The “Bigbuzz” About Creating Sustainability In New York City

An Interview With CEO Kevin Kelly

Can you tell us about your journey to becoming CEO?

Becoming a CEO has been an incredible journey and has given me the opportunity to work with leading companies — and most importantly, delivering creative solutions and successful results for some of the world’s most important brands. As a graduate of Berklee College of Music, I started out as a record producer and drummer in a touring rock band and got to work with Madonna and Phil Collins. My company, Bigbuzz started as America Online and CompuServe ruled the online world. We started building websites for the bands we were working with, but other groups asked us to build their sites as well. This lead to building apps and e-commerce websites and winning awards for web design. Bigbuzz Marketing Group grew into a full-service digital advertising agency with clients like Honeywell, Garanimals and AB InBev and today has over 20 years of experience helping brands with successful campaigns.

What is your definition of success?

Business success means helping your clients reach their business goals. Personal success means having control over your time, your life and what projects you take on. As a startup there were thrills and long hours powered by passion, where we believed in the results before we achieved success. Success is a balance of hard work, family time, me time and having a general peace of mind. I always said, I want to be a philanthropist when I grow up; with the philanthropic efforts of our company and team, this has already come true. For this I feel successful, but there is always more to contribute.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

This year when we gave our talk “Chatbots and Pixiedust: Extraordinary Service Sells,” at South By Southwest, I opened the panel by saying “I believe that any good relationship starts from a place of giving so we’re here to give to you today.” Right before we ended, I said “I think we’ve given you a lot here so I am going to ask for one thing in return. When I wrap things up I want everyone to jump up and give us a standing ovation,” and they did. Afterward, a line of people were there to speak to us. Always start from a place of giving and never be shy to ask for what you want.

What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?

The path to innovation is paved with the mistakes of you and your peers. The real way to learn something new is to make a choice — whether it leads to success or failure is beside the point, the idea is to decide. We believe in making choices, learning fast and “failing faster”. Mistakes map a path to greatness. The most stifling deterrent of growth is the failure to choose, the failure to make a move. Making choices quickly may raise the level of mistakes made, but if you measure, optimize and correct, failing fast is the only way to truly brilliant creative innovation.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There is a world-changing digital marketing revolution happening right now. We believe that most agencies today have not progressed into the digital age, putting their clients at a severe disadvantage. Digital Marketing is powerful and can be targeted and optimized and not only work better for the clients, but make for a much more relevant and engaging experience for the customer. Transparency and symbiotic relationships between consumer and advertiser is the only way forward.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

Chatbots and artificial intelligence are the next frontier of the digital revolution. Bigbuzz Marketing Group is currently working with Honeywell to develop a Chatbot that will employ A.I. and natural language processing to help people learn about Honeywell’s new smart home security products and smart thermostats. Other exciting projects include revamping the mobile app UX for a major New York City parking garage enabling virtual valet features, and helping major brands harness the power of digital advertising and marketing for rapid growth.

Can you tell us about the initiatives that your company is doing to become be more sustainable? Can you give an example for each?

Sustainability is a key consideration for a bright future, both in New York City where we operate and around the world. We’ve gone completely paper-free, adopted a completely smart-home enabled system all throughout the office with intelligent lighting and thermostat. I drive a solar-powered electric car.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Helping employees thrive means first being the best leader you can be. Lead by example, having good habits and putting clients first. The two things we believe make great client values also make great employee values: Trust and Respect. These two things make for lasting rewarding relationships. Here are my top tips to building a trusting respectful place for employees to thrive:

  • Being Truthful and Transparent: Be truthful and let your team know that the truth is always your default. I contend that any difficult decision becomes infinitely easier if you start with the truth. Own the situation, be truthful and it’s always a better outcome. Yes, there is truth in advertising.
  • Flexibility: Flexibility is one of the most valued qualities in today’s workplace when considering a healthy work-life balance. Most employees will stay late if it means supporting the team and having a clear goal. At the same time if they have a personal event during business hours, the ability to get out early or take a work-from-home day creates a bond that can last a lifetime.
  • Inclusive: One of the top 5 reasons people leave an organization is that they don’t know what’s going on in their organization. Conduct monthly or at least quarterly town halls of sorts, or weekly “stand-up” meetings, as we call them, and tell people what’s going on and ask them what is happening in their world.
  • Recognition: Another easy way to grow and show respect is to recognize the work of others, with everything from a simple thank you to a funny gift that gets presented in front of the whole department. People value recognition and it’s the right thing to do when creating a healthy team culture.
  • Accessible: Make sure your leadership is available to their team and your culture is one of accessibility where anyone on the team can approach anyone else on the team with an idea or comment, knowing that it is a safe place and no one should ever have any fear of reprimand of retribution for speaking up. A fearless culture is a culture where great ideas are free to flow from all team members, whether it’s the junior staffers or the CEO.
  • Clarity: Be clear on your organization’s values, and the expected behaviors that deliver on these values. At Bigbuzz Marketing Group, we have a culture design program that helps the organization develop clear purpose, values and behaviors that make for an exceptional place to work and an extraordinary experience for the people you serve.

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?

I am especially grateful to my parents, where were loving and supportive when I was growing up. My high school music teacher helped nurture my love and talent for music, even though he was strict and had very high standards (and pre-concert meditation sessions for our high school band. This was 1984). I am grateful to my wife for being loyal and loving since we met in the music industry in the 1980s; and my three kids, who each have a fresh, unique perspective and inspire me every day. Music icons like Paul McCartney and John Bonham helped me realize what greatness and talent looked like, with their distinctive song writing and amazing drum grooves, it made me excited by the possibilities of music and art in general. My colleagues at Bigbuzz Marketing Group are a team of talented, experienced and passionate individuals who always have an idea or solution for the toughest advertising or marketing problem.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

At Bigbuzz Marketing Group, we have an initiative called BuzzLove where we do our best to give back and do it often. We believe in donating time and financial support to charitable organizations, including the Chris Long Foundation; the Jack Martin Fund; Jewish community centers; and the American Cancer Society. I have boxed in the Fight For Charity event, and rappelled down a 13-story building for Special Olympics. We give until it hurts at Bigbuzz.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • The harder the process, the bigger the reward: Some processes and projects are hard, take a lot of time and require a lot of focus and energy. Because these efforts take you into new creative territory, there is the potential for the greatest reward.
  • Hire slow, fire fast: Take your time getting to know prospective employees — have coffee, lunch, several interviews — to get to know them before making an offer. When an employee exhibits destructive behavior or bad judgement, remove them immediately.
  • Culture really does matter: Whether you know it or not, your company has a culture. Take control of the culture and shape it so you can get the best results of out of your employees.
  • The DWS process: Decide, Work, Show Up (DWS). This simple, powerful process helped me train for my first Ironman and can be used to achieving any goal. Decide what you want, do the work and show up with your A-game prepared to compete.
  • You don’t have to compromise: Sometimes it’s better to go without than to accept something sub-par. Have a vision of what you want and keep it front and center. Never settle for less than you want and deserve.

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?

It would be an honor to inspire a movement, especially around the world becoming more peaceful and joyful. The eradication of hate and development of true unity through education and empathy. I’m troubled most today by the vast humanitarian imbalance of quality of life and the divide in between people’s supposed belief systems. Giving back to the community and contributing to the betterment of humanity are among our Core Values at Bigbuzz.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is “Here’s to the crazy ones”, written by Steve Jobs. This quote helps us remember that the ones who think differently and aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo are the ones who change everything and are remembered for their accomplishments. At Bigbuzz Marketing Group, we’re always looking for ways to innovate and solve problems on behalf of our clients.

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