I had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Farinella, the founder & CEO of Blue Sky Agency, Atlanta’s independent advertising agency. Rob has had leadership roles in some of Georgia’s largest marketing initiatives, including representing the Georgia Department of Economic Development, a seat on the Board of Directors for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Atlanta Super Bowl Bid Committee, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Selection Committee, to name a few. Rob has also been a committed leader in the fight against homelessness.
Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I moved from Manhattan to Atlanta, because it seemed like a cool place to raise a family and start a business even though I didn’t know anyone. I bought a house and found an office, then I started meeting people. I was young and ambitious, and naive enough to believe that I could achieve anything I was willing to work hard for.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I was the only person in my office. It was in a great location for business and was easy for meetings, lunches and access to the city’s main travel arteries. But it was hard to get used to being alone. I just worked without breaks and had few if any personal interactions. So for some crazy reason I thought I’d start smoking a few times a day. Yes — after never smoking my entire life! But I figured the group in the smoking area were better than nothing, and I liked learning about the area. This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but the take away was obvious. Lesson learned: it’s a smelly, disgusting habit, and while I’m not judging, it taught me that there are definitely better ways to make new friends!
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Although I was raised Catholic, I got so much from reading “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” by Deepak Chopra. It deepened my consciousness around intention and practicing detachment with greater ease. It also helped me realize the wisdom in nature. I highly recommend this book to entrepreneurs. It’s too easy to become saturated in worries and negativity in business and life. You need tools throughout your career to keep your mind receptive and open in order to let your talents flow more naturally, and this is a good one.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I wanted to create an advertising agency with heart. That wasn’t my experience in New York, and my vision was to create a company in which I had a more authentic and meaningful connection with employees than just money and perks. I wanted clients to feel that heart as well.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Do not entertain negativity.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
In my family one of my sons was furloughed, which required a healthy dose of encouragement and support. It’s been a lesson in humility for him, learning that self-confidence cannot rely on external circumstances over which we have no control.
In my company, everyone is handling the COVID-19 situation differently. Since you don’t really know what anyone else is going through, sensitivity is paramount.
As CEO, I try to remind myself of this when I work with my team. This is a time where we need to take a more personal approach with each team member and trust everyone to understand the flexibility required right now. We’re dealing with individuals, not departments or strict company mandates. We’re going to start with a strictly voluntary reopening and transition from there.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing and want to meet during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We have some clients whose categories have been financially impacted and we need to balance compassion with not putting our staff members at risk. Everyone has expectations, and so far we’ve found that transparency is working. We’re very fortunate to be operating at a consistently high level throughout the pandemic, so our work product hasn’t changed. I also think we’re becoming stronger from what we’re learning about collaboration by working from home.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Cooking and eating dinner together as a family has become a central part of my day again. Sharing stories, memes, and asking questions have led to fun conversations and great memories. Realizing the joy in these moments — moments that you can’t just order online or get back as we all eventually return to work, school, and normal life is one of the great lessons we should take from this situation.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I’m not sure anyone can predict right now what the exact opportunities will be coming out of this, but I do think ingenuity will lead.
Americans always innovate when things get tough. I think regardless of your party affinity, the CARE act was innovative, timely, and will be responsible for saving a tremendous number of small businesses across the country. I’m an optimist, so it’s hard for me to see anything but opportunity for my business. I believe value will be redefined to include price, quality and safety as well.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think COVID has really heightened our awareness of cleanliness — everywhere, all the time. And that awareness could forever alter our lives going forward: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and face masks will hold top spots on the grocery lists well into the future.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
I can’t tell you that right now. It’s a secret. Check back with me in a couple months for a full update!
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I think people and businesses should be much more prudent about growing and maintaining cash flow. Everyone should work to be more disciplined about that, as well as fortifying their emergency account. It needs to become a priority to be prepared for future uncertainty.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Find joy in the present. It’s not always a big promotion, a new outfit, or some giant accomplishment. It’s simple things: the taste of your first sip of coffee; your dog wagging his tail when he greets you in the morning; a subtle breeze on a sunny day; laughter with friends and family; a juicy burger on your grill. Joy is all around if you just take the time to find it.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can continue to keep updated on both my work as well as Blue Sky Agency by following my personal LinkedIn and the agency’s social media channels:
- Rob Farinella LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rob-farinella-9364619/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BlueSkyAgency/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/blueskyagency/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/BlueSkyAgency
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/blue-sky-agency/