Community//

Matthew Berman of Emerald Digital: “Give Your Team Room To Succeed ”

Give Your Team Room To Succeed — At my company, we look to empower those bringing pro-active ideas. I’m not interested in an entirely top-down organization. We want this to be a two-way street. Our best ideas, strategies, implementations come from the ground-up. Digital transformation is an all-encompassing endeavor, and we need the key players involved and […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Give Your Team Room To Succeed — At my company, we look to empower those bringing pro-active ideas. I’m not interested in an entirely top-down organization. We want this to be a two-way street. Our best ideas, strategies, implementations come from the ground-up. Digital transformation is an all-encompassing endeavor, and we need the key players involved and not fighting change from within. Let your team have the space and tools to contribute and to work smarter.


As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Berman.

Matthew Berman is President of Emerald Digital, a digital marketing agency that specializes in services tailored to deliver targeted traffic, generate qualified leads and grow business with measurable results.

Berman has worked with brands such as Heineken, Hennessy, Delano, Fireball Whisky, and The Law Center, among hundreds of others. He oversees all agency efforts to create click-worthy content, PPC campaigns, social marketing, and to develop aesthetically pleasing websites with back end SEO efforts.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My name is Matthew Berman. I am the president and co-founder of Emerald Digital, a full-service digital marketing, and public relations agency with offices in New Orleans, New York, and (soon to be) Miami. Music is a big part of who I am. I’ve been playing guitar since I was seven years old, and in my teens, I was heavily into music production. At 18, I was able to sell a few of my songs to huge international brands. This process of selling music introduced me to the marketing and agency world. I worked at Berlin Cameron United for several years, and I ultimately partnered with a colleague to co-found Chunnel.TV, a curated video platform with our own proprietary content.

After the late aughts’ global economic recession, our investment capital dried up, and I began work at an agency in New Orleans. I traveled the country creating digital content, representing a slew of liquor brands as a national brand ambassador, and running their social media and live events.

In 2011, I founded Ember Networks, a New Orleans based digital marketing agency. Around the same time, my college roommate and ‘brother’ Warren Cohn founded a public relations firm in New York City, HeraldPR. We immediately began working on a series of joint-projects and would continue to do so over several years. Ultimately, our work continued to grow closer, and we eventually decided to join forces officially. In 2018, Emerald Digital was formally born, a joint-venture between Ember and Herald.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Pay attention to who is on an email! I was working at a New Orleans agency, and one of my colleagues was getting married. The team was planning a surprise party. The soon-to-be-married individual was on the first email of the chain but was removed from subsequent emails while the rest of our team discussed the surprise party’s details. I pop in and reply to the original email, completely missing the fact that the ‘suprisee’ was copied. I completely spilled the beans and ruined the surprise. It was very embarrassing, and luckily, the team could get a good laugh from my err in judgment. The lesson here is to always triple-check who is copied on an email! Beyond that, any email can be forwarded, so don’t write anything you would not want someone to see.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m a big believer in mentors, and I’ve been lucky enough to study under some incredibly talented people. I am forever grateful, and a better man, for knowing Johnny (Mac) McLendon. I spent years under the tutelage of Johnny Mac, who is an incredible musician and creative talent. Johnny showed me how to break down a creative project, turn a vision into a reality, and communicate that message to the outside world. He showed me how to use creativity to generate an emotional response, and his encouragement showed me that we could tackle even the most complicated projects. More so, all of his creative teachings were riddled with life lessons — ‘tell the truth, stick to your guns, be a good man.’

When it came to projects, I would jump right into pretty details or the cool, sexy, “fun stuff”. But Johnny was not impressed, and he called it fluff. He taught me that we need to focus on the foundation before we can build. One of his frequent sayings was, “If I baked you a cake, and that cake had the most amazing icing you ever tasted, but the inside of the cake was made with crap, that cake is going to always taste like crap.”.

Later on, I had the pleasure of working under two agency operators. One of these operators was instrumental in showing me how to raise funds, write proposals, and pitch our work to the outside world. The second operator really took me under his wing, and expertly showed me protocols and communication strategies for client communication. He was excellent in managing expectations, showing off our work, and keeping our agency top of mind.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I love history and biographies. I love learning about world leaders, musicians, business tycoons, and visionaries. I believe we are standing on the shoulders of the giants who have come before us. Only by understanding their struggle, perseverance, and tenacity can we best move forward to tackle our own challenges. ‘Churchill’ by Roy Jenkins is a biography that has been on my nightstand since 2007. I’ve brought the book to at least a dozen countries, and I’ve reread it time and time again. Churchill is incredibly fascinating, and Jenkins leaves no stone unturned. The story of Churchill’s life gives me hope. Here’s a man who famously never backed down, he took on every challenge, and he persevered in situations many of us would find untenable.

