Gaby Adam is the founder and CEO of By The Sea Communications. She has over 25 years of experience in marketing communications and public relations. We caught up with her to learn a bit more about how she built her firm and what companies can do to communicate successfully.
Tell us a little bit about how you got into marketing communications. In your bio I see you worked for some large firms before striking out on your own, but how did you end up in the industry and how did you land your first job?
I have always loved communications, especially taking complex things and making them easy to understand. My University of Washington degree is in Communications and at that time I wanted to be an advertising copywriter. I arranged informational interviews with all the big-time creative directors in town and they taught me a lot. My first real job after college was a marketing/PR associate role at Pacific Northwest Ballet. That was fun because it was creative and the dancers rehearsed across the hall from our offices.
I traveled a lot for fun in my twenties, including a six-month trip to the South Pacific, and then worked really hard for several years at Waggener Edstrom (a major PR agency) on the Microsoft account 60 hours a week for seven years. It was a crazy busy, rapid-growth time. In my mid-thirties, I took six months off again and went on an around-the-world trip. After that, I joined DDB Worldwide Communications as senior vice president and led the agency’s technology practice (the technology clients). DDB is a major international marketing firm with 200 offices around the world. The pressure was immense there as well, but I started to get my work-life balance back while there. All the high-visibility, big-agency work was intense, fun and challenging and I met a lot of great people.
You went independent in 2004. What made you take the leap?
The short answer is that I was ready to be my own boss. Freedom is also a big theme in my life and having my own business has given me many freedoms to choose clients, choose projects, choose my hours, travel, ski, etc.
At what point did you know it was sustainable?
Less than six months in. Most of my business comes from former clients or referrals from former clients. It is true to this day. Many of those people have become long-time friends. I have been running my own firm for the better part of 11 years.
What is your favorite part of running your own company?
Being able to walk my dog (a lovable Labrador Retriever) in the middle of the day. Periodically, I have taken on interns and helping them build their work skills has also been highly rewarding. I led and mentored 6 to 14-person teams at the big agencies, but with my own business I have more 1-1 time with the interns I bring onboard. They have also taught me many things about life, working hard and being engaged.
Is there anything you miss about working for someone else?
Not the working for someone else part, but I do miss the connection with people. I get a fair bit of interaction with my clients, but I miss laughing with my colleagues. The informal discussions about work and life were great. My hope is that The Pioneer Collective can give me some of that camaraderie and it already has in a few ways.
What are your typical clients like? (Industry, size etc.)
I made a conscious choice recently to focus on the technology, ocean conservation and travel industries. The size of the organizations I work with range from major corporations to small start-ups. A list of some of my past and current clients is on my website. www.bytheseacommunications.com. The list includes Microsoft, Holland America Line, Washington Mutual, RealNetworks, Seagate Software, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), Marine Conservation Institute, Un-Cruise Adventures and many more.
What is the communications mix you typically employ or does the strategy differ significantly from client to client?
Every client is different and I make strategic recommendations that are specific to their company and situation.
At what point should a nascent company bring on a professional communications firm? At founding? At product launch? After a seed round?
As early as possible. Lots of people think they know how to communicate about their business, but most are not that good at it. A strong communications professional can make a huge positive impact on a business. It is much better to bring a true communications professional onboard early than risk the inefficiencies of having to un-do the bad work by untrained people later.
I would imagine the industry has changed significantly over the last 25 years. Where do you see it in the next 10 and how do you keep up?
Media is clearly losing some of its power as consumers have their say. This must be difficult for the journalists, but refreshing for the consumer. Video is getting much bigger and most companies are starting to add it to their content mix if they haven’t already. There are even interesting companies such as Zooppa that have built a business around crowdsourcing video. Virtual reality will be a new, creative and fun way to market. The possibilities with that are exciting and endless. Crowdsourced design, at companies such as CROWDSpring, will likely become even bigger. It is a great way to get various design concepts from around the world and is relatively inexpensive. There are now even websites where anyone can get caricatures. And loyalty programs, which companies such as Aveda are managing well, will become increasingly important. We will also see the growth of the “Personal Brand” as people (and executives) have to manage their online personalities. It is an immensely interesting and dynamic time for all of us in marketing. Those are just a few thoughts.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I love to travel the world, scuba dive in the tropics, ski at Crystal and Whistler, read great books, sail on the Puget Sound, hike the Cascades, rock climb at Vantage, and toil around in the garden. I also do yoga and Pilates regularly.
If you never had to work another day in your life, what would you do?
Life is so rich with interesting things! I would continue to explore the world and my personal edges (physical, emotional and intellectual). It would also be great to do something meaningful to save our oceans. And I would maybe, maybe want to be an early tourist on a space flight. I just learned recently that astronauts prepare for weightlessness in scuba diving tanks.
What is your favorite under the radar attraction in Seattle?
Lincoln Park in West Seattle. A group of my girlfriends from Pilates and I walk there at 8:30am on Saturdays…4 miles and 900’ elevation gain. It is gorgeous that time of day and we get to catch up with each other and exercise as well.
And if anyone reads this far, I am grateful that you care. Thank you. Please come introduce yourself if we haven’t met already.