Family first. Unfortunately, this is a rule that took me a long time to embrace, but nothing is as important as family. I spent many extra hours at work and missed so many of my daughter’s school event and games. If I could go back in time and change one thing, it would surely be this fact. I make sure that my team at Bluewater Media knows that family comes first.
As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gina Pomponi. Gina serves as President, Media of converged advertising agency Bluewater Media. With over twenty years in the world of media buying, she is regarded as one of the top experts in the direct response television (DRTV) and advertising industry when it comes to combining media buys with effective creative campaigns.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is it about the position of President that most attracted you to it?
With over two decades of multichannel experience primarily focused on media, what attracted me to Bluewater Media is their ability to be converged agency, having all of the experts in their field under one roof. The collaboration and ability to take clients to the next level is exciting. This can be a game changer.
Most media agencies offer just that, media. At Bluewater, we have a strong creative team and a strong digital team, marketplace, home shopping, retail — all elements vital to making a business successful using advertising elements. For example, our client, Navage was spending a small amount weekly on television advertising as they were just launching in broadcast. I was integral to the expansion strategy and helped the campaign grow by providing insight on the creative side. Today, you see Navage in retail shelves nationally.
The opportunity of growing a team from the ground up was attractive. Building a business has always been a strong suit of mine and I feel privileged to do it again, this time for Bluewater Media.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a President does, but in just a few words can you explain what a President does that is different from the responsibilities of the other executives?
What doesn’t a President do?
Most people would think that we sit in our offices and only run the business end of things. That’s simply not true. The first thing I did when I joined Bluewater was roll my sleeves up and dove in. I sat with the media director and we started planning and training. I set up all processes for everything done in the building pertaining to media — broadcast tape trafficking to media buying and planning to revamping the accounting process and documenting each element. I wrote a 50-page training manual and set up staff training and structure. I was preparing my department, and team, for scale.
I believe in providing direction, mentoring and employee development while managing and building a business. There is no job too small or too big.
My life is tied to the success of Bluewater Media 24/7. For my clients and staff, I am always available, day or night. I am committed.
I believe it’s important to empower others which requires both my time and attention. I truly believe it is important to empower your management team so that there is a clear structure to help grow the business. As long as there are processes, people are being trained properly, it’ll work and grow.
What were your biggest struggles throughout your professional life and how did you overcome them?
I suffer from stenosis and this means I live with pain. I do not allow this to interfere with my career or building my department, but it can be a struggle.
I started in the media world at the age of 19 years old answering phones and working under an industry legend. I was a new single mom, but eager to learn this business. However, in order to make ends meet, I needed to work an evening job. New mom, two jobs… that in itself was a struggle. After eight years, I no longer needed that second job and I could then focus solely on my career in media and being a mom of course. Today, my daughter holds a medical doctorate in pharmacology.
What are the biggest challenges faced by women CEOs/Presidents that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
During the majority of my career, I found it was hard to get recognized. Women had to work twice as hard as men. Back in the 1990s, the senior management were older men at many of our client’s companies. For a female to walk into a room required having more of a presence — being the smartest person in the room.
Because of the atmosphere at Bluewater Media, as a woman, I am never treated any differently. I am respected for who I am and what I know. It doesn’t matter that I’m a female. I believe and hope that the world is changing. Perhaps it is, slowly.
As I was developing my career, I missed a lot when it came to my daughter — Christmas parties at school, sporting events, etc. — as it wasn’t very acceptable to take off work for family. Luckily, the grandparents were able to attend. While my daughter didn’t suffer, I wished I could have had it both ways.
Luckily, now I’m in a position where I can change this reality for myself and others.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being a CEO/President?
I love building the Bluewater Media business. It’s like a drug. I love to put a strategy together for a client who has a challenge and see it succeed. I love to know that we played a role in the client’s success. There is nothing like being a direct marketer and seeing immediate results. It’s exhilarating
What are the downsides of being a CEO/President?
The upsides can also be the downsides. I’m on 24/7. If I decide to take a vacation, I still wake up early and check email and I’m sure to be accessible even when in another country. I’ll take a call in the morning, late at night, weekends. While my staff has down time, I don’t take the downtime. I am responsible for my team’s livelihood. I take that very seriously.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I have had the opportunity to revamp the media division at Bluewater. Andy Latimer, our founder and CEO, gives me the autonomy to do my thing. Billings are up 700% since I started. I was able to come in and structure things and hire. Andy has trust in my ability as a leader. Most CEO’s wouldn’t give this much trust to any one person, yet Andy does.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Ice storms are prevalent in Pennsylvania where I began my media career. We were smack dab between the areas of heavy snow and rain. The result is ice storms. We had a particularly bad one in back in 1998 causing the Governor to “close” the state of Pennsylvania. Back then we didn’t have remote access that would have provided the ability to work from home. Since “the show must go on,” we all packed up our kids and braved the icy roads. Once arriving at the office, we realized the parking lot was covered in about 3 inches of ice. In order to get into the building, we created a small human chain to pull everyone across the parking lot. We made it in, no one got caught driving, and we had extra help faxing and filing from the kids that day.
Looking back on this event years later, I always laugh. Perhaps we shouldn’t have driven in an ice storm, but we always managed to overcome hardships no matter what.
