In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa DiGianfilippo and Alexis Krisay.
In 2008 Alexis Krisay and Melissa DiGianfilippo opened Serendipit Consulting, a full-service marketing and PR agency. America was in the midst of The Great Recession. Sure, it seemed like a crazy time to launch a new business, but they had both worked for large marketing and PR agencies in the past and instinctively knew that there was a way to make clients and employees happier. Both women shared a clear, persistent vision on how to do the agency thing different and how to do it better… so, that’s exactly what they did. Operating on Serendipit’s core values, Melissa and Alexis did it differently and they got results which kept the word spreading and the referrals pouring in. Their hard work paid off and made Serendipit one of the leading marketing and PR agencies in the Valley.
Today, Serendipit works with a variety of well-known local and national brands. Serendipit stands out from other agencies because there is no cookie-cutter approach to anything that they do for clients. The marketing mavens now oversee a team of over 25 employees and recently purchased their own 7,000 square foot office building in Phoenix to house the growing firm.
Known for her out-of-the-box thinking and contributions of fresh ideas, Alexis, president of marketing, has helped dozens of clients in the residential and commercial real estate, lifestyle, spa and wellness, and health and fitness industries effectively identify market opportunities and pair them with strategic and impactful, results-driven marketing solutions. Melissa, president of PR, has helped clients achieve millions of dollars in positive press coverage across international, national and local media outlets. Both Krisay and DiGianfilippo are also active members of Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) Arizona Chapter, and in a stroke of serendipity, the firm was named the 2019 Agency of the Year by the Phoenix PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) chapter.
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’?
In2008, the stock market crashed and suddenly, America was in the midst of The Great Recession. Sure, it was a crazy time to launch a new business, but we shared a vision on how to do the agency thing different. Better. We had both worked for large agencies in the past, so we knew instinctively that there was a way to make clients and employees happier.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I (Melissa) worked for some pretty horrible managers and bosses. One company that I worked for, right before I started Serendipit, was a start-up led by a guy who cultivated a culture unlike anything I had ever imagined. Employees were expected to be there around 7 am and stay until 10 pm some nights, and as the PR director, I was expected to come and work to pitch media on east coast time (sometimes 5 am) and still stay until all hours of the night. He would yell at employees on the daily. He fired my entire department without even consulting me, and that is just the start. Employees hated working there, despite a red bull stocked fridge and a ping pong table in the office. This made me realize that when we built Serendipit, we needed to build a company that had a culture that was authentic to who we were, we had to make it a company that we would want to work for if we didn’t own it. Today, our culture reflects this clearly.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Serendipit stands out from other agencies because we never take a cookie-cutter approach to clients or their work. Of course, we’ve developed basic efficiencies and processes, but our mission is to view every client with a fresh perspective and bring only the best new ideas to the table.
Simply put: we do not accept mediocrity. We exceed our client’s expectations when it comes to results by pushing the limit with big ideas.
Earlier this year, we brought a big idea to the table for our client Robbins Brothers, The Engagement Ring Experts that earned them over $1 million in media coverage in just a few weeks. Serendipit wanted to come up with a unique stunt that could drive really high-quality media attention and brand awareness across the country. Thus, the Proposal Ambassador campaign was born. The campaign included a search to hire one lucky couple to travel the U.S. over six months to scout the perfect proposal spots in the country. The idea: publicize the dream job that you didn’t have to quit your day job for. The position offered applicants the opportunity of a lifetime to travel, all expenses paid, to find the best proposal spots in the country. The winning couple was given 48 hours in each city to find and document the most romantic locations to pop the question. The couple was also given a budget for travel, accommodations, meals, and activities in each city, so they could discover unique experiences that could be either extravagant or budget-friendly to cultivate a list of the best spots for all types of couples.
In the first week of launching the campaign (Jan. 23 — Jan. 31), we garnered 119 online hits, including feature stories in Forbes, CNBC, Travel & Leisure, O, The Oprah Magazine, Brides, The Knot, Elite Daily and more. We also had five broadcast hits, including FOX 5 San Diego, FOX 10 Phoenix, Good Morning Arizona, NBC 8 Florida and KLIF-AM Dallas. Robbins Brothers also saw a 297% increase in referral traffic and a 19% increase in direct traffic to the website. As a result of launching this campaign, we achieved nearly 200 media placements with a media value of more than $1 million.
Additionally, we frequently get hired by companies who have had a horrible experience with another PR and marketing firm, and it automatically puts our clients on the defense. We are fortunate that in this situation, we have always proved to those clients who have a bad taste in their mouth about our industry that it is possible to have a stellar experience. It’s not fun to sell against those negative perceptions, but it feels great to provide a great experience for our clients.
