If you’ve ever tried to market an Australian business online, there’s a high chance you’re already familiar with Sabri Suby, the high-energy founder, CEO, and public face of King Kong. Over a decade, the Melbourne-based digital marketing agency claims it has helped to generate $7.8 billion in sales for its clients. Those strategies have propelled King Kong into the mainstream, while turning Suby into one of the nation’s most successful young entrepreneurs.
I was recently invited to spend a day with Suby to see how he manages his days, from his forensic analysis of search engine keywords, through to deep contemplation of YouTube star Mr Beast.
It would be easy to miss King Kong’s headquarters, as the South Yarra office is overshadowed by an active construction site next door. Scaffolding looms over the two-storey block, and the sound of power tools is splitting the morning air. I search for a King Kong sign, just to make sure. The exotic sports car parked out front tells me I’m in the right place.
I am five minutes early, but this is already prime working time for Suby, a sliver of relative peace before the rapid-fire mix of meetings, consultations, and film shoots scheduled for the day. An ‘inbox zero’ devotee who views unread emails as a personal to-do list imposed by someone else, Suby spends his first working hours carving through those casual enquiries and mission-critical notices.
“If you just wake up like most people do, and your inbox dictates what you’re going to be doing today, you’re forever at the mercy of other people and their agendas, and not what you need to do,” he tells me later in the day. “I get more work done by the time people arrive at the office than what most people will get done in like a week, right? Because it’s just uninterrupted time that I can focus in.”
This work comes after an extensive early-morning routine. Today: an alarm before five AM. A litre of water. A gym visit, one of three weekly sessions in a heavy weight lifting split. Then, a black coffee, which Suby later tells me is intended to “set my blood on fire”. Breakfast? Absolutely not. This hard-charging schedule includes no food until at least until midday.
I am told these early starts are part of a finely calibrated ‘get in, get out’ strategy, designed to maximise his effective time both inside and outside the office. Suby and wife Shalini have three young children, making quality time with the family a priority. Where busy stretches at King Kong may have once dominated Suby’s daily calendar, more recent working days are designed so he can sit down for dinner with the family and help put the children to bed. More work might come after, but those evenings are sacred.
A King Kong staffer welcomes me into the central nervous system of their digital marketing empire. On the top floor, banks of desks stretch to the back of the office, and are flanked on one side by glass-walled meeting rooms, bearing names like ‘Serengeti’ and ‘The War Room’. On the back wall are gold records, framed and labeled with the names of superstar clients, each disc corresponding to major sales milestones facilitated by King Kong. The office has actually run out of wall space for new additions, I am told. Long, thin LED screens, modeled like digital stock tickers, hang from the ceiling. Messages scroll across: “Make things dope AF.” “ Provide lunatic service.” “Be fucking awesome.”
More staff filter in. King Kong operates on a hybrid working schedule, and office attendance is not mandatory every day, but today’s monthly meeting, held downstairs, is expected to draw a crowd.
I notice the artwork first. A Roman-style sculpture, taut abs and a frowning male face, its arms capped off with golden boxing gloves. A philosopher-warrior rendered in plaster. Over the desk, a detailed rendering of an oil painting, where armed horsemen and innocents battle before a walled city. And then, on the wall, a blown-up print of Sell Like Crazy, the how-to guide which in 2019 catapulted Suby to a new level of influence and notoriety in the digital marketing space.
Suby extends a warm greeting and returns to his desk, where we discuss the day ahead. It is a Monday, a day Suby dedicates to “shallow work” — activities that, once off his agenda, create space for deeper, analytical work through the week. To call today’s plan an ‘outline’ would be a disservice, both to Suby and his ‘fixer’, King King office manager Ciane Gallenti Guilfoyle, who helps to orchestrate his days to the minute.
“I create the space to be able to write copy, to craft ads to do all of those kinds of things that I need to do,” he says. “I can’t do that in between this. I learned that the hard way, where some days I’d be doing interviews, and I’d be doing meetings, and I’d go from the problem solving part of my brain, to then trying to switch back into the creative part of my brain. But that doesn’t work.”
It is agreed that I will accompany Suby across the day, excepting a quick HR meeting in the morning and his fast-breaking meal at midday.