Specifically, what is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought I’d have to deal with the partners more as far as input on my division — right, wrong or indifferent. I was prepared for that. Joining an organization with four primary partners on the overriding business, I thought that I would have four bosses. I was prepared for the environment to be more corporate complete with “red tape” as opposed to reality. I was pleasantly surprised that we all have the opportunity to grow our own divisions which is a key element to what makes Bluewater Media so successful.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be a CEO/President, what specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful CEO/President and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be a CEO/President?
In order to be a president, you have to be smart and determined, but that’s not all. A president must be a creative thinker, a mentor, must understand the strengths and weaknesses of each person on the team, and how to best utilize that person and help them grow.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
My advice for all leaders, whether female or male, is they must be good listeners. Leaders need to be strong but must be compassionate. I firmly believe in an open-door policy.
People are going to make mistakes. They are human. Allow your staff to failure forward. One of my big rules: any time there is a mistake, we talk about the process and where the breakdown occurred. Sometimes we have to change the process. A leader should always help to solve problems along with the team. Team member should not fear approaching the leader. If people are afraid, they aren’t going to be open or grow. It’s all about the people. Once you start to manage human beings, the dynamic changes tremendously.
It’s critical to remember that people are your most important asset.
Who inspired/inspires you and why?
My daughter inspires me.
I was a single parent, but she was the child of a single parent. She knew at age 7 exactly what she wanted to do with her life, and she did it. My mother has Lupus, an autoimmune disease. My daughter said, “I’m going to be a doctor and figure out how to cure Lupus.” She never strayed. She was and is determined. Today she is Dr. Samantha Pomponi, a Medical Scientist. She amazes me daily with how strong she is. While I’ve accomplished a lot, I might have floundered at a younger age. The entire reason I buckled down was because of my daughter. I hope I was a good example. She is awe-inspiring to me.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Hands down, the person who I attribute my success to is Maria Eden. I was a young single mom who needed a job. Like many, I applied for a front office position with her. I was young and had no experience. She took me under her wing. She gave me the tools to be successful in business. We worked side by side for over 20 years. She went over and beyond as a mentor and friend. For example, Maria had a daughter and always gave clothes to my daughter. Maria always made sure that I had $20 in my wallet. We worked together until her retirement.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Even when I was working two jobs while my daughter was young, I always adopted a family at Christmas. Although I had no real money to spare, I wanted my daughter to understand that we were fortunate and that there were others that have way less than we do. Now, I work on food drives for the Kind Mouse in Florida and donate to Suncoast Animal Rescue.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Failure is not fatal. People are human and everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Always give your staff the freedom to fail forward and use mistakes as a learning tool.
- Family first. Unfortunately, this is a rule that took me a long time to embrace, but nothing is as important as family. I spent many extra hours at work and missed so many of my daughter’s school event and games. If I could go back in time and change one thing, it would surely be this fact. I make sure that my team at Bluewater Media knows that family comes first.
- Surround yourself with positive people. The saying, “the rotten apple ruins the barrel” is a very true statement. I work very hard to maintain a positive vibe in the office and ensure others do as well. We work hard and I want my staff to WANT to come to the office every day.
- Every person has different strengths and weaknesses. I’ve never met any two people that are exactly alike. Understanding an individual’s strengths and weaknesses helps you position them for success.
- Be a mentor. Everyone wants a mentor but being someone’s mentor is equally important. I had the privilege of mentoring my mentor’s daughter. Laura King came to me with a background in education. She started as my assistant right out of college. I trained and mentored her for several years, growing her to Director of New Business. She then joined me at Bluewater in January of 2017, as Vice President of Client Development. She has developed into a very strong direct marketer. It fills me with a sense of pride and accomplishment in that she doesn’t necessarily do everything the same way that I do, but her willingness to learn and apply my methods and processes to find her own success is gratifying. It is amazing when you find the right person who has the desire and drive to learn, and then watch them develop their skills and grow their career. I believe that I have a professional obligation to take all the knowledge and experience I have gained and share it with everyone who is willing to learn and grow.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would inspire a movement of movement. The obesity rate in the U.S. has risen steadily from 30.5% in 1999 to 40% as of 2019. Working with companies such as NordicTrack, Fitness Cubed and Tony Little has made me think about this topic recently. Bluewater Media is already doing a small part in perpetuating this movement by partnering with several companies focused on helping individuals create a healthier and non-sedentary lifestyle. NordicTrack® has a line of exercise equipment with products for everyone ranging from the classic ski machine, low-impact exercisers, ellipticals and incline trainers. We also work with Fitness Cubed on Cubii, designed to be low to no impact on joints, allowing the individual to exercise while sitting and watching TV or sitting at a desk working.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This question brought a smile to my face.
My brilliant daughter includes this quote in her signature on all her emails — “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill.
This quote encapsulates not only my professional career, but much of my early adulthood. I was faced with so many obstacles such as being a single parent, having to work two jobs and debilitating back issues. I could have easily given up. I know that my perseverance to always push through, work hard and strive to be better in the face of failure has served me well throughout my life.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love to dine with Elon Musk and hear about how he made his fortune and thought up all his inventions. He has accomplished so much at such as young age. I’m sure it would be the most interesting lunch I ever ate.
About the author:
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 350 works in print. He is the author of two books, I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business, and Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke