February 15, 2017
“Three What’s” with: Managing Directors Christian Castellano and Joe DeSalazar
In this Q&A series, Sullivan team members reflect on their work, their views, and their experience at Sullivan. In this post, our senior strategists share their thoughts on Sullivan’s approach, being successful, and how to develop talent in others.
You’ve both worked at a variety of agencies, firms, and even a four-star restaurant. What makes Sullivan different?
Christian: Two things stand out to me. First, Sullivan has a true channel-agnostic approach to our work. In most firms, there’s a focus on one thing or another – advertising, PR, digital marketing, etc. Here, our focus is on solving a client’s challenges first and how we do that comes second. It allows for a lot of freedom; we can think outside the box in order to find creative solutions.
Second, we’re uniquely encouraged to get immersed in our client’s business – to understand their strengths and challenges as well as they do. It’s a different caliber of work that helps us make better, smarter recommendations.
Joe: I agree. At other agencies, we’re often told by the client to stay within your communication specialty area – be it digital, earned media or paid advertising. At Sullivan, we’re looking to understand the client’s business plan so we can help inform the communications plan and marketing tactics.
Additionally, at large agencies the focus is really on being a client lead – focusing only on their business or on winning new business. Here, my first interview was with Sullivan’s founder, Barbara Apple Sullivan. That said a lot to me about how Sullivan values its employees and I knew I’d be able to contribute to the firm broadly and not just client business.
What makes a project really successful?
Christian: Managing ambiguity. That’s how strategy can define success – by identifying a challenge, and then articulating it in a way that we can act on it. The best situations are when we are able to dive into a client’s business and understand the underlying reasons for needing to make a change. More often than not, this turns into a reframing of the brief.
Then, it’s all about collaboration. The best projects I’ve ever worked on were when we were able to really pull a client into our process and work with them closely. I love when we can work as one team throughout the project versus doing a big reveal at the end.
Joe: There are two things that come to mind. First and most importantly is to really understanding the business challenge and category in which your client is operating – what are the macro trends? What are the hurdles through the eyes of internal and external stakeholders? Second, I think being able to surprise a client by delivering more than they were expecting is important to success. Delighting a client by giving them something unexpected or incremental usually leads to a successful outcome.
What’s your ethos for leading teams and developing talent?
Christian: Especially here, I try to be a coach more than a “boss.” How do I help shape a person and the capabilities they have so that the team is successful? It’s my responsibility to share a vision for how that person can grow their skills and overcome their challenges, and then make sure that the team is better for it.
Joe: I always want to be a listener first. Sometimes, supervisors tend to want to talk at you and tell you how to do things. I want to solicit people’s ideas, help to shape those ideas, and arrive at something that everyone feels involved in. It’s also about knowing what’s going on with my team outside the office; what’s on their plate? What are they looking for in a career? Understanding who they are and how they feel often allows me to be a better colleague.
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