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Tracy Call disconnected from her business to “stress test” her team. The results changed her business (Media Bridge Advertising), her marriage and her views on effective leadership. Here’s how. — BTB #20

Behind the Billboard – S1E20

Kris Lindahl: How do you lead with the heart?

Intro: Welcome to the Behind the Billboard Podcast, a living, breathing, interactive conversation about getting better as a leader, a team and as a person. We believe that success is all about people and we are on a mission to help you grow. Here is your host, Kris Lindahl.

KL: You will want to listen to this episode in its entirety. I had the opportunity to interview my great friend Tracy Call who owns Media Bridge advertising. I took so much information away from this episode and I know you will too. So get your pen out get your paper out and listen and write down those takeaways. Tracy is a phenomenal leader and I hope you find as much value in it as I did.

Tracy Call: I’m genuinely excited to be here just for real. Yes I was nervous when you asked me and then I’ve listened to a few of your episodes and it just like it felt like a natural conversation yes you and I have this conversation weekly you know I know. I don’t think there’s a person on the planet that I spend two to three hours on the phone with a cell. And so it’s like talking to my best girlfriend. No but thank you. You know when people ask how it all started I go back to childhood and I always wanted to be a police detective. I wanted to be a detective. You know… think Olivia Benson out on the streets solving problems chasing down the criminals. I swear like my whole life that’s what I envisioned. But I went to college. I went to journalism school and it all really started when I was a writer for the paper at my college. and I wrote an article about gay pride. I got a ton of backlash like it was dangerous and they actually asked me to leave school for a semester to clean up, you know some of the negativity that was going on I had like stalkers and literally people following me around campus. And it was really bad but a great thing came of that I took an internship at Disney World and I got the Disney education that I know if you’ve heard about 

KL: Oh yeah 

TC: It’s intense yeah it’s intense. And I think it gave me a lot of really really really good insight into customer service from literally learning how to point properly to solving problems.

KL: What was your role. What did you do when you went to Disney internship?

TC: I was not Mickey Mouse. So I got to experience all different parts of Disney from literally running operations on splash mountain to crowd control at the parades which if you’ve ever been to Disney World you know that there’s major issues that go on with like getting the best spot for your kid to watch the parade. My favorite was working for the community relations department which is basically a group of people that make sure that anything negative that happens at Disney is is is not publicized. 

KL: So interesting how they do that. I’ve watched and read about that/ I had someone told me one time that no one dies at Disney.

TC: Yeah like I was really told you did I think you did. Actually I did. 

KL: Yes. You’re like no one dies at Disney! 

TC: Yeah yeah I shouldn’t say this on the podcast but people do die. Yeah.

And then from there I had it a lot of other very cool opportunities I interned at NBC Studios and got to do things from post-production of the Titanic to I was an intern on the Jay Leno show and I got to fluff the guests. I would show them to their dressing room go over the questions and make sure that they knew what was to come right. And so you know talking through all of that experience that I had really plays into what I do today with solving problems and you know preparing clients and managing expectations and you know all of that I mean it’s all played into it. But when I graduated in the 90s, I got a paid internship with WCCO the local TV station. 

KL: You just dated yourself by the way. 

TC: It’s not a secret. I still get carded at the bar so I’m feeling really good about that. I worked in the community relations department. That’s what I thought I wanted to do. So coming out of Disney and working in the media relations at Disney I kind of figured that what I wanted to do. I was  really good at that is problem solving, organizing events, all of that logistics. And there was a woman in the sales department that said you need to be in sales. And I didn’t know what sales was. I mean I thought that was that slimy growth industry with car salesmen. You know that image right. But she convinced me to go into sales and I landed my first job at, what was at the time, Chancellor Media that then turned into AFM that was in Clear Channel that is now iHeart as you know it today. Yeah. And that’s really that’s my background.

KL: How about from the personal side… I mean I like the athletics and the like the personal side of it.

TC: So I’ve been a competitive athlete my whole life. Naturally athletic, really fast, really strong and played varsity sports all growing up. I had a scholarship to run track in college. I ended up pulling my my groin muscle on a water slide in Wisconsin I’m not kidding when they say cross your legs on that big water slide that goes straight down cross your legs if you don’t do really bad things happen.

So I ended up playing rugby in college after I healed from that lost my scholarship stay there. I had already committed to going there and from there rugby was really the catalyst into my professional athletic career with you know playing on the national side and also then that led into the U.S. Bobsled Team. And so I was on the U.S. bobsled team for several years leading up to the 2010 Olympics. I was doing really well made the team and blew my knee playing rugby right before the start of that Olympic year. And so it’s very heartbreaking for me. But looking back it was probably the best thing that ever happened. You know people say everything happens for a reason and that’s just such B.S. when you’re in the moment right.

But I wouldn’t miss the first year of my son’s life if I would have would have gone on that Olympic year. And just looking back, I can’t even imagine what that would have been like. And I I would have regretted it. Yeah. So I mean that’s the personal side.

KL: Awesome! So when you mention you know the the career side of it what sort of started the lead up to starting Media Bridge?

TC: So I left radio in 2002 or 2003 and I partnered with somebody else with another agency and we ended up splitting personally and professionally a few years later and from that Media Bridge was born in 2010 so 2010.

KL: And when you left radio, what was the reason why you left and decided on the agency route because I think there are some people listening right now that might not even know one agency is.

TC: Yeah. So my reasons for leaving radio were really very crystal clear in that we when I first started in radio it’s all about the client. And it was all about solving problems for the client. I remember we would put up these big poster boards and and do these huge brainstorms around clients like every client— didn’t matter what their budget was whether or not they asked for it or not. W were constantly trying to be better and we put these big papers up on the wall and ask, “In what ways might we help? In what ways might we solve this problem?”

And we just stopped doing that and it was it turned into more about budgets and hitting goals and it got super corporate and it wasn’t for me. I will say that it’s changed back to being more solutions orientated. You know that. 

KL: And there are a lot of companies along the way that are no longer around that you worked for as well.

