Mark Dirks

About Mark Dirks

Before becoming Beacon's CEO, Mark climbed through the technical ranks, starting as an application developer for RJ Reynolds. He then spent 15 years at AT&T, where he led the creation of one of the world’s first corporate intranets. Co-founding Beacon in 1998, he has driven consistent growth, long-term partnerships and a unique culture for 20 years. Mark was instrumental in forming relationships with Google, Accenture, KPMG Consulting, Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Department of Education (when Beacon developed FAFSA on the Web). These relationships during the company's early years, coupled with Mark’s leadership and business development skills, foreshadowed the growth of Beacon's Higher Education portfolio over the last 10 years. Mark holds a B.S. in Mathematics from Wake Forest University and an M.S. in Computer Systems from Kansas State University. He serves on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Technology Association, was named Small Business Person of the Year by the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce and received the Entrepreneurial Success Award by the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce.
26 09, 2018

A Birthday Wish. Let’s Make It Come True.

By | 2018-09-26T17:22:02+00:00 September 26th, 2018|Categories: Beacon News|Tags: , |

Special Message from Beacon CEO, Mark Dirks

As I blow out the candles on 57 years today, I have a bigger-than-normal wish.

Over these years, I’ve had the great fortune of becoming friends and business partners with many, many people. One of my character traits (or flaws) is to constantly push forward with new opportunities and ideas, which apparently doesn’t diminish with age!

I’m reaching out for your help on my newest and maybe boldest undertaking.

I feel like I’ve always been a “business” entrepreneur. I enjoy it. But, over the last two years, the plight of the children and people of Rwanda has really impacted me. I was emotionally overwhelmed with what I saw during my visit to Kigali this past June. The poverty. The genocide stories. The malnutrition in children. The lack of schools. The seemingly constant search for water. The subsistence farming. I could go on and on. But you know what sticks in my mind? The smiles. The friendliness. The drive to overcome. And, how much they need our help. This is why we started the Weaving Hope project.

Life is precious. We understand this more and more as the clock ticks on our own lives, even more so for me as I grapple with the very recent news of my mother’s health. “Giving Back” has always been part of my work culture, whether it was the Arts Council (RJ Reynolds) or the United Way (AT&T). We made it a point to carry this same spirit into Beacon’s culture 20 years ago – giving our time and money to the local community. Now we want to give Rwanda that same love and attention. Life is just as precious there, and these children need a fighting chance.

Fifty-seven years are gone and my eyes are closed over my imaginary cake. I’m quietly wishing to build a preschool in a rural part of Rwanda, just outside of Kigali. It will bring education, nourishment and more importantly, HOPE, to children, year after year! Be a part of our “construction crew,” forever connected to this building that will endlessly change lives. Let’s make it come true.

You can help in one of two ways, or both!

  1. Share this message with everyone you know. Help me get the word out by forwarding this blog or sharing with your social network.
  2. Buy a beautiful handmade African basket for $29.95 (perfect holiday gift!), 100% of which goes directly to the building fund. Visit WeavingHope.com and click the Buy A Basket button at the top. This also brings meaningful income to the artisans so they can support their families.

Learn more at WeavingHope.com and follow our progress. I hope you enjoy the pictures we took of the children and schools, basket weavers, countryside and people of Rwanda, along with the Weaving Hope Team.

These images show the depth of need and are forever locked in my memory.

20 07, 2017

Our new website has arrived!

By | 2018-03-06T09:39:07+00:00 July 20th, 2017|Categories: Beacon News|

I’ve got to hand it to my team here at Beacon.  They wanted to redesign our website and asked me to give them some leeway, politely saying, ”Let us practice what we preach… and own it!”  Okay, I’ll admit it.  I tend to hover over the website.  So I stayed out of it (for the most part) and they delivered – big time!

“Creative Design.  Powerful Web Technology.  Smarter Marketing.”  That’s Beacon, and that’s exactly what the new site represents.

