Pilothouse Is All In for the Wild Ride of Performance Marketing

Local marketing agency's passion for sales drives revenue and growth.

Pilothouse team leaders
The Pilothouse management team. Left to right: Jeff Shannon, Andrew Stern, Kyle Hitchcox, and Dave Steele. Photo by Belle White for Douglas magazine.

In the past, marketing has been a ‘set it and wait’ kind of game. The phrase “you won’t know exactly what drove it, but your sales will go up” is one business owners hear a lot. Over at Pilothouse, however, those words have probably never left anyone’s mouth.

The performance marketing company is all about hyper-focused, hyper-detailed and hyper-tracked advertising strategies. When you talk to the team behind the business, you feel like you’re conversing with a group of day traders whose prime motivation is breaking 6-figures on the daily.

Typical text exchanges between team members:

“Single day over $100K. Next stop 250K!”

“Over 500K spend on the month. Over $125K sales today though too.”

I first encountered Pilothouse when I took a Digital Marketing Bootcamp through Alacrity Canada. The CEO of Pilothouse, Dave Steele, hosted a course on Facebook Marketing. He impressed me with his cool, calm, collected approach to the medium and I wanted to learn more.

When I interviewed Steele and fellow leaders Jeff Shannon, Kyle Hitchcox and Andrew Stern, I learned that together, they’re actually more like a hurricane with their frenetic, results-driven approach to developing and implementing advertising campaigns.

What is performance marketing? It’s described by Big Commerce as a combination of paid advertising and brand marketing that’s paid out once the completed desired action takes place.

In other words, instead of spending $100 with a goal of making 10 sales and no guarantee you will, as a performance marketing client you spend $100 only if the agency’s work gets you those 10 sales.

As co-founder and CFO Jeff Shannon explains it, “our team wakes up every day and try their best to spend money as efficiently as possible and create as much profit margin as possible, which typically won’t happen if you’re just getting paid a flat rate. And in performance marketing, the bigger our margin is, the more revenue our clients are bringing in, so it’s just a win-win all round.”

Assertive approach aided by frontloading hires

Incorporated in 2019, Pilothouse is a spin-off from Helmkin Digital, which was founded by Shannon and Hitchcox in 2014. It is experiencing dramatic growth, going from ten employees to 60 in just eight months.

COO Andrew Stern says that in addition to upending the traditional approach to marketing, they’re disrupting growth patterns by frontloading their hiring process. “That was Dave’s vision,” he says. “It took us a minute to catch up to it, to be honest. He was constantly hiring ahead of his demand because he had a vision and clearly just executed that passionately and successfully. The deal flow is incredible because of its unique sales process, and by being ahead, we can secure deals quickly without any wait time while we hire.”

When I ask them about the energetic pace of their business, Pilothouse founding partner Kyle Hitchcox tells me “performance marketing is very much like day trading. You’re pushing your own capital out. You’re trying to make a return on that money. So that’s where we come from. It’s an alignment to our clients that doesn’t exist much in the agency space. The traditional way to advertise can mean billions spent every year with no attributable return. And that’s what we really wanted to change. It just comes down to accountability to your partner and to their return.”

The rush of the sale pushes team success

The four leaders have found in working together they have a connection and purpose that feeds off their collective energy. “What is driving our success as a team is each of us having a bit of an addictive personality. We love the thrill of the hunt. And basically, you’re getting instant gratification on an ongoing basis. You’re either winning or losing and it’s the work that you’re putting into it.”

Steele describes his team as akin to gunslingers with invincible confidence. “Running ads like every dollar counts – because it does – is a breath of fresh air,” he says. “The performance world is a rush, which attracts some of the most impressive talent I’ve ever seen. Entrepreneurial, driven people willing to set alarms at the crack of dawn to optimize campaigns before going back to sleep to squeeze every ounce of performance from their campaigns.”

Those team members are hired for attitude and aptitude. Stern says their experience on the ground doing the work provided crucial insights into who would succeed as a performance marketing on their payroll. But, says Shannon, they need to understand the pace of work they’re signing on for. “It’s this addictive place where you can get hooked in. You got Slack on your phone, in your pocket, 24 hours a day. And our Slack usage is through the roof. Like we’re pushing maybe 6,000 plus messages a day. But when team members crush their campaign, they know that their paycheck at the end of that period is going to be higher and that’s what motivates them.”

Big goals for local company

Pilothouse has some very assertive goals to go with their assertive marketing approach. They’ve tripled revenue year over year from 2020 compared to 2019, and they plan on doing the same in 2021. They want to become the biggest performance marketing brand in North America and a big player internationally too.

But, says Shannon, “we don’t just want a larger company, we want record-setting staff retention to go along with record-setting results with our clients. At the end of the day, the real question is going to be are we a good business? Because that’s what we ultimately strive to be.”

Whether they reach those ambitious goals or not, Pilothouse has become a fresh, energetic presence in performance marketing. Whatever’s next, you can bet they’re all in.

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