When we feel ignored, our confidence level goes down significantly. Engaging one on one with your kids builds their confidence level. If you don’t do it, it can lead to a slippery slope and bigger problems. It’s no secret that kids model your behavior. If you swear a lot, they’ll swear a lot. If you constantly check your phone or look at it when you’re driving, they’ll think that’s okay.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracy Call, the founder and CEO of Media Bridge Advertising, located in Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood. After years on the “sell” side of media, Tracy hung out her own shingle in 2010 with a mission to give companies more bang for their media buck. Since its founding, Media Bridge has earned several consecutive spots on the Inc. 500/5000 and Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s “Fast 50” lists, and now boasts an impressive roster of direct response brands, including It’s Just Lunch, Bite Squad, Renters Warehouse, Kris Lindahl Real Estate, CobornsDelivers and Inspire Medical Systems. A graduate of Iowa State University and a former rugby player and bobsledder, Tracy is a Business Journal “Women in Business” award-winner and Stevie® “Women in Business” award-winner who has long been recognized for her professional achievements, leadership and contributions to the broader Twin Cities community.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
I was born in Anoka, Minnesota, and grew up in the Twin Cities. I was adopted as an infant, but my childhood narrative is pretty atypical from what most people think of an adopted child. I was deeply loved, and I also felt very much wanted. In fact, I felt extra special, because I was told that my birth mother cared so much about me that she wanted me to have a great life. I’m incredibly grateful for that.
The funny thing is that I can’t draw a clear line from how I was raised to what I’m doing now. In so many ways, it almost feels like an accident. My parents were school teachers. I watched no TV, and I wasn’t introduced to music, pop culture or media until late high school. Once that door cracked, I kicked it open in a big way. When I met my biological mother at the age of 16, I learned that I had all these relatives who worked in entertainment, media, marketing and the arts. Let’s just say I realized the power of genetics!
The key thing is that I’ve always felt totally supported, and that has given me a certain confidence, as well as a desire to spread that confidence to others. I’ve never been afraid of any challenge. Whatever dream I had or sport I wanted to try as a kid, the answer was always yes. That’s had a huge impact on how I parent, and also how I lead my business. More than one person at Media Bridge calls me “Mom,” and that’s no accident. We genuinely love each other here, and the “L word” definitely resonates with me.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
There are so many stories I could share, but I keep coming back to The Mattress Story. There was a moment very early in my career: I had just started my business when I needed to get a mattress and box spring for my son, Lincoln. I went online and found the cheapest thing I could get, because I literally had maybe a hundred dollars in my checking account. I got this cheap mattress and box spring delivered for about 75 bucks, and I couldn’t even get in the door because it was so heavy. I mean, it was like a rock. That was my aha moment. I knew I needed to figure this business out. The funny thing is, Lincoln (now 10) still sleeps on that mattress. I got him a nice soft pillow top from Costco.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
I always say that for an entrepreneur, there’s no such thing as a day-to-day schedule. When I think about the last several months and pick a random day, I could be flying to Mexico to rescue some dogs (a program I started for all of my employees through our client Secondhand Hounds). I could be recording a podcast. I’m still the account executive for a few of our legacy clients. I still write copy for some or our clients. I could be recruiting new people. I might be working out in the gym in the basement of our business. I might randomly take a day off to play hooky with Lincoln. I might be indoor skydiving or lawn-bowling with my employees during a team-building event. And I might be stocking the company fridge or cleaning the kitchen, because no job is too small for me. My parental schedule can be all over the map as well, but it’s very important to be home for the transitional times: when Lincoln wakes up in the morning and when he goes to bed at night, as well as his big events.
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
I’ve definitely noticed that when I’m out of touch with Lincoln, or working too hard or not lifting my head up from my laptop enough, he’ll engage in riskier behavior and generally seems less confident and more insecure. For both kids and adults, that kind of thing is always a cry for attention. When we feel ignored, our confidence level goes down significantly. Engaging one on one with your kids builds their confidence level. If you don’t do it, it can lead to a slippery slope and bigger problems. It’s no secret that kids model your behavior. If you swear a lot, they’ll swear a lot. If you constantly check your phone or look at it when you’re driving, they’ll think that’s okay.
Like everybody these days, I have to work really hard at being fully engaged with other people. But you have to do it, because not being engaged is a sign of disrespect. We tell that to our kids all the time, but how often do we break that rule ourselves? Next time you’re in a meeting, watch what happens when one person picks up their phone. Within a minute, everybody will be doing the same thing, sitting in the same room and totally being somewhere else.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?
Quality time creates a positive foundation for everything. It builds confidence. It teaches your kids how to deal with conflict. It helps them develop positive problem-solving skills. If my wife and I have a disagreement, we’ll purposely debate in front of Lincoln so he can see how adults work problems out. That’s not something that most people would think of as “quality time,” but it is to me.
In general, I think there’s too much emphasis on the amount and type of time we spend with our kids. We put so much pressure around the sheer number of hours we invest, and we think that the bigger the event — like an expensive trip — the higher “quality” the time. When I think about my childhood, what I remember most is the mundane stuff, like family dinners, or raking leaves and shoveling the snow with my parents. With Lincoln, trips are great, but we love things like just going to the grocery store together. I engage him as much as possible in so-called “boring errands,” and we have a blast. I bet when he’s my age, those are the moments he’ll remember most.
