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Gini Dietrich

An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Mine

By: Gini Dietrich | April 11, 2011 | 
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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.

90 comments
Taran
Taran

Thanks for sharing this story.You are such a inspiration for everyone.Its really a great post, keep sharing such great posts.

KyleAkerman
KyleAkerman

Gini,

It’s always great to know about a person’s wins, but I think it’s just as important to hear about the struggles they overcame to be successful. And your willingness to be open about the highs AND lows in your life is what inspires people to leave all the great comments here and to write posts like Amber’s, http://www.brasstackthinking.com/2011/04/a-belated-note-of-thanks/

It’s been fun getting to know more about you and Arment Dietrich over the last few months. And I think the biggest reason why is that you are genuine and go about business and life the right way.

I am not trying to start my own business, but I am trying to start a whole new career and the experiences you described here and in many of your posts go a long way to inform and inspire me. So for that I thank you.

Here’s to a Kick Ass launch of Spin Sucks Pro and your continued success!

Talk to you soon,

Kyle

P.S. It was great to finally learn the history of “Arment”. I’ve been meaning to ask you about that. Too funny.

tlbrisson
tlbrisson

Thanks for sharing your story, Gini. Last year, I quit my job to start my own company. It's really inspiring to hear the stories of other women my age (making an assumption based on LinkedIn) who have made it happen, even if it's in a different industry. It really means a lot to people like me so thanks again!

MARLdblE
MARLdblE

Gosh Gini, you're such an inspiration! Thank you sharing your story. You ROCK.

PeterGault
PeterGault

Thanks for sharing that story. It struck a cord :)... a good cord.

Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini

I'm just waiting for the chance to say, "You crack me up." It'll come, I'm sure. Meantime........

Wondeful to hear that expression "dog and pony show " again. The last time I heard it was back in the 80s as a description of your typical management training program. I just sorta get the feeling sometimes as i watch a so-called video by some web guru who is, in reality a serial PowePoint abuser......... As you know, I'm too polite to complete the sentence.

When I started my training consultancy business in 1978, I didn't know what I didn't know. I knew so little about running a business that I went to the only person running a similar business in Australia at that time. He didn't gild the lily.

"This'll go wrong, then this'll go wrong then you'll muck this up and a client will dud you etc, etc." I knew the bloke really well, nodded sagely and went off thinking, "I'm not that stupid. I'm smart enough to avoid all of that."

Guess what? His predictions came true to the letter.

Since then, I've become a dedicated admirer of John Wooden. Not because he was a spectacularly successful basketball coach. But because he said, "It's what you learn after you know it all that counts."

Make sure you have fun.

Regards

Leom\n

jonbuscall
jonbuscall

GIni, you are such an inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing this. I needed some inspiration to kick start this morning and low and behold I found it on Spin Sucks !

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

I now know 100% why we get along...we're kindred spirits. I up and quit my agency job and went off and found a client to freelance for and pitch media in Chicago. It was what I hung my hat on back then. We both held presidencies of the two Chicago PR orgs; and, we both strive for change.

My weakness is to create drama (like remodeling four rooms in the house all at once or start a new gig to create excitement) and try to surround myself with finishers because I'm a starter.

Thanks for this story; your background is now more complete than ever. Love that.

Charismacom
Charismacom

Hi Gini -

This is fantastic! It rings so true for me. I began my agency more than 8 years ago for a lot of the same reasons you so aptly spell out above and have learned many of the same lessons along the way (millions of dollars in sales does not mean millions of dollars.) I just wanted to pop in to say your post spoke to me. It's so close to my own story. Thanks for a great read!

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

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!

C_Pappas
C_Pappas

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. I say all the power to ya! Sometimes it takes a kick to set something in motion. Kudos to you for just jumping. Best wishes for continued success and so excited you did find time for Spin Sucks Pro - it sounds great!!

rosemaryoneill
rosemaryoneill

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.

JoyFull_deb
JoyFull_deb

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

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

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

M_Koehler
M_Koehler

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.

Mr.D
Mr.D

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 life, it has been a series of ups and downs, but you've never given up and made it a success. I know you won't stop anytime soon. Me, JB, Pete the Tapeworm (welcome him back for me BTW), and every other electronic device you have named are proud, impressed and rooting for you. As a perfectionist , I know you don't often take a step back to realize what you have done. You can't see the forest for the trees, so to speak. So allow me to simply say: Well done. OK, you can go back now to leading the social media revolution. I've got a few more chapters to finish in my book: How Live With a Double Type A Personality. Mr. D

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@tlbrisson Oh no. I'm waaaaay younger than you! :) I felt like the first three years were great and then the last two have been miserable. But that could be a function of the economy. Regardless, you made the hardest decision already - to go out on your own!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Charismacom Funny! I just saw your tweet, too. I couldn't decide what to respond to first. :)

Isn't it true about revenues vs profits? Wish someone had taught me that before I had to learn it on my own.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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 moderator

@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.

janbeery
janbeery

@Mr.D how beautiful! Gini, u have a great support and that makes all the difference! Just ask Mr. B! Who true to form and used to me working on the IPad late at night, is snoring! That's love!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

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

Charismacom
Charismacom

@ginidietrich @Charismacom No kidding! That was a "bit" of an eye opener! As was the fact that you run a business to make money, not to be nice to everyone and ensure all employees have what they need to live cushy lives. LOL It's been an adventure, but I wouldn't give one minute of it back

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@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).

rosemaryoneill
rosemaryoneill

@ginidietrich I quit Federal marketing about 11 yrs ago to start a software biz with my husband & haven't looked back! Back then I had to learn what a T1 line was so we could have one run into our office, which backed up to a small brewery. Your story really resonated with me! AdAge top 20 here you come...

M_Koehler
M_Koehler

@ginidietrich Sure, there is THAT. But you were great then (regardless of what you may think) and destined for something big...so that helps. Just wish I was around those missing 18 years to see it all.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Charismacom LOL! We should swap stories sometime. Like the time an intern came in and told me he'd maxed out his credit cards so he needed a raise. And then was belligerent when I said no.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@rosemaryoneill What's a T1 line?! :) That's so funny! I didn't know that I couldn't just go to Best Buy and buy phones for everyone. Oh boy.

Griddy
Griddy

@ginidietrich When I meet him I will like him even more - but didi is still my fav ;)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Griddy I don't take him out very often because people always like him waaaaaay better than me.

Griddy
Griddy

@ginidietrich He sure sounds it! I already like him for that amazing comment. And cause he's Mr. D of course :).

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