"Winning 'best boss' is not about me but the culture of our work environment and the people who work here," says Brad Nierenberg '89 about receiving a prestigious Fortune Small Business Magazine "Best Boss" award last year. He was one of only 15 people nationally to be so honored.
That attitude, and his recognition that it takes the dedication of many people to make an enterprise work, are the basis of Brad's success. In 1995, just six years after graduating from Ithaca College, Brad launched Momentum Marketing with founding partner Brad Beckstrom in Washington, D.C. Now called RedPeg Marketing, the company, which received the Inc. 500 Award from Inc. Magazine both in 2002 and 2003, boasts 70 employees, quite a few large-name clients including GE and AOL, and two satellite offices.
Before becoming an entrepreneur Brad worked for different promotional marketing firms in D.C., sometimes with Jeff Synder '90, a rugby teammate and close friend at IC. Brad started up Momentum to fill what he saw as "a special niche for a strategic and creative company" that would "promote products through personal trial and consumer education." He foresaw that "experiential" marketing -- live, one-on-one interactions that allow consumers to create connections with brands -- was part of a lasting change in the advertising business. And he latched onto the philosophy that success is "all about the people" -- from the employees to the clients and their consumers.
For years Brad courted Jeff to join his team, recognizing Jeff's talents and commitment to a similar philosophy. Jeff finally joined Momentum as a vice president of sales and development in early 2000, after working at the nation's largest marketing company, GMR, in Chicago.
Changing the company's name this February to RedPeg (the name chosen is derived from the game Battleship) represents the company's targeted, strategic approach, one that "identifies the right product for the right consumer," says Brad about what is known in the field as "emotional touch point marketing."
"Tossed and Found," a promotional campaign the company did for GE's financial network site, is a good example of RedPeg's experiential approach to marketing. Brad and company hired temporary staff people to randomly drop 10,000 wallets filled with GE's promotional material on the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. The contest also steered the finders to an online contest that yielded two winners $100,000 each. Thus did RedPeg creatively and effectively "brand" the product line in the consumers' consciousness.
Brad and Jeff firmly believe that campaigns such as the wallet drop would not be successful without a diverse and imaginative staff, so they foster a work environment where employees are challenged, empowered, and, most importantly, recognized for their integral role. It's not hard to see why employment has grown 100 percent in the last year and the turnover rate is zero at RedPeg -- where all employees have been taken on an all-expense paid trip to the Caribbean in February four out of the past five years, and where last year 11 percent of the total sales revenues was given away as bonuses to 55 employees. Each employee is also provided $500 for external training per year. Liz DiLullo, director of marketing and business development, used her external training money to take a writing course because communication is a key component of her job.
"We try to create a work environment where our people feel as if they have a vested interest and an overall sense of empowerment," says Jeff, who works with Liz at the Westport office, where he was awarded full partnership last year. Having found from his experience in the field before joining RedPeg that most businesses have a "pecking order," Jeff believes that valuing every employee is critical. Brad had a similar learning experience when he worked at companies where he was not allowed to help make positive changes. Every employee's input should be valued, he says, "because the ones on the ground floor have the most insight and connection to the consumers and know the best and most cost-efficient way to reach a goal." Brad says he is not a "Mapquest leader" -- one who sees only one route.
"I don't know what's in the water up there in Ithaca," jokes DiLullo, "but Brad and Jeff are energetic and excellent mentors." Both Brad and Jeff credit Marty Brownstein, associate professor of politics, as a valuable influence at Ithaca. "I was a floundering economics major," Brad recalls, "when Marty took me under his wing." Although Brownstein would not describe Brad as floundering, he does say that this gregarious graduate is emblematic of the IC student -- one who might be "languishing in academics, but who carries enthusiasm and direction. IC turns these students around in a format where intelligent but not formally academic students can get a second wind." Jeff agrees with his former professor's assessment, adding that IC is "one of the best institutions that actually prepares you for life, giving students who are not traditionally 'book smart' a well-rounded experience in preparation for the corporate world."
Recognition is the guiding principle of these energetic business leaders -- appreciating the potential and individuality of a particular employee, recognizing what leadership style works best in what situation, discerning a need for more creative marketing techniques in a constantly shifting industry. Although the quick growth of RedPeg may seem dangerous to some, Brad welcomes it; he has established a "provocateur group" within the company that sets up systems to direct any growth that exceeds projections.
Brad and Jeff look forward to working together on expanding into offices in Chicago and Los Angeles for 2005, as well as relocating to a larger building in D.C. They already have their sights set on Europe. One can't help but think that they'll connect well with the variety of people in these new markets. Because they put people first, in all their infinite variety