Dean Trevelino

Push the envelope on occasion in order to find out something fresh about your business and yourself.


In 2003, Dean Trevelino stepped out of the conglomerate PR, Marketing and Ad agency world after 14 years in executive roles with top 10 brands — Ogilvy, Golin and WeberShandwick — to be an entrepreneur and launch his own firm. Fifteen years later, along with his partner, Genna Keller, they have created a national boutique firm that has been among the top 10 fastest growing firms in the US on more than one occasion, has been recognized as one of the 30 best firms to work for in North America, has garnered more than 100 industry awards and which takes great pride in being claiming the industry’s number one retention rate, having lost just one practitioner to another firm in 17 years.

As much as Dean and the firm have been grounded in technology since the start, many of the other practices reflect areas of genuine interest, including food and beverage, health and the environment. A pescatarian, ultra runner and off the grid enthusiast, Dean graduated from Penn State where he wrestled before pursuing his Master’s degree at the University of Alabama. Dean’s other obsession is modern architecture, having recently moved from an ultra-modern home he built in 2003 to a mid-century modern he recently completed in 2015.

Where did the idea for Trevelino/Keller come from?

Trevelino/Keller is the combination of the founders’ names, a strategy that was designed to leverage the combined strength of their individual global agency reputations.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day cuts across four areas of the business – client service, business development, agency marketing and agency management. Client service takes the lead, setting the schedule for internal and external meetings and immediate deadlines. Business development and the combination of impromptu new business inquiries and proposal responses, takes a second position to client service. Agency marketing and management fills the gaps during the day. Marketing, in particular, includes an integrated effort on behalf of our own brand, heavy in original content.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Sometimes an idea needs speck creative to visualize its potential. Other times, it can be a story that sets up the tone and emotion of the idea.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Consumer engagement. We have the ability to tap into consumers where they live, work and play, anywhere around the world. And we can gain immediate insight which can be packaged up for any one of our media strategies – earned, owned shared and paid.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Evernote. Everyone needs a time management platform. Often practitioners with full schedules become inefficient because of multiple platforms. We believe one platform, whichever one prefers, must be dominant to keep the process of time management its own project.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t set so many rules and don’t expect people to conform to a single work style or ethic. Build community by socializing the priorities and gaining consensus on getting them done, regardless of exactly how that happens.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

PR founded agencies cannot be good at anything but PR. We believe there’s some truth in our industry/related industries that ad agencies are not good at PR. The reason is more often, they don’t respect it. They add the capability to capture revenue and always give it a backseat to the strategy. In adding digital marketing, demand generation and creative services, we said, public relations cannot be the sole strategy to drive adoption, leads and revenue in a manner that we would stake our reputation on. We will be the first to say, we don’t believe we should lead with PR. So, we built those other disciplines with the same rigor as public relations and so far, the strategy has worked.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Run. Everyone needs a release, a meditative escape to clear their mind. For some, that’s running consistently to gain fresh perspective, ideate and problem solve. For others, it may be yoga, meditation, riding – horses, bikes, cycles. Get out of the environment and breath.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Staff retention. In the professional services industry, especially public relations and marketing, companies do not “really” have products they are selling. They are selling the thinking and execution of their practitioners. And these practitioners learn, grow and become expert at the agency’s intellectual capital. When you lose staff, you lose a piece of that capital. So we placed staff retention as a priority. To date, we have only lost one person to an agency in 17 years. That’s not to say we haven’t had some people over the years decide they wanted to work in another field or we decided they weren’t a great fit. Most agencies however expect to lose 10-15% of their staff annually to other firms, as high as 20-23% during peak employment times. That means not only are they losing a little capital from their firm, but another firm is gaining that competitive capital.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Every time we fail to win a competitive piece of business, it’s a small failure. Of the business that comes through our door, we win about 90% of the opportunities that find closure in their process. There is about 30% that opts not to hire an agency. 10% however is considered a failure. Every six months or so we reinvent our delivery, content and annually or so, our philosophy evolves or reveals some new insights.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Summer incubators around the country just for high school and college students to incubate their ideas. If they have a concept, they would be able to tap into the expertise on site to further develop it. If they don’t have an idea, they can use the summer to come up with one. The incubator can operate throughout the year as a college co-op environment. Angel investors and other funds would underwrite the incubator with the ability to gain shares in any ideas that evolve from the incubator. The primary goal is to create an entrepreneurial generation before they get to the workforce, without suggesting they bypass an education.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Not exactly fair, but through our health insurance plan, we could get an Apple Watch for our $100. Best spend in some time. Apple CEO Tim Cook talked about one of the things that made him proud of their work. It was the letters he received from Apple Watch owners who said the watch and its heart monitoring capability saved their lives. It’s a brilliant device beyond its productivity, but rather its health/wellness tracking and application interface.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We like Trello because of its project management and sharing capabilities across functions and teams. Simple, easy interface.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

David and Goliath. Malcolm Gladwell. When you decide to be an entrepreneur, you are assuming some “David” role. Gladwell does a great job of sharing individual stories, not as another tech book on the highly successful, but a more realistic, raw look at inspiring people.

What is your favorite quote?

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them.” William Shakespeare

Key Learnings:

• Being an entrepreneur is possibly the most learning and developing role one can take on. While you may be surrounded by great people, you are likely accountable for most things, if not everything. Entrepreneurs need to find a way to appreciate the moment, but also step outside and gain the perspective of others so that they may adjust their philosophies and practices accordingly.
• The market is moving way too fast to settle for a software solution to take you through the next decade. Keep it simple. Land on a platform that works for you today. Don’t inundate your desktop with multiple solutions, but be open to transitioning in a heartbeat when a better solution comes along.
• Push the envelope on occasion in order to find out something fresh about your business and yourself. It’s not Vegas so be smart and thoughtful, but always be nimble enough that even if you’re not first to market, your efficiencies may allow you to catch up and pass the first mover.