Create a business plan and company structure. I’m sure someone told me this, but I was too busy starting my company to listen. Setting up the structure and processes/procedures while you’re still small enough to pivot is a great way to get started. It is harder to implement these things once your company grows to a certain level.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Pamela Zapata, CEO and Founder of Society 18, a bicoastal influencer management and consulting agency with a focus on multicultural and multiethnic content creators and digital strategy. Zapata is a New York-based talent and marketing executive with over 10 years of experience in influencer strategy, talent relations, casting, and production. She has overseen campaigns for brands such as Estee Lauder, Bobbi Brown, MAC, La Mer, Suave, Dove, Love Beauty Planet, Axe, and Popsicle. Prior to that, she cultivated relationships and troubleshot talent issues as liaison between network on-air talent, representation, and internal businesses for E! Entertainment, Ryan Seacrest Productions, Style Haul, and Sweety High.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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?
Sure! My name is Pam, and I am a NYC-based talent manager and marketing executive with a unique range of experience. In 2019 I founded Society 18, a bicoastal influencer management and consulting agency with a focus on multicultural and multiethnic content creators and digital strategy. Prior to starting my business in 2019, I garnered over 10 years of experience working in influencer strategy, integrated marketing, talent relations, casting, and production for some of the biggest networks, brands and agencies in the industry.
I began my career in Los Angeles where I worked for companies such as E! Entertainment, Ryan Seacrest Productions, Style Haul, and Sweety High. During that time, I cultivated valuable relationships by successfully and strategically utilizing influencers and talent for digital and on-air programming, brand sponsorships and events that supported business initiatives, drove ratings, and increased revenue.
After relocating to NYC, I became the Director of Influencer Marketing at United Entertainment Group, where I led influencer partnerships, strategy, procurement, negotiations and campaign reporting for various personal care brands within the Unilever portfolio including Suave, Dove, Love Beauty Planet, Axe and Popsicle. I eventually moved on to my role as Senior Director of Influencer Marketing at Starpower, where I oversaw multiple campaign and influencer casting initiatives for key beauty brands including Estee Lauder, Bobbie Brown, MAC, BECCA and La Mer. Within this role I had a range of responsibilities including campaign ideation through concept execution, while also overseeing strategy, client management and talent relations.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
My “Aha Moment” happened during those ten years in the trenches. I saw a gap in the industry when it came to diversity. Not only were POC not always represented in campaigns, but I found that many diverse creators did not understand their value when comparing what their counterparts were receiving for branded projects. That gap is what fueled me to take the leap and start my own company! There was a need to address the issue which pushed me to work directly with multicultural and multiethnic content creators to help them understand their value while also helping advise brands and agencies on the importance of strategically including diverse influencers into their brand campaigns.
Today, I leverage my unique strategic insight to maximize sponsorships and optimize campaign performance to benefit both my clients and the brands they work with. My team and I skillfully guide our clients through the complexities involved with brand partnerships, while also focusing on personal brand building, channel growth optimization, and new business. We now represent 20+ creators such as Robyn Dixon (Real Housewives of Potomac), Lisa Ramos (Guy Code), Jessica Lewis, and Aysha Sow. And many of our talent roster have worked with brands such as Marc Jacobs, Macy’s, Calvin Klein, Google, Dove and Unilever.
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?
Starting any business can bring a sense of isolation, which can distract you from your bigger purpose and have you wondering whether you made the right decision. When I first ventured out on my own, I was constantly battling with myself on whether I was going to be capable of supporting myself and finding success with this idea, which led to many moments of self-doubt. However, in the back of my mind I always knew that this was my true purpose, and all the hard work would pay off, which it has. Knowing I’m a part of something that is for the greater good continues to push my drive and make all the long nights worth it.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Society 18 has seen immense growth within the past year, even with the pandemic taking over all aspects of our lives. I’ve been able to double our staff, and our roster has grown tremendously within the past 6 months. I credit this mostly to my ability to keep going even through the days in which I wanted to give up. Knowing I’ve been able to weather all the bad storms in 2020 and still bring on additional team members, clients and campaigns is further proof that the universe rewards you in many ways when you take courageous steps.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Not only is our roster diverse, but each of our employees have strong backgrounds from various vantage points which can help us when pitching, creating strategies and developing potential partnerships. There’s also the fact that 98% of our roster has been referral based. This is due to the importance we place on getting to know our clients on a personal level, not just professional. As an agency, it’s important to know what each of their likes/dislikes are, what their passions are and how to make our partnership as effective as possible. Checking-in and having that open line of communication is crucial to ensuring a transparent and trustworthy relationship.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Passion. When you’re tired and have been working 80+ hours a week, being passionate about your work and the effect it has on people will keep you going.
Relationships. Make sure to foster great relationships in your industry and never burn bridges — You never know what side of the deal you’ll be on and who you might need one day.
Be a good person and do good work. These are words I live by and have been the reason why I’ve been successful throughout my entire career.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Surround yourself with people you truly trust. There will be days when a vacation is needed, so knowing you have a team you can rely on to steer the ship while you take a moment to yourself will help. Make sure to also take a step back whenever you feel yourself feeling overwhelmed. Regroup, reset and relax. It’s digital media, we’re not saving lives.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Growing a business and team too quickly, prior to putting structure in place can be extremely detrimental. We’ve been lucky enough to have seen a lot of growth, however we’ve recently paused on accepting new clients so that we can really focus on processes and procedures, team building and company structure. I think many organizations that grow fast and don’t focus on the bones, have employees that are overworked and burn out quickly, which leads to high turnover.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
As a founder and CEO of a company, wearing 100 different hats is probably one of the most challenging and underestimated aspects of running a business. One must know a little bit of everything — Legal, finance, marketing, operations, HR etc. It’s something that can be extremely defeating, especially when you don’t have all the answers and need to dive into your network and find resources that can properly support you.
Here is the main question of our interview — What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Hire a business coach. Having someone who really understands business structure, scaling, etc. that can support you when you are making critical decisions that will affect your business is crucial. Unless you have entrepreneurs and business owners in your network who have been in your shoes, it is hard to really get the support you need through your friends and family. Although they can provide encouragement, they won’t understand the gravity of some the decisions you are making.
- Create a business plan and company structure. I’m sure someone told me this, but I was too busy starting my company to listen. Setting up the structure and processes/procedures while you’re still small enough to pivot is a great way to get started. It is harder to implement these things once your company grows to a certain level.
- Find a good accountant…
- And a strong legal team. This can be incredibly challenging however they are two of the most important parts of running your business that should be prioritized.
- Give yourself a schedule and work hours. It’s easy to work around the clock as a business owner and it’s hard to shut off sometimes, but this will help you stay focused and balanced without burning out.
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.
Starting a business is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. However, it has also been the most liberating. If I could be a resource to other men and women who want to make a living from pursuing their passions and their purpose, I’d love that — Nothing else would give me greater joy.
How can our readers further follow you online?
You can follow Society 18 at @societyeighteen and my personal page at @pamelazapata
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!