On this marketing mission, niche guys finish first

That's a wrap: A scene from "Unwrap Your Potential," part of a new student-recruitment campaign produced in part by Westbury marketing firm Mission Disrupt.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

As Dean DeCarlo sees it, established companies – even some bigger ones – have a unique problem.

With the digital age upon us and more customers moving online, many product and service providers are falling behind, according to the entrepreneur, because they don’t understand the nuances of digital engagement.

Branded media, web design, paid media campaigns – this is the new definition of “company representation,” according to Mission Disrupt Ltd., a 2016 startup DeCarlo launched specifically to help established advertisers keep up with the e-Joneses.

“A lot of business owners think digital marketing is more traditional,” he told Innovate LI. “You buy a billboard and a lot of people see it and they go buy your product.

“But there are different facets to digital marketing, and they rely on each other to be effective,” DeCarlo added. “You need good creative to have a strong social media presence. Your social media points to your website. Everything impacts each other.”

Such multimedia strategizing is common in the digital age, but more personal than that to DeCarlo, who’s long known exactly what business he wanted to be in – “Most kids want to be athletes or policemen or whatever, but I knew marketing and advertising would be my arena” – and started seeking educational experiences early on.

At SUNY Albany, he “hit the ground running,” DeCarlo noted, looking for opportunities to develop his raw presentation skills. A juicy chance materialized in ATV, affectionate call letters of Albany Student Television, an online campus network that “didn’t really have an organized marketing team,” according to DeCarlo.

So he made one, eventually growing the team into a 30-person marketing department mixing creative writers and designers, social media experts and other strategists – “a bunch of people who actually created real content,” he said.

Needless to say, DeCarlo’s longtime marketing flames were fanned, and he’d already recorded the first of several important lessons that would eventually pave his professional path – Mission Disrupt’s primary mission, in fact.

“Albany Student Television showed me there are established organizations and companies that very much need help reaching their audiences online,” DeCarlo said. “ATV really started making the vision clear to me.

“This could definitely be a career.”

Dean DeCarlo: Disruptive tendencies.

Marketing the campus network indirectly led to another vital lesson. In addition to promoting network programming and ATV-related events, DeCarlo’s department did a lot of charity work, including heavy involvement with regional Toys for Tots campaigns.

That helped DeCarlo land a coveted marketing internship at New York State Industries for the Disabled, “one of very few marketing internships offered in Albany,” he noted. “I was lucky to nail it down.”

At NYSID, a 42-year-old Albany-based nonprofit dedicated to employing New Yorkers with disabilities, a half-semester gig turned into a full-year internship – and a valuable education in the finer points of marketing charitable groups.

“Nonprofit work is very different from for-profit marketing,” DeCarlo noted. “Understanding the different nuances of what they wanted to send out was important.

“And I was learning about the more creative side of marketing as well.”

More invaluable career advice was to be gleaned through Marketing EDGE, a national nonprofit that aims to Educate, Develop, Grow and Employ collegians with bright advertising futures. DeCarlo was one of 33 national students selected for a Marketing EDGE program at Google’s California headquarters, where he met product managers and C-suite executives and “really got to understand the scope of what’s going on in modern marketing, based on analytics and all the tools Google uses.”

And if that wasn’t Fortune 500-ish enough, DeCarlo also landed a highly prized internship at Carle Place’s own 1-800-Flowers.com Inc., where he spent a summer as a web analyst.

“The lessons learned from the weeklong Marketing EDGE conference and Google, I was able to apply at 1-800-Flowers,” he said. “This all really broadened my understanding of how marketing is done by other companies.”

While his rich internships – with the ATV experience, already an impressive résumé – might have opened a door at a big-time marketing firm, DeCarlo knew he’d found his niche. He officially founded Mission Disrupt in January 2016, months before graduation, through the University at Albany’s chapter of the Blackstone LaunchPad, an international campus-based entrepreneurship program.

After earning his degree, DeCarlo relocated the startup to his father’s basement in Commack, until he and his seven-member team – including separate media and digital media directors, various strategists and other creative types – joined the first batch of tenants to occupy LaunchPad Westbury when the co-working facility opened last summer.

His plan, the entrepreneur said, was always to return to Long Island. It might be easier for a startup to find clients in a target-rich city, but in the digital age, a talented person can work virtually anywhere – and nothing sells better, DeCarlo noted, than good work.

“Now that we’re getting out some campaigns and people are seeing these guys know what they’re doing, we’re starting to get that recognition,” he said. “Companies and brands from the city are reaching out to us.”

That includes the Summit Academy Charter School of Brooklyn, which hired Mission Disrupt to create “Unwrap Your Potential,” a student-recruitment campaign featuring a professionally produced 92-second commercial and various social media components. The campaign, which reached more than 24,000 people through the school’s social media accounts in its first month, “embodies what happens you put all the services together,” DeCarlo noted.

“When you look at the grand scheme of marketing and creating an entire campaign, from strategy to digital media to website to paid media, all leveraging the power of social media, it’s a very effective combination,” he said.

The founder, who estimates he invested “a few thousand dollars” to self-educate and incorporate his startup, said his business model will continue to focus on established companies – at least, companies with the resources to engage multifaceted, modern marketing campaigns – but will also evolve, just as the digital marketing arena itself “is constantly changing.”

He continues to invest in new reporting tools and other digital metrics – transparency and measuring effectiveness are consistent themes – but if there’s one thing his Westbury-based team has already proven, it’s that next-level digital strategy and NYC-level talent absolutely exist in the ’burbs.

“A lot of millennials are realizing quickly that the city is not all it’s cracked up to be,” DeCarlo said. “Not because it’s not great, but because of the work-life balance, which is important.”

Mission Disrupt Ltd.

What’s It? Modern marketing for companies behind the digital curve

Brought To You By: Dean DeCarlo, who heard marketing’s call   

All In: “A few thousand dollars,” DeCarlo says, to learn the ropes and incorporate

Status: Bringing it all together … you know, disruptively