Alumnus uses relationship-building skills he learned at Saint Leo to grow digital marketing business.
Five doctors are sitting at a bar … No, it’s not the punchline to a joke. It is how Saint Leo University alumnus Billy Ash ’11 took his digital marketing business into the medical realm.
At the time, Ash and his business partner, former NFL player Tom Ottaiano, were working above a pizzeria and bar owned by Ottaiano’s father. They had finished work and were sitting at the bar when they struck up a conversation with five OB-GYNs. Before they left that night, the doctors agreed to sign with their company, Today’s Business, and Ash and Ottaiano had agreed to travel with the doctors to a Las Vegas convention to pitch the company and how other doctors could use their company’s services.
Social media was new, and they were on the cutting edge when it came to marketing companies using Facebook and Twitter.
“We told them, ‘What is the first thing people do when they have a baby? They post it on Facebook,’” Ash said, remembering that conversation. “If the doctors are named in that post, their business will grow. Nobody else was doing that. We knew social media was not going away and companies needed someone to manage it for them.”
Now, Today’s Business brings in about $5 million annually. Ash attributes much of its success to relationship-building, something he fine-tuned while attending Saint Leo. The business also is now fully remote — no more pepperoni wafting to the office upstairs.
Ash and Ottaiano opened Today’s Business in 2011 in New Jersey after friends convinced Ash he should follow his passion, the growing field of social media. That same year, Ash graduated from Saint Leo with a bachelor’s in business management.
The two first worked at running networking events, with Ash using email to invite attendees, then setting up a website to market the events and allow those interested to register. It was a whole new way of marketing, and people were impressed.
“Everybody was very interested in how we got them there,” Ash recalled. “It didn’t take us long to realize networking wasn’t really our route. We changed drastically and became a social media company selling services to any company out there. We ran their Facebook and Twitter accounts, organically posting for the companies.”
One of the earliest big-name clients Today’s Business signed was Cablevision in the New York City area, which was one of the largest cable and television companies in the nation. Three months later, Super Storm Sandy hit, and the two found themselves using cell phones — there was no power — to issue reports to Cablevision on who needed services. They connected the company with its customers.
“We became the social media guys,” Ash said.
The NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers heard the Today’s Business pitch and immediately bought into it. “We monitor all their accounts from 6 to 11 p.m. when social media is busiest,” Ash said. “We started doing game-day reports. If a fan was complaining, we could have someone in the arena there within 15 minutes to resolve the issue.” Tweets were replied to instantly, in order to increase customer satisfaction.
Today’s Business examines an organization’s needs and builds social media, websites, and influencer marketing to meet those needs, in turn gaining new customers based on their success, Ash said. “We stay in our lane and do what we do best.”
The digital marketing company does not have a sales team. It grows through word of mouth and relationship- building, Ash said. “Surround yourself with the correct people. I learned that at Saint Leo. I learned how to cultivate relationships.”
One of the company’s biggest clients, Red Rover®, a moving and storage company, came to Today’s Business through Joe Fortunato, Ash’s freshman roommate at Saint Leo.
It also signed Netflix, focusing on the streaming service’s new shops. They work with media conglomerates to place Netflix in publications such as Rolling Stone, Ebony, and Business Insider. They utilize affiliate marketing, an advertising model in which a company compensates third-party publishers to generate leads to the company’s products.
Early on, Today’s Business started an internship program that has turned into its greatest source of new employees — employees who Ash and Ottaiano trained themselves. Today, 40% to 60% of the company’s 35 employees are former interns, Ash said.
Everyone works remotely, including employees from 13 states and Washington, D.C.
“We are a marketing company that does not have to market our company,” Ash said. “It is built entirely on relationships. Real relationships. That is what I cultivated and grew based on my experience at Saint Leo. Being in a remote environment has changed the way we think about relationships. In the past, we used to have to travel five hours to visit a client. Now that we are completely remote, it makes us much more accessible to our clients, and they can meet with our strategists face-to-face with one click of a button. It allows us to build on those relationships.”
Ash served as a resident assistant while at the university and built good relationships with the students in the residence halls he supervised. He was a member of Kappa Theta fraternity and formed more connections there.
“I learned the importance of being honest, holding yourself accountable,” he said.
Professors at Saint Leo cared more about their students than if they passed or failed, Ash continued. But, “They would get disappointed if you did not get an assignment in or did not do your best. I still talk to my teachers, even the one who pushed me hardest to get everything done. Her name was Dr. Barbara Caldwell [professor of economics]. She is retired now, but still involved with Saint Leo.”
Today, when Ash is meeting with his team, he thinks about the accountability he learned at Saint Leo. “The thing that has kept us going is our relationships.”
Billy Ash gives back to the university by serving on the Saint Leo University Alumni Association Board of Directors. If you are interested in learning more about alumni volunteer opportunities, please contact email@example.com.