Marketer and award-winning entrepreneur Lauren Fried certainly knows how to keep busy. She heads up Pulse Collective, a marketing and communications agency she founded in late 2003. She also sits on the boards of several businesses, including reward points consultancy iFLYflat and the female entrepreneur community Inspiring Rare Birds. Of course, you might know Fried from her regular appearances on ‘Gruen’, the popular ABC show that critiques advertising.
Last year was particularly eventful for Fried. In April, she and fellow Gruen panelist Toby Ralph co-founded the Advisory Board Institute, determined to make expert independent advisory boards available to SMEs. Four months later, she switched gears with Pulse Collective, which had been known as Pulse Marketing up until that point. In addition to rebranding the agency and introducing a series of business roundtable and guest speakers, she made the bold move of declaring that she and her team would solely serve entrepreneurs and privately-owned businesses.
Asked how she is able to juggle all of her business commitments, Fried rejects the question: “I don’t see it as juggling, it’s just my normal. I love talking about business, I love helping businesses grow, and really do enjoy working. In saying that, this is made possible due to three people helping me. I have a husband who is equally busy but picks up the slack when needed, I have a very talented General Manager, and I also have a brilliant EA.”
Next week, Fried will participate in Championing the Entrepreneur’s Journey, a panel being held by the Sydney chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) as part of Vivid Ideas 2017. Ahead of the event, the 2010 NSW Telstra Young Business Woman of the Year spoke to Dynamic Business about the evolution of Pulse, highlights from – and lessons learned during her career – plus the marketing trend entrepreneurs shouldn’t ignore and the need for businesses to change or die.
DB: After thirteen years with Pulse, what keeps you motivated?
Fried: Well, I love talking business. It’s something I never find draining or repetitive because each client is absolutely unique in their DNA. I’m interested in gastronomy, wine, tourism, technology, education, energy and online retail – and these just happens to be the spaces in which our clients operate and where the staff who approach us have knowledge. As a result, the business never stagnates. It evolves as I do, based on my passions and interests, and everyone (including my staff and clients) has come along with me on the journey. Plus, I’m in marketing and advertising, which is an industry in constant motion. There’s plenty to keep me engaged and motivated.
DB: What fuelled the decision to rebrand your agency last year?
Fried: It was an organic evolution for the agency. Over the past few years, we’d naturally shifted away from large national and international clients and gravitated towards privately-owned, entrepreneurial businesses. There were a lot of reasons for this. For one, we face the same challenges and pressure points but also the same joys so there’s that instant connection. Also, my staff and I have found entrepreneurial businesses to be braver, more courageous: when we’ve asked them to ‘trust us on this’, generally they’ve replied ‘okay, let’s do it’.
DB: Has it been easier to work with entrepreneurial businesses?
Fried: It’s definitely not easier. In fact, a lot of my advisors advised me against pinning Pulse to entrepreneurs due the challenges they face during the start-up phase, including the pressure around paying bills on time and the need to juggle many balls at once, which can create distraction. However, I’ve found that when we work with entrepreneurs and privately-owned businesses, we get approvals and we get work done because we trust each other, we’re on the same page and it’s a true partnership. Whereas large companies have an in-built marketing team, we’re the outsourced marketing team for 80 to 90% of our clients. We’re a dynamic brains trust and it doesn’t take long for our clients to realise we’re in it for their success. They’re spending between $300,000 and $2 million each year on their marketing and advertising, which we manage for them. Marketing and advertising is an industry with some real trust issues, so we aim to establish trust as soon as possible by going above and beyond for our clients– and that’s the level we stay at for the duration of our partnerships.
DB: Considering the Pulse relaunch, is evolution a must in business?