New Beacon Home Page

New Beacon Home Page

As a web technology & marketing firm, it’s always a challenge to redesign your own website when priorities rest with your existing clients and the new clients knocking on the door.  But the Beacon Team (and I mean nearly the entire team) stepped up and made time to clearly take the Beacon website to the next level with…

  • Looping Video for our home page impact area.
  • More imagery and branding. Less content.
  • Simplified, cleaner navigation to our services, products and who we serve.
  • More examples of our work across a variety of specialty areas on the home page and in our portfolio.
  • Cleaner integration of the Beacon Blog on our home page.
  • Much more effective marketing approach incorporated into the website to lead visitors through the right information to various conversion points, or calls-to-action (contact form, audit requests, downloadable PDFs, etc).
  • Full utilization of our SITEXPRESS product, coupled with more extensive tracking using Google Analytics Universal features.

After almost 20 years of business, with clients in ~45 U.S. states and 5 countries and a wide offering of services and products, there’s a lot of information to organize effectively so that it’s both manageable and easily digestible. To accomplish this, we stepped through the same process that we provide for our customers – first, by spending significant time in the Strategy Phase to evaluate all the underlying data, gathering insights to drive the new design.  The Design & Development Phases were expedited thanks to the SITEXPRESS product, but still required ample time for designing all the creative elements to stay on brand and deliver the messaging.  We then completed the process with some custom development and testing to ensure SEO-friendliness, Google Analytics tracking accuracy, 508 compliance, and cross browser & device compatibility (10 different browser/device combinations).

Quite an effort!  We are already looking at some cool new features for Phase 2 to be delivered later this year!

5 05, 2017

Wake Forest MSBA & Beacon – A Successful First Year

By | 2017-06-05T07:59:21+00:00 May 5th, 2017|Categories: Google Analytics|

Final exams for our Wake Forest MSBA students ended Wed. What a great opportunity. Quad at Wake Forest UnivPosed with the question on how to improve the mobile marketing strategy for one of our top clients, the graduate students had to dig into our client’s live dataset in Google Analytics, produce a compelling executive level report and deliver a convincing, focused 5-minute presentation directly to the client and Beacon’s entire Digital Marketing Team. Yes, it was stressful.  Nerves were apparent.  But this was a real world scenario to get practice before they enter the job market.  We evaluated 38 presentations over 2 days and were impressed (and proud) of what they had learned from our team during the intensive 7-week course, especially with their poise and the ideas they delivered.  Afterward, our clients said they liked the variety and how the students made them think about their business, marketing and online strategy from new, different angles.  They also planned to share many of the ideas (and the experience) with the company’s president.

Beacon’s DMS Team put in a lot of time to structure the class around live data sets (provided graciously by 3 of our clients) and critical thinking exercises using real-world approaches with Google Analytics, SEO and Paid Search. Beacon was also able to arrange for Deepak Aujla, Global Analytics Program Manager at Google, to give a 45 minute online presentation about the importance of analytics in the marketing industry and the increasing demand for analytics professionals.  Another great learning opportunity, for everyone attending. (See previous post)

As I strolled through the Quad afterward, not only did the beauty of the campus consume me (again), but I was flooded with memories – especially of exam time and the relief when they were over. It was a similar feeling this time as I’m excited for the careers ahead of these students.  They were certainly anxious to graduate and move on, as I was in 1983, but they will miss this place.

21 04, 2017

WFU Selects Beacon to Teach Graduate Level Analytics Course

By | 2017-08-15T16:00:39+00:00 April 21st, 2017|Categories: Beacon News, Digital Marketing, Google Analytics|Tags: , , |

Last year, when I discovered that Wake Forest’s Business School was starting a Master’s Program in Business Analytics (MSBA), I had to see how I could help. After all, it’s my alma mater AND analytics – two of my favorite things! So I was thrilled when our many discussions and planning sessions led to Wake selecting Beacon to teach its graduate level course in Digital Marketing Analytics this Spring.

