Ed Mitzen is the CEO and Founder of Fingerpaint Marketing. From free healthcare premiums, to month-long paid sabbaticals to student loan repayment programs and pet insurance, Fingerpaint Marketing treats their staff like family- not employees. As a company of nearly 200 with no office titles and egos, the full-service, independent marketing agency knows a thing or two about success and building a healthy work environment. Fingerpaint has been named to Inc Magazine’s list of the 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies in the past 5 years, and in 2017, and had more than 5k candidates apply to work at the agency with only 57 sealing the deal. The company also made financial contributions to 61 different charities, reaching more than 100 non-profits in total. They’re forecasting to reach $50M in annual revenue this year after earning $32M in 2017.
How did you get into the industry?
My first company was a marketing consulting business. Our clients loved our work but didn’t love their advertising agencies. They asked if we could do their advertising work, too. I was completely naïve and thought, it’s words and pictures. How hard can it be? So, I hired a few people who had worked in advertising firms prior, and together we helped build my first agency.
Any emerging industry trends?
Innovation is driving a tremendous amount of growth in the advertising world. Whether or not it is virtual reality, augmented reality, chat bots, SMS, or voice, the tools available to advertising agencies are greater than ever before.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
One big opportunity for smaller marketing firms such as Fingerpaint is clients’ willingness to use firms that aren’t part of large, global networks. We are a $50 million firm, compared to other firms, such as WPP and Interpublic, which have billions. The larger firms are consistently plagued with poor morale, layoffs, and earnings pressure that come with public firms. The smaller, nimble shops can produce exceptional creative by using talented technology partners much faster and more cost-effectively. This represents a huge growth opportunity trend for firms like Fingerpaint.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
My vision was to create a world-class advertising firm based on the ideal that we would put our people first in everything we do. Whether it is exceptional benefits, a culture built on respect and collaboration, or a no-office, no-title hierarchy, I believed that by fostering this environment, I would attract top-tier talent in every facet of our business. This would ultimately translate into a superior work product for our clients.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
Fingerpaint is in the process of ongoing geographic expansion with the opening of our fifth office, which is based in northern New Jersey. We are also expanding through the acquisition of complementary businesses, such as market research and market access firms.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Our key to future success is exactly from the same playbook that got us to this point—hire exceptional people who are more talented than us. Hire up, leaving our egos at the door.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
When we were starting out, cash flow was always crushingly stressful. There were weeks when I didn’t have enough money to cover payroll, so I used credit cards, borrowed off of a home equity loan, refinanced my mortgage, and liquidated all of my savings. We were about two weeks away from insolvency when we landed a big client that gave us a few more months of oxygen. Every problem has a solution. You just can’t ever give up fighting.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
If our clients succeed, so do we. We are hired to help sell things, as that is advertising’s primary purpose. We want our clients to see our work help them and their products/services excel. And the experience working with an advertising agency should be fun. Building creative campaigns and marketing solutions should be liberating and joyful.
How do you motivate others?
First and foremost, I believe in leading by example. I also use humor and laughter to help alleviate stress for others. Employees can never see the “boss” rattled. They need to know that no matter the situation, the leader is confident, unfazed, and supportive. I also expect the same from my leadership team.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Ninety percent of excelling in business is showing up and working harder than the next person. My advice to those in the industry is to bust it every day. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer when others need help. Participate in team activities and all company-sponsored events. Pay special attention to philanthropy causes and show your co-workers that you care about the lives of others.
As the leader of a business, how do you ensure you have adequate corporate governance?
I make sure that all important decisions are made by my senior leadership team, together. I don’t believe in back-door meetings or any large strategic decisions made without consensus. Fingerpaint is a privately held company, but we still strive to run our business as if we were accountable to others.
Is it important to have independent board directors and how do you choose them?
I do not have a board of directors. Once you have a formal board, you need to follow their instruction. As an independent firm, I want the decisions to be made by me and my leadership team as opposed to external advisors.