Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, I witnessed firsthand the hard work and stress behind building a successful company. More importantly, I learned the benefits of being your own boss.
I was always intrigued by the notion that I could control my own destiny while creating something that would leave a legacy for future generations. My parents never pushed us to join their business, but instead encouraged us to responsibly disrupt the status quo and aspire for a life we could be proud of and feel passionate about every day. My aspirations of becoming an entrepreneur, coupled with my creative pursuits, led me toward advertising and marketing.
In 2011, I became CEO and owner of GYK Antler, a full-service marketing agency in New Hampshire—the birthplace of my grandfather's company and where my parents' sporting-goods store still stands. More recently, as my brothers and I were active in our professional endeavors, our parents began thinking of retirement. Frankly, it became distressing to think that our multi-generational family business legacy could die.
We decided we couldn't let that happen. So, as the third generation, we reinvented the family business—this time as e-commerce footwear brand, YORK Athletics Mfg. YORK Athletics Mfg. is rooted in performance sports, yet ingrained with the same family values of grit, hard work and determination.
We didn't have to look far to find a strategic marketing partner for our new venture. Under the leadership of Mark and Elizabeth McGarry (the CEO and creative director, respectively), YORK Athletics Mfg. became GYK Antler's client, and we began utilizing agency resources to develop positioning, packaging and promotional efforts to launch this new business. As CEO of a marketing agency and co-owner of a startup brand, I gained a totally different perspective of GYK Antler—what was and wasn't working as a modern marketing agency. These insights have helped us adapt and improve the way the agency services clients.
The five key takeaways were:
Utilize multiple methods of communication. The agency needed to be more open, willing and available for continuous dialogue.
Openness to optimization
Be nimble and agile when the client changes directions, has new needs or wants to have deliverables reworked. As a client, it became clear how valuable it is to have a continuous improvement process opposed to rounds of revisions and lobbying back and forth.
Power of collaboration
While the collaboration was unique and not typical to most client/agency relationships (both teams working under the same roof), the experience showcased the strong results that locking arms in a partnership can create.
Being on the brand side for the first time, I sometimes noticed a misalignment with the perceived value by the agency and actual value to the brand. Some of the most expensive projects that you hire an agency to do aren't always the best things for a startup to do. On the contrary, some of the least expensive things to hire an agency to do were the most valuable to our startup.
As a client, the importance of an agency's flexibility became clearer. Rather than having a strict, rigid process and dedicated team, it's more beneficial to have a framework with a core group that is augmented by situational teams of subject matter experts that seamlessly come in and out of jobs while projects proceeded productively.
YORK Athletics Mfg. is a brand built for people who have a fighting mind-set and embody the entrepreneurial spirit—the exact spirit of the generations before us and those to come. I try to also instill this mentality in our agency's employees to help best serve our clients—many of those clients also being private, multi-generational family enterprises. It's important that our team feels empowered to be bold in their decisions and be willing to challenge status quo. This is essential to successfully evolving as business in the modern marketplace.
Brand evolution is about leveraging the previous generation's successes to help give credibility to the current generation's business in order to drive something that is relevant for today—regardless of whether that's a physical or philosophical manifestation of the past. This is how you build a lasting brand whose meaning spans beyond a corporate boardroom.