conversations with our clients has been very beneficial for us to grow our expertise in the minds of our clients.

[TONY] Yeah that’s super helpful because I know as the shifts come through there’s like, to your point, there’s so much technology out there. You’ll see articles, you’ll see blog posts and it’s just really hard to make a decision. So having the experience with that hands-on practice and just really working with it day in and day out, really helps you be a subject matter expert and a thought leader. So being tech agnostic, what does that actually mean in your digital transformation?

[DAVE] Yeah great question. Yeah I mean we work across a broad spectrum of clients, and those clients come with very deep-rooted engineering teams with thoughts about the software they want to be operational on. And for us, when we come in, we need to keep an open mind to who is the clients, who do they want to be when they’re finished our project, how do they want to operate behind the new software. And in order for us to do that, we have to not be just focused on one tech, right, we have to have a range of technologies that we’ve worked on and worked within, and the range of partners who can come to the table and be the experts, when there’s something outside of our core skill set. But at the end of a project, the goal of us, the goal of Code and Theory is to make sure that we are providing our clients a solid product, where they can operate behind it and truly become those digital marketers that they’re looking to be. Yeah, I don’t know if that answered your full question.

[TONY] I think it does. And we’ve seen the secondary CMS market where there is a lot of agencies already using some of the big enterprise-type content management systems out there. But then the flexibility of WordPress and them being tech agnostic, allows them to just maneuver throughout the request and build different projects and work a little bit further with those big brands. So no, you totally answered the question, that’s super helpful. Just thinking through all that stuff, and just thinking from an agency perspective, I know there’s a lot of agencies out there growing their business as well and they’re probably thinking about tech partnerships. But what did Code and Theory hope to gain by partnering with WP Engine, maybe WordPress platform, or just in general from a technical perspective?

[DAVE] Yeah, it’s a good question. So what we look for in a partner is probably a little different than I think every partner out there. Really the big win for Code and Theory is, to have happy clients who come back, and I know that’s a very similar goal to what you guys have, right. If you have happy clients they stay with you for a longer-term, and our goal is very similar to your goal, right. We want to be able to provide our clients with the best white glove service so that they come back and they say to us, Code and Theory you’ve been indispensable, we want to do another project with you. That is the real win for Code and Theory, the duration and helping be the technical partner of our clients long off into the future.

One of the best things we found with WP Engine is that you guys come in and do that same exact white-glove service, that we would do with our clients. And whenever we’ve needed you to come in and talk to our clients about specifics, about the platform, about any concerns they have, you’ve come in and done a great job to allay any concerns. Make them feel very confident of the decisions they’re going to be making, and make them feel like they’re going to have a partner in you long off into the future. That makes us look good, that makes you look good. It’s a win-win for everyone. I know the commission checks are always nice, but that’s not really what we are in the business of doing with you guys. We’re never going to turn it down, but it’s always one of those things that’s secondary to us really satisfying our clients’ needs longer-term.

[TONY] Yeah, and for those of you that may not know about the agency partner program, there is a revenue share aspect where you do get commissions and referrals and things like that. And to Dave’s point, well that’s one added benefit as being on the partner side, we want to take away that risk that you might be experiencing, or help extend your technology team or just your WordPress team in general. So yeah, thanks for mentioning that, and shout out to all the customer support folks at WP Engine, you’ve helped with that white glove experience and the onboarding team. We talk about that a lot when we co-sell with you, when we present, and things like that. Is there any extra love that you’ve felt or that you wanted to shout out from an experience that you probably had with some of those clients that you just mentioned there?

[DAVE] We’ve definitely recently had a client who is a little upset with some of the ways the recommendations were coming in. I think at one point he called me directly and said Dave I want to get this settled, can we just get this settled. I called you guys, and I think a day later we were in a phone call with them and he goes “This has been perfect, thank you so much” and the speed to react is obviously a huge deal when we’re on-client services, right. We need to be able to make sure our clients feel happy and heard, and the extra love that you guys showed us, and the extra love we showed him, they are now very much a happy client of ours. I’m not going to mention the name, psych coming soon. So I don’t want to put my eggs in that basket before they come out. But that’s been very helpful for us, is to be able to reach into the organization and really get that extra love support that you guys can provide as part of the Partner Program.

[TONY] Yeah and that’s what we mean by jumping in to solve issues because while we like to present, not everybody likes to get a sale on things, it’s also how we respond to some of those issues or customer perceived issues. Even though it’s something that we can solve or maybe think isn’t a big deal, we want to make sure that we resolve that to the customer satisfaction, and your client included there. So very appreciated. And we talk about the, as far as just helping you solve issues, and you mentioned the architecture a little bit and, us being an enterprise-grade WordPress platform, has there been any kind of like fundamental things that you’ve been expecting or looking to accomplish or any challenges that you can walk us through.