Farrell Hall at WFU Analytics has been a critical component of Beacon’s offering since almost the day the company started back in 1998. It’s why Beacon is one of the longest active Google Analytics Certified Partners in the country.  The entire Beacon Digital Marketing Team is involved with this class, led by Gus Kroustalis, Beacon’s Lead Analytics Strategist and Andrea Cole, Beacon’s Director of Digital Marketing.  The team meets regularly internally to carefully plan each class around important topics, crafting in-class and homework assignments that expose the students to real world tools and thinking.  For most companies nowadays, their website is the centerpiece of their marketing strategy.  So this course emphasizes Google Analytics and walks the students through 7 intense weeks that includes

  • Key Metrics for the Web
  • Consumer Targeting
  • Engagement Analysis
  • Channel Analysis (SEO & Paid Search)
  • Attribution Models
  • Conversion Testing

The demand for critical thinking skills with respect to analytics data is enormous in today’s business world. Students that have tangible experience will hit the ground running and be able to provide immediate value to their employers.  Certainly, technology and the widespread availability of data are drivers, but it’s also about “brain-power”, the ability to analyze data with all the available tools to gain insights, formulate strategy and communicate well-founded recommendations that will improve ROI and/or decision-making.

Companies are clamoring for critical and creative thinkers. Graduates of Wake Forest’s MSBA program will certainly fill this demand.  The students will experience a rigorous, hands-on course that exposes them to actual live data from several of Beacon’s clients that have graciously agreed to participate.  Although they will learn many different tools, the emphasis will be on stimulating their business minds to develop intelligent insights, drive creative ideas and improve business.

It’s exciting that Wake’s MSBA students have the opportunity to work alongside Beacon’s recognized experts in Digital Marketing to get first-hand experience and knowledge. It will certainly make their resumes stand out.  Likewise, my DMS Team is equally excited to collaborate with, and learn from, the high-caliber students for which Wake Forest University is known.

Beacon's Gus Kroustalis Teaching

20 12, 2016

Michigan State University Selects Beacon for Web Development Services

By | 2017-07-20T09:19:31+00:00 December 20th, 2016|Categories: Beacon News|

We are thrilled to announce that Michigan State University has selected Beacon for a 3-year web services contract (w/ 2-year extension option) that includes the University’s web development (Cascade CMS Support), web hosting and analytics. Beacon will support over 30 different organizations within the Michigan State University system. Due to the recent significant increase in web demand from these organizations, MSU is partnering with Beacon to support expected continued demand over the next 3-5 years in order to increase the continuity, quality, accessibility and security of MSU websites.

MSU Managing brand, quality, accessibility and the sheer demand for web services is causing colleges and universities to consider longer-term, dedicated web partnerships. The Beacon Team is excited about supporting Michigan State’s web projects over the next several years, but also appreciative that such a prominent university recognizes our deep experience in Higher Ed for integrated web services. Emily Ledbetter, Account Executive at Beacon, worked on the contract and will now be focused on all the various campus organizations to build relationships as well as the work queue for the Beacon Team.

16 12, 2016

burton+BURTON Contracts Beacon for New Website

By | 2016-12-21T10:31:59+00:00 December 16th, 2016|Categories: Beacon News|

Burton and Burton, the world’s largest balloon and coordinating gift distributor (~15,000 products), has contracted with Beacon to overhaul their online store. While many websites change every couple of years, Burton and Burton’s current site has experienced a solid 6 year run that has seen continuous year-over-year growth. Based on deep studies of the underlying analytics, the new website will not only upgrade to new, leading edge ecommerce features, but also facilitate expedited growth through greater reach and engagement.

We are big believers in data-driven decision-making, our digital marketing team did an extensive analysis of the website data within Google Analytics. They then collaborated with our design and technical teams to lay out a strategy based on insights from the data that will drive the new design and technical improvements.

