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Female Disruptors: Zihla Salinas is shaking up the advertising agency model

You can never move up unless you can be replaced. This is something I first heard from my mother many years ago. I strongly believe that I need to cultivate the people around me to be strong and entrust the vision to them.


You can never move up unless you can be replaced. This is something I first heard from my mother many years ago. I strongly believe that I need to cultivate the people around me to be strong and entrust the vision to them to execute. This became real for me when I was in my early twenties, and got my first executive position in an agency. I started to have small panic attacks because I didn’t have the capacity to both manage employees and get my previous job done on a daily basis. I didn’t have a plan B and I had a lot of work to do. Had I been grooming someone over the years, I wouldn’t have had that problem.


I had the pleasure to interview Zihla Salinas. Zihla is a creative leader, experienced business developer, and brilliant strategist with a knack for winning clients and a track record of building agencies. Appointed CEO of integrated creative agency Trailer Park Group in March 2018, she was recently promoted to the dual role of CEO, Engine Content & Creative, a division of parent company Engine. Salinas now oversees Engine’s entire U.S. Content and Creative practice, employing 600 people in Los Angeles, Burbank and New York across several company subsidiaries including Trailer Park, Art Machine,  Paperboy and Synchronic.


Thank you for joining us! What is your “backstory”?

I’ve always known that I wanted to work in the creative industry. Growing up as a fangirl of incredible storytelling, I was the type of person who would watch movies over and over again until I could recite the lines myself. So, I always knew I would end up in the creative lane and wanted my career to involve storytelling.

The funny thing is that my natural talents tend to fall elsewhere. I come from a strong lineage of incredibly analytical minds — my father has a PHD in Economics and my mother has a background in mathematics and logic. So, when I got out of college at the height of the digital boom, I took the opportunity to pair my analytical mind with a creative industry and watched my career in digital take off. I was working with amazing blue-chip companies and brands executing digital marketing strategies when people didn’t know what it was yet. It was the perfect blend of logic and mathematics while also providing opportunities to develop highly creative content and stories.

Today, it makes sense that I’m the CEO of Trailer Park. Leading a creative agency that specializes in bringing the world’s best stories to audiences everywhere takes me full circle and allows me to really indulge my passion while leaning into my natural skills in the analytical space.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

At Trailer Park, we are redefining the advertising agency model by leaning on the talent driving some of the world’s best content in the entertainment space. We are bringing together the worlds of advertising, entertainment, data and technology in really exciting new ways.


We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

My mother is a force to be reckoned with, a formidable woman in business. I learned many lessons from her about business and how to be strong in my convictions. Another mentor of mine is Evelyn Meyers, she was my boss at my first significant agency job at O’Grady Meyers. While she was a busy professional who owned her own agency, she was patient, constructive, and incredibly supportive of letting me blossom. She never slowed me down and was really invested in my future. That support was a confidence driver and inspiration for me.

How are you going to shake things up next?

Within a few months in my post as CEO of Trailer Park, I was promoted to a dual role — CEO of Engine Content & Creative, the content arm of Engine, under which Trailer Park operates. I now oversee the entire U.S. Creative and Content practice employing 600 people nationwide. In my role, I’m excited to shake things up by exploring new ways of developing creative ideas that take into account the realities of how people consume content and advertising today. Our lives are busy and our attention spans are shorter than ever before. This means we have to develop new ways to engage audiences and capture imaginations.


Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

1. You can never move up unless you can be replaced. This is something I first heard from my mother many years ago. I strongly believe that I need to cultivate the people around me to be strong and entrust the vision to them to execute. This became real for me when I was in my early twenties, and got my first executive position in an agency. I started to have small panic attacks because I didn’t have the capacity to both manage employees and get my previous job done on a daily basis. I didn’t have a plan B and I had a lot of work to do. Had I been grooming someone over the years, I wouldn’t have had that problem.

2. Know your worth and stand up for your value. Nobody gets anything in business without asking for it. It is not someone else’s job to offer you what you’re worth. It’s not a corporation’s job to take care of you. You should be taking care of yourself and it’s your job to ask for what you want. I’ve rarely gotten anything in my career that I never actively asked for.

3. Do one thing every day that scares you. If you get too comfortable that means you’re not learning. Every day in my early career I felt like there was a situation I was unqualified to be in. I developed professionally by taking on these fears and challenges and tackling them head on. It was frightening when I spoke to massive rooms of senior professionals in my early twenties, educating people with many more years of experience than myself on how to spend their marketing dollars. However, it taught me everything I needed to know about the art of persuasion, which has supported my career to this day.

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

A book that impacted my thinking early on was Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink.” I have used it as a lens for my work in the advertising business. While there is an element of randomness in decision-making, I realized we should lean into our instinct as creative professionals. It revealed that combining human emotions and data enables us to draw more powerful conclusions, but one without the other can be a little dangerous.


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 whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Mary Barra. I love a comeback story and I have the utmost respect for someone who can dig into a tough situation and turn it around. Not only is Mary one of the highest paid executives in American auto (standing up for her worth), but she’s a self-made success who learned the business from the ground up. She knows her company like no one else, but yet she can still think outside the box and drive towards innovation. I find that inspiring.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on Twitter @Zihla and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zihla/

Originally published at medium.com

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