Elle Shelley: Pinball Strategy Founder

Elle Shelley, founder of Pinball Digital, photographed at Petite Maison in Scottsdale by Nicki Escudero

Elle Shelley, founder of Pinball Strategy, photographed at Petite Maison in Scottsdale by Nicki Escudero

Elle Shelley

Elle Shelley didn’t always plan on being an entrepreneur, but the 30-year-old digital marketing strategist saw an opportunity to make an impact on the Valley’s social media scene by launching her own company, Pinball Strategy, this year with a current four client roster. Shelley and her partner have created a full-service digital agency specializing in creating online solutions for businesses using user experience (UX), content marketing, and digital public relations. Shelley says she’s incredibly happy she’s ventured out on her own. Read on for how she hopes to impact the Arizona technology scene, as well as five reasons why she loves living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

I’m a native. My dad is fifth generation Arizonan, and my mom was born and raised in Colombia. I grew up in Gilbert and went to Highland High School. I have a B.S. in business management from Arizona State University.

What made you decide to start your own agency?

I had been freelancing for a number of years and one day, my freelance client looked at me and said: ‘Why don’t you start your own shop? In fact, we’ll happily be your first client.’ And that was how Pinball started. It’s been amazing to be able to really control the quality of work. At Pinball, our job is to get results, period. We’re not about sales, we’re not about marketing the business, we’re about your business. We live by this simple rule: When you hire Pinball, we work for you.

What do you want to do differently to stand apart?

We start with strategy, and strategy starts with results. You need to use social media smartly, which means you don’t need fans just for the sake of fans — you need fans who are useful. This is not groundbreaking or thought leadership — it’s just that not enough people think this way. We’re also going to tie it all together — I’ve worked in traditional advertising, I’ve worked in PR, I’ve worked in social, I’ve worked in SEO (search engine optimization), and I’ve worked in PPC (pay-per-click advertising), so I know how it’s all done and how they all impact each other. And that’s unique.

What got you interested in technology?

I believe in efficiency, and technology is a really great tool to help with efficiency. I’m always the first person to try the newest technology to see what works and what can get the job done faster.

Are there any drawbacks to technology?

Technology can’t solve all of our problems, and I think particularly in advertising, it needs a really human element. When you take the human element out of it and reduce it to technology, the result’s not going to be great, and that’s called spam. People know if something’s authentic or not — people aren’t stupid. Technology can hurt business when you’re too quick to say, ‘Oh, technology can take care of that.’ Technology should enhance, not replace, what we’re doing.

What are your goals with Pinball Digital?

We don’t want to get too big. We think that oftentimes ‘big’ is the problem, because you get so big you have to sell services to clients they don’t necessarily need. In my opinion, there’s a moral conundrum there, and one way to avoid that is staying small.

Why did you choose the name Pinball?

There was an article years ago talking about pinball marketing, and we used that story as a foundation. When you’re marketing online, it’s as if you’re playing pinball, whereas traditional advertising is comparable to bowling. In traditional advertising, you had to create a big, heavy, expensive TV commercial or ad, and you roll that down the lane, and hopefully you hit some pins. Maybe you get a gutter ball, or maybe you get a strike. Online, it’s pinball. You have a lot more things to keep the ball in action. The point is, in order to win the game and play big, you have to do it all together. If you just use one flipper, you’re not going to go very far. It’s understanding how they all work together. The other side to the name is that it’s fun. This is a fun experience. I don’t want to go to work and hate my life. I could go to another agency and make good money and do work I’m not passionate about. I have my own thing now, so I get the opportunity to say every day is going to be amazing, and that’s what I’m working for.

What have been the biggest challenges of going out on your own so far?

The biggest challenge is deciphering what you can be doing with what you should be doing. You can do everything yourself, from accounting to legal agreements, but as an owner, you have to think about the best place to spend your time. For us, we decided that we want to invest all our time and energy in our clients, which means it’s about taking the time to build the relationship. There’s an old saying: ‘People don’t care about how much you know until they know you care.’ How do you care? Dive into their business. Roll up your sleeves, and show you care. This isn’t about me getting rich — it’s about me going to work and loving what I do.

What makes a client a good fit for Pinball?

They have to be not afraid. We have big ideas, and we want clients who are not afraid to challenge the status quo. We’re in this to help businesses grow, end of story.

What kinds of companies would you ideally work with?

We’ve shockingly found a niche, and it’s technology-focused clients, and that’s awesome. If you’re a technology client, you’re forward-thinking, and you’re OK with big ideas. It works for our skillset, too, because if you’re a brand that needs mass-market advertising, you’re not going to come to us. We’re here to create experiences that are trackable.

If there’s one digital strategy businesses should embrace, what is it?

Content strategy. I believe it’s the first buzzword that actually understands and defines how every piece of marketing touches everything if there’s an overarching content strategy — what words, what voice are you going to use on your social channel? What kind of branded objects are you going to create? Whitepapers, PR, blog posts — what does that look like? Once you have that, how do you maximize that using good SEO principles and good social understanding? When you put all that together and shake it up, that’s content strategy. Now there’s a why to what you’re saying. You’re able to track along the way.

For companies resistant to digital marketing, why should they embrace it?

I wouldn’t say that digital marketing is the solution for every business, and that’s where I think we’re different. We’re not trying to sell. We’ll be able to tell you, ‘Your product’s not right for the online space.’ A lot more people should embrace digital, and where I’d tell them to start is by listening — not only social listening, but listen to what your customers want. That’s the great opportunity we have today is that brands can become great brands by listening to what the customer wants and giving it to them instead of shoving stuff down their throats they don’t want and need. I’m noticing there is a huge movement and trend towards homemade things, and I think that’s something that corporations and businesses need to be aware of — everything from homemade clothes to homemade goods to homemade food, there’s a consumer preference right now in a more one-to-one, human feel and less corporate feel. People are craving these real experiences. Nobody wants to do business with a big old conglomerate. People want to know, ‘Who am I talking to?’ and ‘Where is my money going?’ People will spend more money if they know that. I know plenty of people who will happily spend more money for goods that are made in Arizona because that money stays in Arizona. Companies need to harness that, and you can do that online.

How would you characterize the tech scene in Arizona?

I think we can do better. I feel like in Phoenix, there’s a status quo, and people are OK with that. I hope to be a part of the group of entrepreneurs who are trying new things. Guess what happens when you try new things? Failures. That’s OK. A failure is just as valuable as something that does work, because then you’re not going to repeat that same mistake and waste that money.

Is there any advice you’d give female entrepreneurs specifically?

I had a female friend, who was an attorney, who gave me some interesting advice, such as, ‘If you’re ever going to meeting in a room full of men, wear your hair back, and wear small earrings. When men see you with long hair, they just see you differently. Wear nylons.” I’d add this piece of advice: Speak up! Your words and thoughts are valuable.

For someone thinking about starting up their own business, what advice would you have?

Just do it. You can do it today. You’re going to be shocked and think, ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?’ The fact is, if you’re thinking about starting your own business, you already have the ambition. You already have the drive. Right now, you’re making someone else a lot of money, and you could be making yourself that money. If you’re scared, find a business partner, and talk about it. Do it today.

What makes a great business partner?

You have to have great communication, and you have to have trust. Another thing is, when you have a partner, you can’t quit.

What are your ultimate goals?

We’re going to pick five clients we think are worth fighting for that are our dream clients. The good news? We’ve already got two of those dream clients.

Who’s your dream client?

MINI Cooper. They’re not afraid to be different and try things. And also Kate Spade. I think they have a really fun brand, and I would love to represent them.

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