Hybrid Director of Strategy Johnathan McFarlane appears on Jason Swenk’s Smart Agency Podcast

If you know agencies, you know Jason Swenk. Our very own Johnathan McFarlane joined him on his podcast recently to discuss email marketing, outbound strategy, and a few hilarious #agencylife stories you need to hear!

Jason is known for his expertise in helping agencies grow, and Johnathan has played a pivotal role in the growth of Hybrid. The pair cover a variety of interesting top-level topics, but still deliver a number of actionable tips you can try today. 

  • How to send emails your prospects actually want to open
  • How personalization can help your agency win clients
  • Should your agency outsource outbound sales research?

Give the podcast a listen here, or read the transcript below. 



Jason Swenk (00:03):

On this masterclass we talk with an agency about their outbound strategy of how they use humor in email in order to get the prospect’s attention in order to really pick and choose the clients that you want. So I think you’ll really like this episode. Hey, Jonathan, welcome to the show.

Johnathan McFarlane (00:24):

Thanks for having me, Jason. Good to be on. Appreciate it.

Jason Swenk (00:26):

Yeah. Awesome. Tell us who you are, and what do you do?

Johnathan McFarlane (00:30):

Sure. I’m the Director of Strategy at Hybrid Marketing Company. We’re a Denver-based agency, and we focus on almost exclusively the cannabis and hemp world.

Jason Swenk (00:41):

Awesome. I like how people call it hemp and cannabis for when … When I went to the high school, we called it something different, but –

Johnathan McFarlane (00:49):

Yeah. Same here. Same here. But the terms have changed a little bit. There’s some bad history with some of the terms like marijuana, so as an industry we’ve kind of moved to a bit of a more scientific name.

Jason Swenk (01:02):

Awesome. How’d you guys get started in this?

Johnathan McFarlane (01:06):

It started, well, I guess three years ago now, and everybody involved had been working for other agencies, or other marketing internal teams, and so on. I think we had all dreamed of working together at some point, and so our founder, Greg Peters, just kind of bit by bit started getting the band together. That led us where we are now. Actually interesting enough, almost everybody involved, we’ve all known each other for 15, 20, or more years. And most of our significant others, they all work at the same salon, so it’s a very interconnected group.

Jason Swenk (01:44):

So right now you guys are still able to get your hair cut.

Johnathan McFarlane (01:47):

Yeah, there’s a lot of home hair cuts, back-haired hair cuts going on. You know, I feel kind of lucky, and most of us feel kind of lucky that we get to keep our chop fresh. But actually my wife just started back at the salon actually yesterday. Yesterday was her first day back, so tons of restriction in place. It’s a bit of a different world for her, but we feel very fortunate.

Jason Swenk (02:12):

Has your industry been affected at all by this, or have you guys seen growth?

Johnathan McFarlane (02:16):

You know, it’s funny actually. It sort of depends on where you are. In some places they’ve been forced to shut down, but like here in Colorado, it’s going bananas. It’s been deemed an essential industry here. So if you’re able to do drive-through, or curbside, that kind of stuff, you’re pretty much able to stay open. Our largest client here in Colorado, they just saw I think their second biggest April ever. So, so far it’s going pretty well.

Jason Swenk (02:46):

What’s been really working for you guys in order to grow the agency?

Johnathan McFarlane (02:50):

Yeah. Well, it’s kind of a bit of everything. I mean really our biggest challenge at the moment is, even though we’re a few years older to this part, we really didn’t start marketing ourselves until maybe November of last year. Up to that point, it’d just all been referrals kind of thing, like in-network to build. So a few months after I came on board, I really kicked our own marketing into gear, and awareness has really been our biggest challenge.

Johnathan McFarlane (03:22):

People here in Colorado know us through our very recognizable clients, but expanding outside of Colorado has been tricky, so there’s a lot of cold emails going out. There’s a lot of LinkedIn networking. Actually most of that’s coming from me, and so I try to write really clever, funny emails that start some conversations. You kind of just have to try to say hello to people wherever they are and know that even if they’re not going to be a client now, you’re gradually building that network, and they or somebody they know might be a client down the road.

Jason Swenk (04:00):

Give us an example of like a witty email. Because I get emails all day long, and I want to shoot myself, or I want to shoot the people sometimes that send me this stuff. I’m like, “This is horrible.”