[DAVE] Yeah no absolutely. Two in particular, but let’s talk about the first one. Another client of ours had done a lot of business in the Chinese market, and as we all know, it’s very difficult to get behind the firewall and provide the same experience to the Chinese market that you can to the rest of the world. We brought this problem to you all, and you guys came up with a brilliant solution around how to get the site to be performant, and also to get into China in the way that we expect the content to get in there. Yes, it’s a little bit of extra development work on our part, but you guys have been an instrumental partner in our ability to deliver a site to that Chinese market for which for this client is emerging, and forecasted to be probably close to 50% of their growth. So that was very helpful, by stationing edge servers closer to China and being able to prove performance within China. We definitely made that client feel heard and feel like their concerns were being met.

Beyond that, just more global comments around how WP Engine has modernized the WordPress space. You guys provide a lot more of the tooling that we would expect as an agency dealing with those 500 fortune 200 clients. We need to be able to move very, very quickly and you guys allow us to do that with a lot of the DevOps CI/CD tooling that you guys have in place. We’re able to speed up environments very quickly, your service team has been very helpful for us when we need to go quickly. And just being able to have that modern software ready to go without having to set it up ourselves, has been a huge ability for us to get to market quickly for a lot of our clients.

[TONY] Thanks for sharing that because I mean, a lot of this and what we just explained through had a bunch of different verticals and different things to jump through. But that’s where our specialties come in at, because even myself on the partner enablement side, I may have a certain level of knowledge even working at WP Engine. But then we have a plethora of experts behind the scenes who have other subject matter expertise that we bring in as a full extension of your team. So for those partners out there, if you’re running an agency as well, and you are just looking for some additional relationship building and resources when those big deals come up. It really is helpful to have this in place, so that we can all jump into action for how you work.

So yeah Dave, thank you very much for sharing that. That’s really helpful. And then you also mentioned that development process. I mean you’re pitching to clients constantly, you’re always, we talked about you being tech agnostic and you’re always acting in a fiduciary capacity for your clients, making sure you pick all the right stuff. what does it mean for cost, how do you guys manage that? Are customers price-sensitive to a lot of this stuff, or are you guys finding yourself having to present costs in different ways, or does partnering help out with that? Any insight into that.

[DAVE] Yeah I mean, obviously the costs are always paramount, right. Everything is possible in our space right, we can build anything under the sun, as long as we’ve got time and money to do so. So obviously, it’s a huge concern of our clients. Us standing up things on our own, if we’re going to host, if we’re going to use Amazon Web Services, and stand up a whole that pipeline right to those environments. That comes with cost, not only in the software that we’re using but also comes with the overhead in our team’s ability to set those things up.

You guys have the stuff plugged in already, you can do it at scale for a far cheaper price, than what’s going to come from a team doing it themselves. And we’ve taken advantage of that, a lot of our clients take advantage of that. They trust in your guys’ ability to maintain the environments, the security, everything else that you would need to maintain by yourselves, outside of a partner like yourselves would be a cost that continues to scale in time. And you guys have the ability to triage that and do that at scale and provide them the security that they look for.

[TONY] Yeah appreciate that. And just switching gears a little bit, because I mean there’s a lot of tech and things move so fast as we discussed. Wanted to talk about maybe some continuing education and how you’re keeping all of your employees, especially those in those critical roles that help you build things. How do you keep their expertise and skillset up to date, I know there’s a lot of challenges there. But any points for those agencies out there who are probably facing the same thing, educating and leveling up their skilled workers.

[DAVE] It’s a great question. Our engineering team is verging on about 400 of the 900 employees we have, and they’re very diffused, they’re all around the world. We have an office in Manila and the Philippines, we have an acquisition that we made down in South America in Buenos Aires, who’s got a very large engineering team. There are some others spread across the US in Europe. And for us to be able to keep them all up to date with the latest and greatest of the software that we are providing for our clients both in an onshore capacity, is difficult. And we’ve done a number of different initiatives in order to help with that. Our Manila team which is our offshore group, they do a mandatory training across all the different teams they have there. They had verticalized behind software. They do training, the senior leaders spend about 10% to 20% of their time training juniors, which has paid huge dividends as we build capacity–

[TONY] The train-the-trainer.

[DAVE] Train-the-trainer, exactly right. And yes those trainers do need to understand all the new things that are coming out which we’ve constantly educating ourselves. Our onshore teams, we have verticalized the teams, so we actually have a separated CMS group, who literally spend, the leadership of that group spend their time looking at what is happening in the space. Who is providing new software, new approaches to getting things done, what are the new platforms out there, can we apply those yet, are they too new, are they not ready for showtime. And they help us stay up to date with the trends in the space.

Those folks are also the ones that we put in touch with people like WP Engine, making sure that you all are educating them, and they can then in turn educate the rest of our group. So that verticalization stretches across all of our different offices, and the leadership there then educates down to the other folks within the group. So that’s been very beneficial. And we try to stay up to date as possible, everything moves so fast in this space and there’s no way that we can possibly do it, but that’s why we lean on partners like yourselves to help us bring in some presentations, share the latest and greatest.

We were fortunate enough this year to receive a presentation about Atlas, your new headless, which was probably the best-attended vendor presentation we’ve ever had. We had folks from all around the world join that. And for our teams to be able to hear that and be one of the early teams to learn about the effort you guys have put in there, has been hugely advantageous for us, right. We were able to then take that knowledge and be able to put it into some presentations and share it with our clients and say look WordPress is going to be a more modern headless platform. We can do a lot more with it than we could in the past. Everyone knows and loves it, but now that we can make it more of a headless approach, we can do more with it, to power a lot more of the products out there.