The new site will be constructed to align with current SEO protocol, which has changed dramatically over the last year… especially as Google moved to heavier emphasis on content relevance. The new website will also bring more visual appeal to the wide range of products offered by Burton and Burton, coupled with new features that improve usability and the entire online shopping experience. The primary technical platform will be basically the same with Beacon’s BeCommerce product wrapped with Cascade CMS, combining the best of both products – flexible product/order management and flexible, easy-to-use content management that is also search-engine friendly.

29 09, 2016

Gary Synan Retires!

By | 2016-11-18T14:12:38+00:00 September 29th, 2016|Categories: Beacon News|

Today is Gary Synan’s last day at Beacon. Retirement and the beach have wooed him away after 12 years of dedicated service with my company. It’s bittersweet. He has played an important role as a web application developer, serving hundreds of Beacon’s clients over the years, but especially with the many Bassett Furniture projects. His technical expertise will be missed.

 

Gary Synan Retired

Gary Synan

Gary has also been one of those people that contributes to the culture of Beacon – the unique and extensive holiday decorations, especially around Christmas (much of which has been passed to other employees), the pumpkin bread, the sports discussions and his involvement in a wide range of office hijinks and events. During his retirement celebration yesterday, as people shared “Gary Stories”, it was interesting that very few were work-related. That’s the way it should be. His office-fun will be missed.

pic Gary S

When Beacon opened in 1998, the thought of employees retiring from Beacon never crossed my mind. Gary is our second retiree. Prior to Beacon, Gary and I worked together at AT&T and were teammates on softball and basketball teams. And for the last 12 years, day-in and day-out, Gary has worked alongside me and the entire Beacon Team to help our customers…and make Beacon what it is today. That’s a long time! For that, I am very thankful! He will be missed, but we wish him the best as he now focuses his time on golf, beach, family and friends. Enjoy retirement, Gary!

gary pic 2

28 09, 2016

Wow! Lees McRae College Launches New Website

By | 2016-11-18T14:26:47+00:00 September 28th, 2016|Categories: Cascade CMS|

We are proud to announce the launch of the new Lees McRae College website.  The college is truly brought to life through the new highly visual design and unique features that are inviting and engaging to students, parents, faculty and alumni, especially when you compare it to the old site (see below).  While emphasizing Lees McRae’s brand and messaging consistently throughout, the new website also has a firm foundation on best practices for higher education, accessibility and high performance across multiple devices and browsers.

Old LMC Site

OLD WEBSITE

new lmc website

NEW WEBSITE

 

The home page is full of fantastic imagery that engages and informs visitors, especially the “Find Your Place” feature that shows an aerial view of the campus, allowing you to click on various areas to learn more. Once again, teamwork was the key as Beacon and Lees McRae worked together closely through the analysis, design, development, content migration, testing and launch of this incredible new website in only 9 months!

 

Built with Cascade CMS, the underlying templates are extremely flexible to support a variety of content requirements.  They allow Lees McRae content owners to easily manage the content while keeping the site SEO friendly. Here are a few of these creative features:

  • The home page impact image loads randomly along with an information box that stays with the image, allowing each image to link to different pages.
  • The home page impact image can be used for a video rather than static images, if/when the content owner desires.
  • The ‘Your Future Elevated’ section on the home page transforms nicely from 10 boxes on the desktop to 5 on mobile – allowing content owners to specify which boxes they want displayed on mobile devices.
  • Interior/landing pages have full width background color options. The color bands can optionally include a faded image behind the color. Both examples seen here in gray and here in green.
  • Content boxes can be framed with different colors within a page. Lees McRae uses a lot of gray and dark green – you can see an example here.
  • Impact images on interior pages can be content width or full width and can optionally include an inset line which is a part of LMC’s brand. Example here.

 

Lastly, and probably most importantly, all of the pages and features were packed into a small number of templates that facilitate modularity. This allows each page to be somewhat unique by turning various features on, or off, based on need.  For example, users can choose to use (or not use) right navigation, full-width banners (mentioned above), and custom right-column widgets that can be changed and published to apply to all pages where they are included.

 

From our client: “Thank you ALL so much for your hard work and patience with us on this project! We’re very happy with the finished product!”

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