Gini Dietrich

An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Mine

By: Gini Dietrich | April 11, 2011 | 
107

My good friend Troy Claus asked me to write this for his blog, where he has a fabulous series called “The Entrepreneur’s Journey.” So, if you read it there first, there is nothing new to see here. Move along until tomorrow.

It’s a very vivid memory. Sitting in the conference room at Fleishman-Hillard with our Ocean Spray clients. There are five or six three-inch binders full of media placements sitting in the middle of the table.

The artwork we’d commissioned to showcase the beauty of the cranberry harvest was strategically placed around the conference room. The stationery, with the same art, signified seating assignments.

It was the first grown-up meeting I’d been invited to attend with this client.

Sure, I’d had lots of meetings with the PR director, but never with her boss or her boss’s boss. It was intimidating.

But we were ready!

We’d hosted several juice samplings across the country. We had a traveling art show. We donated proceeds from the art show and stationery sales to America’s Second Harvest. Media ate it up and we had lots of “results” to show for our work.

We went through our dog and pony show. It was the first time in my career that I was really, really proud of the work we’d done.  We worked really hard and finally we got to show off a little bit.

That’s when the words I’ll never forget hit me like a ton of bricks.

This is all great, but our sales are down. We’re going to have to decrease our budget and really work at finding ways to show results toward helping our growers sell.

Come again? But look at everything around you. Look at all of those media placements. Look at all of the art on the walls. Look in front of you at the stationery. Consider how much juice we gave away at sampling events. Think about all the good you did for America’s Second Harvest.

It didn’t work. None of it worked.

After I got over the initial shock, I began to think about a better way. A better way to measure our efforts directly to business goals. But I was all of 27 and had no business experience. I hadn’t even been introduced to projections or cash flow or P&Ls or balance sheets yet.

Gaining Experience

I was in Kansas City then and the city got smaller and smaller. I knew it was time to leave so I looked at Chicago, New York City,  and Madison, Wis. (don’t judge – they offered me A LOT of money and a huge job).

It was the first time I got to really weigh opportunities, money, cities, and jobs against one another.

Chicago won. I took a job with Rhea & Kaiser, to help build their PR department. Something that, at the time, didn’t exist. It was an opportunity to manage a team, learn the business side of things, and learn how to manage financials in a smaller environment.

Coming from FH, writing off time was no big deal. But at R&K, it was a HUGE deal. And that’s where I learned that if I were billing 15 hours a day and we were only being paid for 10 of them, I was not using my time efficiently. Overservicing clients was comfortable for me (because I have a hard time saying no and it was in my DNA from FH days) and it was there I learned, in some cases, I was being taken advantage of.

This was a very important lesson that I used five years later.

I also learned the difference between an entrepreneurial, very successful private business and a global, public company. I learned how to figure things out on the fly because I had a boss who was great at ideas, but terrible at implementation. There were many meetings I’d kick him under the table because I knew this great idea he’d just sold to a new client was something I’d have to work with my team to execute. But talk about learning how to figure things out…it was great experience!

Starting A Business

And, then one night, I’d had a long day, I was tired of arguing with the creative director about what constituted news, and I’d had a disagreement with a colleague. I was tired. It was raining and really dark. I was in the car with my then fiance, trying not to cry. And he said the magic words:

Why don’t you quit?

Quit? We had a wedding coming up, his candidate had just lost the election, and we were buying a condo. Why the heck would I quit?

But quit I did and, that first year, I made more money than I ever imagined myself making. And so began Arment Dietrich.

There are a lot of milestones I remember:

  • My fabulous first intern who taught me about designer jeans and Starbucks lattes
  • The men who came into our office insisting they wouldn’t do business with us without meeting my husband
  • Sub-leasing a closet from an ad agency so we could have a Michigan Ave address
  • Working my way up the PRSA ladder to eventually become president of the Chicago chapter
  • Developing long-lasting friendships with leaders at the global agencies (you know, just in case)
  • Learning how to network and do business development
  • Understanding that generating millions of dollars in sales does NOT mean making millions of dollars
  • Learning about tax laws and business laws and financials and HR and payroll and bank debt and client expectations and competitive differences

I really thought I’d build a company while I do what I love to do: Work with clients on strategic issues, create ways to measure to client’s specific business goals, and write. But, as it turned out, the bigger we got, the more quickly I went from a kick-ass communication professional to a sub-par company manager.

Sub-Par Doesn’t Work for Me

But sub-par doesn’t work for me. I’m a double type A perfectionist. I wanted to become a kick-ass company leader. I quickly discovered my weaknesses. I’m not a manager. I don’t like structure. If things aren’t constantly changing, I’m not happy. But all of those things are really jolting to the vast majority of employees (and clients, for that matter).

So what do you do?

