Michael Smit: Invoke Media’s New CEO

Michael Smit, Invoke Media | BCBusiness

The new CEO of Invoke Media brings the touch of a seasoned storyteller to his position heading one of Vancouver’s most well-respected digital marketing agencies

How are you settling in after leaving Vancouver-based Academy, the interactive marketing agency you founded and built over the past five years?
It’s been a great five or six weeks now. As I’ve told the founders here, they’ve done a really great job building a really strong team, so it feels like I’ve been working with them for far longer than it has been.

Before coming onboard with Invoke, were you looking to make a major career move?
It was really good timing for a number of reasons. On one side, it was kind of effectively transitioning then building out the core competencies of Academy so that it could roll into the larger agency network of Blast Radius and Wunderman. In doing so, it really gave me a logical exit point.

In parallel, I was talking to the leadership at Invoke, just because I know them, and it became apparent—especially having spun off HootSuite and the success there—that there was a bit of a leadership gap in this business. So, with the two things combined, it really made a lot of sense.

You worked with Invoke when you were still with Academy. What originally attracted you to Invoke, other than timing?
When I initially moved to Vancouver in 2001, Invoke was basically a one-man show out of an apartment. That was Ryan Holmes, who runs HootSuite now, and I helped him get some early day stuff going with that version of Invoke. So that connection point has always been there. And in the various incarnations of Invoke over the years, they’ve always offered some pretty strategic and interesting services.

You’ve come to Vancouver after stints at Blast Radius and Modem Media in the U.K. How is the marketing landscape different here from Europe?
I think the digital interactive industry here in Vancouver is kind of artificially limited. There’s so much talent here. I think what’s maybe not here is anywhere close to the same volume [of business].

The larger markets have the ability to create opportunity for entrepreneurs and for innovators. If you have a great idea and a solid business plan and some resources in place to make something happen in one of those larger markets, you can get some support, you can get some capital, you can get somebody behind you. In Vancouver, it’s a much harder proposition… because of an inability to scale up quickly like you can in those bigger markets.

Do you see that limited Vancouver landscape changing in the near future?
I think we have to be optimistic, especially when you look at the talent that’s here. It’s really just changing some of the infrastructure and support systems that are in place for tech. It’s the kind of thing that takes a little time, but people will see the kind of success that comes out of this market and the money will follow.

After working with your new team for a few weeks now, what strengths are you hoping to build upon at Invoke?
We’ve got an exceptional track record in social media and mobile strategies, and obviously those are two key areas that are so critical for businesses, brands and entrepreneurs to know how to effectively use. I think we not only have the ability to understand that world and build strategies and execute them but we can execute them faster, better, quicker.

What are some of the challenges you see the company facing?
Innovation is a powerful thing, but you have to be really careful about how far ahead of the curve you put yourself. Think of it in terms of being Napster versus iTunes or Friendster versus MySpace, or anything with the possibility of being something great without that perfect combination of product and timing and customer base.

Invoke has had some great success in the past with interesting campaigns such as the Eat Street app and HootSuite and it’s got this team constantly challenging themselves to do amazing things. But you want to make sure you can also add sustainable, predictable value for businesses you’re working with as well. It’s about finding that healthy balance between innovation and sustainable business value.

In addition to all your work in the digital sphere, you also sit on the board for TEDxVancouver. Is it fair to say the recent news that TED is moving here in 2014 is quite the coup for you and the board?
Yeah, it’s big news. It definitely adds a higher profile for Vancouver and I’d like to think the hard work that the TEDx organizing team put in over the last few years helped get us further on the map.

You’ve also done some directing and producing work on a sports documentary series called Carmelo’s Way. What got you into the film business?
The concept of storytelling crosses every medium. I also played basketball all my life so it was a bit of a passion project. This opportunity came up to put together the story of Carmelo Anthony, who at that time was just a couple of years into his NBA career with the Denver Nuggets. I sat in the director’s chair and put on the producer hat and figured out how to pull together a six-part documentary series.