Do you want a true partner in crime for building websites? Opt for a secure CMS with a stable framework that won’t let you down - and will still let you express your creativity!
Read more about why Sullivan Branding trusts the Umbraco product and what value being an Umbraco Registered Partner brings to an agency with large, highly visible projects!
Who is Sullivan?
Sullivan Branding is a Tennessee-based full-service advertising and brand transformation agency that has worked with clients, ranging from theatres to healthcare entities, to revamp their brand identity - which often includes creating a brand new website. Sullivan has been using Umbraco since 2016 and joined the Registered Partner program in April 2020.
How did Sullivan work before they joined Umbraco?
Tim Laughlin, Sullivan’s Digital Architect, has a long .NET development background and experience building sites in different types of content management systems. He was looking for a new open-source .NET platform, and after researching the market for available options, Umbraco came out on top.
Sullivan was looking for a CMS without high licensing fees. The agency wanted to make sure the clients don’t overpay the value they get from their website. “It’s great that with Umbraco, you are not paying for the fundamentals. The clients don’t pay for the CMS, they only pay for our talents: designing and building the website,” says Laughlin.
Sullivan also gets a lot of compliments on the user interface of the backoffice - clients find it easy to understand and navigate, and can edit things easily. The agency offers some training, but many clients simply say they understand everything and can take it from there. “This ease of use is a big plus to go into the door with - especially when the budget does not have licensing fees attached to it,” Laughlin explains.
The visibility of our latest project showed us that we should look towards becoming a partner and seeing what kind of support we could get if something happened. So far, we have been able to get all the help we needed from the community, but if we ever needed to get real support involved in the project, becoming a Registered Partner seemed like a good step.
The freedom Umbraco provides for the creative team at Sullivan was a big decision point. “They can be as creative as they can - and the developer side of the team can always make it happen. I am a developer who doesn’t like to say no to the creatives - no ‘that’s a crazy design, we can’t do it online.’ We try to do everything they can dream up, and it’s nice to have a platform that gives you all that freedom.” Laughlin especially appreciates that Umbraco 8 is easy to program and extend, and that the code is very clean, which also impresses their clients.
The agency also values that Umbraco works great with an out-of-the-box configuration, without a lot of add-ons and extra packages. This is the version of the CMS they use for most of their clients. Another big plus were the integration possibilities Umbraco offers. In Sullivan’s experience with the CMS, Umbraco could integrate with anything, and they haven’t had a situation where they couldn’t connect it to another system. “We like not having any restrictions. We don’t have to go back to the clients saying that no, we cannot make it happen. Umbraco will essentially integrate with anything.”
Clients care about whether the CMS involves a large licensing expense and they very much care about their team being able to execute things on the website themselves. From my perspective, which is the client perspective, Umbraco serves those two functions very well.
How did Sullivan grow with Umbraco?
The trust Sullivan put in Umbraco already paid off with the first site they built with the CMS in 2016: for the Orpheum Theatre Group, a Memphis-based performing arts center. The company used all of Sullivan’s services and got a full rebrand, a part of which was a brand new website. With Orpheum, the agency got a chance to test out the ease of use for clients and Umbraco’s ability to integrate with other systems. After a short training, the Orpheum Theatre Group staff now manages their content in-house. The theater also needed to connect its website with an external ticket-selling system.
Soon after the website was done, Umbraco had to go through an unusual test - a record-breaking musical. “A couple of years ago, Hamilton came out across the U.S. A lot of theaters complained that all the extra traffic caused by people trying to buy Hamilton tickets took their websites down - but not the Orpheum’s. On the day tickets went on sale, we monitored the traffic through Google Analytics and the peak volume was higher than normal. Umbraco had no issues handling the stress put on by that event,” Laughlin remembers.
Working with Umbraco thus helped Sullivan ensure the client had no downtime for their website in a moment crucial for their business which, in turn, led to an increase in revenue. Orpheum got double value from working with an agency that uses Umbraco. Not only do they now have a stable and reliable website - they can also claim their bragging rights with other theaters!
Umbraco gives Sullivan the perfect CMS option to offer their clients, as it can be tailored to all client needs. According to Becky Hensley, the EVP and Director of Account Service at Sullivan, their clients rarely come to the agency asking for a specific technology solution. “What they do care about instead is whether the CMS involves a large licensing expense and they very much care about their team being able to execute things on the website themselves. From my perspective, which is the client perspective, Umbraco serves those two functions very well,” Hensley explains.