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 (Alexis) credit our husbands with having the confidence in us to build the company we have created. When we decided to start Serendipit in 2008, Melissa and I were both engaged to our now husbands. We both quit our well-paying jobs, giving up security and a steady paycheck to take a leap and start our own company. We didn’t know what would happen … would we get enough clients? Would we keep the clients? Would we be able to be profitable and pay our bills? Our then fiances both believed in us and told us that they would support us and have our backs so we could give it a go. She and I both knew we could do it, but having them believe it more than we did really gave us both the boost we needed.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
To me (Melissa), resilience is a willingness to get thrown off the horse multiple times…sometimes even trampled by the dang horse, but having the energy and willingness to jump back up on your feet, wipe off the mud and climb back on the horse to do it all again. Most serial entrepreneurs I meet have this resilience and it’s so energizing to be around them. I love when successful people don’t fake it and act like it was all a smooth ride, instead they talk about the many bumps and how low they got before things took a turn. The other thing they’ll tell you is that they are expecting it to get hard again — they know that as they keep pushing to do more and be better that they will mess up and have to start over again. That’s real life. Resilient people might make it look easy, but spend 10 minutes with them and allow them to be vulnerable and you’ll see that it was the hardest ride of their life but they were thrilled to be on it.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
One of the most authentic entrepreneurs in my life is a guy who is changing the way healthcare is done in the U.S — David Berg, Founder & President of Redirect Health. We’re in an entrepreneur’s forum with him, a small group of 10 of us that meets monthly as part of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and in our minds, he is the ultimate picture of resilience. He has failed so many times, practically gone broke multiple times, people have laughed in his face, insurance companies have threatened him, but he is so passionate that he gets back up and makes stuff happen that you can’t even imagine possible. In fact, if you read his company’s storyhe openly talks about all of the mistakes he made right there for the world (and his potential customers and investors) to read! That takes guts, and people love it. He is crushing it because of his resilience.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Honestly, we can’t think of one single time in our lives when someone told us something was impossible. Perhaps we’re fortunate for that, but just because they didn’t say those words doesn’t mean they didn’t think we were crazy.
I (Melissa) however do remember in 2008 when I was only 25 years old, telling my parents that I was going to start my own marketing and PR agency with a friend whom I really only met a year before — I know they both thought I was nuts. I was engaged to be married, I owned a house, I had a secure job in the middle of the biggest recession that even my parents had ever seen. Yet I was willing to throw it all away and see if I could work for myself. Thankfully, they didn’t say those words out loud. I’m not sure it would have changed anything though. I was made to do hard things!
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
As entrepreneurs, there are so many moments we have had where we can remember thinking that this is it, the world is ending…but those moments all turned out to be great turning points in the business and excellent learning lessons. I (Melissa) can point to one of our most recent major setbacks and what we learned from it. A few years ago, we decided we needed to hire a Director of Client Services — a very senior level position that would help Alexis and I get out of some of the day to day that was holding us back from growing the company. We wrote a detailed job description, conducted a series of detailed interviews via Zoom (as many candidates were out of state), and ended up with three candidates who we thought were solid. We brought them out individually for in-person meetings and to spend a day with our team. We were torn between two, but when we really dug into it, we weren’t THRILLED with either candidate. When we selected one and negotiated a salary higher than either of us ever imagined paying an employee, we feigned optimism, talking ourselves into the fact that we spent so much time in this interview process that this candidate must be great, he must be the most qualified and it was definitely a good decision.
Fast forward 6 months later, we realized we had made a horrible mistake. The candidate we had hired had sold us on many qualifications and abilities that he did not have or did not actually want to do. He crushed our company culture, and we lost a few really solid employees because of his leadership (or lack thereof). Even though we had inklings that he wasn’t the right fit after 90 days, we still waited it out a few months longer because we wanted it to work so bad after all the work we had put in. Our inability to take action fast when we knew he wasn’t a great fit cost us a lot of money, some great employees, and even a few clients. While it felt earth-shattering to go through, I”m so thankful that we went through it at that stage in our business because we now realize that chances are good we’ll make bad hires in the future, but we are committed to a new process that allows us to make quick decisions to remove them from the agency if they aren’t the right fit.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Nothing really comes to mind here — can we leave this question out?
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Don’t Let Your Emotions Get The Best Of You: Remember that emotions run high in the middle of major challenges. Take a deep breath and do your best to attack the task at hand without involving your emotions. When a key employee totally screwed us over early in the business, we were personally SO hurt and it was so easy to let emotions control responses and reaction. That is never helpful.
- Develop A Thirst For Learning: Keep growing your mind so you can fill it up with new tools and tricks to solve problems and get through the hard stuff. We often find ourselves listening to podcasts about how other entrepreneurs built their companies because we get to hear about all the hard stuff that almost made them stop. Listening to the things that they have gone through makes us feel stronger, even without attacking that problem myself.
- As The Girl Scouts Say: Be Prepared: When you aren’t prepared for the not so great stuff that will inevitably happen, it’s so easy to get thrown way off course into a paralyzed state that halts any effective forward momentum. Think about and prepare for the stuff that could go wrong, and don’t be afraid to plan for it in advance. We like to think about how we would disrupt our own business. It’s scary but empowering.
- Surround Yourself With Those Who Are Doing It: We all know that we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with, so if your top 5 aren’t people who are elevating you, challenging you and lifting you up, then chances are good you are being dragged down. Find a network of people who are doing the things you dream to do, and who are in the middle of it like you are. We are both members of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a global network of entrepreneurs with a local chapter in Arizona of 170 people. We are all founders or majority owners of successful businesses. I consider this group instrumental in the success of my company.
- Celebrate The Wins: Taking a minute to enjoy your success is critical to having the energy to make it through the tough stuff. Don’t forget to celebrate the wins — big and small. You deserve it! We have a gong in our office and a minibar with champagne to enjoy the wins and the ride.
You are people 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. 🙂
I (Melissa) am dying to find a way to bring positive change to how kids and teens feel about social media and social validation. It scares me that this next generation (my kids!) are growing up with social media as the norm and the fact that they place so much weight on who is liking their pictures on Instagram. Instead of enjoying what’s really happening around them, they are scrolling their phones. How can we change this? This movement needs to happen.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
This changes week to week but right now it’s Rachel Hollis. I just attended her first RISE Business conference and was really inspired by her energy. -Melissa
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn: Serendipit Consulting
LinkedIn: Melissa DiGianfilippo