Communicate often. In the past, I have assumed that our customers understand our new ideas and the efforts our team makes to help them succeed. What I’ve learned is that this is the exception instead of the rule. Most customers are so focused on their own challenges that they aren’t fully aware of everything your company is doing on their behalf. That’s why you need to communicate that information often.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Arledge Powell, president of MediaSource, an award-winning, story-centric communications agency that specializes in helping brands find and create stories that drive their business forward. Lisa began her communications career as a television news reporter and anchor and now applies that experience to storytelling for brands. Known as an industry thought leader, Lisa trains other communicators on best practices for how to use storytelling to meet business goals.
Thank you so much for joining us! 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?
Ever since I was young, I dreamed of being a television journalist. After college, I packed my bags and moved across the country for my first TV news job and worked in television for about eight years. Since I’ve always been a leader and I have a passion for storytelling, it wasn’t long after working in television that I started my communications agency, MediaSource. Having my own company built on storytelling is a good fit for me because it addresses my passion for creativity and leadership.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
After my career in TV news, I was working as a freelance video producer on a project for the national retail brand Lane Bryant. I produced a video with the goal of getting TV journalists to show it in their newscasts. Lane Bryant hired a New York firm to garner the media coverage for the video I produced. When the project was complete, I reviewed the results and instantly knew that I could do better. Next, I found out everything I could about using video storytelling for public relations, which became the impetus for starting MediaSource. Now, 22 years later, MediaSource is an industry leader in storytelling that helps brands garner exposure and drive business results.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I first started MediaSource, I didn’t quite understand work-life balance like I do now. During our first year in business, when my son was a baby, I actually put a crib in the company’s first office thinking I could somehow get work done. Looking back after 22 years, it seems crazy to think that starting a company with an infant was a good idea, let alone working with him in the office! Eventually, I figured out how to work during his naps and navigate the right balance, but in the beginning there was a lot of speed work being done in my few quiet moments.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
From the beginning, my goal was to start a business that was built to tell stories and share information that was important and valued. I wanted to be in the business of getting people information that they need to know. More than 20 years later, the technology and methods have changed, but we’re still operating with the same purpose in mind: using our storytelling skills to share credible, important information.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
I demonstrate my company’s values by living them. I believe that showcasing values through your actions can have as much impact as your words. Being authentic and open, saying what I mean and owning what I know and don’t know is part of who I am every day. I hope my actions show my team that they don’t have to be anything other than themselves to succeed at MediaSource. In a world full of misleading headlines and filtered images, I feel that our customers find this authentic approach reassuring.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
A rule I’ve followed while leading a company in the service industry is to use a combination of facts and feelings to make decisions. Business owners need data to understand historical trends and forecast the future. However, if leaders don’t don’t listen to their gut feelings, they’re leaving out an important tool in company operations. Many times my gut feeling has saved me from making a bad business decision, despite what the data said.
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’ve thought often about the recession in 2007–2008, which was another difficult time for me as a business leader. When I look back at that financial crisis for our country and challenging time for my business, I see now that we made key decisions that helped us evolve into a better version of ourselves. While we are still in the midst of this pandemic, I can see the silver lining slowly starting to emerge. The company has acted quickly and made necessary changes and I see this paying off for the business and our clients.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
It’s interesting to look back and see that lessons I learned in the past help me make the right decisions in the present. The biggest takeaway from running a business for 22 years is that it’s about the people — because without the people, a service business does not exist. From the beginning, we have made it a top priority to take care of our internal team and our customers, which continues to serve us well as we try to navigate a pandemic together.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Service businesses win with people
A service business doesn’t sell widgets or products, they sell expertise brought to life through their people. Your team is your most precious resource so make sure all decisions are made with people in mind.
2. Know your customers and their goals
The world is changing at lightning speed, which means your customers’ goals are changing quickly too. Smart service businesses are constantly aware of their customers’ challenges and goals and work to pivot without delay.
3. Always innovate
Innovation is the key to surviving in a service business. You need to stay on top of your industry and on the leading edge of overall business trends. If you stay the same, you will lose your advantage.
4. Communicate often
In the past, I have assumed that our customers understand our new ideas and the efforts our team makes to help them succeed. What I’ve learned is that this is the exception instead of the rule. Most customers are so focused on their own challenges that they aren’t fully aware of everything your company is doing on their behalf. That’s why you need to communicate that information often.
5. It’s okay to say no
Like most entrepreneurs, it feels painful to turn down business. But if you can’t meet a prospect’s goals or the work isn’t right for your team, you have to be honest about it from the beginning. Saying no can help you succeed in the long run.
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’m proud to say that MediaSource still works with our very first client, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. At the time OSU started working with MediaSource, the Chief Communications Officer was Sue Jablonski. Before starting my company, I had been working with Sue as a freelance video producer for the institution. Once I realized that I could create for her a combination video and public relations product that could solve some of her organization’s business challenges, she took a chance on me and offered the hospital as our very first client. I still remember Sue saying to me in a half-joking manner, “OK, let’s do this, but don’t make me look bad!” Twenty-two years later, I’m thrilled to continue as a partner for the health system, thanks to Sue’s belief in my talents many years ago.
You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂
If I could start a movement it would be bringing the Masked Singer approach to the businesses world. I feel that there is inequality in the business world where the best and most qualified company doesn’t always win the business. Many times, companies of a certain size or location or those with a celebrity CEO get the meeting or win the business over a more qualified firm. MediaSource has encountered this in the past because we weren’t based in New York and once because we weren’t expensive enough, even though our experience and results were better than the larger competitors. My idea is that if companies could be evaluated using the Masked Singer approach, with the company’s identity hidden, the small and successful companies like MediaSource would be on an equal playing field with their larger counterparts. Plus, this philosophy is not a stretch because running a business can sometimes feel as dramatic as a reality show!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I would love it if you followed me on our company website, www.MediaSourceTV.com, and via twitter at: @LisaArledge.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!