If Sullivan has a client with a niche focus or wants to integrate their website with other systems, Umbraco is the go-to choice of CMS. “We use it either for more complex projects, or for projects where we aim to do a lot of customization,” Laughlin says. He appreciates the speed with which they can create and deliver websites to their clients - while still getting a solid product without security issues. “It makes the process of building a website much more efficient - especially now that we have done it so many times."
And not only efficient. Umbraco helps Sullivan deliver larger projects, such as an intranet website with 115,000 users all over the world and significant content turnover. “The client publishes around 40-60 articles on their website and sends an email newsletter once a week. Every Sunday night, the system blasts out a hundred thousand emails across the globe after which everyone accesses their website and reads the content. I think this is the most content we’ve had going through Umbraco where it’s just constantly changing,” Laughlin shares.
For this project, Sullivan developed their own personalization engine. The emails are targeted and personalized based on the person’s metadata, for example where they are based in the world or what language they speak, which means every single email out of the 100,000 is unique.
The integration possibilities are a big plus. We like not having any restrictions. We don’t have to go back to the clients saying that no, we cannot make it happen. .NET, and Umbraco, will essentially integrate with anything.
"That’s something that impressed the client - we were able to do it very quickly. Umbraco made it easier for us to accomplish this in code. It gave us the foundation to build the engine, and there is always the Umbraco backoffice to fall back on.”
The confidence Sullivan’s client has in Umbraco was boosted by a security penetration review the agency carried out with impressive results, showcasing no security breach. “Clients trust us that when we recommend Umbraco to them, we have our ducks in a row, so to speak. They trust us to make decisions which will make their website secure - and in turn, I trust the product, especially now that we’ve been through the penetration test.”
Laughlin believes it creates a sense of security in clients that Umbraco provides a solid infrastructure to back the CMS up. “If you want more support, it is available. That’s why I like Umbraco.”
What does Sullivan value about the Umbraco Partnership?
The partnership makes a lot of sense now that Sullivan builds websites for an increasing number of clients. They have been selling the solution to more and more different use cases. “The visibility of this project showed us that we should look towards becoming a partner and seeing what kind of support we could get if something happened. So far, we have been able to get all the help we needed from the Umbraco community, but if we ever needed to get real support involved in the project, becoming a Registered Partner seemed like a good step,” explains Laughlin.
When building on Umbraco, Laughlin sees a clear possibility of scaling their projects further - even one as complex as an intranet website with a personalized email newsletter and an audience of over 100,000 people. “Right now, we have to stay within the security guidelines the client has given us. But if we needed to, we could scale the project right now. The client has seen it’s possible - so whenever they are ready, so are we.”
The trust Sullivan gained in Umbraco also extends to their future clients. Whenever they have a chance to do so, the agency will continue to recommend Umbraco - especially when they have a client that wants a custom look for their website. With Umbraco’s flexibility, both the creative and the developer side of the Sullivan team can create high levels of custom design and features.
Our creative team can be as inventive as they want - and the developer side of the team can always make it happen. I am a developer who doesn’t like to say no to the creatives - no ‘that’s a crazy design, we can’t do it online.’ We try to do everything they can dream up, and it’s nice to have a platform that gives you all that freedom.
Key takeaways: What did taking Umbraco to market mean for Sullivan?
- With Umbraco, Sullivan has a CMS in their toolkit that helps them hit the two most important concerns of their clients right out of the park. They get a website built on a CMS without high licensing fees putting a strain on their budget - and they are able to move around the backoffice with ease, and add and edit their content themselves.
- The friendly CMS allows Sullivan to conceive of more demanding or bigger projects and provides them with a stable framework that can withstand a traffic surge or a high content load with quick turnover.
- After taking Umbraco through a security penetration review, Sullivan can be sure they have a product both the development team and the clients can trust.
- The flexibility of Umbraco allows the agency’s creatives to design websites whichever way they want - and the developers have the freedom to build highly customized features.
- Becoming a Registered Partner opened Sullivan to the possibility of gaining more support from Umbraco should they need it, especially with projects that are bigger in scope and visibility.