Media All Star: Michael Gullaksen

An agency’s success begins at the top. A positive culture supports change and creates a place where productive people want to work.

NP Digital, headquartered in San Diego, California, has experienced a 50% increase in full-time employees during the past year.

One of those strategic new hires during the first quarter in 2022 was search expert Mike Grehan. The former Acronym CMO leads global Corporate Communications as the company expands globally and increases revenue.

NP Digital’s annual revenue forecast in 2022 is estimated to surpass $100 million. Of its $32 million in revenue growth, 61% came from new clients and 39% from offering premium versions and cross-selling services to existing clients. Non-U.S. revenue grew by 397%.

The person behind those achievements at the top of the agency is Michael Gullaksen, CEO of NP Digital.

Gullaksen deserves the title of Media All Star — if for no other reason than his humble approach when talking about the agency’s achievements rather than his own.

When talking about the agency’s global expansion and branding, he attributes the company's growth to employees across the organization — about 756 employees. NP Digital has offices in seven countries, but employees support clients in 15 countries. Some customers do work in 50 countries.

“Getting everyone marching in the same direction with one real goal of having a global enterprise business that can support any customer any size anywhere is aspirational,” he says. “It’s the most monumental task we’ve taken on.”

Gullaksen wanted to work in marine biology or as a dentist when he was in high school. He never imagined he would become the CEO of a performance-based agency.

“I was graduating college in early 2000,” he said. “My roommate’s sister was a TV anchor in Scottsdale, Arizona, and dating what we called an ‘internet guy.’ He took her and my best friend at the time out all the time. I got invited out, too.”

This “internet guy” — Jeff Herzog, the founder of iCrossing — convinced Gullaksen to work for his startup selling search-engine marketing services. At the time it was not called iCrossing.

Gullaksen attributes trust- and relationship-building to his success. When asked to cite the one thing people would be surprised to learn about him, Gullaksen says: “I’m an introvert. I don’t like crowds and social settings can be tiring.”

People tell him he's not an introvert because he loves spending time with them. “It’s fruitful and worth it,” he says. “I had to push myself to do it.”

The greatest career advice anyone gave him, around age 29, came from his dad while he was transitioning from iCrossing to Covario.

During a conversation with his dad, he questioned his ability to start an agency. Covario at the time was a software company. It did not have an agency.

“My dad kept telling me to bet on myself,” Gullaksen says. “'You have to bet on yourself,' he kept saying. I had never started a company before. My dad did. His dad did. They were successful and sold their businesses. Bet on yourself. It’s great advice.”

Gullaksen, 44, is not overly spiritual, but he believes in karma. He believes that people need to “do right” by others, and take care of others. His greatest joy is taking care of clients and employees and to see them succeed.

“I’m a firm believer in taking care of employees, helping them find the work-life balance — and that will flow down to the customers,” he says.

Perhaps that’s why NP Digital offers free software in various disciplines in search-engine marketing and content solutions, which attracted a dedicated following and user base in the millions. It helped build the agency’s brand while building trust across the marketing community.

Loyal decision-makers have helped propel its business in the global market.

Gullaksen lives life giving back to others. In March 2022, NP Digital partnered with the Digital Marketing Institute (DMI) to create a new Online Search Marketing certification course with materials focused on search strategy, paid search and SEO, demand generation, search analytics, and data visualization.

DMI’s 200,000 active members can study search marketing using a dynamic mix of interactive lessons, videos, and downloadable tools, along with live sessions on the latest trends and channels.

That need to take care of others starts with his new wife and expected child. 

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