Ed Crain of Kingstar Direct & Kingstar Media: “Do the hard, strategic work”

I would say inspire. Motivate. Do the hard, strategic work. Execute and just don’t sit still. Because what got you here will probably not get you there. And really, I say that because you constantly have to be innovating and adjusting to current business conditions. You have to be willing to let go of maybe […]

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I would say inspire. Motivate. Do the hard, strategic work. Execute and just don’t sit still. Because what got you here will probably not get you there. And really, I say that because you constantly have to be innovating and adjusting to current business conditions. You have to be willing to let go of maybe what got you there in the past and not kind of sit back and say we’ve got we’ve got the answer all the time because you don’t and so I think great companies innovate and are willing to make the necessary changes.

As part of my series “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ed Crain, President of Kingstar Direct and Kingstar Media, premier direct marketing and video production agencies based in Toronto.
He has specialized for more than 30 years in entrepreneurial product launches and brand building, as well as in strategic media campaigns that drive ROI across multiple platforms.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I got started in the television production business more on the entertainment side before getting into advertising and media. I think the easiest way to explain how I ended up in advertising is that I was, and am, fascinated by good story telling and I aspired to become good at it. Put into the context of advertising it became — how could I tell a story about this product or service and how could I do it in an impactful and measurable way. A mentor said to me once -If you put your head down and work hard at something you love the rest follows. That is really what I did. With the help of fantastic teams and co-workers.

The fun part of the early days of DRTV was that you didn’t have to wait long to see if anyone liked, listened to or took action because of your message. Like digital advertising today — the response measurement is immediate. From those early ads came the building of a commercial production company and a media placement company. Create the message. Deploy the message. Response = modify and re-deploy. It’s a motivating and rewarding process.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I think there are many times when you start a business that you think about giving up. Quite simply it’s hard to be in business EVERY single day and stay motivated and not let disappointment creep in. I think really working at something that you love is very important, but you must learn to experience and prepare for disappointment. I think the hardest thing when you’re in the business of creative messaging is working on creative that you believe in and being so excited to deploy it and then getting the message back that it didn’t work or that it failed miserably. In the case of a half hour infomercial it can be hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars all for a big disappointment within days of going to air. I tell people that in this business -and I think in any business sometimes you just have to get amnesia or apply the first rule of Italian racing car driving — throw out the rear view mirror because what’s behind you doesn’t count. 
You must be willing to get knocked down keep getting up. Be determined to succeed and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Help from teams, co-workers, friends, and mentors. Sometimes it takes a helping hand to get you out of the dirt. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

The funniest mistake for me maybe in the beginning was that I would get so wrapped up in creating winning stories with clients, production teams and getting the creative “out” that I’d forget that it was a business. I’d forget that I had to do the accounting- pay bills send out invoices -. I had to pay taxes I had to file tax returns. It always seemed like I was chasing my tail when it came to doing the paperwork and it took a long time to build the discipline to run a business. I must say it wasn’t funny then but all these years later, it kind of is.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

One word — people. I think people make your company stand out and having your teams buy into a winning attitude. 
Never be completely satisfied but know that you gave it your best effort. I think that’s what critically sets up a great company. I think we’ve done it on a lot of creative projects, and I know we’ve executed last minute media plans with fantastic deals and super low CPOs. I can’t think of one story, but I think of all the faces on the team and I think of the one word- people. People and teams.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’d say one of the most important things as a business owner is to learn to delegate. And delegation means building trust with someone who works with you or for you. And that can take time and so do it methodically. If you can’t delegate and build trust you can’t build a great company.
Delegate responsibility and let people fail. Offer a hand to pick them up but know when to stop. Have a common goal to succeed and keep the people that share that goal. Let the people that don’t move on. Building teams is about delegating and motivating -probably one of the most difficult things that any business owner will have to learn to do.

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?

I really can’t single out one person who helped me build a successful company. I think there are so many faces along the way that learned to trust me and eventually our teams and what we could do. I think creating the connection with clients and having them recognize that you’re dedicated and committed and willing to go the distance is critical.

Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

I think there are a lot of good companies out there. A great company is lead by inspired thought, creativity and thinking outside the box and giving people the leeway to take risk and understand that sometimes risk leads to failure. But if you don’t try ideas and you don’t strive to be better than you’re not being the best that you can be. Having that ingrained in your company’s mindset can lead to great work.

Drive a culture that your employees are excited to be a part of. That is what defines great companies.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

I would say inspire. Motivate. Do the hard, strategic work. Execute and just don’t sit still. Because what got you here will probably not get you there. And really, I say that because you constantly have to be innovating and adjusting to current business conditions. You have to be willing to let go of maybe what got you there in the past and not kind of sit back and say we’ve got we’ve got the answer all the time because you don’t and so I think great companies innovate and are willing to make the necessary changes.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

I think as a business owner it’s a relatively new but welcome insight that having a purpose driven business is a wonderful goal. I think that new generations are coming into the workforce and valuing that purpose sometimes more than they’re valuing money or other accolades. What they want is that sense of association with a purpose as a company. Our management team is beginning to look at programs to involve employees and more ways to have an impact with our suppliers our customers and our audience but it’s an ongoing effort and I think we’re all striving to find a more purposeful reason to work and to succeed.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill? From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

I think that the biggest realization for business owners whose growth has stalled is once again “ What got us here may well not get you there”. Meaning what was your USP yesterday may not be your USP today. The only answer is pack it in or figure out how you can pivot. Start by doing a cost benefit analysis of your business revenue streams and a by client profitability index. Where is your company’s time being spent? It should be on the most promising and potentially profitable business segments. That has likely changed. Especially over this past year. Going through this process with key management can re-invigorate the company and set new goals for your team.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

To survive and grow a business during turbulent times and a challenging economy is difficult and it involves looking at the net contribution from certain business verticals that you have pursued. There may be parts of your business that are extremely unprofitable and eating up a lot of time…get rid of them. Really focus on the higher margin business, adjust your business size and scale to drive at that high margin business.

Generally, more innovative business verticals can be more profitable if you uncover them early and they offer solutions not found elsewhere to your clients.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

For me, as I alluded to earlier, one of the most underestimated parts of running a business is all of the accounting, record keeping, filing, making provisions for taxes and all the structural parts of a business that you must tend to including invoicing and collecting money in a prompt and efficient manner. Once you realize your weaknesses, its so very important to accept them and hire properly to fill that gap. I have been very fortunate to have a team that has now been with me for many years that does just that. You have to make great hires to cover what you are not strong at. It’s essential to survival. It has allowed me and our teams to do what we are good at — pursue new accounts and service and create great advertising for our clients.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Analyze the data — Over and over again as attribution is still subjective in many verticals. It takes a deep dive to get to the granular data that can help tweak messaging and offers to find increased conversions. Test. Fail. Adjust.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Today I think it’s really focusing on delivery and customer satisfaction. I love watching good unboxing videos where the products first impression is positive. Keep working on that. The first 1–2 minutes of that unboxing experience is critical. Never be satisfied and always chase improvement.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

In addition to above I would say communication and follow up. Emails, texts, even phone calls. Let the customer know you care and value their experience, how they rate your product etc. Ask the question. Don’t be afraid of the answer and never be satisfied.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

I do share this concern. I think you must try and be consistent with your companies messaging and social presence. You are a brand, and you must always be focused in your brand messaging.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Grow methodically and build a team. Fast hiring, plugging holes with temps or just “getting the job done” all lead to trouble. Don’t be afraid to agree to aggressive timelines but know that you CAN deliver. Growth for the sake of growth is never good. Make it real, make it organic and make it with purpose.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Today I would say smile at someone. Be infectious in your drive and optimism and let people see it and how you love doing it. If you are caught up in your own problems do something for others. By the time you are finished doing that you will feel better and you will be remotivated to do it again. Strive for balance

How can our readers further follow you online?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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