TC: Totally. Totally. And so, in defense of radio and it is for my agency the number one medium that’s generating leads for our clients. We are absolutely media agnostic and that we don’t just recommend radio to our clients. We will look at the client’s needs and what they’re trying to do and and there’s some campaigns where we don’t use radio. But radio has been really great. But yeah. 

TC: So I started meeting Bridge in 2010 and really wanted to do it my way. 

KL: Yeah. 

TC:And and I had all these ideas and on those really hard for three years. Not easy.

KL: What were some of the biggest challenges? And if you can remember, describe he feeling you had when you started… like oh no now what?

TC: So I remember just trying to figure out how to start my own LLC. Yeah. Google how do you start your own business. I mean yeah really. Right. I’m not an entrepreneur.

KL: No and I think a lot of people listening that are probably that are in that situation right now.

TC: It was totally accidental. I mean to be doing this on my own. Yeah. But I think the hardest time was really the first three years. And anyone that’s grown a successful business says this, that the first few years are really hard. I literally started from zero. I had nothing. And I was working out of my house. It was just me and even though I had large growth the first three years on paper, you know,  growing 100 percent from zero is not not a lot.

KL: Yeah. All right. You need a lot.

TC: One hundred percent plus growth year over year to really become something. But my aha moment was when my son Lincoln was transitioning from a crib to a big boy bed. And I needed to get a bed. His crib kind of converted into the frame. But I needed a mattress and the box spring and I didn’t have any money for that. I mean I literally had I think maybe a hundred dollars in my checking account at the time. And I went online and I and I found a really inexpensive box spring and mattress delivered for like 75 bucks. It was like most of what I had my in my checking account for real. And it was delivered the next day and I couldn’t even get in the door because it was so heavy. It was like a rock. I mean it was a rock and that was my that was my aha moment— that I needed to figure this out.

KL: Yeah. 

TC: To provide for my for my son and to provide for my family and I just needed to do it. I mean I needed to figure it out and it was like from there. I I remember standing in his room looking at the bed like crying like I’ve got to I’ve got to do something. And I think I did. 

KL: Yeah no kidding! And Lincoln is just an incredible human being. It’s been fun to watch him grow as well. So I think there are people that are listening— I mean we have we have so many people that listen to this podcast. We have all across the board lead Emerging leaders to successful leaders. Some work for companies, some are on their own, some are thinking about going on their own. So at the beginning there, you mentioned, “I don’t I don’t even know how to create my own LLC.” But there’s also a lot more that you didn’t know. So when you actually started, got your LLC, Media Bridge is up and running. Describe what like your day-to-day looked like when it was just you were working from home.

TC: Yeah I mean literally the commute was across the hall from my bedroom to the office. It’s really hard to remember back then. Like every everything. It’s not a lot different than what I’m doing today. It was just more and I was doing all of it. My day-to-day was a lot of emails, a lot of invoices and numbers. I mean I’m not that person. My first part-time hire was a bookkeeper. And I remember she would come once a week and we would I would set up a folding table, and like a card table and a folding chair, in my office and we’d sit there with a stack of invoices that was damn near up to the ceiling and go through every single invoice. One by one. and make sure that spots ran and and billing was accurate and it was a grind. I mean I really think I worked a 120 hour weeks. Yeah. And so I was doing everything from writing my own copy to everything that’s involved in client services and communications and management. To doing all the media buying myself. Doing the posting by hand, which if anybody knows anything about a media post, I mean think about all the commercials that— you run like five hundred commercials a month, Kris. Think about looking at for all five hundred and making sure they ran. 

KL: Wow you know at the right time and then applying them per station and say 

TC: Yeah I was even designing postcards. I had no business design under my office but I did. I mean it. 

KL: Yeah. 

TC: You know my first full time hire was five years ago and that’s when everything changed for me and for us.

KL: So when you’re in that moment those first couple years obviously touch and go and I lived them and did the same thing. There’s probably people listening that have supported us for a long time and know that certain things I was doing I was not great at night.

TC: I’ve seen pictures of you. In fact I got a I don’t know how I got served this picture on social media. I don’t know— it was a picture of you from way in the beginning. I could tell. 

KL: Why? I changed? I thought I was getting younger!

TC: Same smile, Kris. Same big, wide smile. But you were holding two garbage bags of like mittens or jacket or something that you collected. 

KL: Yeah!

TC: And you were so proud of those two big garbage. 

KL: Right. I was!

TC: Imagine now if you were to do a hat drive. How disappointed you’d be with two big garbage bags. 

KL: So crazy is that crazy! Yeah! I mean it’s crazy how nice it is. And like you mentioned that first hire. But what I’m what I’m interested in is and I know this and I want to take people that are like sort of all different parts of business and in leadership, describe the feelings you had and how you made it work when it was that way. I mean anyone looking at thirty thousand foot view, it was rough. 120hours a week. Doing all those things things you’re not great at. How did you get through it. Like how did you get to this point? Not necessarily when you started hiring the people, but how did you get through those moments?

TC: I really think it had a lot to do with my clients. I had and still have most of them from from back then and an amazing partnership with my original O.G. client. I was always really transparent with who I was, what I had to offer, what my bandwidth was and I made sure that I was always there for them. I was always responsive and we continue to be hyper responsive as an agency today. How I got through it? I really have no idea. I mean I look back and wonder how in the heck did I do that! I don’t know and I think it’s like anything. Time doesn’t stop and if you have a goal and a mission, you just just have to do it. It’s the old saying one foot in front of the other. And I just figured it out as I went. I think I’ve told you this before but I’m not a goal-setter and I and I think that that’s what got me through is that I never set a goal for myself one-year or five-year three-year a 10-year a 20-year goal.

People ask what do you want to do I’m like, no I’m just gonna keep doing it—

KL: Stay above water water! 

TC: But I do think goals hold you back!

KL: Right. Yeah. 

TC: And so when you if you hit a goal, you coast and if you don’t hit a goal, you get disappointed. And so I didn’t know what my core values were at the time but I do now. And I think what’s helped really this company grow from when it was just me the first few years now and  we’ve got a team of almost 24 people… it’s gut instinct and staying true to who I was.

