This month Zilker Media turns 5 years old.
There are a lot of amazing things going on at the company these days and I am honored to say that I can take credit for very little of it.
The company’s success starts with the best team and continues with an amazing roster of clients we’re proud to represent and an expanding footprint on Fitzhugh Road and, despite all of that, it feels like we’re just getting started.
But 5 years is a big deal for any company and I wanted to do a post that focused less on celebrating and more on looking back at the past five years.
How did we get here? What worked? What didn’t?
I usually get eye-rolls from our team related to word counts on my blogs (sorry y’all!) so I’ve tried to keep some guardrails on this one by limiting the focus to 5 things that stand out to me most on our 5th birthday – the things that have contributed most to where we are and where we are going:
- Leadership (certainly not mine and, thanks to Paige’s leadership, increasingly not just hers or the L team’s)
In 2019 I handed off the CEO role to my partner and Zilker Media CEO Paige Velasquez Budde and, as I wrote last year, she has exceeded just about every expectation I had for the impact she would make (and my expectations were SKY high).
That continues to be the case, with the foundation of that success being her natural knack for servant leadership combined with her vision around open book management, profit-sharing and installing an ownership mentality.
Effective leaders put those around them in positions to be successful, challenge & coach them along the way and ultimately get out of the way to empower them to step up and succeed in a way that is fulfilling for the team member and good for the company.
Paige is great at doing just that and even though her fingerprints are all over the success of this company, she’s empowering her team to lead according to the vision they have for their departments and roles and turning some of her attention to helping other leaders build thought leadership and make a bigger impact through her speaking & teaching, which is one of the key reasons why we are growing. Leaders across the team, beginning with Shelby, Nichole & Patti, are doing the same thing with their teams and I expect this to continue as we grow.
I wasn’t experienced (or smart) enough to do this at Shelton Interactive and I held the company back as a result and I’m proud that Paige and our entire L team is charting a different course at Zilker Media, which is making all the difference for our leadership, our team and our clients.
- Culture + Talent Matter More Than Anything
I preach Peter Drucker’s quote (“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”) so much I swear our team probably thinks it’s going to be my first tattoo (which I committed to get this year – still deciding what it’s going to be ?).
But as true as that phrase is, one of the things that is becoming clearer to me is the multiplier that talent places on culture.
Culture sets a foundation for success, fun, impact and so much more but it can only take the organization as far as the talent that drives it.
You can certainly win for a period of time with one or the other but when you combine them you get lightning in a bottle.
This doesn’t mean by any stretch of the imagination that we have found the perfect formula – we have plenty of work to do to continue getting better to serve clients and our team – but we are benefitting tremendously from a great blend of the two.
That begins with our leadership team, Patti Conrad (CFO/The Wolf), Shelby Janner (Publicity Director) & Nichole Williamson (Brand Strategy Director), who lead by example and continue to raise the bar in their departments, and continues with the broader team, who have taken the company’s ‘ownership mentality’ to heart in the way they approach serving our clients.
- Tailwinds of Thought Leadership
When we founded Zilker Media we did so with a clear thesis on what we believe matters most when it comes to marketing and getting a message out – the ability to build and sustain trust with your audience.
That’s not a profound statement – many marketers agree that everything starts with trust – but the key point of differentiation for Zilker Media is our belief that the quickest way to build trust is by highlighting and positioning a company’s people instead of corporate logos – what we call people-driven marketing.
Trust in media outlets, companies, governments, non-profits and institutions of all kinds is at an all-time low.
As a result, when your target customer hears from your business, their guard is up – they expect they are being marketed to – and that makes it much more time-consuming, expensive and flat-out difficult to build a relationship with them.
Instead, the best approach for companies and institutions is to put their people out front by positioning them as thought leaders with something to teach, rather than operators with something to sell.
This not only helps spread a message more efficiently but it also builds a much stronger bond of trust with a company because of the affinity we have for authentic leaders that are willing to be vulnerable and show a commitment to consistently serving their audience (there’s a reason Twitter stock jumped 25% recently when Elon Musk announced he had taken a significant stake in the company).
