Michelle Cardinal – Co-founder and CEO of R2C Group

[quote style=”boxed”]My Mom. She is by far the most honest hard working person I have known.  I’ve never seen her lie or do anything unethical, and she raised nine children with a very clear moral compass.  She was very strict and made us toe the line, but we always knew we were loved very much.  She never wavered, never quit, never failed.  She worked very hard for little pay, somehow paid the bills and provided for us during some very tumultuous times.  As an adult I’m amazed she did what she did, all by herself.  I credit my strong work ethic and much of success to my Mom.  “Not a bum in the bunch;” she likes to say.[/quote]

Michelle Cardinal is the co-founder and CEO of R2C Group, America’s largest independent direct agency.  She also recently founded  What Smart Girls Do, a young women’s’ career advocacy not for profit group. Its mission is  to offer practical information, workshops, and mentoring to  aspiring smart girls; helping them achieve their career and life ambitions.

Michelle’s career in advertising spans over 20 years, starting in the early 90s selling and buying broadcast television advertising media for many DRTV icons, including Ron Popeil.  In 1998, Michelle started her own direct response television media buying agency, Cmedia. In 2004, Michelle and business partner, Tim O’Leary, merged their companies – Cmedia and Respond2 – into one entity called R2C Group, acquiring and merging several other companies as well.

Michelle has developed R2C Group into a leading full-service advertising agency, topping $400 million in billings, by offering clients truly integrated, highly efficient, multi-channel marketing strategies.  Her clients have spanned startups including GameFly, Web.com, Consumer Cellular, LAP-BAND, Ancestry.com, ProFlowers, NordicTrack, Brite Smile, Vonage – and also many major brands like Microsoft, Home Depot, Chase, KitchenAid, Philips Electronics, TiVo, Nintendo Wii, Hamilton Beach, P&G, Stanley Tools, Sunbeam, and Ace Hardware.

R2C Group consistently ranks as one of Ad Age’s top 20 direct marketing agencies in the country by being on the cutting edge, taking risks developing proprietary media like The NOW Networks™, and creating proprietary tools that include R2C Set-Top Box Technology that tracks television viewership and purchasing behavior, the online focus group technology MindReader™, and the industry’s most sophisticated media tracking and analytics software, the R2C Tracker™.

Michelle is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications.  She resides in Carson, Washington, with her husband, Tim O’Leary, and their yellow Lab, Lemon.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on several new businesses pitches, onboarding a new president and restructuring the company, a new company rebranding effort and on a personal note; getting ready for my olive harvest at my ranch in California (and bottling of my private label olive oil Nero Del Gallo).

Where did the idea for R2CGroup come from?

The idea for our company was born out of great timing (broadcast deregulation) and a growing need in the advertising industry for more effective sales oriented marketing.

I began my career as a media buyer working with infomercial industry pioneers like Ron Popeil and direct marketing companies hawking everything from “get rich quick” schemes, self-help books, weight loss programs, fitness machines and housewares products.  This was shortly after President Regan deregulated the broadcasting industry in the late 80’s opening the door for the 30- minute infomercial.  Many entrepreneurial companies jumped on the bandwagon recognizing they could sell to large groups of people and quickly bring their products to market selling direct at a fraction of the cost of a traditional retail distribution model.

While the industry became overrun by many hucksters,  a few reputable brands emerged.  One among them was my client NordicTrack who was marketing a very good quality fitness machine that simulated a cross country skiing experience.  Due to the success of the infomercial it was a huge fitness rage in the early 90’s, as the product was beautifully crafted and could be effectively demonstrated using the new 30 minute advertising format.

While working on that account as the head media buyer, I met my future business partner and husband Tim O’Leary, who was a pioneer in the industry for producing high quality infomercials.  Due to our success on that account we decided to band together and sell our combined services to major brands.  Companies like Philips, Hoover, Braun and Estee Lauder were intrigued by the longer DRTV time lengths, the ability to educate and demonstrate their products as well as build a direct relationship with their customers, but they wanted higher quality production and more sophisticated media planning, analytics and buying strategies.  Tim and I made the perfect team.

At that time there was really nobody offering an effective full-service (creative and media) DRTV agency solution to reputable companies who wanted to sell direct and were also concerned about their brand.  In the late 90’s we broke away from our prospective companies and formed two new companies Cmedia and Respond2 to offer similar but more strategic services.  Having two separate companies became cumbersome and in 2004 we merged them to form the R2C Group.