KL: That’s so important, I think, staying true to who you are and I’ve I’ve talked about that on a previous podcast and I also mentioned exactly you said about the goals and being so large or the massive ‘why’s” that are so overwhelming that we never hit them! And having just simple micro commitments or little things that we do every single day that we look at, that we know if we do those things that it leads us to where we need to go. But you mentioned hiring your first full time employee. How did you know who those people were and how did you know that those were the positions you needed to fill?

TC: You know I I met Toni Villa, now Dandrea. I think a year or two—

KL: I love Toni. 

TC: I do too. 

KL: She’s so great. 

TC: A year or two before I actually hired her and she came to me through a client that had recommended her. She was working at a very small boutique agency and I knew I needed a jack of all trades. Somebody that was young and just willing to learn and wanting to to roll their sleeves up and and really wanted to be there right.  I wanted like an entrepreneurial mindset and potential and I saw a tremendous amount of potential in Tony. And it was gut instinct I swear to God I’ve almost every awesome thing that I’ve done it’s been on gut instinct. She came to me through a client and then I said no she wasn’t ready. And I sent her back and I think I’ll go learn and keep in touch.

KL: Was it because she wasn’t ready or because you weren’t ready?

TC: I think, you know, I do think it was a little bit of both.

KL: Yeah. 

TC: And and when our paths crossed again I had hired a recruiter to go and find me a rock star and I had my eye on somebody else and she brought me Toni and I’m like OK this is meant to be. Yeah, you know, Yeah. And the rest was history.

KL: Awesome. You started obviously as you’ve scaled your organization. So you hire Tony. And then what sort of things start to show up next. Like what are the what are some of the challenges? What things have you started to learn you need to solve or hire for?

TC: Yeah. So people clients really trusted us, right? And they still do. And we’ve built the business on, I think, trust. So as we started to grow, clients were asking us to do more and more so we were just media buying and then they wanted us to handle their PR and earned media. Then they wanted us to handle their creative and graphic design. And then they wanted us to handle their social media. And suddenly you know it became too much for two people and outsourcing it just wasn’t efficient anymore and you know you wanted an in-house person that really understands of the core values of your company and can go on meetings with you. And so clients were asking us to do more and more because we were building trust with them. So very clear opportunities opened up and I was very careful to hire when it hurts and not just like immediately start scaling. We’ve slowly added people based on what the demand was and what our clients needed wanted for.

KL: For people that are listening and maybe it’s a different type of organization but when do you obviously you start to feel the pain and that it hurts but when you truly know like we need to hire someone for this position.

TC: Yeah I think when when revenue is like bleeding and that you know you just I’ve got, you know, Kris Lindahl wants me to do a billboard and so do 10 other clients. Okay I need a graphic designer. I can’t do this anymore. Or there’s a couple of people that came in as interns that I just believed in and we created departments around them. And so we’ve done it a couple of different ways where we’ve created opportunities and departments around the people because that’s really what their passionate about and what they’re good at versus trying to force somebody to do something that they’re that they’re not necessarily qualified to do. So again it really was just demand. And time. When I maxed out. Toni was maxed out. It’s time to then bring somebody on. And it’s a risk. Oh yeah. Always. Especially in my business. 

KL: Yeah. Describe describe that. I love that point because I think there are people listening that are at a point where they’re feeling pain and they need to hire. But there’s that fear associated with hiring they’re like, ‘Oh how am I going to pay for this?’  Describe sort of the fear of— you’re these early on you’re making these hires you’re like— how did you feel? What was it like? What were you thinking?

TC: I feel the same way I feel now. I mean I remind the team that at any moment all of our clients could fire us and we would have nothing. And and that’s scary. We’ve never been fired from from from a client in nine years. We have fired others. But it’s the same fear now is was the fear back then. I don’t want to— I don’t ever want to have to fire somebody because we can’t afford them anymore. And so the fear is do we have enough cash to pay for this position long term. I always say I’m looking for lifers. And that is that is one thing that really differentiates Media Bridge from other agencies in town. I am not interested in hiring somebody that wants to come in and learn and squat for a few years and then move on to the next agency. That’s not who we are. I am looking for lifers and the team knows that and I have a team of lifers. We haven’t had anybody quit because they found another amazing opportunity. There’s been a few people that you know we’ve we’ve identified that they’re just you know not the right person for the seat but  that that’s something that’s really important to me. So we have to be careful when we bring people on that they’re a core value fit. That we can afford them long-term. Forever. Like literally, for life and when they start having children, their children yeah. So I mean that’s what iI mean— it’s the same thing now that that it was back then.

KL: Yeah. The reason I bring that up is I don’t think a lot of people talk about like every time you make a hire, you’re making this commitment and the organization and the feelings don’t go away when you make those hires. It’s still like there’s a lot of feeling associated with making sure it’s the right person. How expensive is bringing in talent? The expense to the culture, the community… There’s so many variables to that and yeah I still remember those those feelings early on too, like “I hope this works!”

TC: And I look at it as a marriage. Yeah no I really do. And divorce is expensive and  we pick our the same way too. I’m not interested in working with a client for one year and have them spend ten million dollars and go I’m interested in the clients that want to come in and grow with us. You know I’m interested in the long term relationship, not the short term relationship. And and I think that that in everything we do we’re looking for that long term partnership.

KL: So you mentioned something that one of the most important things in leadership and in business and anything you’re doing is is like that. The lifer mentality of building people up and I’ve watched it. I think your organization has done it better than most that I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched how people who have grown in your organization and how they’ve scaled into leadership positions in different departments and in making all those changes, what types of things do you have to do to build people up into these positions?

