Tricia Clarke Stone is CEO of Narrative, a digital marketing agency she co-founded with business magnate Russell Simmons. Focused on developing technology-based, story-led brand experiences, Narrative works with top brands including Samsung, Under Armour, Coty Fragrances, Bombay Sapphire, among others. Tricia began her career as a radio account executive at Emmis Communications in New York City. After a quick departure to Excite@Home, one of the top three Internet portals at the time, Tricia returned to Emmis to launch its interactive division, working with media companies, ad agencies, and brands such as PUMA, Apple iTunes, FOX Television, Scion, and EA Sports to create multi-platform campaigns.
Recommended to Simmons by one of his business associates, Tricia joined Simmons' digital media company, Global Grind, to serve as co-president. Here she developed over 100 cross-cultural, digital, social and transmedia experiences for brands like Universal Pictures, Toyota, Pantene, Boost Mobile, Pepsi, Gillette, Tide, Sony, AT&T, SKYY Spirits and Finish Line. After three years as Co-President of Global Grind, Tricia and Russell partnered to launch Narrative in 2013.
How has your life experience and career made you the leader you are today?
I'm an identical twin and having someone that you're that close with and that honest with has been a great benefit. My sister and I are each other's biggest advocates but we also don't pull any punches when we think the other is out of line.
Having that completely honest and totally loving source of feedback is a great source of strength and brings a level of confidence to everything that I do.
From a career perspective, I've been fortunate to learn from some of the best in the business. Prior to co-founding Narrative with Russell Simmons, I served as president of Global Grind, which is Russell's digital media company. Russell is someone who's always looking several steps ahead, which has enabled him to build a substantial empire over his three-decades plus career. Cultivating that kind of foresight and seeking to put into action has been a huge influence in how I run my business.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Narrative?
Narrative largely grew out of my work running Global Grind. As a media company, Global Grind is really on the flip side of being an agency. However, what we found is that in working with agencies to create media buys across Global Grind, we were often charged with coming up with the actual strategies and ideas for advertiser activations. So in a sense, we were doing agency work.
What's funny is that in the past few years other digital media companies have followed this route that we somewhat pioneered at Global Grind. Specifically, they have become much more aggressive in creating bespoke media products on behalf of agencies and their clients.
Earlier in my career I worked at Emmis Communications, where I ultimately was leading a team of 20 people. This experience of managing people and growing a business unit was great training for running my own business. Managing, motivating and inspiring your colleagues is a major part of running a successful business - as CEO you may be steering the ship, but it's ultimately the quality and dedication of your team that brings the greatest success.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Narrative?
Major highlights include the caliber of clients we're fortunate to be working with, the work we have been able to do on their behalf and the amazing team we have assembled. One of the reasons I launched Narrative was to reimagine the traditional advertising model to help brands utilize technology, product development and cultural capital to create compelling consumer experiences.
Probably the best example of this approach is our work with our client Samsung to create the ADD52 music discovery platform in partnership with All Def Music. Launched to find and promote unsigned artists, ADD52 is a little more than halfway through its yearlong mission of releasing a new, algorithm-selected single every week chosen from more than 14,000 total track submissions. For Samsung, ADD52 serves as a branded entertainment platform to draw signups to the company's Milk Music streaming service and to align with emerging talent. (Milk Music features an ADD52-dedicated station). It also supports Samsung's broader push into the music and entertainment category.
I'm also proud of the two broadcast commercial spots we have created for RushCard, which is a prepaid Visa card. RushCard had previously relied on direct response-style executions. With the TV spots we were able to elevate the brand with a refined, narrative-based commercial that includes some direct response elements. With only a few months on-air, our spots are outperforming all past RushCard TV creative.
Challenge-wise, the most difficult thing has probably been innovating while growing. What I mean by this is turning out great, exciting work while also managing the rapid addition of staff and integrating everyone into a coherent whole. It's really part of the nature of being a start-up, there's never enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you'd like to do. It's all about finding a smart balance.
What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?
Have a plan, be passionate about what you're doing and surround yourself with great people. Networking is also extremely important. People want to do business with people they know and like and you have to put yourself out there in order to make those connections. You also need to have a sense of fearlessness and willingness to experiment and take risks. Not totally crazy, seat-of-the-pants risks, but risks in service of the larger vision. That's of course where having a plan comes in.
Finally, you need to treat your successes and failures as learning experiences. If something went well, what were the reasons, how can you build on it. Alternatively, if something goes wrong, you need to be able to honestly evaluate the situation to understand how to avoid repeating it.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
If you're running your own company, it can be incredibly easy to have work take over your life. There's always more that you can be doing. However, to keep your edge, you can't just work all the time. If all you do is work, you lose the real-life perspective you need in order to actually be great at what you're doing.
I am vigilant about having a social life, having down-time and enjoying friends and family. I have found that that taking a morning pilates class with friends is a great way to catch up. Eating out is another passion of mine and I'll grab dinner with friends at least a couple of times a week.
We're also spoiled in New York in that there are a lot of activities you can do later in the evening. For the end of its Jeff Koons exhibit, for example, the Whitney Museum stayed open for 36 hours straight and it was a real treat to stop by with friends at 3am to check out the exhibit. On a more regular basis, having a spa night with friends is a great way to unwind at the end of a long day.
Really the most important thing is to actively make your personal life a priority and set aside time for it. It's really less about what you do and more about making time to do it in the company of the people you care about.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think it's probably hard to say there's one specific thing. For different women in different places there are different issues. In my personal experience, the thing that I have bumped against the most over the course of my career has been youth - specifically people thinking I was too young for the role I had or the work I was doing.
Women do often have to fight a bit harder to succeed, in particular, masking, typically-identified female characteristics like being emotional. I have actually found that I can use this emotion to my advantage, channeling it to fuel my passions. It becomes contagious as others get on board as well.
I have also been fortunate that one of my biggest champions and partner in Narrative - Russell Simmons - is a man that doesn't subscribe to gender bias.
Ultimately, if you can establish a clear competitive advantage and deliver ROI (could be revenue, creative concepts, etc.) your value and worth can't be denied.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have been lucky to have had great bosses that acted as mentors for me. This access to great advice has been something I have benefitted from since the beginning of my career. What has also been incredibly helpful is the close knit group of colleagues, friends and family who have provided me with a strong support system. I wouldn't be where I am today without them - professionally and personally.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Michelle Obama and Oprah would definitely be at the top of my list. They are phenomenal examples of African-American women who have achieved the American dream and then some. They have a point of view. They have a vision. And they are willing to put in the work to achieve their goals.
What do you want Narrative to accomplish in the next year?
Within our first year and continuing into year two we have more than doubled our billings and the goal is to continue this upward trajectory into 2015. From a staff of five in April 2013 we have grown to a staff of 16 currently and we are looking at further adding to our team in 2015.
From a creative side, we want to continue to disrupt the traditional advertising model by being culture-inspired, story-driven, technologically native and human focused. We want to challenge brands to tell stories the world can't live without.
And finally, we will look to expand our client roster. We've had the pleasure of working with Under Armour, Samsung, Universal Pictures, Coty Fragrances, Time, RushCard and DeLeón Tequila in 2014 and are excited to build our book of business in 2015.