It comes down to hiring the very best and brightest, particularly self-starters. Give them everything they need to thrive, stay close and supportive until they have proven their value and earned trust, then delegate and get out of their way!
I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha DiGennaro, founder of DiGennaro Communications. Many CEOs have Sam on speed dial and vice versa. A trusted confidante to some of media and marketing’s most successful executives, Sam’s top-to-top strategic counsel and crisis management expertise are considered invaluable. Since founding DGC in 2006, her energy, creativity and vision have driven the PR agency’s culture and have set the tone for deep and longstanding client, press, industry and influencer relationships. Sam honed her strategic communications skills at such global companies as DMB&B and J. Walter Thompson, where she built and oversaw the New York, North American and global communications teams from 1998–2005. She has crafted media relations, thought leadership, and industry marketing programs for such leading companies as David & Goliath, Digitas, Facebook, Microsoft, and Refinery29. Sam holds degrees from the University of Chicago and has studied etching at The School of Visual Arts. An alumna of Brooklyn’s Poly Prep Country Day School, she has served on the school’s board, as well as the boards of the Art Directors Club and The Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). An avid adventure traveler, theater lover, art enthusiast, and softball player, Sam loves mentoring underprivileged children and young executives in her spare time.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After more than 15 years in corporate communications at a couple of top agencies, I had fallen in love with the ad business but, as with so many other women in this industry, had become quite frustrated by its heavily ingrained boys’ club culture. Far too few women were afforded opportunities for advancement, which is why I wanted to start a firm whose mission was not only to serve the industry and our clients with best-in-class communications and strategic support but also to attract and retain top-tier talent, with a particular focus on women. DiGennaro Communications was launched in 2006 with two employees and has since grown to a staff of 40 of the industry’s best communications talent and former journalists. We are not only owned by a woman but our team is made up mostly of women, I am proud to say.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There are so many memorable moments — from working with the most brilliant minds in one of the most dynamic and creative industries ever to trekking to see-and-be-seen spots like the annual Cannes Lions Festival, SXSWi and the Consumer Electronics Show. Naturally, launching a small business, nurturing and overseeing its steady climb over the years has been a one-of-a-kind experience — one that only those of us who are part of a tiny swath of entrepreneurs in this industry, and notably women entrepreneurs, can appreciate. And then there are the clients, who continue to depend on us, challenge us and thrill us every day at DGC — we’ve worked with so many great clients, from Live Nation to Spotify to Instagram to Ringling Bros!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I hired way too many friends & family members in the early days of DGC… funny mistake is an understatement! I’ve learned to keep my friends as friends, my family as family and my business very separate from both.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes DGC so special is really the people. Forgive the shameless plug, but we have methodically assembled a team of the very best and brightest in the industry. It becomes clearer to me with every passing year — and we’re now in our 14th — that strategic thinkers with likeminded values are the secret sauce behind any company’s success.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
While we are extremely proud to serve the marketing and media industries, with advertising in our history and heritage, we are also focused at the moment on expanding into a range of verticals, from tech and entertainment to some of the world’s leading consumer brands. Our team has proven time and time again that we can rise to the opportunity presented to us by any client, no matter the industry in which they operate.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Never forget that your business can only be as successful as the team you have beside you. Hire slow; fire fast and assemble the best team — all members, from your executive leadership to entry-level associates to the office admin. Establish values of dignity and kindness and always, always treat people the way you would want to be treated.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Again, it comes down to hiring the very best and brightest, particularly self-starters. Give them everything they need to thrive, stay close and supportive until they have proven their value and earned trust, then delegate and get out of their way!
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 about that?
Mary Churchill, a brilliant mind and incredibly unique and fun “grand dame of Madison Avenue” is almost four decades my senior. She was initially my boss, and over time turned into a mentor and very close friend. When she shuttered her PR agency, I hired her as Senior Strategist at mine. It was wonderful watching our relationship evolve from her as my boss to me as hers.
Mary embodied a value that I observed and respected when I worked for her and have since integrated into my own management style today: Be direct. Mean what you say, say what you mean. If you can’t say it to someone’s face, you likely should not be saying it at all. And then let it go and move forward.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Philanthropy is a core value at DGC, something I was set on incorporating into my business since day one. Over the years, we’ve worked with a number of important causes, from soup kitchens to tutoring under-priviledged children to Hurricane Sandy relief. I truly believe the world would be a radically better place if each of us took a little time out of our busy lives to give back. From a leadership standpoint, it also makes for an amazing team-building opportunity.
There’s so much to learn from and about colleagues when we get out of the office together in a purposeful way. Every holiday season, we put our favorite causes front and center — this past year donating a significant amount of money to a children’s charity giving all our clients and friends celebrity-designed spatulas in support of No Kid Hungry.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Dream Big: First, never give up on your goals and dreams. Always stay focused on the objective at hand.
Set Boundaries: Don’t be afraid to set boundaries when demands on your time and resources become too much.
Drive Culture: Recognize the importance of building a strong culture, based upon values and fun so that employees enjoy coming to work and realize they can play just as hard as they work.
Embrace Values: Treat all your clients and employees with dignity, respect, kindness and gratitude.
Trust Your Gut: The gut never lies. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Leading with the heart is okay as long as you’re surrounded by strong operational thinkers.
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. :-)?
There are so many causes that are near and dear to my heart, but I have to say, being a female entrepreneur who has fought for more and better opportunities for myself and other women, I have been blown away by so many global cultural movements (and moments) and so many ad campaigns centered around improving the lives of women and girls — from the Malala Fund and Girls Who Code to the award-winning “Fearless Girl” and most recently the US Women’s National Team winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup title. More than anything else, I would want to do whatever I could to continue those successes for women and girls the world over. Let us not forget, we are the majority — and we’re #badass.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” –Henry David Thoreau (I think that one’s self-explanatory!)
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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 if we tag them 🙂
Well, let’s just say that my all-time dream client is Disney. So Bob Iger (or even Michael Eisner!), if you’re reading this… !!!
Thank you for all of these great insights!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.