TC: I think you have to believe in them and trust them and give them autonomy and I think our clients really dictate how fast we can grow. And like I said before, I really do want to grow alongside my clients and so our clients lean in a lot on what they need from us and what what what the team needs to do better. I mean, you’ve done that and I’ve learned a ton from you. And I think the team has learned a lot from you by not being closed off to your ideas and your insights and your expertise. You know just because we’re your marketing agency doesn’t mean we have all the marketing answers. And and I think that that’s a problem in the industry right now where a lot of agencies just think t’s my way or the highway and they’re not open to feedback and they’re not open to pivoting. And it’s ego driven. And my team has no ego that I probably have the biggest ego in the office. And I like to think I don’t really have a big ego. But I think that that has really you know helped people grow into leadership positions is that I fully trust. And people are going to make mistakes and that’s OK and we all learn from them.

KL: Yeah. That’s such great advice. The mistakes part I always say in our organization like you can make the mistake cause that’s how you’re going to grow but don’t keep making the same mistake because then that becomes a problem. 

TC: Yeah that’s true. 

KL: Yeah. That becomes a problem. So you did something last year that I think people will find interesting and I haven’t heard a lot of people doing this. So maybe you wanna explain like what last July looked like. What you did. Why you did it. And I think listeners will get an interesting perspective from this.

TC: Yeah. So I stress test my business in July and I fully checked out. I literally uninstalled any work-related app from my phone. I went out and bought a new iPad and only installed Netflix on it and I left the country for a month with my family and it was amazing. My initial reason for doing this was to see how my company functioned without me because if I get hit by a bus tomorrow what’s going to happen? Are they prepared? It’s like a test. It was like training right. 

KL: Not that you’re planning for your demise but it did happen.  

TC: But it feels good to know that if something were to happen to me and I needed to check out forever or for a few months, could the company sustain and thrive? The answer was yes. We had our best year ever. Our best month ever while I was gone. July was our largest grossing month in company history at that time. Leaders that I didn’t know had it in them stepped up and a whole other way. And I think it really infused a whole other level of autonomy with the team.  I mean they missed me obviously. Obviously yeah. No. All right. They told me they missed meBut it was just really good for them to know that they could do it. And I think that as a leader and you probably feel this too. You know people will lean on you for those hard decisions. And it’s not that they’re not capable of making them themselves but they just depend on you. It’s easy to go to you right? 

KL: Most of the time they almost always know the answer.

TC: Always! Yeah and sometimes the answer is better than mine right. 

KL: Right. If you have the right people it is!

TC: Totally! And that was the case. But the biggest thing for me was that it saved my marriage and I didn’t know it needed saving. My wife and I are both really high-energy, very motivated, always on the go people. We have ten pounds of crap in a five pound bag at all times. 

KL: I love it. 

TC: And technology has taken over our kitchen. Yeah. And we shut it off for a month and reconnected with my son and also my wife on a whole other level that I didn’t even that wasn’t even part of the plan really. It was for me more about the business and it ended up to be more personal. I think my biggest takeaway was that I realized that I am not defined by Media Bridge. You know I have so many other amazing qualities and perspectives to give and interests that it reminded me of who I really am and that I am not my company. And that was really important. And I forget that sometimes. I literally go back and look at the notes that I took I journal the little while I was away and and I continue to have “aha” moments from that month. The coolest part is that I came back and I didn’t want to come back to work a full five day work week. So, I gave everyone Fridays off the rest of the summer. I would say that’s probably what the team said it was their favorite part of my my check out.

KL: Yeah yeah. That’s neat I you know I’ve watched everything that you’ve done and I think what the challenges is for people that built their business from nothing alone. It became your identity and same for me. Like it’s everyone wants to have a conversation about Media Bridge and about our company. I mean it’s those are things that happen over and over again. You’re so spot on! We were just talking about this before we started where Cesar had mentioned that, “our souls are thirsty for like that human interaction,” we have all this digital distraction technology and everything going on. It really is challenging too because life goes at such a crazy pace. It’s challenging to stop and really connect with with more humans like with what Cesar said, “Our souls are thirsty.” 

It’s been it’s been a big learning thing for me too because it’s not easy because you’re a high driver. 

TC: Yep not easy. No no it’s the hardest thing. It’s hard. And the other thing that’s hard that I that you kind of just touched on is that you know being able to take yourself out of the business not because you don’t want to be associated with it or it’s not that I don’t want it to be my identity but I would guarantee almost everyone that calls Kris Lindahl Real Estate wants to work with Kris Lindahl. 

KL: Yeah. 

TC: You know? 

KL: Yeah. 

TC: And you have to remove yourself in order to not have the company not be solely dependent on you. 

KL: That’s right. 

TC: Taking every call. Taking every lead. Solving every problem I think before July people would literally be like are you working with Tracy Call instead of Media Bridge. You know? So I’ve been trying to change that conversation very strategically by allowing other people to step up and in big ways.

KL: Well also I think to when you take breaks you show up better for the company and for your clients when there’s some… people say balance more, and maybe more of a rhythm. You show up better when you have breaks as well. I mean you can’t! It’s impossible and I know that there are people listening right now that work 100 plus hours a week and you start to look at how long you’re on your device and maybe it’s more than that. I mean it’s just out of control— emails, texts, phone calls. It’s it’s nonstop but I the reason why I brought that stress test and that July up is because I’ve thought a lot about this like our organization. As you scale you have all of these people in your company have families as well. And so they have families that are counting on the organization and if something happens and quite honestly there’s been a few people in our organization that have actually asked like over the past couple of years like what if something happens to Kris? What happens? So we’ve been on the same journey you have to make sure that the business isn’t dependent on Kris being there or not. If something does happen or life shows up in different ways for different people and you need to have that flexibility for the organization. I think there are so many people listening right now that maybe haven’t scaled to a spot where they have that. I shared something the other day with with a friend and I asked him about his organization. I won’t name who it was or what it was. He is a basketball player— a really good basketball player and all I said was, “If you’re fouled out of the game, do you have somebody organization that can take that last shot?” And so he texted me the next day said, “Kris I’ve thought about that and I don’t have that person.” And so I think about that when I think about your organization. I think about the talent and I think about the growth that you have that you’ve had. How do you bring people in your organization that are that are willing to take that last shot? And then how are you able to keep them and really keep your organization “normal”  when you’re growing at the speed you are?

