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Book-talk with Radu Marcusu, CEO at Upswing: Favorite Books and Reading Habits

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Radu Mărcușu is the CEO of Upswing (formerly known as SEO Monitor Agency), an award winning SEO agency with a data-driven approach to content, striving to bring the most effective digital strategy in Romania.

Upswing took Peter Drucker‘s inspirational quote “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” seriously, so they surrounded with vast amounts of data and a great deal of technology. This methodology brings together the short-term benefits of paid advertising and the long-term rewards of inbound marketing, outperforming digital marketing.

It’s an approach that brought them the Best Innovation in Software title at the 2016 European Search Awards.

Before getting to the interview part itself, I want to mention that I had the opportunity to work with Radu for a while, 2 years ago, and he’s one of the most learning-oriented people I’ve ever met. Open minded, always eager to find out more, but also to put everything he learns to test, as learning and doing go hand in hand.

Keep on scrolling and you’ll find out more about the books that had an impact on Radu, his favorite trick for reading more, why he dedicates at least 4 or 5 nights per week to this habit, and what books he recommends to anyone who wants to work in digital marketing.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

I don’t read a lot of non-business books. I don’t know why. Maybe I feel that is a waste of time with so many business books from which I can learn something useful. I also know that this isn’t true. Maybe non-business books will grow on me someday.

I’m really passionate about food and most of the books that are not business-related are food-related. So I read a lot of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, you know, the classics.

But my favorite non-business book, by far, is Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime.

If you are familiar with the “The Daily Show”, then you probably know who Noah is. He is a vivid character indeed but his book is even better. To really enjoy the experience you should listen to the book. His narration is authentic, he even interprets quotes from his characters in a very theatrical way, while bubbling over with excitement and good humor. I, however, have to admit, really enjoyed the way he managed to accurately insert pieces of psychological and social observation – quite a useful exercise for anybody who has to work on a daily basis with people.

As for business, my favorite would be Good Strategy / Bad strategy by Richard Rumelt. When you read a title like this, you most likely end up wondering whether it is going to be another strategy book loaded with buzz words but lacking in articulate content. Well, this one clearly delivers. It paints an accurate picture of the problem surrounding strategy and explains why there’s so much bad strategy all around us. What a CEO or entrepreneur will find extra useful is the fact that the book also exposes what you need to do in order to create good strategies.

Another favorite of mine, although is not like a real book, is Management Tips from Harvard Business Review. This is the handbook for every manager. It is full of actionable insights and the beauty of it is that you can apply them immediately. I always have it on me because each page contains a tip and I write the date on the page every time I use it. I promise you that using this system will supercharge your management powers in no time.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

Well, one always learns useful insight when there’s a kindled relationship with books but yes, sometimes, if you are not confronted with the same challenges the book you read tackles, some pieces of useful information may end up being forgotten. This is why I always choose to read books related to specific learning needs at the exact time that they arise.

A book that most recently made a difference for me was Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. My IMWorld speech this year benefited tremendously from Carmine Gallo’s framing of the nine secrets of all time successful TED presentations. I believe Gallo’s step-by-step method makes it possible for anyone to sell their ideas persuasively when delivering a presentation.

Being engaging and memorable can also happen to the faint hearted :).

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

Definitely Good strategy / Bad strategy. This book makes a clear statement about what strategy is and, most importantly, what strategy is not.

We often mistake fluff words, slogans, and goals with strategy. Simply put, having a goal is not the same as having a strategy.

Our path of becoming the best performing digital agency is not a strategy. Call it goal, call it mission, but it’s not strategy.

In order to achieve that goal we have to spot the opportunity, create some competitive advantage and then apply strength to increase this advantage.

So yeah, I can say that this book changed the way I look at things in our organization.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

Given that we work in this fast-changing environment, I think anyone who wants to start a career in digital marketing (SEO and content in particular) should cultivate his/her capacity to constantly learn, experiment and innovate.

  • How Google Works is just for that. How Google Works is not about the technical functioning of its services, but how this culture inside the company influences its products.
  • Predictably Irrational is one of my favorite books and also a great resource for marketers to understand how our mind works and how we make buying decisions. I have a thing for behavioral economics lately so maybe that’s why I like it so much.
  • Talk like TED is NOT an optional book whatever career path you want to follow. A person can have the best idea in the World, but if that person can not convince enough people, it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen too many good ideas dim due to lack of pitching skills. This book will help you raise your game when it comes to selling your ideas.

Also, if they want to read some actual information on the subject they should search for a few good blogs and subscribe to them. I, for example, constantly keep an eye on Moz,Buzz Sumo, Hubspot, Helpscout.

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

When reading, I find myself compelled to consider radically different perspectives. It provides me with an endless resource of ideas and insight. Therefore, although time may seem scarce, especially in a fast growing agency like Upswing, I trick myself into dedicating at least 4 or 5 nights a week for this habit.

I prefer more demanding subjects like strategy, economy, on hard copies and I listen on Audible to fiction books, biographies etc. I’m not a big fan of e-readers because I always observe and admire the paper covers.

How do you make time for reading?

Audible allowed me to transform any unproductive time in reading :). So now I listen to books anytime I leave the house.

My all time favorite trick is always have a great audiobook waiting in the car that starts to play automatically.

I also have a book on my nightstand, and one in my backpack for short reading breaks.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

Depending on the subject, I use Evernote for taking notes and I created a tag system to keep them organized and find them easier when I need some inspiration.

For me it’s important to find some use cases where I can apply the information right away. It’s the reward from the reading habit (cc: The power of Habit 🙂 ) that keeps me motivated to read more.

How do you choose what books to read next?

I think it has a lot to do with the context and with the subject I want to deepen at that time.

We also have a solid library in the office and each month we upgrade it with the latest titles. This reading thing rapidly became a keystone habit in our organization and now is deeply rooted in our culture. It allows us to always stay ahead of time.

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

Now I listen to Shoe Dog since you were the second person around me that said something controversial about it and this got my attention. My partner said that is impossible for a man Knight’s age to recall so many details, which is indeed suspicious, but I try to enjoy the story and not to develop a new conspiracy theory.

So far I love this book. I love that the story feels so natural, raw, humble; it came like a breath of fresh air from the (sometimes) clicheic business biographies.

The book confirmed me once again that innovation is the only way to overcome your competitors, especially from an underdog position. Nike wouldn’t stand a chance against Adidas if they didn’t challenge the status quo constantly.

Links where you can follow Radu or find out more about his projects:

All books mentioned by Radu in this interview:

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