How To Avoid Burnout & Thrive In Marketing with Tracy Call & Kage Spatz

Marketing Strategy Series by

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Tracy Call Marketing Expert

I used to think the measure of success in advertising was having hundreds of employees and multiple departments. It’s not. It’s having a team of unicorns who you love to work with, and doing a select group of things exceptionally well. Maybe that requires 20 people, maybe 200.

As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with my fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Tracy Call.

Tracy Call is the Founder and CEO of Media Bridge Advertising®, a media buying, social, video production, and creative agency. Media Bridge has made the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal’s Fast 50 and Inc.’s 5000 Fastest-Growing Private companies list every year since 2014, and it was honored as a “Best Places to Work” business in 2018. Tracy was named a Business Journal “Women in Business” award-winner in 2016.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?

Most entrepreneurs start off doing everything themselves because you don’t have a choice. You tackle every job whether you’re good at it or not, and hopefully, you learn over time what you should and shouldn’t do. In the beginning, I apparently thought I could do graphic design. I had a client called Aamodt’s Apple Farm, and we were working on a direct mail campaign that I had to design myself. I could have worked in Powerpoint, which I knew how to use. But I decided to try to do it in Adobe instead, because that’s what “real” designers use, even though I had no clue how to use it.

Eventually, I turned something in, the client approved it, and we rolled it out. I don’t remember how well it did, but years later when I was moving the agency into a new building, I came across that direct mail piece and couldn’t believe what I saw. It looked like something a 5-year-old would draw in kindergarten! I can’t believe I got away with that. The lesson: Hire experts!

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

My tipping point was when I finally decided to do things completely on my own as an entrepreneur. I’m a control freak, what can I say? Having a business partner requires someone who you’re completely aligned with on expectations, processes, core values, vision, and work ethic. I’ve seen that work with other people, but it’s very rare. Once I went solo, I had the freedom to always do what I thought was the right thing instead of picking up the pieces after someone did the wrong thing. I took on more risk, but I loved it.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Delegate and elevate. This is a formal process that’s part of EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System. Media Bridge has run on EOS for years, and it’s been a total game-changer for our business. “Delegate and elevate” is about putting your daily tasks into quadrants: “love doing and are great at,” “like doing and are good at,” “don’t like doing and are good at,” and “don’t like doing and aren’t good at.”

What you enjoy doing evolves over time. If you keep doing the same things — even the things you like and are great at — you’ll burn out. Everyone at Media Bridge does this process regularly, and it has allowed people to continually find their niche and never get bored or burned out. It also creates a natural mentorship process. As someone phases out of one task, they train in the next person who wants it. It’s amazing how well it works. I used it myself when I realized that I had to stop buying media and work more on the business than in the business. Now I have the best media-buying team in the industry!

Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?

Technology and disruption get all the headlines, but what’s more interesting is what hasn’t changed: authenticity. People talk as if hating an aggressive sales approach is something new. It’s not. No one likes it! No one ever has!

Early in my career, I learned the power of authenticity through radio. Companies would spend tens of thousands of dollars on glitzy TV spots, but what made the phone ring was having a popular DJ do a heartfelt endorsement. That still works, because it’s a sincere message coming from someone you trust.

Fast-forward to today, and the same principle applies. Yes, consumers are even more sophisticated about marketing. Their B.S. meters are even stronger and more sensitive. But an Instagram influencer is essentially doing the same thing as a radio endorser. They’re brand ambassadors who believe in a product and actually use it. It’s word of mouth on steroids. You’ll see our New Media team tapping that vein through Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. And you’ll see our creative and production teams do the same thing through traditional media. It’s a proven strategy, and it has the added benefit of being far more flexible. As we’ve learned in recent months, it’s a lot easier to pivot an influencer or DJ endorser’s message than it is to redo your $250K TV spot.

Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.

1. “You can’t be all things to all people.” I used to think that a full-service agency was the gold standard. Over time, I’ve learned that being an “un-full service agency” is better, for us and our clients. You can’t specialize in everything. It’s impossible. We do what we love and what we’re great at, and we know when to partner with other agencies who are great at what they do.

2. “Breathe. Nobody dies in marketing.” I used to be obsessed with getting people answers in half a second because I wanted to be that person. It’s important to be hyper-responsive, but it’s also important to take a step back and think things through. Being patient doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve had to learn it.

3. “Size doesn’t matter.” I used to think the measure of success in advertising was having hundreds of employees and multiple departments. It’s not. It’s having a team of unicorns who you love to work with, and doing a select group of things exceptionally well. Maybe that requires 20 people, maybe 200.

4. “You have no idea how amazing it’s going to be to see your employees grow personally and professionally.” This has been my greatest joy in being an entrepreneur. When I hire someone, I’m committed to them. I want them on my team for life. I put a lot of resources into development. Seeing people hit their stride, find their passion, and thrive in our culture is beyond fulfilling. I love it!

5. “Get your core values down on paper.” I’ve always lived by core values and recognized how important they are, but operationalizing them is a different story. Once we figured out the core values we truly believe in, they became a filter for everything we do. We hire by them. We recognize our colleagues when they demonstrate them. We’ve even fired clients because they weren’t a core value fit. That’s saved us a lot of time and a lot of Ibuprofen.

What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

I don’t read many marketing books. Staying on top of the news keeps my brain more energized, so you’re more likely to find me listening to a true-crime podcast or reading theSkimm, The New Yorker, or the Wall Street Journal. To be a good marketer, you have to know what’s going on in the world, what’s capturing people’s imaginations, and what might come across as tone-deaf in an ad based on what’s happening in society.

You also have to be a good listener, so I listen to the podcasts of people I know, like Kris Lindahl’s “The Kris Lindahl Show,” “The Rent Estate Podcast” with Kevin Ortner, and our own podcast, “Call to Action,” hosted by our Marketing Director, Giselle Ugarte.

One more question! You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Funny you should ask because we’ve recently launched what we call the “Do” movement. Like Yoda, I believe that there is no try, only do. I’ve always been a doer. As an athlete, you couldn’t keep me on the sidelines. It drives me insane when people talk about goals and then don’t follow through with them — or if someone doesn’t want to get the ball when the game is on the line.

We started the “Do” movement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in our own backyard, and there’s a huge social justice element to it. But the concept is even bigger. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do, having the hard conversations, entering the danger (which is an EOS mantra), and saying “yes.” When you make a mistake, it’s about accepting it, owning up to it and doing the right thing to fix it.

Part of my personal “Do” is being passionately on board with other people’s movements. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of my employees and clients have their own movements — from “Be Generous” to “Make Kindness Contagious” to “Made For This Life.” Essentially, they all preach the same idea from different angles: Love yourself and be good to others. We need a lot more of that!

Thank you so much for sharing so much value with us!

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