You find people who have strengths where you are weak. There has been A LOT of trial and error. And, in some cases, we haven’t been able to afford experts so I’ve spent time learning things that aren’t really interesting to me, but necessary.

I’ve also been fortunate to go through the worst economic recession of our generation. OK. Not really. It sucked. The big one. But you know what I learned? You figure out really quickly how to survive. I mean, REALLY quickly. And you find ways to still do the things you love, while empowering and trusting your team to do the same.

I’ve run three marathons, raced time trials, climbed four 14ers, and cycled countless Centuries. Growing a business is, by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And growing a business and starting a new one (hello, Spin Sucks Pro) is even more challenging. But, unless you forget to stop and look around at what you’ve built, it’s also the most rewarding.

My advice? Fully understand what you’re getting yourself into, find ways to not lose your passions, and stop and smell the flowers! That’s some advice I should listen to myself, from time to time.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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107 Comments on "An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Mine"

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KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 3 months ago
Thank you for this. This is the kind of thing that I need to read as I’m in the 2nd year of a rather small startup. I have my good months, I have my bad months. But I believe in what I do and I keep plugging away. Stories like yours are inspiring to me because you are honest. I see so many people who try to put a “spin” on things and make it look like everything they touch is gold. I admit, I’m tempted to do the same at times. But I look at you and your honesty… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago
@KenMueller When I decided to go out on my own, I tried to find something, anything, to read that would tell me what to do, what to expect, and even the cons of having your own business. I found nothing. I mean, nothing. You’re right. It’s all positive, uplifting, overnight success kind of BS. So I decided that I would tell people like it really is. The one thing I don’t do is tell it like it is when it’s fresh. I wait a while first. That way I can put perspective on it. And thank you, Ken. This is… Read more »
NancyMyrland
NancyMyrland
5 years 3 months ago

Congratulations on a great journey Gini. What you have done, and are doing, is something to be respected, learned from and admired. I KNOW you will be successful because you have all the markers of a successful, driven, passionate person. I’m happy to be present to watch. xo

johnfalchetto
5 years 3 months ago
It’s interesting how one day we all started there “I need to quit this.’ I remember when I quit my PR job, my boss said if I stayed another month he would give me a raise and a great recommendation. I said where I’m going I don’t need your recommandation, ‘I quit”. And the raise: my rule has always been that if I was offered one as I was walking out the door, I kept walking. For most of us, its really really hard, we have been taught to never quit, turn a bad situation into a good one, be… Read more »
johnfalchetto
5 years 3 months ago
It’s interesting how one day we all started there “I need to quit this.’ I remember when I quit my PR job, my boss said if I stayed another month he would give me a raise and a great recommendation. I said where I’m going I don’t need your recommandation, ‘I quit”. And the raise: my rule has always been that if I was offered one as I was walking out the door, I kept walking. For most of us, its really really hard, we have been taught to never quit, turn a bad situation into a good one, be… Read more »
johnfalchetto
5 years 3 months ago
It’s interesting how one day we all started there “I need to quit this.’ I remember when I quit my PR job, my boss said if I stayed another month he would give me a raise and a great recommendation. I said where I’m going I don’t need your recommandation, ‘I quit”. And the raise: my rule has always been that if I was offered one as I was walking out the door, I kept walking. For most of us, its really really hard, we have been taught to never quit, turn a bad situation into a good one, be… Read more »
Marijean
5 years 3 months ago

I love that you’ve shared your story; how honest you are and how self-aware. You know this, but you’ve been a real inspiration for me. It’s no surprise to me that many of the moments you had earlier in your career are overly familiar! Thank you for being you!

Marijean
5 years 3 months ago

I love that you’ve shared your story; how honest you are and how self-aware. You know this, but you’ve been a real inspiration for me. It’s no surprise to me that many of the moments you had earlier in your career are overly familiar! Thank you for being you!

Marijean
5 years 3 months ago

I love that you’ve shared your story; how honest you are and how self-aware. You know this, but you’ve been a real inspiration for me. It’s no surprise to me that many of the moments you had earlier in your career are overly familiar! Thank you for being you!

alsmith.pas@hotmail.com
alsmith.pas@hotmail.com
5 years 3 months ago

Thanks Gini. Love your honesty. Just the title “Spin Sucks” is awesome. That’s what got me following and reading you. I am new and have to remember to follow my passion, focus on the positive and have gratitude. keep those great posts and tweets coming. U Rock !!

