Industry Watch

Scott Litman

How Magnet 360 became one of America’s ‘most promising’ companies

Guided by clearly defined core values, the creative agency offers clients highly integrated services​

By Erica Rivera

Magnet 360 attracts success by strategy, not circumstance. Recently included on the “America’s Most Promising Companies” list by Forbes, the Minneapolis-based provider of marketing strategy and technology solutions is the fourth collaboration by managing partners Scott Litman and Dan Mallin. They founded the company in 2008 and were motivated to offer the marketplace what the world’s largest ad agencies lacked. 

“These global holding companies [like JWT and WPP] have every kind of talent imaginable in marketing services,” Litman says, “but while they own all these amazing assets, they don’t integrate them to their customers.”

Litman and Mallin envisioned PR, web, e-commerce, content, and creative all available through one office. By 2011, Magnet 360 established four disciplines: relationship management; brands, apps, sites, and communities; marketing automation; and social campaign management. The company used a subcontractor model to create an amalgam of agencies to provide the services, and later acquired the contractors they used the most. “We created a highly collaborative environment that allowed us to provide a wide range of services to really big customers,” Litman says.

Magnet 360’s client list is flush with Fortune 500 companies like Ecolab and Medtronic, and its other clients span the finance, medical, hospitality, manufacturing, software, and retail industries.

Brandpoint, a content marketing agency that helps clients develop, create, and distribute online content, and DreamPlanGo, a marketing solutions firm for the travel industry, have been customers of Magnet 360 from the beginning. “Typically, when you go to a big agency, the A-Team sells you and the C-Team does the work,” says Scott Severson, president of Brandpoint and DreamPlanGo. “Magnet’s difference was that the A-Team was selling you and the A-Team was doing all the work as well.”

Already on the breaking edge of digital, Litman saw an opportunity for Magnet 360 to expand one-to-one marketing by getting to know customers better. The company depends on Salesforce for its customer relationship management (CRM) software. Using Salesforce, which Litman calls “the center of everything,” allows the company to capture information about customers to enable sales and create marketing solutions. 

For Brandpoint and DreamPlanGo, Magnet 360 provided strategic consulting and eased their transition from an archaic CRM system to Salesforce. “If you’re just buying Salesforce off the shelf and you’re not having somebody adapt it to the nuances of your business, I don’t think you’re going to get the full benefit from it,” says Severson. 

Magnet 360 also helped Honeywell better connect its contractors and integrate data on its Lyric thermostat. Similar to the Nest, which can be programmed on an iPhone, the Lyric lets professionals and installers provide ongoing maintenance programs. With a system made by Magnet 360, they can look at their handheld device or laptop and get notifications on which Lyric user needs a service call and for what.

Litman always knew he’d be a tech entrepreneur. He worked for tech companies while completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota and co-founded his first venture, Imaginet, a year after graduation. In two years, the web development services firm rose from a startup to a multimillion dollar company. Imaginet was first sold to Imation, bought back by Litman and Mallin in partnership with Skip Gage, and resold to JWT/WPP in 2000. Two similar ventures followed.

The skills the duo learned from such deals have come in handy, as acquiring agencies has been a central theme of Magnet 360’s recent growth. It acquired New York–based Irgonomic in August, Los Angeles–based American Data Company in May, and Minneapolis-based Reside a few years ago (as part of that deal, Reside founder Matt Meents was added as a co-founder of Magnet 360).

The majority of Magnet 360’s team is now based in Minneapolis, with the rest operating out of offices in New York, L.A., and Chicago.

A number of core values guide the Magnet 360 culture: client trust earned every day, constant evolution, responding with a sense of urgency, collaboration, shared ownership, and rockin’. The latter, Litman explains, is “an idea that everyone is working together in harmony, enjoying what they do, and having a cool vibe.”

Magnet 360 is always asking itself, “What’s the next thing on the horizon that’s going to change the way people do business? How do we see it and recognize it before others do? How do we pick the right thing?”

“We’re not the people who will create that magical device or magical software, but we’re good at recognizing all of the magical things people create, which are the ones that are going to work,” Litman says.

As for life as a serial entrepreneur, he acknowledges that challenges arise all the time. “One of the parts of entrepreneurship and building high-growth businesses is you have to move fast, you can’t be afraid to fail, and you have to learn from the mistakes you make.”

The Magnet 360 team is constantly working to improve customer service and delivery processes. “While most projects go really well and we have satisfied customers, when you’re in the service business, once in a while, you get a clunker,” he says. In those cases, Litman prefers to focus on how the company rallies around it, gets the project back on track, and learns from it so it won’t happen again. 

“We’re always learning. We’re always improving. We can’t sit still,” he says.

“They’re both extremely smart guys,” Severson says of Litman and Mallin. “They’re very complementary to each other. Scott is a strong strategist and Dan is strong on business development and relationships. They’ve worked together for so long, they know how to exploit each other’s strengths.”

Litman isn’t disclosing whether Magnet 360 will eventually be sold like the previous ventures he’s worked on with Mallin. “You build a business so it’s there to endure,” he says. “We always want to look at what’s best for creating value for shareholders, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to build a great business.”