TC: Yeah I mean I think you just keep passing on the ball. 

KL: Yeah.

TC: You know? I mean I am constantly trying to pass the ball to people in opportunities where I drive to the hole myself.

KL: Yes yes. 

TC: Slam dunk it. You can you have to be okay with that. And you know and I know you’re doing that too.

KL: Trying. Everyday!

TC: I’m inspired by a lot of the things that you do and I think it’s it’s cool when you have a network and a group of other CEOs that you can talk to and I come away with really good ideas after your fishing trip. I do because you’re out there doing what I did in July. Yeah maybe you’re like a couple of days. But no, I mean to answer your question, it really is like just continue to give them the opportunity over and over again and you know if they fail, we talk about it. You know if they miss the shot, we talk about. What could you have done different? And I think that I have those people that can make the shot. I know I do. We’re they are now. We weren’t there a year or two ago. We just last year implemented EOS within the organization. And it’s been a game changer for us.

KL: Yeah it’s been really fun to watch like the growth in the organization and how really the talent level in your organization, how they’ve stepped up. You said something that you said give them the opportunities they want to continue to pass them the ball. Here’s where I’ve seen the challenge and I think you lived it. I’ve lived it. When you’re growing and you need money and you need resources and you need budget you start making decisions based on like, “Well if I just do it that I don’t have to give that commission to someone else.” You start to justify  why you start taking on and piling on clients. So that really you can keep the doors open. 

TC: Yeah. 

KL: And so explain. I know that as you grow and there are people listening that start making decisions based on how to get more revenue. How do you get out of that mindset?

TC: Well I slip back into it still. 

KL: Oh yeah. 

TC: Sometimes. I think you get out of the mindset by just trusting your team and trusting the process that you’ve put in place. You know we have, I have a really good team of people that can take the ball, that can take that big client that may call in and I would typically go on that appointment. I don’t go on many first appointments anymore because if I am there whoever we’re meeting with talks only to me and asks only me questions. And when we leave there is an awkward transition. And so my solve for this is I just don’t go on those first meetings anymore unless they specifically ask for me. And I’m really sure to let the other person lead the meeting. Now I have a hard time still not interrupting and jumping in and like you know I mean you know. 

KL: Oh yeah.

TC: But but that’s my solve. I mean I just I have to take myself out of the equation in the beginning and I’m there for troubleshooting and I’ll show up randomly to it to a meeting with a client who’s never met me before just to make sure that they know that I am there and available and I’m really conscious of promoting and building up whoever it is that’s handling that that partnership though so that client has faith in the person that they’re working with.

KL: Interesting because we have so many similarities in leadership in our companies and our growth in our culture and their talent. What’s interesting is  in a lot of cases you and I aren’t even the right person to be at that appointment. We have people around us that are way better than we are.

TC: Totally. 

KL: And we’re in the seat that we sit in as where most of our clients want us to be because we’re more effective there as well. 

TC: Yeah. 

KL: And I think early on like I just thought that I was like the master of everything and I had to be the one that needed to be everywhere and then instead of explaining something to someone it was just easier just to do it. And I think people listening…

TC: Do you remember when we first started working together. And you say, “I only want to work with you” and I said that’s a mistake. That’s a mistake. 

KL: Cost me a lot of money now! I’m just kidding!

TC: I’m sure it has! And then I’m looking at houses and I’m like, “I only want to work with you, Kris.” He hasn’t gotten back to me on some of my questions but that’s ok.

KL: He’s fishing.

TC: Yeah whenever we make a mistake we’re like, “It’s our fault.”

KL: Yeah. Look I think that’s what’s so funny about it. We sort of now like we just blame each other.

TC: And it’s probably accurate to say it’s your fault or mine for sure. 

KL: Yeah. So with the growth… Growth is messy and challenging and there are a lot of challenges. We’ve talked a lot about the successes and what it looks like and the accomplishments and the people which are incredible and Media Bridge is an amazing organization. But what are some challenges that you’ve experienced with growing? Maybe just share with people that aren’t familiar with the Media Bridge journey, like what sort of growth you’ve had so people get a better perspective of what you’ve grown into in this short amount of time.

TC: Right yeah no problem. Definitely There’s been a lot of challengeS.

KL: Yes.

TC: I’ll give you just a few numbers that it’s fun. I actually looked it up before I came because I’m just not a numbers person but I wanted to.. I knew you’d ask. So we made the INC List three years in a row. 2015, 2016, 2017. So and if you don’t know anything about the INC List they go back and they look at three years in a row and what the percentage of growth revenue was. So for 2015. So 2013 to 2015, our growth was 334%. The next three year bucket which was 2014 to 2016 was just shy of 400%. I think it was like 382%. And then the following year leading up to 2017 was 220 something. And we’ve continued to grow from from there. With growth comes pain. Right? And hard decisions. And I think I said we’ve never been fired from an account but we certainly have had to have had very difficult conversations with other clients that aren’t core values. Some of the some of the issues with growth is you know we have to let go of large clients because they don’t fit our core values and they’re not respectful. They don’t really want to you know our feedback and and we’re very protective of our process and especially our rates and the way we negotiate. We’re extremely transparent with with invoicing and billing and all the important stuff that clients want to know. But but we can’t and won’t give up our secret sauce and especially share our rates. We signed NDAs with a lot of the media companies around town and everyone wants two see our rates right. So we have a really hard time explaining that to clients on why we won’t show the rate and and it’s because we can’t allow that to get out into the public because we do have an advantage. I have worked very hard over the past decade to build very strong relationships. And so that’s always that’s been a problem that we faced— clients wanting to really see behind the curtain and a whole other way that you know no agency would share. Most agencies don’t. The other problem is when you grow a client so big that they go public or outgrow you or think they’ve outgrown you because they started with you when you were small and they don’t realize that that you’ve grown to the same level that they have. And that’s been tough for us. You know I think we’re not good at sharing our success or our growth with our clients. And so I don’t think that they always understand what we’re doing to be better and we need to be better about that. We need to be better about promoting ourselves more to our clients and letting them know what we’re doing and what positions we’re adding. What new services we’ve been exploring over the past year to stay ahead of the curve. We’re known as the radio media buying agency for a reason. I mean we do do a lot of radio. We find a lot of success with radio but we sure do offer a lot of other things and I think clients don’t know that and it’s our own fault.

