There’s a saying that your title or where you work isn’t as important as who you work for. That sage advice is something that we at I Want Her Job subscribe to every day, and DXagency CEO Sandy Rubinstein is proof that this formula works.
As a boss who understands the importance of putting family first and infusing “silly fun” into employee gatherings, Sandy has seen the investment reap rewards. Named as a “Best Place to Work” by Ad Age two years in a row, it seems as if her formula for both client and employee success is one worth replicating. And Sandy will tell you that she’s developed this outlook through old fashioned trial-and-error when she herself wasn’t the boss but rather, the employee.
Sandy began her career not in advertising, but in the music business working for various record companies in Latin American marketing roles. She then moved to the world of music television – working at The Box (now a part of MTV2). Sandy then moved on to work for a variety of different television networks in marketing positions – including the Syfy Channel, Nick@Nite, TV Land, Lifetime and Fuse tv. After spending years in TV, Sandy decided in 2009 that she wanted to focus on something new.
“As I was evolving all of my marketing and media plans for our networks, I kept putting more and more money into, and emphasis on, digital,” Sandy says. “I thought the next chapter of my book needed to take place in the digital space. But, being older, it was a little scary.”
But Sandy put that fear aside and began consulting with DXagency – a full-service engagement agency dedicated to helping companies build customer loyalty with a full range of strategic, creative and analytic solutions – on project-based work. That led to the higher-up’s at the company telling her, “You’re here every day, and so you might as well be on staff.” She’s since navigated her way up to CEO and owner of the agency after she eventually bought the company, whose client list ranges from HBO and A&E to MasterCard and the US Open.
Although Sandy’s background in TV and the world of digital marketing are different industries, she says the fundamentals of marketing are still the same. “Digital is a really interesting and new vertical to use, but the idea, conversions, engagement, and ultimately, the action you need the consumer to take, is really the same thing,” she says. “It’s all in the nuance of how you use digital and how you find that audience that are most fascinating to me.”
What is the main purpose you lead with at your agency?
It’s twofold. While the main purpose to our clients and staff are both fundamentally the same thing, they have different executions. We do the best job we can and make our clients shine. At the end of the day, it’s always about the relationship. If my client’s product is seen in a good light, the work looks great, their KPIs are reached and the client is happy, then I feel we’re successful on the client side.
On the employee side I have the same goals: I want my employees to be happy. I want them to feel as if DXageny is the best place to work. When they get up in the morning and get ready to come into the office I never want them to have that sick feeling in their belly that makes them think, “Oh, I have to go back there today.” I’ve had that feeling before and it’s not fun.
I want our clients and employees alike to be happy – happy with our work and happy with coming to work. That’s really the heartbeat.
How does your team look for inspiration and keep ideas fresh?
It’s tough, and it’s a constant battle. The space we’re living in is so fragmented. There is so much noise, and everybody is yelling about something.
We try to have a lot of silliness and fun here at the office. I think that keeps things fresh and happy, and happy people make happy work. Some of the ways I like to maintain this culture is through holiday potlucks, gift cards as gifts, free-foodie-Fridays (where we cater from a different restaurant each week), quarterly family bowling parties, happy hours, early closings and closing the office the week between Christmas and New Year’s, without taking that time out of an employee’s PTO. Everyone also has a lot of time off that they can use. When everybody is friendly and everybody is a team by doing these activities, it’s much easier to work, and there is no drama.
As the CEO, how do you organize your day and prioritize all the things that fall on your plate?
I feel like there is never enough time to prioritize everything. As for how I prioritize, I make sure my children are always first. Then comes work, and then my husband comes somewhere after that. [Sandy laughs.] You need to find the things you can make an impact on today, and the things that might not happen today, and both are okay. Coming to that realization takes a lot of growing up and a little bit of self-evaluation. You just do the best you can, and know deep down that it will all get done.
As for my day, I have twin 14-year-old boys. I drive them to school every morning, because that’s our time. I feel like everyone thinks I’m crazy for driving them when they could take the bus, but I don’t care. They then call me from 3 to 3:30 p.m. when they get off school. That time is blocked off on my office calendar, because it’s my time to talk to them about their day. Later on, I get home at 6 p.m. and leave my phone by the front door. I try not to touch it again until 8 p.m. – unless it’s an emergency (as everyone has my home number). But otherwise this time is when we have dinner, talk and do homework. After 8 p.m. I’m available to my employees again and back to work.
