Good ideas don’t form in a silo. You need the energy and thoughts of many to really iron them out.
Jennifer Umali is the CEO of MediaCross, a strategic marketing agency based in St. Louis. MediaCross’ mission is to collaborate with clients to provide strategic, creative solutions that enable clients to achieve their marketing and communication goals. She has a passion for recruitment marketing and has worked with major federal and local government agencies and corporations to help craft their messaging to find and retain the best talent.
Where did the idea for MediaCross come from?
MediaCross started 26 years ago as a one-man shop with a focus on business-to-business marketing. It was the founder’s dream to work for himself. As a 13-year veteran of MediaCross, I am proud to continue to help that vision evolve and use the experiences and knowledge gained over the last two decades to really create “work that matters” for our clients.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Instead of a direct-report structure, our team has a direct-support structure. Part of my job is providing support and guidance to employees across all our accounts. Strategic thinking and supporting my team are the two most important things I do every day, all in an effort to move MediaCross forward.
Productivity is important. However, I try hard not to be too occupied for employees because that attitude can kill a culture. When you have a good team that knows it has support, it’s easier to carve out time that allows you to move projects forward.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Good ideas don’t form in a silo. You need the energy and thoughts of many to really iron them out. I think conceiving ideas, testing them, and surveying people to gather thoughts and improvements is essential for any new concept or strategic plan.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Coming out of such a horrible period of unemployment and dealing with people who left the workforce has created an ever-changing job market. This creates a lot of additional work for those who are searching for the right new team member. Helping companies deal with this change is exciting.
The “war for talent” is not just a fun name. It’s a reality for companies and schools. Talent isn’t limited to finding people who are skilled in one area, like programming. For today’s businesses, it’s about finding people who are knowledgeable and nimble, have a love for learning, have a good work ethic, and will live your brand and culture. There aren’t many questions that easily uncover those attributes. So, how do companies really find those types of people? It’s exciting because when you can help uncover people in this area, they’ll grow with a company. That presents many wonderful options for clients down the road.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as a leader?
I’m big on transparency. We believe in and encourage being very transparent with each other. We address things directly. That approach lets people know where they stand and gives them room to chart the right strategies for clients and fellow employees.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Honestly, there hasn’t been a “worst job.” I have enjoyed and become passionate about each of them. I love a challenge; if one is not given directly to me, I always look for ways or areas that I can exceed expectations.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
If I were back in school, I would pay more attention in my editing classes so my skills could improve. I came back to St. Louis right after college, and I sometimes wish I had lived in different cities. However, the idea of going back and starting again means that I wouldn’t have all of the things in my life that I really love and treasure. So, I’m not sure I would ever opt to do that. I would rather look forward to see what adventures are in my future.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Building solid relationships with clients, based on integrity, is key. I really care about the people we work with and try to instill that same concern in our employees. We don’t ever just look for ways to increase our billings. Instead, we look for ways to help solve problems. These problems may not even be in the traditional marketing arena, but we are objective and provide rationales that our clients can use to make their organizations stronger.
What is one failure you had as a CEO, and how did you overcome it?
In the past, I’ve given my time and attention to only those who asked for it. I need to remember to pay more attention to those who are not asking for it because they often need it the most.
I’ve also misplaced trust in certain situations. You have to listen to your gut on issues. If something feels wrong, it probably is. I am working to overcome the residual effects from that situation because I don’t want it to make me less trusting of people or organizations, but it can be difficult.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I was talking to a friend last night, and we were discussing IT staffing companies and the margins they can create when run effectively. I think there are ways to set up those companies to hire more American workers. We could retrain and create vocational opportunities in rural communities to better meet the needs of businesses today.
The best part of this concept is that it would keep jobs in the USA. It would help people find work that matters and provide a critical service to many companies that need to be able to embrace and use technology.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I was a step aerobics instructor. I was always so proud of myself for being able to work out and call the next sequences without falling on my face or passing out from not breathing properly.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I recently started using a new service, FuzeBox. It’s a web-based video teleconferencing system that has great features for all mobile devices at an incredible price. I love it. It’s an easy way to have face-to-face communication with clients and stay in touch in a more effective way than just over the phone.
The other thing I enjoy is finding courses to take through Coursera and other online learning sites. It is so fun to continue to learn and expand my knowledge.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I just finished “Youtility.” I believe content is king in building your brand. Jay Baer did a great job with this book. It applies to every single industry, including business-to-business and business-to-consumer services.