You’re a great business person, but you’re not a superhero. I know tons of entrepreneurs who’ve had to put aside their egos and realize that the business they’ve built is bigger than they are. This is a good sign. It means you’re growing and adapting!
As part of my series about “How To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracy Call, founder and CEO of Media Bridge Advertising.
Known as “The Growth Agency,” Media Bridge is a media-buying, social and creative agency that specializes in growing entrepreneurial companies by delivering maximum bang for their media buck. After 10 years of helping companies go from regional to national players, position themselves for profitable sales and launch successful IPOs, Media Bridge itself has grown to become a top 10 agency in Minneapolis.
Tracy built a successful media-buying career on the sell side before starting Media Bridge. Her goal: to succeed by bringing a caring and results-oriented culture back to the media industry. Tracy has now built one of the most successful media and advertising agencies in Minnesota, billing well over 100 million dollars in media to date and growing over 100% year after year. Media Bridge has made Inc.’s 5000 Fastest-Growing Private companies lists five times since 2014, and it was honored as a “Best Places to Work” business in 2018 by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal. Tracy was named a Business Journal “Women in Business” award-winner in 2016. And several Media Bridge employees have been named to the Ad Fed “32 Under 32” list and the Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” list highlighting future industry leaders.
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?
Looking back to my childhood, I wasn’t destined to have a career in media. My adoptive parents were school teachers who discouraged watching TV, and I didn’t experience pop culture until high school. The big a-ha was when I met my biological mother at 16 and learned that I had relatives in entertainment, media, marketing and the arts — all things I was interested in. That’s when it all made sense!
I kept my interest in marketing, advertising and media even as I competed as a professional athlete in bobsledding and rugby. I didn’t think I would start my own agency, but after selling advertising for years and seeing how it worked, I knew it could be done better. I went from selling media, to having a business partner and moving to the buy side, to starting my own business in 2010.
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 never considered giving up, but I often share what I call “The Mattress Story.” One day soon after starting Media Bridge, I bought my young son the cheapest mattress and box spring I could find (I had about a hundred bucks in the bank at the time). I couldn’t even get the mattress in the door because it was so hard and heavy. It was such a depressing moment, and I remember thinking, “I need to figure this whole business thing out in a hurry.” It was a tangible reminder of everything that was at stake. It was going to be a heavy lift. I knew there would be tons of challenges, including being taken seriously as a woman in media when so many deals happened in rooms filled with men. But I’ve always been a competitive athlete, so I have a deep well of drive and perseverance to draw from. When you’ve sat in a bobsled going 80 mph toward an icy bend, you feel like you can deal with pretty much anything. : )
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I previously shared a story where I apparently thought I could do graphic design. I created a direct mail piece for an apple orchard client that looks like something a 5-year-old would draw. That taught me the importance of hiring people, even though entrepreneurs are often convinced that they can do everything themselves (more on that later). There’s also that night when a client wanted to meet me at a bar, and the venue turned out to have more than alcohol on display. The lesson there: Always know where you’re going before you open the door. That’s the naked truth. : )
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The #1 thing that makes Media Bridge stand out is that we care, period. When you truly care, you build up an invisible equity that can change people’s lives. The best example was last Christmas. We decided to sponsor a family for a program called Best Christmas Ever. The family had racked up huge medical bills treating their new baby girl’s multiple conditions. We all pitched in. We bought and wrapped dozens of gifts. And we promoted the fundraising effort to our clients. Long story short, we were all in tears as we delivered a check for over 20,000 dollars to the family right before Christmas. Because we care so much about our clients and treat them like family, our clients responded to our efforts and donated thousands of dollars to a family they didn’t even know. Our total broke the Best Christmas Ever record. Now THAT’S powerful.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
My best recommendation is to start running your company on the Entrepreneurial Operating System. EOS has a tool called Delegate & Elevate that’s the single-best anti-burnout system ever created. On the surface, it’s pretty simple. Every employee fills out a graph with four quadrants: Love/Great, Like/Good, Don’t Like/Good, Don’t Like/Bad. You list all the tasks you do as part of your job, then you categorize them in those quadrants — everything from “I love doing x, and I’m great at it,” to “I hate doing y, and I’m bad at it.”
Here’s the critical part: Most people think that the goal is to move everyone into the “Love/Great” quadrant and keep them there. But that’s actually where the burnout happens. You want people doing what they love and are great at, but once they’re there, you also need to start training other people for those same tasks. Because even when you love something, doing it non-stop every day leads to burnout.
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?
Since we’re on the topic of delegating, I have to talk about Dan Moshe, our EOS Implementer. When we started running EOS, I tried to self-implement, and it was a disaster. I realized that if I was serious about the investment, I needed to delegate implementation to a pro.
EOS has dozens of tools, but Dan recognized right away that Delegate & Elevate would help us big-time. He’s been instrumental in helping me really understand how to use that tool effectively and consistently, and his commitment to the process is exactly what I need. I’m not a process person. I don’t love the idea of filling out a worksheet and tracking something over time, but it really does work. In theory, EOS is about putting simple, common-sense things into action to drive personal and professional growth. But the key is actually doing it, and Dan has been invaluable in getting us to follow through. Thanks to him and Delegate & Elevate, our people have moved around within the company, found their sweet spots and avoided burnout.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Delegating effectively is a challenge for many leaders. Let’s put first things first. Can you help articulate to our readers a few reasons why delegating is such an important skill for a leader or a business owner to develop?
