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Two-Way Street: Kerry Guard's Story Part 3

Kerry Guard • March 26, 2022 • 6 minutes to read

Told from the perspective of our co-founder and CEO, Kerry Guard.

This first chapter is a three part blog series, or your welcome to download the whole chapter and read it as a PDF.

The values

I was at MEC for about 18 months when I got a phone call out of the blue. It was from a recruiter. A boutique agency in downtown Seattle was looking for a senior digital media planner. I agreed to an interview. It was a rainy and gray day. I popped into Banana Republic the night before to grab a raincoat and umbrella, since I hadn’t dressed up in a while. The Seattle dress code was jeans and a hoodie. I wanted to put a little New York in my interview swagger.

I met with the director and supervisor first. These were people with spunk and flair. Trisha wore a super cute hat and she had a bit of an edge to her that I totally vibed with. From there I met their strategist Steve Kesselman. Steve was also chock full of personality, very sure of himself, but in a laid back “take me or leave me” kind of way that I appreciated. He was super smart too, with a robust vocabulary and incredible knowledge of the digital space as it related to the people we were advertising to.

And last, but certainly not least, I interviewed with Mike Krass. Mike was 22 at the time, just out of college. He wore an oversized hoodie. Yes, Seattle was a bit more lax on their dress code, but not this relaxed. Mike looked how I felt when I lived in New York. Though he looked a little worse for wear, he had very clear questions that he wanted answers to. He knew what he needed help with and what he wanted this person to do. When I told him about my reporting dashboard, his whole demeanor changed. He sat up. Leaned in and we had a great conversation. There was a clear vibe that we’d make a great team.

After a grueling interview process of multiple meetings across several days as well as showcasing presentations and work examples, they finally offered me the job with an 18% pay raise.

I didn’t want to leave MEC, but I met people at this boutique agency that were in different departments and thought it would be exciting to partner with people outside of my service line. I also wanted to impact the team’s culture by bringing what I learned from MEC to this new one. It was a lateral move but with that salary bump, it was hard to turn down.

In my first week, there was a meeting for all new hires. It was in the biggest conference room on the floor. Glass windows on both sides. There was a cabinet at one end, lined with all the awards they had won. At the head of the table was Pat Doody, CEO of the agency. The room was packed with people. I remember standing because all the chairs were filled. This meeting felt important. I didn’t know why at the time, but there was an energy in the room, like we were all waiting on the edge of our seats for some great movie that was about to climax. Pat looked around, pulled up a presentation, and started walking us through their company values, with a great emphasis on who they were at their core and why we were all here, at this company, in this moment.

I had never heard of company values until now. If the other agencies had them, I never saw them.

After that, I attended meetings and listened to people speak to one another. I realized that this company actually lived by its values, the biggest being “no ego.” They considered themselves a democracy of great ideas. No idea is a bad idea and everyone gets a voice to share. It was very special to be a part of.

This smaller agency had its own challenges. Not the same as New York, but their own.

One example was that we only did big brand campaign initiatives. They were, at heart, a creative shop that happened to have a media team. This means that our creative team created super cool websites and ads that we then placed across the web. At the end of these campaigns, the clients would ask me and Mike how much money they made. We couldn’t tell them, because at that time people could only buy their products in person. Amazon was still a book distributor. We didn’t have any way of measuring the campaign’s return on investment. It was so disheartening to have these conversations day in and out, which took the air out of all our hard work.

The beginning

One day, I got a call. It was a marketing manager looking for a media planning partner to plan and buy digital media for a high-end travel website. FINALLY! An opportunity where we could see how much money we actually made a brand!

YES!

Mike and I told our managing director about the brand and the budget... $300,000. Nope, small potatoes for our current agency. But for a couple of 20-somethings, it was gold.

I called the marketing manager back from my cell phone on the way home from work that day and asked how he felt about me and Mike pitching the business as an independent company. We would have been doing the work anyway, so why not see if the brand would be up for it.

He agreed to give us our shot.

We created a pitch deck in the evening and weekends. I must have redesigned our logo a hundred times. For a hot second we were MKKG.

A week later, we left work in the middle of the day and walked up the hill to the closest Starbucks. We gathered three chairs around one of those tiny little round tables and sat my laptop right in the middle of it. The marketing manager thanked us for our time and said he’d be in touch. It was honestly that uneventful. I don’t really remember how it went exactly. It was a blur. Pure adrenaline. But he said he’d be in touch so we waited.

While we were waiting, we’d hide out in the back conference rooms and play out all the scenarios. What happens if they say yes? Do we quit? Work at night? What happens then? Then the bigger questions started forming. What happens if we don’t get it? Do we do this anyway? Work with only companies where we can actually measure purchases and results?

The answer was yes. Regardless of whether this piece of business came down, our minds were made up that we were going to start our own digital marketing agency.

A few weeks later, I took my very belated honeymoon on the beaches of Spain. We were staying at a house on the beach with some friends. The house didn’t have internet so I walked to the local cafe each day for my Cafe Con Leche and to check my email. There was a message from Mike.

“No word yet, but if it does come down we need to set up an LLC so we can bill them. You good if I register us?”

“Yes.”

And just like that, we were MKG Media Group.

That’s where my story ends and Our Story™ begins. My personal leadership journey hasn’t stopped. You could argue it’s just starting. While I plan to release a chapter a month for this series, I also host the podcast Tea Time With Tech Marketing Leaders. While you wait, be sure to head over there and learn from some great marketers. I recommend Maurina Venturelli’s or Peter Zaballos’s episodes. Both have amazing leadership stories we can all learn from.

Until next time,
Kerry Guard

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