Al

HeatherWhaling
HeatherWhaling
5 years 3 months ago
Gini, this whole story makes me like you even more — who knew that was possible?! People probably tell you this all the time, but you’re such a role model, especially for someone like me who is in year 2 of owning my own agency. I’m so thankful for your willingness to share your stories. As kenmueller noted, it’s refreshing to see someone approach entrepreneurship with such honesty, instead of a “everything is rosy all the time” view. I love what I do and everything that comes with building a company from scratch, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times… Read more »
JamesDBurrell2
5 years 3 months ago
Oh Auntie Gini, How many moons has it been since your words last graced my eyes? Too many for sure. Although your readers do not know my story of entrepreneurship like you do, for brevity’s sake for this comment, suffice it to say that I’m in my 4th year of business ownership with 39 days remaining before my 26th birthday. Unlike you, my strengths were not derived from a wealth of industry experience and intimate knowledge of customers’ wants, needs, and behavioral patterns but were based upon an education in the nuts and bolts of business: finance, accounting, and marketing… Read more »
timjahn
timjahn
5 years 3 months ago

Always been a fan of your story (that’s why I’ve interviewed your twice about it!) and continue to learn from what you do.

Love this concise breakdown all in one post, too. Keep up the good work!

DianeD.Stein
DianeD.Stein
5 years 3 months ago

This is a really good post Gini! Inspirational! My favorites are when you let your hair down and show it all – warts and everything. Why? Because it is real and nothing works better in PR than good old fashioned truth! Congratulations Gini! You deserve it!

GayleJoseph
GayleJoseph
5 years 3 months ago

You inspire me, Gini! I love what you’re doing…your agency, your blog, the way you conduct yourself. Congratulations on all that you have accomplished. I look forward to seeing what you do next!

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 3 months ago
So how did you get into the cupcake business after all these years in PR? Did you just meet @ShellyKramer and realize she single handedly could keep you in business? I love hearing your story of struggle and triumpancy (yes I already filed the IP for that word to go with Humorical).Very inspirational. I also wonder how many people with start ups face the same challenges even though we get advice and know about them. In fact I just closed my PO Box in NYC since I decided not important for what I do right now. But your story isn’t… Read more »
janbeery
janbeery
5 years 3 months ago

Gini, I got choked up reading your story this morning. You are a sincere, beautiful person and I just adore you!

You found what you loved doing and you’re figuring out how to make a living doing it. Along the way, you’re growing and inspiring others. Your team evolves and you continue to move forward.

We wish you all our blessings and support.

Spin Sucks Pro will do well and you’ll evolve with that too.

Yes, stop and smell the roses, I have to remind myself the same. I’m thinking of returning to my previous plan of annual spa trips!

GayleJoseph
GayleJoseph
5 years 3 months ago

You inspire me, Gini! I love what you’re doing…your agency, your blog, the way you conduct yourself. Congratulations on all that you have accomplished. I look forward to seeing what you do next!

GayleJoseph
GayleJoseph
5 years 3 months ago

You inspire me, Gini! I love what you’re doing…your agency, your blog, the way you conduct yourself. Congratulations on all that you have accomplished. I look forward to seeing what you do next!

GayleJoseph
GayleJoseph
5 years 3 months ago

You inspire me, Gini! I love what you’re doing…your agency, your blog, the way you conduct yourself. Congratulations on all that you have accomplished. I look forward to seeing what you do next!

GayleJoseph
GayleJoseph
5 years 3 months ago

You inspire me, Gini! I love what you’re doing…your agency, your blog, the way you conduct yourself. Congratulations on all that you have accomplished. I look forward to seeing what you do next!

jackielamp
jackielamp
5 years 3 months ago
Remember when I emailed you a few months back and asked about how you got to where you are because what you did is a goal of mine as well? Glad I got to see it in this post. It’s very inspiring. Really, thank you for sharing. Since I’m still in the very young “I don’t know anything but have ideas” sort of phase, I have a feeling there are many struggles ahead. That’s when I’ll be calling you asking for a pep talk 🙂 As everyone else in the comments has said, you’re an amazing person. There’s no doubt… Read more »
jackielamp
jackielamp
5 years 3 months ago
Remember when I emailed you a few months back and asked about how you got to where you are because what you did is a goal of mine as well? Glad I got to see it in this post. It’s very inspiring. Really, thank you for sharing. Since I’m still in the very young “I don’t know anything but have ideas” sort of phase, I have a feeling there are many struggles ahead. That’s when I’ll be calling you asking for a pep talk 🙂 As everyone else in the comments has said, you’re an amazing person. There’s no doubt… Read more »
GayleJoseph
5 years 3 months ago

You inspire me, Gini! I love what you’re doing – with your company, your blog and your approach to business – and I look forward to what’s next.

MimiMeredith
MimiMeredith
5 years 3 months ago

Just more validation of my quest to be like Gini Dietrich when I grow up!

Marcus_Sheridan
5 years 3 months ago

So I read this on Troy’s blog ….and just had to read it again because…to put it in simple English…You freaking rock Aunt Gini! 🙂

Thanks for being the example you are!