KL: Yeah it’s interesting that you say your own fault because I’ve learned this about very successful leaders is taking accountability for things and I really like how you share that there’s some things that we could be doing better some challenges and it’s. And taking that accountability I think is a big part of like growth. Like there are going to be challenges about owning up and taking that accountability is so important. 

TC: Yeah I agree. 

KL: You mentioned something there that I think a lot of people would freak a lot of people out that are in either early stages or growing in an organization and that’s walking away from business that doesn’t fit the core value. And I know the feeling because we’ve had a few people in organizations in the past where we had to walk away from business because it’s not great for our employees. It’s hard on our agents. It’s hard on our staff. It’s hard on everyone. 

TC: Yeah. 

KL: And I’ve watched like I’ve been fortunate enough to watch very closely as you’ve had to make some of these tough decisions. How do you identify when someone’s not the right fit. Because I know that there are people right now that are in a place of big pain with some major client that spends probably hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars with them and they just take orders and run around for this for this person or for this entity. How do you get out of that mindset where you don’t have someone that’s like disrespecting you disrespecting your people, disrespecting your organization?

TC: Yeah. I mean it’s as simple as if it doesn’t feel good. We don’t want to want to spend our time there. It’s got to feel good. All right. And the respect thing is so huge. I think that there’s this stigma out there that because you’re the client and we’re the agency or you’re the client and you have a rep at a media company that you get to treat that rep like crap because you’re the client. You’re spending the money, right? And there definitely is a hierarchy there. Right? But we’re all humans you know and it’s like that respect is so important. And if I see somebody on my team in pain because of a client or struggling or emotional, that sets me off. There’s people on my team that literally call me mom and and I didn’t really like it at first but I’m starting to get used to it. It kind of like it goes with that thing like don’t call your team your family they’re not your family. I actually totally and completely disagree. I have given in to my feelings of the fact that my team is my family. Like they really just are. And I don’t care what all the books say, that you shouldn’t do that or whatever. I’m doing that. And I’m really protective of my family. My work family and my in my home family. And so if somebody is causing them pain or hurting their feelings and consistently or being disrespectful, that’s it. There’s no amount of money that will allow that to be acceptable at Media Bridge.

KL: Yeah yeah. That’s so great. One thing I want to add to that you didn’t say that is important is I’ve also watched your protectiveness over your clients as well. Like obviously I take a lot of heat a lot.

TC: That really bothers me. I lose sleep over the heat that you take 

KL: I take a lot of heat but I know over the years I’ve learned that the heat that I’m taking it’s actually not about me. It’s about the people that are saying it. It took me a long time to get to that point but I’ll text things to Tracy every once in a while and she’ll go, “Why are they doing that? Why are they saying that?”

TC: It really does. You’re going to have to teach me how to let it go because I will go to the mat for my clients. 

KL: Yeah.

TC: And I’ll say it like whether or not they’re right or wrong. Right. I will defend them.

KL: Yeah. That really stuck out to me and I want to add that to what you said there. There’s this other part that I feel every time that I come and visit all of the amazing people at Media Bridge and it’s the fun and the joy. Everyone says culture, community whatever whatever those words are but they’re so much fun and joking and now you have to design all this stuff. They’re making funny things, doing funny things is crazy Kris Lindahl billboards going out. How do you embrace or how does an organization scale like you have but still maintain that?

TC: Yeah. Well I think it has a lot to do with our new office. And so we just moved into the Colonial Warehouse about a year and a half ago and I went through several different architects and design firms before I met a woman named Jaque Bethke and she approached the build out and the design and layout of the office in a way that was very unique. She told me, she said this office has to generate revenue for you. And in order to generate revenue this office has to be a home away from home for your team. And so she’s created a space that’s not only a home away from home from my team but for clients. I mean we have clients that come to our office to work. They’re downtown and they have an hour to two to kill in between meetings and they they come to Media Bridge and they find a spot and they set up and they help themselves to a cold press coffee on tap. Or a LaCroix in the refrigerator. Or whatever snack we have on on the counter. 

KL: Snacks everywhere.

TC: I know, oh my God. And that’s the kind of culture that I wanted to create. She went through this questionnaire process with the entire team and asked them how do you like to work? What colors do you like? What kind of space do you need? And customized the office to the needs and wants of the team. And I think that that’s really important. I think sometimes CEOs that are building out new offices don’t really think through the lens of their team. And it’s more through the lens of budget and or whatever cookie cutter layout is you know recommended to them. So it was a long process. Probably took twice as long but it’s worth it.

KL: Yeah. Looks amazing. And just to add because we have so many listeners that are that are not in Minnesota, the Colonial Warehouse is in North Loop Minneapolis. Super trendy, cool area. Media Bridge’s headquarters is in Minneapolis but they’re national agency who are now all over the country.

TC: Yeah. So when we first started about 80 percent of our revenue was Minneapolis and now it’s flipped. And now it’s like 20 percent of revenue comes from Minneapolis and the rest is national. We’re literally in over 100 markets right now.

KL: Amazing. That’s awesome. So I said at the beginning and I asked the question to listeners about how do you lead with heart. And I think of everything that we’ve talked about today and everything that stands out it’s like…I’ve watched how not only you lead with heart but I’ve also watched how your leaders and how your organization is now leading with heart. So it’s not just you anymore. There’s all this stuff going on. Because there are so many different ways to lead and they’re not necessarily right ways or wrong ways, it’s just really sort of the way that works for you. But describe to me how you have learned to lead this way.

TC: Yeah I mean honestly it was the book you recommended. It was Lead With Heart. 

KL: Yeah. Great book.