Sunlight sparkles over the statue’s golden gloves. Construction work is ramping up next door, and hi-vis vests flash in front of his double-glazed office windows. The sound insulation helps, Suby says, but the grinding, only metres away from his desk, is still audible. Not once do I see it break his concentration.
Down a spiral staircase, a half-crescent of chairs face the wall. A projector flicks on and Suby greets the team. This is the ‘watering hole’ meeting, where King Kong addresses the hits and misses of the past month. I can’t share the precise figures, be they the value of recurring clients, the ‘talk time’ and retention rates of King Kong’s sales staff, or the return on ad spend accrued by the team, but it is clear Suby is pleased with the most recent results.
Less-obvious achievements earn equal plaudits. One of the business’ technical leaders is awarded team member of the month for successfully integrating an approval process into a Google workflow. Positive Google Reviews also earn a shout-out from Suby, owing both to the reflection of good work done by staff, and the alchemical relationship between each five-star review and King King’s SEO ranking. This might be “shallow work” to Suby, but every statement, each passing moment of praise, circles back to King King’s mission for digital marketing dominance.
King Kong founder Sabri Suby. Source: Supplied.
King Kong is preparing a marketing campaign targeting new clients in the e-commerce sector. The launch of a new video sales letter, or VSL, is imminent. Gathered in the ‘War Room’, Suby and four data experts dissect recent campaigns and sales conversions to determine the best way forward.
Graphs appear on a large TV affixed to the meeting room wall. They show raw sales figures over the month, with breakout boxes listing more sophisticated metrics of campaign efficiency. Suby asks for detailed data on average order values, how much King Kong has spent to achieve those results, and even granular detail on sales by geographical location. One team member, controlling the screen via laptop, quickly summons the data into readable form.
The team has a special interest in ‘Shark Tank’ nights. Beyond his role at King Kong, Suby served as a judge on the latest season of Shark Tank Australia, elevating budding entrepreneurs — and King Kong — to a national television audience. It is clear the show is good for business. Some of King Kong’s internal metrics light up on the nights Suby appears on-screen.
Filming took him away from the daily grind at King Kong. Suby was “totally offline” for two weeks during the principle filming of Shark Tank Australia, where he and the four other Sharks spent 14-hour days in front of the camera. Today, Suby’s focus is solely on King Kong.
The team runs over two potential strategies: blasting out every piece of content tied to the VSL at once, or drip-feeding each new update and replacing each once it is ‘fatigued’. Suby moves for the latter. With the strategy set, he calls for full commitment. Addressing the video screen, where another King Kong media buying expert is beaming in, he asks: “how are you using all the weapons you have” to make the campaign a success?
I catch Suby alone before the meetings with the People and Culture team. How is King Kong approaching the holiday season, I ask, given a broad downturn in consumer spending, and the likely flow-through to his clients? The business is “cautiously optimistic”, he says, reflecting on its own trajectory through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fact it retained all its staff.
What about the competition — surely other marketing firms are attempting the same formulas, website funnels, data analysis? Not necessarily, Suby claims, stating many players are still “so unsophisticated” in their practice. The media buying meeting served as an example, he added: the campaign is for King Kong itself, with the business serving as a “guinea pig”. Any successful strategies can then be passed on to clients.
Suby moves from the HR meetings into lunch, a private reprieve from his back-to-back-to-back appointments.
Downstairs, soft early afternoon light and the glow of a green neon sign reading “Hustle” illuminate more of the King King working space. A dozen staff cluster around a shared dining table. From the corner: the whirr of an espresso machine grinder.
Two team members rally over a table tennis table. A quote is printed on the wall behind them. “For me, first of all, dopeness is what I like the most. Dopeness,” it reads. “People who want to make things as dope as possible. And, by default, make money from it.” Attribution goes to marketing maverick Kanye West.
In the far corner, near where Suby gave his watering hole address, is a foosball table adorned with the Google logo. Even in their downtime, King Kong staff try to beat the search engine game.