Johnathan McFarlane (04:13):

I’m right there with you. I get tons of ridiculous emails that have no business being in my inbox. So my goal when I send emails that are sort of prospecting emails is to try to be funny, because it’s hard to get mad if somebody sends you kind of a funny email. So for example, one that I’ve been using, it’s sort of the first in an email sequence says, I think the subject line is, My Two-year-old Assistant Adelaide Wants to Say Hi. We are in the midst of the coronavirus, which means I am working at home. I have a new two-year-old assistant who is really not pulling her weight at the moment. Taking naps in the middle of the day, and now she’s-

Jason Swenk (04:53):

Distraction. Total distraction.

Johnathan McFarlane (04:55):


Jason Swenk (04:56):

That’s how I look at them.

Johnathan McFarlane (04:57):

Yeah. But it makes for funny content so that’s the subject line. Then I talk about how I’ve got a new assistant. She’s really dragging me down, but she told me it’s a good time to try and build my network. I provide a link to a case study, a really elaborate, really detailed case study. Then I include a photo of Adelaide face down napping in the middle of the family room with a bunch of toys around her, with the caption, My Assistant Napping on the Job, and keep it short and sweet.

Johnathan McFarlane (05:30):

I’m getting 55 to 60% open rates, and most of the people that respond, even if they’re not interested, they say, “Hey. That’s funny. Thanks for the message. I’ll let you know somewhere down the road if we need any help.” I love to see that. I’ve gotten zero F-you emails, or zero, don’t ever speak to me again emails. So to me that’s a win.

Jason Swenk (05:56):

Yeah. We have one that goes out to people that have opted in, and then they may not have digested the content yet. Right?

Johnathan McFarlane (06:04):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jason Swenk (06:05):

Which is always weird. I’m like, “You opted in, but you haven’t digested it.” So we always send out this email and we change it out. So we send an alligator. We’d be like, “Where should we send the flowers, because obviously you’ve been eaten by an alligator.” Right? And then it says, “Here’s the options,” or something. I can’t really remember it now, but it’s like, “You’re either dead, where should we send the flowers, because you’ve been eaten by an alligator. Two, you’ve just been plain swamped.” Right?

Johnathan McFarlane (06:32):

Like that. Clever. Clever.

Jason Swenk (06:34):

Playing on that. Or we go, “You’ve been eaten by a lion, and you just been bushed.” Right? Like we’ll play with that. Or three, “You just don’t want us to email and that’s fine.” We always get a response from that, or people like kind of chuckle from it. So I always love using humor in there.

Johnathan McFarlane (06:51):

That’s cool.

Jason Swenk (06:51):

What are some other, because people are always like … I’ve also seen that work … Do you guys ever do like a Loom video? Like to someone that you did some research ahead of time, and you send out a Loom video and said like, “Hey. I was checking out this. I noticed this. You may want to fix here. Let me know if you want to know more,” or something like that. Do you guys ever do anything that, or is it more of just a mass funny email, and see who can respond, and then go from there?

Johnathan McFarlane (07:17):

Well, yeah. If it’s somebody that we really think is a good fit, and we know maybe they’re kind of making some changes in the marketing department then absolutely we will personalize the messaging a lot. Especially if we have some sort of connection like a friend of a friend knows somebody, or we’ll look deep to see if there’s any way to get straight to somebody there, especially the decision maker in the marketing department, or operations if they don’t have a marketing department. Yeah, absolutely.

Johnathan McFarlane (07:50):

I mean I think the more you can personalize something, the more you can customize something, I get it that it takes a lot more effort, but I mean ultimately those are the ones that you have a better probability of landing. So you just have to be prepared to put in that extra discovery, extra research. Actually, that’s a good point. We didn’t end up bringing them in as a client, but we’ve got several in-person meetings with a company. I was just digging through lists, going to websites of potential not even leads yet, but just prospects I guess we’ll call them, and one of them had a website that the website was actually down.

Johnathan McFarlane (08:27):

So I just sent them an email and just said, “Hey. Your website’s down. You guys need some help with that?” They emailed back and said, “Oh. Yeah, you’re right. It is down, and actually yeah, we do need some help with that.” So it did take me going to those websites, going to all these different prospects’ websites one at a time and taking a look. But you have to use by any means necessary really.

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Jason Swenk (09:49):

Are you guys using anybody to help you with the research, or are you guys doing the research and then going? I always see like about 50-50. Like 50% of the people will be like, “I’ll do the research, and then I’ll do the outreach.”