[TONY] Yeah I mean just, it’s huge. And kudos to keeping your global teams up to date and skilled, I know that is not an easy task. And we’ve had over the years, opportunities to go through and travel, and that was the thing before COVID. Then we’d be in the office, and we’ll do our lunch and learn, and we might do like actual technical capability training, or like that Atlas presentation you talked about. So yeah, that was definitely, that was a fun time. And just thinking about us not traveling anymore, it really brought up a big opportunity for WP Engine, and that was for us to also pick up on the continuing education.

And for those of you out here watching, and Dave, a surprise for you too here is, we’re officially launching the WP Engine Academy. And the big purpose of this is, it’s an online learning portal to educate enable all of our agency partners on the power of WP Engine, the power of WordPress and the enterprise, and just an asynchronous way for other agencies like your team, as well, to jump in and just get up to date. And an asynchronous fashion, because everyone’s so busy, so you might need to start and stop. So we took a lot of consideration when thinking about certifying our agencies and just getting them all up to date. So good to hear that continuing education is a good piece, WP Engine is doubling down on that as well. So look out everyone out there, we’ll be sending out some more communication about the Academy there.

[DAVE] That’s great. Congrats. We’ll definitely take advantage, I promise.

[TONY] And that’s a part of us future-proofing because we would probably do it if the summit wasn’t online, we’d have it in person. So it just taking another page out of the book of making adjustments, and just being future-proof and ready. So switching gears again, going back to some of the things that you’re talking about with WordPress being super highly customizable, and offering a lot of great flexibility. And just thinking all these different integrations and cool things you can do, publishing workflow, we talked about CI/CD. But yeah, what are you working on right now, what you want people to know about Dave, what’s a couple of exciting things that you’ve got going on.

[DAVE] Yeah it’s interesting, this whole COVID world has changed and re-positioned some of our clients and what they’re looking for. And everyone needed to get commerce online quickly, right that was the number one thing, no surprise there as far as the trends go. But now a lot of the more educated marketers are looking at companies like ourselves and saying, you know what we really need, is not just a website that can buy things on, what we really need is a website that we can merchandise, and we can talk to the consumers. And what we’ve heard so much over and over again, and this is in a lot of the projects we’re doing right now, are really trying to blend the content in commerce in a really smart way. Where, before it was you would go and consume the content on one part of the site, you learn about it you see a blog, people are posting content, the marketing group would be doing that. And then you’d be pushed into a shopping world where you could add to cart and check out.

Now those worlds need to blend, and really what that looks like to us is much more about that headless approach. Being able to consume APIs from the eCommerce engine and from the CMS, and being able to really build pages. Not only just with content on them, but also dynamically, that can allow people coming into the site from searching from other locations to be grounded, get the content they need, and make an educated decision to purchase right away, right. That speed to cart and speed to close is what we’re going for as the key KPI there. But really trying to use a headless architecture, in order for us to provide that. That’s one huge trend, that’s one thing that we’re very excited about doing this year.

We like to say that the project is only a success if the clients are using it, right. And we’ve spent a lot of time recently in our tech I guess consulting or operation sides, where we’re actually going in and working with clients to understand how are they using their software, and how can they operationalize themselves better behind it. Obviously, this CMS is a huge tool for marketers. And if they’ve got all these great weapons and ways that they can use it, and they have not been able to operationalize themselves behind it, we can come in, help set things up, do training, change the way the CMS functions, make it a little bit easier, more logical for clients. And that’s been very advantageous for them, in order to meet their goals.

[TONY] Right, get a little bit faster.

[DAVE] a little bit faster, get a little bit smarter, use the capabilities that they have, right.

[TONY] Yeah, absolutely. And then any room for growth on your side, I know you’re growing within the partner program, but about on the current career side.

[DAVE] Yeah I mean we’re, this year we’re extending our global capabilities, and we’re looking at how best do we integrate ourselves in a global capacity, and continuing to build our engineering prowess, and dive into new projects. And there’s a whole new world coming to the agencies like us around AR and VR, and we’ve been lucky enough to be able to do some of those projects. But how do those work at scale, so we’re looking at how those could possibly layer into our marketers, and a technology team’s quiver right? But at the same time, we need to still deliver the bread and butter of what we do from an engineering standpoint. And us being able to globalize and be able to build teams out of our South American Office, out of our Asian office, and both on their onshore teams has proven very fruitful for our clients. And we’re able to staff teams that can work in a 24/7 capacity for them.

[TONY] Yeah, well it’s amazing and we’re super excited to be part of the journey. And I really appreciate you guys taking some time out of your day and joining us on an awesome, guest session for our Partner Summit. So I’m sure we’ll do it we’ll do again soon.

[DAVE] Tony, thank you so much for having us. It’s been great. Looking forward to doing a lot more with WP Engine.

[TONY] Yeah. Awesome. Thanks again, Dave. 

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