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
I recently did a “stress test” for the business, where I completely disconnected from all operations and client/employee contact for an entire month. During that time, it was just my wife, Pam, Lincoln and me traveling and spending time together without phones, laptops and constant interruptions. I really noticed how much that changed my dynamic with Lincoln. We’re so conditioned to think that kids just want to be on their phones all the time, and it’s not true. They want to connect with you as much as you want to connect with them. And we’re all happier when we’re connected.
We also practice what I call “Family EOS.” We participate in the Entrepreneurial Operating System at Media Bridge, and I’ve created my own version for home. For example, once a week we’ll go around the table and share our personal and professional “bests.” My most recent personal best was finding a power green smoothie shake that I liked, because I feel better when I eat healthy. My professional best was launching a new company website after nearly two years of development.
As part of “family EOS,” we also say “thank yous” to each other, do personal announcements and headlines, and talk about issues, which can be problems or just things we need to work on as a family. It’s amazing to hear what your kids say in these situations. Lincoln recently told us that when we lectured him for half an hour about not getting his homework done, he got the message in the first five minutes, and after that, it just made him feel bad. How are you going to get a precious insight like that if you don’t create the time and space for your child to express it?
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?
- Routine is overrated. Seriously. When it comes to quality time, routine is the enemy and spontaneity is your friend. Even if going to the grocery store is a tradition, Lincoln and I will go to different grocery stores or shop online to mix it up. You’ve got to keep it fresh.
- Be there for the key times. As I mentioned before, I think it’s very important to be physically present when your kids wake up and go to bed. There’s something about those transitions…
- Use the oxygen mask on yourself first. You have to take care of yourself before you take care of anybody else. I need sleep. I need exercise. I need to feel good to be fully present with other people. That’s not “selfish.” It’s not taking away from time you spend with your kids. It’s enabling better quality time.
- Be in the moment. I’m very Type A, especially at home. I have to remind myself that certain things don’t have to be done immediately. Cleaning the kitchen counters, doing the laundry … sometimes they can wait.
- Outsource when possible. I’m getting better at this. If something encroaches too much on family time, I’m starting to hire it out. In fact, I’ll soon have a personal assistant to lighten my mental and physical load. I’m lucky to be able to do that, but I would encourage everyone to outsource whatever they can if it’s not making life better.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
It’s really simple: love. Love is everything. Some parents aren’t comfortable being open and vulnerable with their children. I’ve seen it. They withhold love. They avoid hugging and kissing. I’ll tell Lincoln I love him literally a hundred times a day. We’re similar in that we like touch — hugging and kissing saying the “L word.” As a parent, I think it’s important to know your kids’ love languages and never withhold love as a way to punish or exercise power.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
I get this from my parents, who were always so supportive of me. I have a policy of saying yes to any constructive idea that Lincoln has. The perfect example: he’s a huge Fortniter, and he decided that he wanted to build a Fortnite following online. We sat down and talked about how to do it. He actually engaged with a famous Fortnite influencer, who told him that they key is appealing to people universally. We decided that animals and food are universal, so he picked food. He’s about to launch a website called FortniteFoodie.com (Media Bridge helped in that effort of course), which is all about rating certain foods according to how easy it is to eat them while playing Fortnite — and giving them a fork rating from 1 to 5. Hint: Chipotle burritos get one fork. Smoothies get five.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
For me, success is my ability to live my best life and help others to live theirs. I’m all about growth. At Media Bridge, we say to our clients, “We grow when you grow.” I’m all about that rising tide lifting all boats. Success is influencing personal and professional growth on every front.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
I could list a lot of things, but in the end, nothing has had a bigger influence on me than the book “Lead with Heart” by Tom Gartland. Like so many business leaders, I was told over and over again that you have to build a wall between yourself and your employees. You can’t get too close, you can’t get emotional, and you can’t treat them like family because “you can’t fire family.” I call B.S.
“Lead with Heart” throws all of that out the window and recommends the exact opposite. It gave me permission to get vulnerable in front of my employees and say, “You ARE my family.” Once I did that, everything changed.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do or do not. There is no try.” I’ve always operated this way, as in I’ll run through a wall once I commit to something. The best example I can think of was when I decided to make the U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team. I didn’t know anything about bobsledding when I started the process in 2008, but I had always wanted to be in the Olympics. I also didn’t have the traditional body type for that kind of competition. But I knew that I was strong and fast, and I knew that I would outwork anybody to get there. Long story short, I was well on my way until I suffered a knee injury while playing rugby. So technically it didn’t happen, but I can tell you this: I wasn’t just “trying.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Media Bridge has just launched a new tagline: “Media The Way It Should Be.” But to me, the movement is way bigger than that. Everything we do, everything I do, is “________ the way it should be.” So many people go through the motions in their personal and professional lives, or they become content with “good enough.” I’m not wired that way. As they say, if you’re a “common person,” that means you’re the best of the lousiest, and the lousiest of the best. There’s always a better way to do something. When you recognize that, don’t just ignore it. Don’t “try” to change it. Change it!
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!