Johnathan McFarlane (10:02):

Yeah. Usually it’s us doing everything. I can’t think of any circumstance where we’ve had somebody else doing it for us. I think that just allows us to keep us as close to the information as possible. Like if we put somebody in the middle, then it’s like telephone. Right? The stuff they’re looking at goes through a filter before it gets to you. Most of the time, it’s me personally doing the discovery and doing the outreach to them, so I want to be the one that’s looking at things and digesting that information myself so I can speak exactly to what I’m seeing when I talk to that potential client.

Jason Swenk (10:40):

Awesome. One thing I started asking people is like, “What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you guys at like you working at the agency?”

Johnathan McFarlane (10:50):

Yeah, sure. Well, we just got into a new office. I want to say it was four or five months ago, and the bathroom door is real thin. No, I’m not going to tell you that one. Same thing, new office it’s like an old converted industrial space, so really high ceilings. There’s probably 25-foot-or-more-high ceiling, and there was this little tiny hook. I mean maybe two inches, two-and-a-half inches long that was hanging up on the ceiling. One of our guys, Greg, he bet 50 bucks to one of our other guys that he couldn’t shoot a rubber band and get it on the hook, and he’d get one shot. Derek lines up with a rubber band.

Johnathan McFarlane (11:33):

Just before he let rip, Greg says, “There’s no way. I’ll bet you a thousand dollars you’re not going to make it.” Winds up, shoots it, lands it right on the hook. I mean one of a million kind of trick shot sort of thing. Sure enough, Greg paid up $1,000, and Derek was a nice enough guy to put it back into the furniture for our reception areas. But we had a laugh about that. I only wish we had a video. The ceilings are so high the rubber band’s still up there. We can’t get it down.

Jason Swenk (12:04):

Has anybody ever attempted it after?

Johnathan McFarlane (12:06):

No. We sort of figured it was a once in a lifetime kind of thing.

Jason Swenk (12:09):

Don’t mess with it?

Johnathan McFarlane (12:10):

Yeah. Because Derek walked away a winner, and I don’t think he wants to tarnish his 100% record.

Jason Swenk (12:17):

We had this interview one time. At the time, this really good 3D artists came in. We were like, “His portfolio was amazing.” He comes in, and me and my creative director are sitting there, and he doesn’t hand his card. He throws it at us. Obviously we didn’t hire this guy. But afterwards we were telling everybody, and so I come into the office and I try to imitate him. I was like, “Hey. What’s up? My name is,” whatever. I throw the card up, and it spins perfectly about 20 feet away and 20 feet back to me, and I catch it with my two fingers behind my back.

Johnathan McFarlane (12:57):


Jason Swenk (12:59):

Right? So everybody went wild. They were like, “This happened? How’d you do …” And just like your rubber band, I never had to do it ever again. I was like, “Nope. I can’t do it.”

Johnathan McFarlane (13:10):

Oh man. And you know what? I bet if he had done that exact thing when you were interviewing him, that might’ve been a hire. Right? If he had –

Jason Swenk (13:16):

I would’ve been like, “You’re hired.”

Johnathan McFarlane (13:17):


Jason Swenk (13:17):


Johnathan McFarlane (13:20):

I got to learn how to do that trick. That’s good.

Jason Swenk (13:22):

Well, awesome. Well, this has been a lot of fun. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think the audience needs to know about?

Johnathan McFarlane (13:27):

You know, nothing’s coming to mind, Jason. I’m sure, just like everything, as soon as we get off this call something’s going to pop into my head. But yeah, nothing to float with me at the moment. I appreciate the conversation.

Jason Swenk (13:38):

Well, it’s perfectly fine to just say, look, I’m the best interviewer in the entire world.

Johnathan McFarlane (13:43):

You are the best interviewer.

Jason Swenk (13:43):

Open questions.

Johnathan McFarlane (13:44):

Yeah. Hey, actually I was just reading that off the notes you sent ahead of the show.

Jason Swenk (13:48):

That’s right. You picked up on that.

Johnathan McFarlane (13:51):

You ask all the good stuff. That’s it.

Jason Swenk (13:53):

What’s the website people can go and check out the agency?

Johnathan McFarlane (13:55):

Yeah. It’s www.hybridmarketingco.com. We are based in Denver, but we operate throughout the U.S. and Canada now too.

Jason Swenk (14:04):

Awesome. Well, go check them out. If you guys like this episode, and you want to know the systems, and some strategies, and the foundation you need in order to really take your agency to the next level so you can really stand out from the me-too agencies, I want you guys to go to jasonswenk.com/playbook, request an invite. This is our online framework to really help you grow your agency faster. So go check out the Agency Playbook, and until next time, have a Swenk day.


“Hands, touching hands Reaching out, touching me, touching you…”