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Where's Your Money Going? Transparency in Pricing at Wheels Up

My first job out of college, I worked at the 6th largest advertising agency in the world. NYC Madison Ave, baby. We went to swanky lunches and got pedicures and had Wednesday night happy hour in the Creative Lounge. I remember they had a robot pig that, at the time, seemed very futuristic. It was the height of the dot com bubble and my client’s TV budget for just one product was 34 million dollars. That was one tiny part of their ad spend. We were their agency of record (AOR) and, in addition to that one well-funded product, we had another 50 pharma products that we supported for them. I was 22, a junior media planner, and I made $18,500 a year. I remember getting all dressed up for the company holiday party - which was a big deal - and the CEO of the agency gave a slurry, drunken toast to thank us all for hustling that year. He unveiled our end-of-year bonus right there in front of 7,000 of my closest colleagues: an Ammirati Puris Lintas golf umbrella. It was beautiful and I distinctly remember thinking to myself: WOW, I’VE MADE IT!

Now, this was well before Mad Men came along but, at the time, it sure felt like I was capital-F Fancy. In retrospect, and as someone who now writes every proposal, estimates every project, and signs every paycheck - holy cow! Someone was making a lot of money at good ol’ APL, but it wasn’t me. And that’s fine. It was invaluable experience. I cut my teeth learning from the literal legends of Madison Avenue Advertising while working on the world’s largest pharma company’s account.

Working in Seattle startup tech 10 years later was a new flavor of lighting-money-on-fire. There were infamous parties to celebrate funding announcements, fully stocked kitchens, requisite microbrews on tap, and fancy coffee machines. Now most of that was done to keep us at the office, working the hours of two FTEs. And again, I loved (almost) every minute of it. The thrill of scraping by, together, to build something that hopefully would pay off and make those monopoly money stock options actually worth something someday was the adrenaline rush I needed to work 70 hour weeks without batting an eye. This time around, again, someone made a whole lot of money, but it wasn’t me.

When Elise and I finally decided to hop off the tech hamster wheel and start Wheels Up Collective, money was obviously part of the equation, but not because we were motivated to make loads of money (though that’d be nice). It was because we wanted to live with balance (Wheels Up tenet #2), and offer the same to really stellar teammates.

I can attest from my experience as a manager at other companies, it’s emotionally deflating to go to bat for appropriate compensation for your best people and get shot down. And as someone who has been on the receiving end of that subpar comp conversation, it does a number on your ego, your positivity, and your ability to get excited about showing up for work and doing your best every day. Compensating our people well was our first priority when Elise and I daydreamed about what our agency would be. (Unlike our tech pasts, part of that package includes flexibility, a largely asynchronous environment, and profit sharing – so we’re all able to live with balance and design the right work environment for ourselves.)

Why should you care about all this? Because as a client, you’re getting stellar, at-the-top-of-their-game, killer talent to work on your account. I’ve been hiring marketers for 25 years (yikes!) and these are the best folks I’ve ever worked with. They are expensive – as they should be.

But here’s the funny part: when working with many agencies, you don’t get what you pay for. You’re paying for huge offices and kegs and free lunches, bloated tech stacks and layers and layers of oversight, all so that offshore or junior marketers can do your execution work. We’ve done *a lot* of research on agency pricing, and it’s not uncommon to see sliding scale hourly rates that quickly hit $400+ if you have a senior marketer on the account. And that rate doesn’t ensure inspired counsel. War stories of subpar agencies is sadly the norm in our industry.

Tenet #3 at Wheels Up is: Be Authentic – direct, respectful, and truthful is always the right approach. As Elise and I talked about pricing and delivering value to our clients, we decided that we should rely on this tenet and open our proverbial kimono. Here’s how your dollars are spent at Wheels Up Collective:

Image of Wheels Up Price Breakdown

I’d put that up against anyone and bet that we are paying more directly to our people than 99.9% of agencies out there. We’re able to put on-demand, proven seniority and experience on your team and you don’t spend any time recruiting, training, retaining, and carrying full time headcount.

Then, on top of that, we selectively and aggressively negotiate the right tech stack so it’s ready and waiting for you, when you need it. Do you have time to vet and procure PR or SEM or SEO technology? Of course you don’t. We’ve done it for you. Is your inbox clogged with cold emails from specialty vendors? Hit delete. We have a fantastic ecosystem of best-in-class specialty partners we pull in to efficiently round out our offering so we’re a true one-stop shop that can deliver a cohesive, coordinated growth plan for you. Over the past three years, we’ve built a truly on-demand solution where you pay for what you need without the bloat of what you don’t.

Tenet #4 at Wheels Up is: Make it Count - spend resources wisely - our clients’ as well as our own. It’s something we take very seriously and personally. We’re honored that our clients have trusted us with their budget, now more than ever as belts have tightened. If you’re one of them, thank you for your support and we hope to continue growing with you for years to come. If you’re not a client yet and need more bandwidth, we’d love to pull together a proposal for you. You’ll know exactly where your dollars are going.


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