Do you believe in work/life balance? How do you help your team with this concept?
Everybody here knows how I feel about family and how important it is to me. I feel that family comes first, and all I ask for from my employees is a heads up that they’ll need to be out for something. I feel that if your kid is in a school play, you better be there. Or, if your wife is having surgery, you better be there. The team knows that if one person needs to go handle something for their family, then they are expected to be on call to backup that person. Time for family events is a nonnegotiable in my book. My team appreciates that, too, and that’s probably why we have the team we have.
What is a single accomplishment at DX that you’re most proud of?
Being named to Ad Age‘s “Best Places to Work” two years in a row. We’re looking for 2016 now to make it a trifecta!
How do you mentor and lead women (or anyone) on your team?
For me, mentoring is important for everybody – not just for women. However, I try to mentor women, specifically, by the way I lead myself. I’ve told employees, “You shouldn’t allow these certain situations to happen to you,” or “I want you to take more of an authoritative role on these situations.” It’s really tough for women, because when you try to be the driver you’re seen as bossy. I handle this by telling my employees the same thing I tell my sons, “You want a strong woman around, because a strong woman is going to be a great member of the team, whether she’s a leader or just starting.”
I try to empower everyone on my team – women and men – to feel like equals. I feel it’s hard for women in particular, if it’s not a part of their personality, to come out and be a driver. I spend a lot of time sharing examples of ways people can speak up. I’ll say things like, “You could’ve pushed that one a little more,” or “You should tell people your idea.” Sometimes, if someone is particularly quiet, I’ll say in a meeting, “So-and-so has a really good idea everyone should hear.” That forces that person out of their shell. Each person is different, so it’s important to know how to mentor different personalities and styles.
Additionally, on the topic of mentoring, I mentor two business students at the University of Miami Business School every year. I also mentor students at the local high school who are studying marketing and business. Last year, I spent a lot of time with one group and they focused on DX as their senior project, and they actually were all girls, too!
What is one thing you wish everyone knew about leadership and leading a business?
It’s really hard. (There’s not enough coloring out there for my gray hair!) It’s a lot of work, but it’s really worth it. You have to have the stomach for it; however, it’s not for everybody. There are certain days where I turn to my husband and my kids and I’m like, “What am I doing?” I feel like a hamster on the wheel. But the three of them are usually great, and they always tell me not to worry. It’s really hard for me though, and I can’t have everything I think I can have.
Some people say women can have it all and we can do it all. In truth, you can’t. But, if you can accept the realities of what you can have today and what you can have tomorrow or next week then I think you’ll be okay, and you’ll never feel like you’re missing something.
When I first started rising through the ranks at different networks there was one very senior woman who I had spoken with, and I asked her, “You have it all. How did you do it?” She told me she didn’t have it all. She said she didn’t get to see her kids as often as she’d like and her husband took care of them. She was constantly traveling, working every day until midnight and getting up at 5 a.m. to squeeze in her exercise. After this conversation, I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t want all of that.
When you can distill the realities of what your “must-haves” are, what your “would-like-to-haves” are and finally, what your “really-don’t-care-about-this” items are, then I think you can be much happier in your position. I also think you will fundamentally do better work simply because you’ll be a happier human.
Women have this stigma where we don’t ever want to look like failures. We don’t want to even talk about failures. I think that’s why there have been such issues, and thankfully conversations, about postpartum, work/life balance and the decision to have – or not have – children. It’s okay if you don’t want children. With all of these different stigmas, we don’t ever want to talk about being failures because that’s not the way we’re wired. Women take care of everything, right? You don’t get a superhero cape, so do the best you can.
Any additional tips or advice for our readers?
Laugh a lot. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at what you’re doing. Just laugh, because really, unless you’re saving babies, all of this needs to be put into perspective. Sometimes as women, we get so focused on achieving and reaching certain plateaus and all of the amazing things that we set our sights on, but remember, you’ve got to laugh.
I’d love to grab coffee with:
My favorite purse is:
Chanel (Like any other exists?!)
My go-to outfit is:
My favorite dinner spot is:
Robertos II and the River Palm Terrace in Edgewater
I can’t live without:
My favorite way to unwind is by:
I feel my best when:
I am with my husband and kids
It's really tough for women because when you try to be the driver you're seen as bossy.