When I have an idea, I try not to sit on it. Instead I go with it, and I work fast and furious to make it happen.
Rudy Ruiz is a writer, advocate, and social entrepreneur. Interlex, the social advocacy advertising and marketing agency, celebrates its 20th year of multicultural marketing with a focus on services and educational campaigns that inspire people to change behaviors and empower communities to live better lives. One of the first firms of its kind, the integrated cause-related agency has worked for the betterment of diverse communities and the measurable accomplishment of public policy initiatives and socially conscientious corporate objectives since 1995.
“Twenty years marks a significant milestone for Interlex. My wife, Heather, and I started the company with a hopeful mission to help our clients make a positive impact in the lives of diverse audiences,” said Rudy Ruiz, CEO of Interlex. “Interlex has been an example of social entrepreneurship since before that term had entered the national vocabulary.”
The company’s inspiring social footprint includes international disaster relief, human rights and development campaigns for the Organization of American States and Pan American Development Foundation, national research and branding work for the American Heart Association, and a groundbreaking advocacy campaign for TracFone Wireless that has helped provide millions of low-income consumers access to free cellphone and wireless services via the FCC’s Lifeline program. Along the way, Interlex has also helmed memorable and award-winning public awareness campaigns for federal, state and local government agencies on topics ranging from the water conservation and quality to public safety, childhood immunizations to smoking cessation and prevention; and served marque brands including AARP, American Express, Del Monte, and United Healthcare.
“Humanizing complex issues and tapping emotional and cultural triggers to motivate change has been the driving philosophy behind our creative approach,” explained Heather Ruiz, Chief Creative Officer. “The result has been campaigns that move people both emotionally and behaviorally.”
Interlex’s success has led it to be ranked on the Inc. 500 as well as among the Top U.S. Agency Brands according to Ad Age Magazine. As the agency heads into its third decade, its CEO’s vision is one of ongoing expansion: “We’ve come a long way in twenty years and made an impact on important issues,” Rudy Ruiz said. “Our goal is to expand the scope of that impact by doing more work internationally and by deepening our partnerships with our clients so that we are helping them not just communicate – but better serve and empower – their customers and target audiences.”
Where did the idea for Interlex come from?
Interlex is an idea my wife Heather and I conceived on a roadtrip between San Antonio and San Francisco, now respectively our headquarters and one of our key offices. The idea came from our sincere desire to find a way to combine our talents and put them to work for social benefit in a way that could also sustain us. It is an early example of social entrepreneurship. We’re a full-service advertising, marketing and PR agency that focuses on campaigns that make a positive impact in the lives of diverse audiences. The idea came from our backgrounds. Heather’s mom is a social worker and she involved her early on in life in volunteering and working with communities in need. My dad was a pharmacist serving low-income patients and he inspired me to somehow help people in need through my work. After graduating from Harvard College (BA 1990) and Harvard Kennedy School (MPP 1993), I was searching for a creative way to put my public policy education to work. When Heather and I teamed up, Interlex became a natural vehicle for us to pursue these passions for public service in an entrepreneurial manner.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There is not typical day when you’re CEO. But I focus on keeping it balanced between the important business functions I have to oversee as well as the creative quality control and direction which I personally enjoy as a creative professional. I also strive for balance between high priority daily needs and mixing in incremental efforts on long-term projects or initiatives that are key to achieving our vision for long-term growth. For me, it’s all about balance: professional and personal, short-term and long-term.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Staying personally involved is important for me. I like to get my hands on the creative process and keep pushing them in the right direction. But over time as we’ve grown, we’ve also realized that trusting our team is paramount to bringing good ideas to life and keeping them alive. We have a great team, and letting them do what they do best is key to being able to execute quickly, consistently and at a larger scale.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
This may be weird coming from someone in this field, but I don’t get excited about trends. I’m more of a classical sort of person. I like big ideas and emotionally moving creative, and of course results. I also believe in grounding campaigns in insightful research. And all of these are timeless elements in good advertising, marketing and communications.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
When I have an idea, I try not to sit on it. Instead, I go with it, and I work fast and furious to make it happen. I believe in following one’s instincts and trusting those instincts, taking creative risks and being aggressive and passionate in the pursuit of opportunities. I always look at research when we’re working on campaigns but I try not to overanalyze and this helps us move with speed and precision, which is critical in our industry.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
My dad always taught me that no job was “bad” as long as it was honest work. So I can’t really say I’ve ever had a “worst” job. After finishing my education, the only “job” I’ve ever had has been as CEO of Interlex so, in that sense, I’ve been very fortunate. However, the jobs I had before starting Interlex, those part-time college jobs or internships taught me a lot, including the importance of respecting and appreciating everyone I interact with, regardless of their position.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I constantly remind myself to stay focused. Years ago I found myself trying to grow in to many directions. And then I realized what was essential to our success: clarity of vision and singularity of purpose. Since then we’ve continuously recommitted to our mission and kept our eyes on the prize. I highly recommend it because it can help you crystallize what differentiates you and keep you headed in the right direction.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Specialization has been the key for us. Specializing in advocacy marketing and behavior change marketing, coupled with our social mission, has helped us build up a powerful reputation as a thought-leader in our industry with deep commitment and knowledge about the issues we work on, such as public health, the environment, the digital divide, traditionally undeserved communities, multicultural markets. By specializing, and even advancing research in some of the areas we work in, we’ve built great relationships and word-of-mouth within these categories. And that all feeds back into organic growth.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I use most of the standard ones, but there are two Apps I really love because they are just so practical and functional and make my daily work life easier. SignEasy is the best for anyone who has to review and sign off on contracts and documents regularly. It lets you do so electronically on your smartphone. The other is ScannerApp, which allows you to snap a photo of a document with your smartphone and then convert it into a really sharp scan for emailing. Pretty simple but so convenient!
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.