This shift is the reason Adam & I wrote Authority Marketing several years ago and is at the heart of what we do at Zilker Media and Advantage Media Group.
We’re excited to see companies and institutions beginning to wake up to this reality, understanding that the biggest untapped marketing resource they have are the leaders that make up the organization.
- Amazing Clients & Strategic Partners
As with any business, we wouldn’t be where we are without great clients and one of the best things we have done at Zilker Media is invest in attracting and retaining clients that view us as a partner not a vendor.
That sounds cliché but when you truly let it guide decisions on who you bring on and who you extend, that filter changes the nature of your business.
We want to grow with our clients and we can only do that if we come alongside them as partners – not vendors – in the way we approach the partnership.
This has paid dividends at every level of the organization, from team member happiness to the ever-challenging sales/operations bridge. We’re accountable to each other for this area of focus and that keeps us making the right choices on who to bring on, which benefits each and every Zilker Media client because they know we are all-in on their goals when they join the family.
- Help From Those Who Didn’t Have To
This one is a bit more personal but as I look back on the past five years, I can’t help but be reminded of the fact that I have been blessed throughout my career by others who were willing to offer me a hand as I have tried to build a foundation.
I hesitate to name names because there are so many people that are on this list but wanted to call out a few of the key influences for me:
- Clint Greenleaf – An early mentor of mine who went out of his way to open doors for me as an entrepreneur and is someone I’m honored to now have as a partner with Paige and I in Zilker Media.
- Adam Witty – He’s a co-author, a partner in Advantage and a friend but he also went out of his way to open a door for me to start Zilker Media 5 years ago and I will forever be grateful to him for his trust and generosity. Looking forward to working with him to Double Double in the next few years.
- Mike Odom – My first “real” boss who put my desk in the corner of his office and proceeded to put me through a sales & marketing bootcamp that intimidated and challenged me at the time but I look back on as one of the greatest professional gifts I have ever received – an investment of time & energy from him that he simply didn’t have to do.
- Nick Alter – Nick has spent many a night over the past 12 years bailing me out of technology challenges and helping me solve problems in ways I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of, all while keeping me laughing. Big things to come.
- Barbara Cave Henricks – She not only partnered with me shortly after I launched my first agency, Shelton Interactive, opened doors for me with the “who’s who” of book publishing when she didn’t have to and was a rock-solid strategic partner I could count on in the early days of my time as an entrepreneur, but she also co-authored the first book for both of us with me – one that I’m still very proud of.
- Robbie Vorhaus – Robbie has been one of the most experienced mentors a young buck in the agency business could ask for – what started with his client chewing me out back at my first job in 2008 has grown into a tremendous friendship, with me as the beneficiary.
- The Shelton Interactive Team – Those who know me well enough know that this is the point in the toast where I typically get a bit choked up =) – without question the greatest joy I have had in my career are the relationships I have built with the teams I have worked with at each stop along the way and the Shelton Interactive team makes up a lot of that group. From Shelby Sledge to Amber Gray on the leadership team and across the entire staff – I have some of my fondest memories with this group and I’m fortunate to still get to work alongside many of them today.
- The Zilker Media Team – I realize I have already waxed on about them but this list wouldn’t be complete without reinforcing it – I can’t thank each of them enough for their commitment to building a community we’re all proud to be a part of – as I mentioned, we’re just getting started.
- The Advantage Media Group Team – I am honored to continue to get a chance to work alongside some of the most gifted people I know at Advantage|ForbesBooks and I am looking forward to continuing to work together to grow the company as we help leaders build Authority through great books and smart marketing.
- Friends & Family – I am blessed beyond measure with the family and friends that support me and I’m excited to see what the 40s will bring!!
Ok, I warned you earlier that this one would be a bit long but I wanted to share what is speaking to me most as we hit five years. If I’m being honest, I hope the tone of this note at our 10-year mark is really similar and I’m looking forward to the ride as we work together to get there.