Give yourself a realistic timeline to achieve your goals. Rome wasn’t built in a day and I’m sure there were a myriad of failures along the way but learning from those failures is what kept the project moving forward instead of just quitting because the timeline wasn’t meeting your initial estimations.
As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kurt Kaufer, Partner and CMO of Ad Results Media
Kurt has over two decades of experience in marketing, strategy development, media planning and analytics.
Prior to co-founding the digital and audio consultancy Brown Bear Digital in 2013 and Ad Results Media in 2016, he oversaw global SEM efforts for Provide Commerce (now FTD). He also built and led digital customer acquisition and retention marketing efforts for Stance.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path.
It was a confluence of things. I started my career in Financial Services where I stayed for about seven years. I was responsible for research and investment management support for institutional investors, so the role was academic based which I loved. I’m an analytical thinker by nature, but I also had this creative side to me which I felt couldn’t be leveraged in the industry I was in. My dad was an electrical engineer, and my mom was an artist, so I think I inherited a strong mix of both left and right brain skills. As my career progressed, I started to realize that my interests and skill sets could likely be applied to a burgeoning industry that I kept hearing about, digital marketing. The industry seemed like it would offer a unique opportunity to apply my penchant for numbers while exercising my creative passion and ideas. It was seemingly perfect match for me as it was a growing and evolving industry and I would have the ability to have a career path more akin to my interests and skills. The Great Recession that started in 2007 was the inflection point where I decided to leave finance and take a chance on a new career.
Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
There were some difficult moments right out of the gate. I was 30 years old, had just gotten married, had very little savings and was out of work. I couldn’t find a job in digital marketing because I had no experience and there were barely any open positions to begin with due to the recession. I was determined to make it work so I decided to take an unpaid internship at a small digital consultancy to get my start. It was a very humbling experience, but an incredibly formative one. I had just moved from a senior position at an incredibly reputable and globally recognized investment firm to a small digital start up earning no money and making coffee for colleagues who were barely out of college. I had no office, an old wobbly desk, and no clue what I got myself into. At first I felt old, and out of place, but I did everything asked of me. I read everything I could get my hands on to learn the job and industry and worked my tail off to become highly skilled in a short amount of time. My wife was amazing during this time because here we were, newly married, and I told her I was going to quit my job, change careers, and work for no money. Although she looked worried when I told her, she believed in me. It wasn’t, easy but we somehow made it work.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I think I’ve always been a very driven person. It’s probably a mix of perfectionism, fear, ego, pride, a feeling of accountability to others and the ultimate desire to grow and add value not only to myself, but to as many people as I can. My value system is a large driver of my approach to life in and out of the office. A strong set of values is paramount to your success as they help guide your drive.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
Grit to me is all about hard work, perseveration, and accountability. The backbone of any successful career is the hard work and determination that needs to be applied consistently to be great at anything. In the case of my career path, it was up to me to roll up my sleeves and power through the ambiguity of my future and the adversity I faced. Relying on grit has been a large part of my success.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
- Be bold and be willing to take some risk in your career.
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone when you get the opportunity.
- Hold onto hope but have confidence in yourself to make your vision a reality.
- Give yourself a realistic timeline to achieve your goals. Rome wasn’t built in a day and I’m sure there were a myriad of failures along the way but learning from those failures is what kept the project moving forward instead of just quitting because the timeline wasn’t meeting your initial estimations.
- Have a purpose. Having purpose is the fall back for whatever doubt you feel along the way. You can always go back to your intended purpose to recenter yourself and get you back on the right path.
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 you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
There isn’t any one person. I’ve always tried to surround myself with people who are smart, caring, open, empathetic, and more knowledgeable than I am about certain things. I’ve always made an effort to be a very conscious and engaged listener. I try to internalize each person’s point of view to truly understand what they’re sharing and how I can better myself and potentially others with that information.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Part of my desire to create an agency was not only to take advantage of a “blue ocean” in the market at the time (performance marketing, specialty podcast advertising), but to create a vehicle with which I could positively impact as many people as possible. To be honest, I created the company values before starting an agency was even a serious thought in my mind. It was almost like a cathartic exercise based on the role I was in at the time and how I wished the organization had a bit more of an employee centric value chain. The values I conceptualized were rooted in the ethos of helping people grow both personally and professionally through guidance and opportunities and a philosophy of gratitude where we lift each other up, motivate, inspire, and mentor without expectations of payback. With a strong focus on the employees first, that vision has come to life in both of my entrepreneurial ventures. At both Brown Bear Digital and Ad Results Media, I feel we have helped individuals grow, mature, and succeed in their careers so they can be happy both at work and at home. We operate by focusing on the overlap of strong corporate values and employee growth and development. It’s a conscious business decision to materially invest in our employees in the form of time, resources, and money, sometimes at the expense of the bottom-line, in order to create a best-in-class services organization for our clients and for our employees.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re constantly evolving our training program internally. We’ve recently tripled our HR team to further facilitate and support the training needs of our employees. From leadership training, to management training, to diversity training, we have a highly sophisticated program built to create leaders at all levels and we’re only expanding on that. We’ve also recently created internal platforms and committees for our employees to learn, share, grow and empower each other. Two examples are a new “Women in Podcasting” campaign we launched and the “SEEN” committee we recently formed. Both are intended to give our employees a platform and voice to talk about their experiences related to diversity, inclusion, and more.
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
For other agency owners, I would say to set your priorities correctly and have employee welfare be at the top if you haven’t done so already. Do an honest and comprehensive evaluation of your benefits offering, recruiting process, new hire onboarding process, talent development process, management mentorship process, employee culture development, etc. Be open to listening, applying feedback and making the sacrifices to ensure your employees are recognized as the most important component of your business.
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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is outside of marketing, but make it mandatory that all kids get at least one hour of nature time per day during the school week. The fundamental connection between the outdoors and humans is foundational to our health and happiness. The more time kids spend in front of screens, on social media and on their phones, the less time they have to connect with nature, themselves and others. Spending time outdoors, particularly deep in nature, is known to reduce stress and anxiety while creating a sense of connection with the world, themselves, and others. It can help create empathy and understanding of people and our environment at deep levels, which could help remedy the problem we find ourselves in with people just shouting and talking over one another, all stressed out and anxious with a zero sum mindset.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m not sure who said it, but I always liked, “Great things never come from comfort zones.” Hopefully my story above speaks to how this is relevant to me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.