In this new department, the B2B editors are asking key questions of three executives in the same, or a similar, field. In this inaugural article, for the design issue, we spoke with three executives of ad agencies/PR firms: Robin Donovan, president of Bozell, which has nearly 50 employees; Wendy Wiseman, president and COO of Zaiss & Co., which has nearly 20 employees; and Dave Nelson, founder of Secret Penguin, which has nearly 10 employees.
Talent retention is a big worry for many ad agencies. How do you retain talented people?
Donovan: Our culture is what keeps our people. The entrepreneurial environment, the family atmosphere (kids and pets are in and out), and the obsession with giving back to the community (paying rent for the space we occupy on this earth). Those who do leave for a time often come back.
Wiseman: All [our employees] are empowered and expected to bring their “A” game. When people are motivated by meeting marketing challenges, they thrive here, because that’s what we do.
Nelson: We’re in a very fortunate position to have talented people, and even more fortunate to have thoughtful people. Our mission is to make communities better…and more fun. We hire, take on work, and have created a work environment based on that. Because of this mission being very authentic, and not something we just say to feel good, everyone here feels a sense of purpose. We don’t report to one another, we support one another.
What question are you often asked that drives you crazy?
Donovan: “Even though I’m an engineer, I created this brochure for my company. Everyone tells me it’s great. Do you think it’s great?”
Wiseman: “Do you do websites?” As a marketing partner we do what needs to be done to reach marketing goals. We say we are medium agnostic—we don’t favor one over the other and in fact, integrated media is what works, but planning, building, and maintaining websites is something we’ve done since companies could have websites.
Nelson: We can’t expect other people to know the right questions to ask about our industry. I’d rather have a conversation than not. I love questions. When I used to get upset about questions, it was more because I couldn’t just give a simple and clear answer—meaning I didn’t know enough to be able to talk about it. Furthermore, if anyone asks a question, that could mean we didn’t communicate clearly what we can offer—so every question is a potential learning opportunity.
What practices or resources help you stay ahead of the curve?
Donovan: We go out of our way to recruit folks with an insatiable curiosity. That makes it a lot easier to keep up with what’s coming next, because as end users change, so must the methods of communicating with them change. These incredible folks are our best resources.
Wiseman: Belonging to the current conversation via forums, associations, certifications in the social sphere, being in the marketing culture. We observe and absorb what is working for brands out there, and frankly, we’re creating strategies that work and lead—all to get to goal.
Nelson: Caring. Caring about our clients, our clients’ communities they serve, our team, the work we put out—caring is the only reason to stay ahead of the curve and it pushes us to do whatever we each personally need to do to do so. That being said, each member of the team cares and they do their own thing to stay ahead of the curve with whatever their role is.
How are you working to create an enduring organization?
Donovan: We don’t just do what is asked; we dive deeper and do what is needed to take our clients to the top or keep them there. And we are intent on helping them drive success to their bottom line.
Wiseman: Zaiss & Company just celebrated our 29-year anniversary. Our organization endures because we have an enduring mission to help our partners grow profitably through our dedication to making marketing strategies and marketing communication as effective as they can be. We stay up on our industry and those [industries] of our clients.
Nelson: One of our main goals has been to create a sustainable business. We prioritize everything we do at SecretPenguin with personal health (physical, mental, spiritual—whatever any of that means to the individual); relationships (family and friends); work; and community. We only take on work if we will create or refine the brand. And we are focused on a slow and steady growth plan to create a solid team and a solid group of clients.
What keeps you up at night?
Donovan: Envisioning how we can possibly top our last success so that we can keep our clients enthralled and our staff engaged.
Wiseman: As entrepreneurs at heart, we relate to the responsibilities our clients carry. From marketing directors to presidents/CEOs of all sizes of businesses, we empathize with what keeps them up at night—leads, sales, earnings, competition, innovation, staffing. When we commit to helping grow our clients’ businesses with marketing, meeting their goals and strategic solutions play through our brains throughout the night.
Nelson: The only time I have a concern is when there is miscommunication. If there’s anything that keeps me up, it’s how to resolve any miscommunication that could hurt the team’s relationship or our client’s relationship.
How has your industry changed since you entered the field?
Donovan: Way back then it was about helping clients meet and exceed their challenges—and that’s what it’s about now. [But], when I entered the industry we used desk phones, typewriters, Western Union, and faxes. And we had mechanicals for every ad. Do you know what any of those things are?
Wiseman: Exponentially and not at all. Digital media and digital natives have turned a lot on its head; however, in the end, this is marketing—the art and science of changing attitudes/stimulating action. The age-old practices of knowing who you are targeting and what you want them to know, think, and feel about your brand is primary no matter the medium. It’s about a focus on benefit and understanding that content is king.
Nelson: Technology, mainly. But, at the root of it all—our industry has always been about clearly communicating what a brand offers to their community, then building relationships between the brand and their community. So, no matter what comes along, I can have peace knowing that will never change.
This article was printed in the June/July 2018 edition of B2B.