TC: Tom Garland. Yes. CEO of Avis. Is he from Minnesota?

KL: Yes, he is!

TC: God, I want to meet him. Tom, I want to meet you.

KL: Yes, we can make that happen. I’m actually really good friends of this son Kevin.

TC: Oh gosh. So the book changed my life. I’m not a big reader. I think I read it five or six times. And every time I read it, I had a new takeaway. I struggle and still do with like, am I even a good leader? I don’t even know. I think we talked about this a little bit earlier. But you know all of the advice to CEOs and most books or articles that are written or you know seminars that I’ve been to on leadership draw very fine very clear line between being a leader and then you know this is you’re these are employees. You have to have a wall up and don’t show emotion and don’t share personal information. And like really just you have to be that unemotional person and in case you have to fire someone. You can’t fire family. Don’t call them family. Man, I tried that for a couple of years and it did not feel good to me. 

KL: No. 

TC: And this book gave me permission to totally let down my wall. So I in the book. He talks about a meeting that he had with his team and his staff really about his why. And why he is the leader that is and why he’s doing what he’s doing and what drives him. I think that was the big thing like what drives you. And I shared with my team and I got really emotional in the meeting.

KL: I remember you telling me.

TC: And Tom talked about how emotional he got in the meeting and he actually cried in front of a teammate like let the wall down on this whole another way and opened up this whole other amazing beautiful world of communication between not only him and his team, but the rest of the team too. Right? And I think you know by me lean with heart with heart and leading by example, it gives permission for the other people on the leadership team to also lead with heart. And I’m hoping that that gets passed down. But it was a really emotional meeting and it was really good. And it just it flipped the switch in me.

KL: Yeah well it’s been it’s been really fun to watch and Tom Garland is an amazing, amazing guy. And so as Kevin. Kevin’s been a great friend for so long. So I was thinking about that. I was thinking about how people listening would benefit. So when you see, well I’m sure when you hear this or you see this, if you put a comment on our social media about this episode or if you send Kris(at)BehindTheBillboard(dot)com with your takeaways of this, the first 20 people like I’ll buy the book Lead With Heart and we’ll send it to you. Because it has made a huge impact on my life as well and I think reading and books and things like that have made a huge difference. So anyone that posts the comments or shares this and says what they love about Tracy… What they love about Tracy. 

TC: Oh God yes. Oh my God, yes. 

KL: That will make that part of the requirements if you want to get you a free book. I’ll purchase 20 of them and I’ll send em anywhere around the country. If you say what you loved about Tracy’s interview and it has to be something that Tracy said or did.

TC: So turning red. Oh yeah.

KL: So with everything that we’ve covered today, there’s always evolution. And you talked about like solving needs. You hired people to solve needs that your clients had and different things… digital, social and different areas that you that you’re a part of now. But where do you see the future of media and then where do you see the future of the consumer?

TC: Yeah. Those are two really good questions and I think if I had the answers I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.

KL: In your opinion. In your opinion.

TC: Yeah. You know I think that I don’t think that there’s going to be like these big giant— Every year they come out with these big huge shifts, like radio is dying, digital is taking over. This is the year of social. This is the year of that. And there’s just been very slow changes over the over the past 10 years that I have been really paying attention. Right? I think that what we’re seeing right now is O.T.T which is over-the-top-television which is watching TV on any device other than your standard TV. So watching television through smart TV, using Roku or Apple or your PlayStation. That is right now what we’re focusing on and doing a ton of research on. I know just enough to be dangerous. But I have a team that’s literally been dedicating the past year and a half to fully understanding the opportunities there. And I think that’s the biggest thing that’s here to stay. Right. I mean there’s all the other you know there’s all socials I was changing. I have no idea what’s going to you but I know more than I do.I mean you’re always educating me on social. But you know I think radio is here to stay forever and ever and ever and ever.

KL: Explain to listeners why you think that because I know you have an interesting perspective that I think is accurate from that.

TC: Yeah. Well you know every car is sold on the radio and always will be. Right. I think that there is the XMs and and you know all the other digital forms of listening to radio but people want to listen to people. And at the end of the day people want they are craving relationships and they’re craving conversation. And morning drive radio will forever keep radio alive and kicking. And I think one of the most efficient mediums out there especially if you’re looking for an immediate ROI like you turn on radio today, you get a lead today. Right? And everyone wants that. But I think that on-air personalities are serving more and more like high-impact influencers. People spend more time with their favorite deejay a week than they do with sometimes their partner or their family. And so I think that that radio will will always be one of the most efficient and most impactful mediums out there. As long as they keep the human involved, right? And you now what I always say, when we first started working together. Rdio personality endorsements. It’s like word of mouth on crack. Whenever somebody says their number one lead horses word of mouth I immediately think. OK well we know what to do next. Right? 

KL: Yeah. 

TC: So that’s that’s my why on radio. And you look at all the stats. It’s something like anywhere depending on what survey you look at and these are non-radio funded surveys anywhere between 90 and 97 percent of people listen to the radio every day. And that percentage stays above the 90s across every age range, every ethnicity, any other sort of you know qualitative demographic that you want to pull. It stays above 90 percent. And so to me it’s just such a no brainer. Whereas you look at TV and you look at social when you look at digital and it’s it’s a roller coaster. Its up and down depending on what survey you pull and who’s pulling it and radio is consistently top. We don’t make any extra money on radio. For us we want to do what’s going to what’s going to drive results for our clients. But it’s just been that that one medium and you know, you’ve experienced it. We’ve tried lots of other things. 

KL: Oh yeah instantly trying things.

TC: Yeah it’s in. And we keep coming back to this because it just works and when it doesn’t, when it stops working, then we’ll figure out the next solution.

KL: Yes. So, so interesting. I want to ask this question because I think this will be helpful for people that are that are marketing or looking at growing their marketing presence. You’ve seen so many different marketing campaigns and clients and you’ve been a part of so many creative and all of these different strategies… When a client works with you, what ultimately leads to a marketing approach failing? Why does it fail?