Marcus

Mr.D
Mr.D
5 years 3 months ago
Little did I know asking you why you didn’t just quit and go out on your own was the start of something this great. I don’t comment often here, but for this one, I’m throwing in my two cents and apologize to everyone not named Gini for the personal nature of this note. From the one bedroom tiny apartment in the “up and coming” area of St. Louis in 2002, to our first condo and your offices/closets on Michigan, Chicago and now Clark, you have have overcome every obstacle, kept your vision and refused to fail. Like anything else in… Read more »
M_Koehler
M_Koehler
5 years 3 months ago

Not to shabby for a Bunny! I’m blessed to have known you all those years ago and see what you have become after an inexplicably long time of not knowing each other. You’ve done something that I will probably never have the guts to do and that is just say screw it; there is a better way/more fullfilling career. I applaud you and wish you nothing but continued success…and a couple pints of goat cheese ice cream.

M_Koehler
M_Koehler
5 years 3 months ago

Not to shabby for a Bunny! I’m blessed to have known you all those years ago and see what you have become after an inexplicably long time of not knowing each other. You’ve done something that I will probably never have the guts to do and that is just say screw it; there is a better way/more fullfilling career. I applaud you and wish you nothing but continued success…and a couple pints of goat cheese ice cream.

Mark_Harai
5 years 3 months ago

@Marcus_Sheridan @ginidietrich Me too and I second the motion – you rock and roll Gin : )

Mark_Harai
5 years 3 months ago

@Marcus_Sheridan @ginidietrich Me too and I second the motion – you rock and roll Gin : )

KevinVandever
KevinVandever
5 years 3 months ago

I’m quitting my job today…right now, in fact.

JoyFull_deb
JoyFull_deb
5 years 3 months ago

love.love.love. your story…..and YOU….#worlddomination soon

rosemaryoneill
rosemaryoneill
5 years 3 months ago

I’m a relatively new reader, and am loving this blog (no, don’t know why it took me so long to find it). I think the quote “why don’t you just quit” should be emblazoned on little cards that can be handed out whenever you’re listening to someone talk about why their job sucks. That’s so often the magic moment (it was for me) that turns your whole life around.

C_Pappas
C_Pappas
5 years 3 months ago
Wow! You said ‘screw it’ and quit when everyone else I know would have just stayed and collected a paycheck. I have so much admiration for you and people like you that break the mold and decide to go after what’s in their heart (I just saw Eat Pray Love and I love the image the medicine man drew which indicated you should look out through your heart, not your head). I know a lot of people still out of work right now and not by their own choice. They are lost and dismayed that they are on their own.… Read more »
jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr
5 years 3 months ago

I’ve heard bits and pieces of the story so far, but seeing it all together is inspiring and exciting! Thanks for the Monday morning pick-me-up… I can’t wait to be writing my own retrospective on years of successful CEO-ing one day 😉 #gonnabeGiniwhenIgrowup!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@jelenawoehr #whydontyoubejelenawhenyougrowup?!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@C_Pappas You see, Christina, I’m EXTREMELY stubborn. And I have a HUGE problem with authority. So I really can’t stay and collect a paycheck. It’s not in my DNA. I really had no idea what I was going…or what I was going to do. Sometimes you’re your own worst enemy, but it works out in the long run. I’m a big believer in being in charge of your own destiny. If you’re not happy, CHANGE IT! You’re the only one who can.

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr
5 years 3 months ago

@ginidietrich But I’m Jelena already and one person per lifetime would just not be the most efficient use of my time! (About that: I have my genie wish all planned out if I ever find one–seven parallel lives that pause when I’m living one of the others, and time travel powers in one of the seven so I can create a badass life from all the best decisions I make in the other six).

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@rosemaryoneill LOL! It’s OK…we haven’t hit our goal of beating a bunch of boys in the top 20 of AdAge. If you didn’t find us until then, I’d tease you. 🙂

Did you quit your job to go out on your own?!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@KevinVandever Yessssssssssss!!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@JoyFull_deb And I love YOU! xoxo

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@M_Koehler Yes, you are the only person in my life (other than my family) who knows what I was like back then. And you’re very kind about it, too. But I guess that’s because I have lots of blackmail material on you.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@Mr.D OMG! Mr. D DOES exist!! Thank you, HB. This made me cry. I love you.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@Mark_Harai @Marcus_Sheridan Uh. Where did @lisagerber go telling you guys not to fill my head?! Now I definitely have to have the doors widened around here.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@MimiMeredith No, no. You’ll be Mimi when you grow up. Because I need you, as you, in my life!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@GayleJoseph Thank you, Gayle! xoxo

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@jackielamp I don’t remember what I told you. Was I a smart aleck about it? And I am HAPPY to give you pep talks. Lord knows I need them. At least once a week.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@janbeery I’m going with you!!!! Take me with you!!!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 3 months ago

@HowieSPM Don’t you worry, Howie. When I get the yacht, you have the first invitation.

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