I am also a massive fan of Dan Carlin — specifically his podcast ‘Hardcore History’. It’s the single best collection of media available right now, and I can’t recommend it enough. Carlin brings out the humanity in history, emphasizing that these stories aren’t fairy tales. These are real people, with real emotion, who experienced the most extreme events in recorded human history. My favorite is ‘Death Throes of the Roman Republic’.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

I completely agree. Profit is a big motivator, but the most driven entrepreneurs want more than profit. They want change. If profit was our only goal, there are many ways to generate profit, many of which don’t necessitate the type of risk involved in entrepreneurial endeavors. When times are tough, we entrepreneurs need our purpose to push through.

My business partner and I have worked at businesses where the client’s needs did not come first. The companies were okay with not delivering, delivering something the client did not need or shelling out the same work for each client (no matter the need, industry, or detail). At Emerald Digital, we have a completely different philosophy. We’re here to give you back time, to give you joy, to make your life happier, and to show you and your customers that someone cares for you as a human.

The purpose of our business is to change lives. We want to make our clients’ lives and their customers better, happier, more efficient, and productive. We are here to improve the lives of overworked entrepreneurs so they can be present for their families. We want to improve the lives of customers who have been overlooked as individuals. We stress bringing value, being remarkable for our clients and their customers, and bringing a smile to every interaction. Our world is busy enough. If we can help by making life more comfortable and bringing joy at the same time, then our mission is accomplished.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We are in the early stages of a project that is going to truly shake up senior health. It’s an industry lacking in information accessibility, trust, and human follow through. This project will help the millions of people looking for better senior healthcare options for themselves or their family members. It’s a near and dear process to me — I’ve lost three family members in four years. The stress of ‘what to do,’ ‘who will help me,’ ‘where do I turn to’ is enormous.

My team is incredibly proud of our work with The Law Center over this past year. We’ve helped democratize the legal process and have provided thousands of disenfranchised or hurting individuals with top-quality legal representation.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

Our world has been radically redefined by digital technology and the ability to find information, instantly communicate, and to connect with people and businesses worldwide. Digital transformation is accepting, integrating, and utilizing digital technology in all aspects of your business to improve operations and every customer touchpoint or interaction. More than automating existing processes or conducting existing processes faster, digital transformation uses technology to improve the underlying business experience. More than a series of independent tools, digital transformation is a promise to the future. Data and AI drive existing digital transformation efforts, creating function and personalization beyond just logic and automation.

On a practical level, digital transformation is a commitment. It requires vision, planning, execution, and understanding. It requires time, patience, and effort. But, the juice is always worth the squeeze. Think of digital transformation like a living, breathing child. We create it. It grows. We parent it. We give it the tools and resources it needs to succeed. We support it. We measure, we grade, we iterate.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

No company is perfect and digital transformation is an ongoing effort. That being said, there are millions of small businesses around the world that have yet to begin. We specifically work with a lot of law firms who are just now seeing the light. Law has been a more traditional business, and our partners who have embraced digital transformation have handled the pandemic infinitely better than those who initially digitally hesitant.

We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

Small and medium-sized businesses make up a substantial amount of our client base at Emerald Digital. We are often hired for specific tasks, and through our brand audits, we present a series of digital transformation opportunities. Our team is very tech-savvy, and our passion and enthusiasm for what we do catches on to the businesses we work with. Many of them just haven’t yet realized the possibilities that our world allows.

At a basic level, we identity inefficiencies in client business operations that can be improved or automated. We find many businesses are not measuring (or adequately measuring) customer data, so they are unaware of lifetime value, effective marketing channels, customer communication or customer service, etc.

We believe that people like to do business with people. Not only are we trying to improve operations, but we want to create ways for our clients and their customers to have better experiences. Will our systems teach us who they are, what they like, what time they want to communicate, so we can give them an experience that brings a smile to their face.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Digital transformation is scary for many of the businesses that approach us. These businesses may have been operating the same way since before the digital revolution. They rely on pencil and paper, existing brand equity, and market position over innovation. Their leadership may be older and technology averse. They may not see the immediate benefit that comes alongside the stress of integrating new tools, protocols, systems, and strategies. Other businesses know they need a digital transformation to successfully compete but have reservations about this change’s size and scope. They may not know exactly where to begin or what the process looks like.