TC: That’s a good question, Kris. I think I think the number one reason it fails is that people don’t want to stay committed to it. I always tell people that you don’t have to wait three months to get results. But if if a client is not willing to invest what’s necessary in that medium or in that program, it won’t work. And you know ultimately it’s our fault if it fails. You know we should be saying, no $500 for a radio campaign is not going to work.

KL: No 

TC: No. And we do do that right. But I think a lot of it has to do with the willingness to stick with it for at least a of couple of months. And the creative. A lot of companies are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on creative or on their media buy. And then they don’t want to put any money into creative. I don’t get it.

KL: It’s fascinating. Yeah. 

TC: It’s like you buy a company and and you have a crappy salesperson out there selling cars. You buy a car dealership and you don’t how any sales people. Qe always say, put your best salesperson out there no matter what you’re doing. TV. Radio. Digital. Social. So I think that’s probably now that we’re talking about it. I think that is the number one reason is that clients don’t want to invest in creative because they’ve been trained that they can get free creative from the media companies. 

KL: Yeah. It’s so interesting I’ve watched so much market and I’ve learned so much over the years and I watch so many people miss the message. The message doesn’t even meet their consumer or it’s confusing. They’re complicated or doesn’t look right in the end. It’s fascinating how many companies do that. I want to ask because I know that there are a lot of people that reach out and ask about different marketing strategies. So I’ve got a question more about you and where you are today but what advice would you give knowing what you know today? What advice would you give to your younger self? Like the beginning of Media Bridge. I’m interested to hear your perspective on this.

TC: Oh I think I would tell myself not to sweat the small stuff so much. I’m a perfectionist and sometimes I still do this. But you know when I when I focus in on something that’s not important I waste so much time. Either with my family or paying attention to bigger more visionary things. And so I think in the beginning I’d spent hours on just something really small that that didn’t matter. And so I think not to sweat the small stuff would be the first one. I think I should have been doing more stuff like this. You know I’m now to the point where you tell me this all the time and you’re not the only one that I need to be doing more. Things that are in the community and public I’m total introvert, right? And that’s training. 

KL: Yeah. 

TC: When I met you you weren’t as confident as you are now in front of a microphone. That’s for sure. But I think it’s training and I wish I would have pushed myself when I was younger so I was more natural now. Yeah. I’m comfortable here with you because we’re friends. And I was actually really looking forward to this. But we just hired a PR firm and I have no interest. Zero like 0  to 10 , zero interest in getting in front of the camera. And I think that if I would have pushed myself when I was younger, I’d be no I’d be more confident now to to be in the position to do that.

KL: Yeah that’s that’s good advice. Last question I have is, we have leaders that like I said earlier, that are emerging all the way to towards the end of their career. But what advice from everything that you’ve learned, what advice would you give to leaders that are there listening to this podcast?

TC: Well, I really do think the Lead with Heart book is is super important. And the other piece of advice I would give is make sure you have a network of other business leaders or CEOs around you that you can lean on and talk to. That’s been so important for me over the course of the last few years. When you start a business, you’re on your own island. You don’t have a board of directors to go to to ask for advice. And there are so many things that come up. Questions. Big decisions to make. And most people like you and I don’t have that experience. My biggest advice is make sure you have a network of other CEOs that can act as your board of directors. That you can call when you have a problem because you really can’t lean on your team for that. There’s questions you cannot ask your team. There’s questions that you shouldn’t bring home and bring into your personal life. So to build that network is really important. And I wish I would have done that sooner because I think it would have been easier for me.

KL: That’s that’s phenomenal advice. Also you mentioned and I think about this, I think a lot of times leadership running a company, owning a company can be lonely. I mean there’s times where you might have really big news or something you’re working on and you can’t share it with anyone. You can’t celebrate the success. You’re working through those things. And I know those feelings and there’s been quotes about who you hang out with and those things are so true. I’ve looked at my network and how it’s growing and really what I’ve I’ve learned over the years from people that are close to me, including you, are like it’s just fascinating the things that I didn’t know and also the blind spots that we have like. Like you’re to your point we don’t we didn’t have experience building a company this size and now we’ve learned so much. And we’ve been fortunate to have people but I think that’s that’s such great advice. I love the Lead with Heart book and like I said earlier, if you go to the Behind the Billboard Facebook page and post on there and you might not even you don’t even have to say Tracy because I call her T.C. so you can say something about T.C. The first 20 people, I’m going to send a free book Lead with Heart by Tom Garland which you’ll absolutely love. But do you have any final thoughts for everyone before we wrap this up.

TC: Yeah I do. I just want to say how much I appreciate you. 

KL: Oh thank you 

TC: You push me to do this and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.

KL: I saw the first part, I didn’t tell you what’s next.

TC: But you know I really appreciate your inspiration and your friendship. You have become one of my best friends. And I get so mad when when people don’t understand who you are. 

KL: Yeah. 

TC: And so I think you are one of the most genuine, nice, kind, generous people that I know on the planet Earth. And I think you are grossly misunderstood and it just drives me crazy. So I want to for the record make sure everybody knows that this is not a facade. You really are one of the happiest people that I know. You’ll call me really early in the morning at 7:00 a.m. and I will answer for you because you pumped me up you’re always so positive. “Hi T.C. How are you doing?” You know and I need people like you in my life. So thank you for being that. 

KL: That was really nice of you. 

TC: Yeah I know you nice. You are a light in my life. Thank you.

KL: Thank you T.C. Yeah this was amazing and you know if you love this episode it’s a great way to end the episode. Thank you so much. If you love this episode, please leave a five-star review and subscribe to this podcast and if you want to write some words in our ratings on iTunes and the other ones, I’d be so grateful. But really Tracy everything that you shared and said I feel the same about you. I’m grateful to have you in my life and I know that there are so many takeaways that I got from this and I know that people listening will and so I’ve just really hope that everyone or comments on the Facebook page and says what their takeaways were from T.C. because I can’t wait to screenshot them and share them with you because you do make an impact in so many lives. So thanks for being here.

TC: Thanks, Kris.

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