Suby meets with Gallenti Guilfoyle to map out the coming weeks. It is, unsurprisingly, a complex affair, owing not only to the impending campaign launch, but Suby’s international expeditions. King Kong has launched outposts in Los Angeles and Miami to service the American market, where Suby claims competitors are yet to execute his agency’s model at scale. The Suby family travels together on these ventures, and much of the discussion is about optimal accommodation and transport options. Then there is the matter of Suby’s ongoing Shark Tank Australia commitments. Gallenti Guilfoyle pencils in a meeting with the founders of Get Down, an Australian contraceptive label which earned an $80,000 handshake deal from Suby.
At one point, a clanging gong cuts through the construction racket and R&B flowing through the speakers. It means King Kong has secured another agency client.
“Don’t forget, we need that sauce in the background.” Suby is speaking with King Kong’s videographer, who is preparing to film his boss for a new social media clip. He has changed into a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘EBITDA’ for the occasion. ‘Sauce’, in this case, means tastefully including the King Kong office as a backdrop. Despite the casual language, Suby knows precisely what he wants from the filming session, peppering the videographer with suggestions — maybe he should use the 85mm lens instead? — through to deeper technical questions about lighting strength and colour grading.
With lens and lighting selected, Suby snaps into performance mode. He holds a tiny Kylie Cosmetics box next to his face, stares down the lens, and praises the Kardashians for leveraging a “ginormous following” into a “multi-billion dollar empire”. The take isn’t quite right. The box is too far from Suby’s face; some syllables could have been clearer. Suby and the videographer spend the next fifteen minutes perfecting a clip which, when completed, will be no longer than 15 seconds long.
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His appreciation for the “very, very savvy” Kardashian-Jenner empire appears totally sincere. Beyond the smash success of Kylie Cosmetics, Suby marvels at the rapid growth of Good American, the apparel brand founded by Kylie Jenner’s half-sister, Khloé Kardashian. A part of me feels his appreciation is somewhat personal, too. With Shark Tank Australia and a healthy social media following, Suby is something of a reality TV star in his own right. But perhaps in the Kardashian family’s relentless pursuit of pop cultural dominance exists an echo of his concurrent business journey, those early cold calls, innumerable rejections, years of outsider status, until King Kong itself became asserted itself in the industry.
More than $14 billion flowed into the Australian digital marketing sector in 2022, according to IAB Australia, with much of that flowing into SEO refinement, Facebook ads placements, and more boutique services like conversion rate optimisation. A decade of prodigious digital marketing growth has coincided with the evaporation of traditional marketing outlets, benefiting firms like King Kong, which help old-school businesses tap into vast digital markets. But I wonder what comes next in the market for attention, after a decade defined by the Kanye Wests, the Kardashians, the Instagrams of the world.
Much has been written about shrinking attention spans, turbocharged by the emergence of TikTok, Suby says. Less attention has been given to what he calls the ‘interest span’, and the bare truth that if something is engaging enough, people will gravitate towards it, no matter its length. It is here Suby points to Joe Rogan, podcasting superstar, whose chats with celebrities, scientists, and crackpots frequently stretch past the three hour mark, as evidence.
But Rogan has been podcasting since 2009, a lifetime in the modern content game. What about the next generation, who may not have been alive when he first picked up the mic, whose entire lives have been mediated through a screen?
Here, Suby reveals a secret weapon. King Kong’s expanding American team includes senior personnel from the MrBeast empire, the YouTube machine which has perfected the dark art of churning eyeballs into cash. Suby is the first Australian in the marketing realm I’ve heard openly discuss MrBeast, aka Jimmy Donaldson, as a serious contender in the attention economy. Placing trust in his former staffers, one of whom Suby labels a “Yoda of content”, suggests the venture is anything but stuck in the decade gone by.
Suby meets with more senior staffers before clocking out. More work might come in the evening, after spending time with the family, far away from the hectic pace of today’s activities. He seems at peace with the frenzied work that creates space for deeper productivity.
“I’ve been studying successful people, specifically billionaires, and noting how clean they make their environment,” Suby says. “And I don’t mean hygienically clean. I just mean, quiet, and free from chaos.” He points to the painting above his desk, enemy hordes battling in perpetuity. “Because it is very chaotic, running a business.”