We generally begin these conversations with a discussion about legacy. The business may be doing fine right now, but are the current systems going to sustain the business until their children or grandchildren mature? Do they want this business to be a leader in innovation, one that their family can point to as a leader in their field? These conversations then typically open up the door for an audit of existing systems. These audits could be comprehensive or just a slice of one or two operations. We prepare a demonstration and example on how implementing a comprehensive digital strategy could improve the lives of their workforce, their customers and generally provides a better (and more data-driven) experience for everyone involved. Our demonstration’s success then leads to a ‘trial’ run by implementing those systems for a predetermined amount of time and then reporting our results. At the end of the trial, we present the results to the leadership team, often to delight and a willingness to move forward and adopt new tools and strategies.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Start Measuring Everything

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Analytics and data collection is a priority. Companies must first implement data and analytic collection systems to identify baselines and then find areas ripe for improvement. A few months back, we began work for a very successful local business. They generate millions of dollars in revenue but are not tracking where their customers are coming from, the lifetime value of customers, the customer interaction pipeline, or the touchpoints going to and from their clients. A big part of our role has been introducing the concept and mapping out processes for collecting and automating this data to better improve their marketing efforts.

Give Your Team Room To Succeed

At my company, we look to empower those bringing pro-active ideas. I’m not interested in an entirely top-down organization. We want this to be a two-way street. Our best ideas, strategies, implementations come from the ground-up. Digital transformation is an all-encompassing endeavor, and we need the key players involved and not fighting change from within. Let your team have the space and tools to contribute and to work smarter.

Have A Roadmap

Words and lofty ideals are nice, but the concept alone doesn’t drive success. Digital transformation requires a detailed road map — with timelines, goals, KPIs, costs, outcomes, and organizational impact. Businesses need the details necessary for change and how that change will look at every level of the organization.

Audit Technology Stack

One of the first series of questions we ask a business is to define their goals, how they measure those goals, and what technology they are using to achieve their goals, to operate, or to measure. We often find that businesses do not have a master technology list or that there is overlap in the toolsets between company divisions. Additionally, there may be integration issues between technologies that cause errors (or lack of operation) across multi-system workflows (operation or measurement).

Included in our roadmap and digital transformation plan is a way to systematize technology, ensuring integration, ensuring automation, and ensuring procedures so that technology is maintained and accounted for.

Assign The Right Leaders

If everyone is responsible for digital transformation, then no one is responsible. The buck has to stop somewhere. A digital transformation management team needs to exist with defined roles and responsibilities. This team should be digitally-savvy, engaging, and capable of heralding the troops into a new age. Senior company leadership has to support this team.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

Comfort, processes, and the willingness to try new things go a long way in achieving a culture of innovation within a company. Looking at a top-down approach, leadership must first set the tone that those willing to try new things should not be shunned. All too often, group-think takes over existing cultures where new ideas and concepts are looked at as radical and not worth it. People become afraid to speak out, and that company falls into the habit of doing the same thing repeatedly. Leadership needs to let it be known that new ideas and progressive thinking are going to be rewarded.

Put together processes for new ideas so that there is follow-through. Empower an innovation committee to select and choose several concepts to try every quarter and dedicate resources. Include your full staff and customers in the ideation process. Ask your customers how their lives would be improved, what their biggest challenges are, and what an ideal day or interaction would look like.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My grandfather would often tell me, ‘work hard, have fun, and don’t hold a grudge. You only live once, so make this world a better place for your friends and family’.

He was a smart man, and I think about his lessons every day. It’s easy, even tempting, to get caught up in internal politics, argument, revenge, justice, or miscommunication. It’s never worth the effort. Tomorrow is a new day, and this world is full of attractive opportunities and kind people. My job is to connect a tribe of like-minded individuals looking to create beautiful things and take care of each other.

How can our readers further follow your work?

My business can be found at https://emerald.digital

You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Matthew Berman of Emerald Digital: “Shoot Straight — Be authentic”

by Ben Ari
Community//

“The biggest change an individual can make to support gender balance is to stand up when you see a situation” with Jason Hartman & Jennifer Berman

by Jason Hartman
Community//

Igor Matich of Dynamo6: “COLLABORATE”

by Jason Hartman
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.