I could write a book on this topic! What happens with many business leaders — especially in the entrepreneurial world that I know well — is that the same trait that makes them successful eventually becomes a liability and a challenge: the drive to do everything yourself. Entrepreneurs have an idea that they’re passionate about, and they want to build a business that changes the world, or at least their industry. They have a vision, and they want to implement it.
That becomes a problem when they grow to a point where they can no longer do everything themselves. The recurring thought I’ve always fought in my own head is, “I could have someone else do this, but it’ll be quicker if I just do it myself.” That’s the kiss of death. The more you grow, the more humility you need. There’s always someone who can do a task — the marketing, finances, logistics, hiring and firing — better than you can. The entrepreneurs that get over that hump are the ones who ultimately succeed.
Can you help articulate a few of the reasons why delegating is such a challenge for so many people?
It’s about control. Simple as that. It’s hard to surrender control. It’s easier in the short run to do everything yourself and maintain that feeling of control. But ultimately, it’s a losing game. It’s easier to delegate things that you don’t like or aren’t good at, but business leaders also need to delegate things that they ARE good at, and that’s a lot harder.
I know an interior designer who can walk into a room and immediately see what it can be in the most imaginative ways. She designed our offices, and now she’s doing my home. I’m that way with media buying. That’s the world I come from, and I’m good at it. I can literally see the buy. I know what’s going to work, and I can get it done quickly. But as my company grew, I realized that I had to let media buying go. It was incredibly hard, but I’ll never go back. I have people in place who are incredibly good at it, and I’m totally confident that they’ll do it right.
In your opinion, what pivots need to be made, either in perspective or in work habits, to help alleviate some of the challenges you mentioned?
First, you need to put your ego and all your insecurities aside. Some leaders feel weak when they delegate, like it’s a form of surrender. Others feel guilty, like they’re asking people to do things forthem personally instead of for the company or the client. Some leaders worry about being seen as lazy or uncaring. They worry that telling someone to do something that they used to do makes them look “better” than the person they’re delegating to. You need to let all those feelings go.
The other pivot is looking long-term instead of short-term. Upfront, delegating will definitely take more of your time. You need to figure out who can do the task. You might need to hire for the task. And you’ll need to take to time to teach, train and develop that person. This is the hardest part for some leaders. You tell them, “You know that thing that’s burning you out? You have to spend even MORE time on it.”
Especially in Entrepreneur World, that sounds like a lot of time and resources. But in the end, it will pay for itself a hundred times over. As you grow, you’ll be so happy that those pieces are in place — and that you have a system like EOS to keep them in place.
Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.
- You’re a great business person, but you’re not a superhero. I know tons of entrepreneurs who’ve had to put aside their egos and realize that the business they’ve built is bigger than they are. This is a good sign. It means you’re growing and adapting!
- Delegating is going to take more time in the short term, but it’ll save you tons of it in the long run. I got burned out on media buying, so I made myself delegate it. It took a long time to find the right person to lead it. For a short time, I had to make myself work even MORE on the thing that was burning me out. But in the long term, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
- Don’t just “delegate,” coach. Some people think delegating means saying, “I need you to do this” and then walking away. You’re not truly delegating until the person doing that task really knows how to do it. And that’s up to you.
- It’s not enough to get yourself and your team doing what they love and are good at. That’s just the first step. The next phase of burnout comes when people are doing too much of the thing they ARE good at. I mean, as much as you might love pizza, you don’t want to eat for every meal. Popcorn, on the other hand …
- The Delegate & Elevate tool in the Entrepreneurial Operating System is the single-best way to build delegation into your culture and operations. Seriously, it’s a life-saver. It’s a process specifically designed to make delegating work as effectively as possible in an organization.
One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft-quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?
Entrepreneurs are the kings and queens of thinking, “It’ll be faster and easier if I just do it myself.” I was one of those queens until I realized that one of the biggest obstacles to my agency achieving more growth was me. Sometimes the saying is true, but only in the short run. If you think you’re the best person for every job, then you’d better be able to clone yourself as you grow. Truth be told, you’re probably not as great at some things as you think you are. If you’re not delegating, it might be because you prefer the pain of doing things yourself over the possible conflict of having someone else do it.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. 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. 🙂
I’ve previously talked about how I’d love each of Media Bridge’s core values to be its own movement: “No Excuses, Just Results,” “Lead with Heart,” “Raise the Bar” and “Do the Right Thing.” I’ve also talked about our “Do” movement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, which is about DOING racial justice and equity work, not just talking about it. Today, I’d love to start the Care Movement. I didn’t come up with the phrase, “The best marketing strategy is to care,” but I’ve fully embraced it because it articulates something that has always been a part of Media Bridge’s culture.
The pandemic has been a good test of that. As soon as we entered that world, our first thought wasn’t, “How are we going to survive?” It was, “Let’s call our clients. Let’s see how they’re doing and how we can help. Let’s take the initiative to pivot their media plans so they’re meeting people’s changing media consumption habits … for free, because we’re their advisors and advocates.”
Whether it’s marketing or just being a good friend or neighbor, people don’t remember where you were in the good times; they remember if you were there for them in the hard times. We need a lot more caring in every facet of our lives right now.
How can our readers further follow you online?
LinkedIn is best: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tracy-l-call-38ab4b6/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!