Fried: It depends where the entrepreneur is in their lifecycle. When they aren’t 100% in their business – for example, they’re looking to exit the business or have a break to start a family – that’s not an ideal time to evolve their offering. It also depends on their team’s appetite for change. With my team, I’ve attracted like-minded people with a huge appetite for change. Some teams aren’t comfortable with change, so in those instances you wouldn’t consider huge pivots or evolutions; instead, change would have to be carried out over smaller stages. That said, every business has to consider change or they’ll die because markets are evolving and so are needs and there are new technologies. Entrepreneurs can’t afford to be satisfied with their current rate of growth, they need to look into the future and ask themselves ‘If I don’t change, what will that look like?’
It’s important to realise not all change needs to be outward or relate to your offering. Sometimes, it can relate to your company’s internal workings. In the case of Pulse, we reviewed our payment terms. This involved iFLYflat founder and reward points expert Steve Hui, who I know from EO, carrying out an audit where he talked to our clients. He asked them how they pay for stuff and where they travel. He was then able to recommend what credit card they should pay us with in order to get the most points. It’s such a simple exercise but now that every one of our clients is paying us on credit card, cashflow is not a concern because we get paid on time every time. Getting paid on time, which is critical for cash flow, is pain point for every entrepreneur. By taking steps to reduce that pain point, we’ve achieved a great result for Pulse.
DB: What is a marketing trend entrepreneurs can’t afford to ignore?
Fried: Online influencers. There is crossover between influencers and PR in terms of the role they can play in getting businesses ‘air time’. Influencers are a lot cheaper and they’re based on results. Of course, when seeking to engage an influencer, you need to get it right – that means figuring out how to best utilise them and whether they are genuine. That said the same goes for PR when they do blogger outreach or invite the media to experience, then talk about, their product or service. People might still be at the stage where they’re not sure about influencers but it’s a landslide that’s about to happen.
DB: How have Gruen and your Telstra award win benefitted Pulse?
Fried: They’re two of the most amazing growth triggers I’ve had in business and they’re highlights of my career so far. In the two to three weeks following my Telstra award win, we picked up a whole year’s worth of business and our growth has been exponential since then. I was thirty at the time of the win and while I was confident in business, it helped extinguish some lingering doubts because other businesses realised ‘she knows what she’s talking about’. In addition, it made my clients and staff feel very proud to be part of my journey. Gruen has also been a wonderful source of brand currency for both Pulse and me personally. I love being part of such an amazing production. There’s a great culture on set and I learn a lot from the team behind the show because they’re brilliant thinkers. Importantly, I always feel very stretched on Gruen. It challenges me and makes me nervous – I love that.
DB: What key lesson have you learned at the helm of Pulse?
Fried: I don’t know where to start! I had a great conversation, recently, with a client who was in C-Level roles for decades before starting her own business, last year. I’d spoken to her in the past about feeling shitty when I had to let someone go because it meant my team didn’t like me. Anyway, she said, ‘I get it now.’ When I asked what she meant, she replied, ‘I get you have to be this perfect mix as a leader even when that doesn’t make you feel great. You have to be motivational and energetic but also ruthless and, with some things, have zero tolerance. I guess the key lesson I learned was that it’s okay that everyone doesn’t like you every single day of the year. As a leader, you will have to make difficult decisions and have difficult conversations, so get it done quickly.
DB: How valuable has EO been for you as an entrepreneur?
Fried: I’ve been a member for eight years, and I can honestly say that it been a critical part of my survival in business. For me, it’s a safe place where I’ve been able to link in with forums of around six to 12 like-minded individuals who are dealing with (or have dealt with) the same challenges. It’s like having an advisory board. There’s a lot of experience sharing and we get to the 5% of the really amazing celebration stuff that sometimes we can’t talk to our friends about.
DB: Lastly, how would you quantify your success with Pulse?
Fried: We’ve been able to grow in a crowded industry, where many agencies have come and gone or been bought out and some of the bigger ones have been acquired by Deloitte, PwC and KPMG. I can talk numbers but for me success has been all the wonderful moments my staff and I have shared, the fact that our work gives us purpose and that I’m happy when I walk into work each day.
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