As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Stacy Durand. She has been the CEO of MDG since its inception in 2008, and her passion for the job is fueled by her pure love of the media business. Her career has always been about facilitating business growth exponentially and maximizing the potential of any campaign that runs through her company.
Stacy obtained her MBA from Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and jumped into the world of DRTV quickly becoming one of the most highly respected experts in her field. Over the course of her 20 years in the TV Media Sphere, Stacy has served as President of Revenue Frontier LLC, and as Executive Vice President of Mercury Media. She has also served as a board member of ERA (Electronic Retail Association).
With the foresight that TV advertising was undergoing massive change due to the rising number of multiple viewing platforms, Stacy needed a way for MDG’s clients to take advantage of all streaming capabilities. In 2018, Stacy and her business partner, Ben Zimmerman, launched TRADR, a supply side platform for advanced TV audiences everywhere. Using the linear approach that MDG offers, along with the digital streaming capabilities of TRADR, Stacy’s clients are now finding new ways to grow their campaigns and seeing the positive effects that digital streaming has to offer.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After an internship at KTLA-TV, I applied for an agency job straight out of college. I had no idea what the company did, but I showed up at the interview with my navy blue suit on, ready to go! I was hired on the spot — which was anticlimactic- since it was the first day of summer after college graduation. I started the next day and remained at the company for 16 years — when hired, I was the 5th employee and the agency was billing $10k annually. By the time I was ready to leave we had grown to 100 employees and $250m in billing. I was well prepared to open my own shop after holding every job title — many at the same time.
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?
Always make sure the speaker phone is hung up!! When I first became an Account Executive, I hung up a client call — — or thought I hung up — — and proceeded to voice my opinion of the not-so-nice client…..and surprise! He was still there. That mistake has created years of hitting the dial tone button a few times after a call. Luckily, I have not had any camera or unmuted Zoom issues. This is a mistake you only make once!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My old boss Dan Danielson really taught me everything that built the foundation for the way I run my business today. Early on, Dan had more confidence in me than I had in myself. He treated me like a peer and made me realize that I had great instincts and I needed to trust them. Using logic, having the ability to simplify the problem and trusting your gut are underrated skills, yet they are mandatory for an entrepreneur.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
There is never a need for another agency. For this reason, we had pressed “pause” a few times. The final decision to go out on our own was driven by the need to innovate. As the direct to consumer business grew on the internet, media agencies were losing visibility into channel performance. The desire to start Media Design Group was born out of the need to solve this problem. My business partner and I knew we had the ideas and energy to dive in where our competitors were complacent in their success, and were not identifying the massive shift looming. This desire to innovate, in this case develop a web attribution platform, and stay engaged as owners has a direct link to our success.
Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
These last 9 months would be the obvious story, but I am going to go back to 2015 — which was a terrible year for MDG. The lessons I learned during this tough summer, I was able to pull from to help navigate 2020. In June 2015, our largest client was sold to a holding company, so our contract was immediately canceled. The cancelation had nothing to do with our performance but the ripple effect of the departure was a ball rolling down hill — fast. The news spread quickly and as other clients heard MDG lost their premiere client, they began to look for other homes. This had a ripple effect into our new business efforts with many of our competitors sharing our story for us.
The third wave of damage was with the employees. The staff became nervous and began to jump ship. Every day there was more bad news. Literally every day. I am a doer — I am resourceful and I can make things happen — but this time… I had nothing. I felt like I was just helplessly watching the carnage. Finally, I realized that there was nothing magical I could “DO” besides just SHOW UP. SHOW UP for the clients that stayed, SHOW UP for the employees that stayed — be the energy and the rock that was constant and unwavering. I bought into my own theory that agencies can be bigger than us, people can be smarter than us, but no one can work harder than us. That was what I could control at that point. Showing up and being present served to ground everyone, and fostered a sense of pride and loyalty that got us through. During a few rough days of the pandemic — I thought of 2015 and knew — although scary — that we could make it through if we got focused, put our heads down and worked!
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
The above answer serves well here too. I did consider giving up in 2015, but I knew our agency and our culture was special and destined to change the industry.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Staying focused and calm. Your employees need to be able to have an environment where they can put their head down and work without worry. There is a time and place to share sensitive information but fear and uncertainty only reduce productivity. As I mentioned earlier — you need to SHOW UP. When things get bad, it is easy to hide in your office — you cannot do that — you have to be shoulder to shoulder during the bad times. You can’t be too rosy, you have to acknowledge the tough times and workload but being present makes a difference.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Again, just show up. Be there for them, and be honest with them. Stand with your team during both good and bad times, and reassure them that you believe that hard work will pay off in the end.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Be honest. You do not need to share all the details, and your team does not actually want or need the gory details– but pretending like everything’s okay will only damage your credibility as a leader. Put forth a message of: “it is going to be tough, but we are tough.” Being sincere in conjunction with a hard-working message of hope goes a long, long way.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
This pandemic shows us that we simply can not have a plan for everything. Rather than having a “plan” — being creative, nimble and prepared to pivot when necessary is mandatory.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
One of the biggest mistakes is maintaining the same, tired course for too long. As I mentioned above, being able to quickly pivot and adapt to the current situation at hand will get you through tough times.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Don’t panic. Maintain a confident and calm mindset, and take it one step at a time.
- React quickly. Think about the decisions you make before you make them. You have more time than you think.
- Don’t forget who you are. In bad times, you need to have confidence — stick with a mantra and live by it.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
About 3 months in we realized that we needed a new way to fill the sales pipeline. We were used to traveling– going to conventions and visiting clients to drum up leads and new business. This was non-existent during the beginning of the pandemic and we realized that form of “sales” would not resurface for over a year. Figuring out how to stand out in an ALL-email-ALL-the-time world was important. The sales team has become very creative.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be creative in your solutions. When problem solving, be willing to think outside the box and take a leap into something new — maybe even something that’s never been done before.
- Be able to pivot. Don’t stay tied to a failing practice or business model just because it is familiar. Be willing to adapt to the current situation.
- Be honest with yourself and your team. Hiding the truth or lying about the situation will only damage your credibility as a leader. Even when the truth is bad, it is better to be transparent than to lie.
- Stay focused, positive and calm. Be the energy and the rock that is constant and unwavering for your team. Especially in tough times, bring that same positive, confident energy that allows your employees to feel supported.
- Just show up. Be there for yourself, be there for your team. If you put in the hard work, it will pay off.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“They can be smarter, but they can’t work harder.”
How can our readers further follow your work?