Rethinking Pricing, Processes, Employee Profit-Sharing, and More

Clark Morgan, the Chief Operations Officer at North Star Marketing, leads so many of our core efforts, not only with his quiet and humble determination, but also with his deep expertise in financials, processes, and how to align our work with the efforts of the education clients we serve. As he celebrates nine years with our team, we’re celebrating his huge contributions through all the difficulties of 2020, his faithfulness in all things — great and small — and his irrepressible sense of humor. 

Thanks, Clark, for all you do to keep us focused and moving forward as a team! Tell us a bit about what has been keeping you busy lately.

Clark: A huge part of the last year for me has been the work North Star has done with the value stream pricing model developed by Tim Williams. Over time, we’ve spent a lot of effort looking at our pricing, and after Andy was exposed to some of Tim’s work, it set some new things in motion for us. Our leadership team worked through an extensive positioning exercise and decided to tighten our focus around where we are the strongest — in education and enrollment marketing. That led to revamping our mission and vision statements to better align with the core markets we serve. 

As our COO, I know you’re also involved in a number of other initiatives and priorities, Clark. What else have you been working on in the last year?

Clark: As North Star pivoted to an education focus and we launched headlong into finding solutions for our schools’ COVID challenges, it meant that we had to rapidly develop some new, flexible, effective offerings. In addition to all that work, we’ve also continued to develop other key offerings that will always be relevant and useful for helping education partners of all kinds hit their enrollment goals. We’re building on a solid foundation of Message Workshops and creating a prototype for a Success Workshop. 

I’ve also been working on some targeted refinements to key processes, such as our onboarding experience, the success metrics we use in our engagements — including outcome-based agreements — and the scorecard we use to track progress with our partners. More than ever, what we’re measuring matters. The North Star team believes that providing exceptional marketing leadership means helping clients surface and track the metrics that are important in pursuing their goals. We frequently find that the way a school wants to define success for their admissions or enrollment team doesn’t truly equate to true and sustainable success. The clarity we provide around those key issues has been valuable for our clients as they make decisions regarding where to invest limited resources.

I feel like I frequently hear the word “process” when your name comes up around our (virtual) office.

Clark: Yes, I spend a lot of time looking at the ways our team is working and exploring opportunities to improve. Recently I’ve been vetting and testing some process documentation systems, and we’re nearly ready to implement one of those. Via, the project management platform we’ve built and refined specifically for marketing campaigns and firms like ours, is great for tracking who is doing what, when things are due, the dependencies of tasks, and so forth. All of those things are part of Via’s core functions. To keep things streamlined, we’re going to refine our documentation around how we do all of our work and house that in a centralized, accessible place for all our team members. 

When you think about the challenges from last year, what comes to mind?

Clark: Well, there were many of them, but one of the things we had to manage more closely than usual was our cash flow and financial projections. Misha Frazier, our Bookkeeper, played a big role in helping me keep up with what our week-to-week and 13-week rolling cash flow realities were so we could make informed choices. One of the results for us has been that we have an even stronger set of tools and insights about our financials that extends well beyond a 13-week picture, and we’re healthy and poised to make the right investments for our new education initiatives and partners. 

What’s front-and-center for you personally as we move farther into 2021?

Clark: Profitability and how we communicate the substantial benefits of our unique approach to clients is a huge focus for me. Profit builds and buys back margin for everyone, and the differences when a creative team isn’t living and dying by the billable hour are dramatic. We’re always working on efficiencies and pushing for clarity to free our team up for more collaborative and creative thinking. That will only yield more value for our clients and continue to differentiate North Star in the education marketing ecosystem. 

Any other thoughts about what 2020 brought, or what 2021 might bring?

Clark: I said earlier that there were many challenges in the last year, and that’s been true in the office and at home as I’ve watched my wife Amy fight cancer. In some ways over the last year, I’ve felt so unequipped for the huge challenges that have come — but I’ve been more dependent on the Lord than ever, too. With every single challenge that has come up, I’ve seen God provide some kind of answer, help, counsel, or resource. I mean it’s been uncanny to see God’s provision in things like how closely our firm’s COVID challenges aligned with the agenda of the C12 business group we’re a part of here. Those topics were set a year in advance! I’ve been surrounded and blessed by so many folks that I could reach out to for support.

And, it’s been incredible for me to witness the strength the Lord gave to Amy. There’s so much you can’t control with cancer, but God showed up time and time again for her and in our marriage. It has been a huge faith-builder for us. Seeing her come through on the other side of her treatments cancer-free? I don’t know how to describe that, really. I’m just grateful for all the ways God has worked in our lives and give Him all the praise. 

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