Since then, our vision has grown and we have greatly broadened our services, acquired companies to complement our extensive broadcast offering to every form of offline and online media while also providing high quality creative work that supports the brand.  We developed our own proprietary technologies including set top box technology that tracks viewership and purchase behavior as well as online focus group technology and the industries most sophisticated media tracking and analytics software.  We are now one of the leaders in transactional marketing.

What does your typical day look like?

I awake and immediately reach for my iPhone, check for messages and schedule for the day.  Making phone calls and returning emails while I’m getting ready for work.  The rest of the day is spent at the office toggling between meetings, client calls, drafting presentations and managing emails.  Once or twice a week, I try to leave for a Pilates class or a hike.  My day ends before bed with a final check of my emails and schedule for the next day.

In general 80% of my time is spent directly on my clients’ business, helping craft and implement effective marketing strategies, the rest with my management team on company operations and growth.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Most are born from a client need within the agency and are the product of collaboration of our management team.

Once an idea is vetted, we analyze cost versus return benefit.  Control, understand and limit financial losses by utilizing talent and resources within the company.  If it’s a big idea we bring in outside experts.  Identify key team drivers that can stay focused and move project forward (and not lose interest when it gets difficult or dull).  Test, refine, fix then celebrate success!

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Online College Education – means access for everyone.  It will change the way we think and experience learning.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

When I was in high school, I worked alongside my Mother in a medical supply factory.  My job was to insert surgical sutures (pre-assembled), into a clear plastic sleeve, using long tweezers.

The factory floor was exclusively employed by women with similar stories, many had children young, some were single mothers and none had higher education.  The only high paying jobs there were held by educated men in management positions.

I learned I hated wearing hair nets and doing repetitive work with my hands.  The ticket out was to get a good education, postpone having children to focus on building a meaningful career after college.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

In my business, I would have hired more experienced finance talent and paid better attention to my accounting systems.  In our first few years, we lost millions of dollars in bad debt that could have been prevented.  Luckily we ran a very lean operation and could shoulder the losses without much impact on the organization, but it was a very stressful and costly mistake that could have been avoided.

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

I enjoy myself. I take nice vacations, explore nature, get massages and eat great food.  I like to have fun when I can, it makes the hard times worth the effort.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Time management was and continues to be my biggest challenge.  If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, there is no way around it you will work many, many hours, often weeks and days on end.  Unfortunately when you reach a burnout point (and you will), you are not at the top of your game, you make mistakes and make others around you miserable.

My advice; learn your stress points and make sure you take time to reboot.  The best ideas come when you are rested and in a quiet place where you can think unencumbered.  Learn how to balance hard work with down time.

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

A better alternative to Yelp – it used to be great, but rankings do not appear to be authentic or accurate anymore.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I would combat poverty with free education for everyone in need.

Tell us a secret.

I’m a terrible actress.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

1. Wikipedia – Quick and accurate research tool
2. Amazon – Safe and quick online shopping
3. NY Times on my iPad – I can read it every day no matter where I am.

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

The New Earth – Awakening of Your Life’s Purpose – Eckhart Tolle explores the destructive power of the ego and the importance of self-awareness.  It’s an excellent guide to becoming a better person and more effective leader.  I wish I would have read it sooner.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

No Twitter, but I do listen to podcasts, my most followed:

• This American Life
• Freakonomics
• Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I’m glad you asked this.  I love to have a good time and encourage my employees to enjoy themselves, so I laugh a lot.  About 5 minutes ago, I am on my way to a client pitch and our creative director just cracked a funny joke.

Who is your hero?

My Mom. She is by far the most honest hard working person I have known.  I’ve never seen her lie or do anything unethical, and she raised nine children with a very clear moral compass.  She was very strict and made us toe the line, but we always knew we were loved very much.  She never wavered, never quit, never failed.  She worked very hard for little pay, somehow paid the bills and provided for us during some very tumultuous times.  As an adult I’m amazed she did what she did, all by herself.  I credit my strong work ethic and much of success to my Mom.  “Not a bum in the bunch;” she likes to say.

Are you a young woman needing mentorship and guidance or do you know one?

I’m starting up a young women’s mentoring group– it’s called What Smart Girls Do.  The idea actually came from discussions I have had with you Mario and Amanda (thanks for the title Amanda!) about a book I wanted to write, that gives practical advice on how to launch a successful career and avoid common pitfalls and challenges uniquely to women.  Through conversations with many of my successful women friends, I decided it would be more fun and effective to start a group and make an immediate impact.

Stay tuned, we will be launching in the spring of 2013 – www.whatsmartgirlsdo.com


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