“Hire People You’d Like to Have a Drink With” With Jill Gwaltney, Founder of Rauxa

I had the pleasure to interview Jill Gwaltney the Founder of Rauxa

Tell us your “backstory”

When I graduated from college, I went to work for my father’s direct mail printing company (that was back in the day when there weren’t many women in that line of work). He was a great mentor who taught me a lot about financials, leadership, and customer experience. We worked together for 20 years building the business, and then sold to a publicly held company interested in establishing a West Coast presence. At that point, I thought I might retire, so I coached my six-year-old son’s soccer team and played Ladies Golf Day. I had fun, but I was losing a sense of self. My family told me, “Mom, you need a job!” I decided to start a small direct mail agency. It was just four of us, doing creative and production for direct mail. But I had two factors that drove me. First, I am incredibly competitive, so I want to do the best job and be the “favorite” agency. And secondly, I really like helping people. My dad always said you only get money from one place — customers. Figure out what they need and help them get it done. So our direct mail work soon expanded, because customers needed help in data sourcing and targeting. We got deep into data, and from there we went into strategy and research, then digital and technology. Today, we do media as well. And all of it has been based on what our clients were looking for and where they needed help.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?

One of our philosophies in growing our business is to show up. We love to be with our clients, so we are on-site more often than any other agency. We were once involved in a big pitch and wanted to meet with the client lead to make sure we were hitting on all the key points. Of course, his schedule was jammed and his admin was very protective of his time. But we needed just a few minutes in person to get his insights. So we showed up with his favorite Starbucks, only to be immediately shut down: “No, he can’t see you — he’s in back-to-back meetings.” Just when we began formulating our “plan b,” he popped out of his office on the way to his next meeting. My account lead shouted to me, “He’s on the move. Break right!” We chased him down, handed him the coffee, and asked if we could walk with him to his next meeting. He agreed, we got the info we needed, and eventually won the business.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The thing that stands out is our service and commitment to our clients’ success. We don’t let up or give up until we get it done for them. We keep offering to do things that other people don’t want to do. We’re willing to jump in no matter what it takes. We’ve had clients tell us that in the time it takes for them to brief another agency, we’re already back to them with great ideas and a plan to make it happen.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Rauxa deeply values the rich experiences facilitated by talent diversity. Rauxa’s largest achievement by far in promoting diversity and inclusion in the past year is the work we’ve done partnering with Verizon in its AdFellows program. Since its inception in 2017, this industry partnership has made great strides in promoting diversity in the advertising world. Rauxa has been honored to hold a seat at the table and join conversations that support, celebrate, and highlight the importance of America’s multicultural influence.

In addition to Verizon AdFellows, Rauxa currently partners with Creative Spirit, a first-of-its-kind employment initiative for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. So far, Rauxa has employed two Creative Spirit candidates in our New York and California offices. We’re pleased to be involved with this unique program that helps to create positive and paid work experiences for an often overlooked population.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

It’s my father. He taught me to show up, dig in, do more, and be brave and bold. He was such an incredible mentor from day one. I remember him asking me, “Where do we get money? From our suppliers? From the government? We get money from our customers! Figure out what customers need and help them get it done.”

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. The importance of culture, particularly when you’re making an acquisition. A number of years ago, we acquired a company that didn’t have the same values as we did. It’s got to be the right cultural fit: You’ve got to have the same values, and you have to get along. That’s one of the things I like best about my executive team at Rauxa.
  2. Hire people you’d like to have a drink with, because it makes such a difference. Every day, I look forward to going to work because I love the people that I work with and for.
  3. “Hire slow, fire fast” is another piece of advice. I have a tendency to hire impulsively. We have learned now to get buy-in from a number of stakeholders. If people don’t fit the job, it’s not good for them or you, so make that decision quickly. Spend time to make sure they grow, but make sure they’re the right fit.
  4. Realizing you don’t have to be perfect is another important example. Being open and vulnerable is such a great approach for building relationships, and business is so much about that. To actually say to people, “Hey, how do you think I’m doing?” and “What can I do better?”
  5. Lastly, don’t underestimate the importance of self-promotion. In the agency business, it’s significant to win awards and be recognized on things like Ad Age’s A-List. We have not been very good at PR and realize that we need to spend a little more time promoting ourselves.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Andrew Luck. He’s had a tough year with the shoulder surgery and rehab. I want to let him know that his fans are proud of his effort and can’t wait to watch him play again.