Bio: Matt Rizzetta is President & CEO of North 6th Agency (N6A). Under Rizzetta's leadership, N6A has been ranked as the #1 fastest-growing agency in the United States in its revenue category by O'Dwyers. N6A has been awarded several prestigious industry recognitions, including New York Observer Power Agency List, Summit International Award, PR News Marketing and PR Leader of the Year, and has been selected as one of the "coolest spaces at the hottest PR firms" by the New York Observer.
Rizzetta has been instrumental in developing N6A's internal and external KPI measurement system, and has created a culture at N6A that has been lauded as one of the most rewarding, collaborative and unique in the agency landscape. Among the signature programs that Rizzetta has developed at N6A are the N6A 6PA Performance Ranking System, "N6-get-Away" vacation competition, "N6A Bucket List Weekend" competition, “N6-leg-Acy” PTO package, “N6A Chairman’s Pick” award, and many more.
How did you get into the industry?
Coming out of college I worked for Sony BMG during the day, and at night I would race home and work as a sports agent from my bedroom. I would spend 9 to 6 working in marketing and media, and then from 7 PM until the wee hours of the morning I would be on the phone working as an agent negotiating contracts and speaking to General Managers from all over the world.
Originally my goal was to start a sports and entertainment management agency, however in time I learned that I had more passion for the media. I found the skills of being a sports agent to be transferrable to PR and media – the art of negotiation, serving as a conduit between a client and an entity, the intricacies of management. The vision for starting N6A was conceived during these early days.
Any emerging industry trends?
Speed and measurement are the key trends in which we’re investing our time and money as an agency. Clients want to see results quicker than ever before, and they want transparency in how performance is being measured. If it takes one agency 5 hours to drive desired outcomes, and another agency 50 hours to drive the same outcomes, the one that achieves the results in 5 hours should win the face off. I know that sounds logical, but it’s not the way things used to work in the old days. The billable hourly model is becoming antiquated, and clients are too smart for that. Our industry has finally matured to a point where speed and measurement are being rewarded more than ever before.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Ironically, I would say customer service remains the biggest challenge (and by extension, the biggest opportunity to create differentiation as an agency). With all of the technology that agencies have at their disposal today, the concept of customer service innovation has been forgotten. Sure, agencies today must use all of the latest tools and technology to help us do our job better. But we must never forget that the service experience we’re delivering to clients is not built on fancy media monitoring tools or subscription databases. We are still in a services business, and service experiences are always won and lost based on the human element and the lengths to which you are willing to go in order to innovate for your customers.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
I was extremely passionate about bringing an innovative customer service experience to clients in an agency setting. I always felt the concept of the customer experience was overlooked in an agency/client relationship. There’s a great quote from Tony Hseih about how Zappo’s was built first and foremost based on passion for customer service, and they just happened to sell shoes on top of it. That’s how I feel about our business, and what motivated me to start N6A in the first place. When people think of innovative customer service experiences most think of their experiences with consumer brands; Apple, Amazon, Nordstrom, and so on. I figured why can’t we bring those same concepts and adopt them into an agency-to-client setting?
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We have an ambitious growth plan for the next 12-24 months. The next few years will see N6A grow both domestically and globally through new office openings. We’re opening an office in Toronto in early 2017, and plan to expand into Europe in 2018. We also are moving into new headquarters in NYC toward the back-end of 2017.
On the M&A side, we’re looking at some smaller acquisitions, particularly ones that put us into new markets and have a leadership team that is motivated by our vision and culture. We’ve also invested in a wide range of emerging client sectors over the past year and plan to invest heavily in those sectors as we continue to scale.
Recruiting will be a major investment and focus of ours in the future. We’ve put years of elbow grease into building a unique, rewarding and team-oriented culture. We’ve built our company to a point where we are attracting top talent. I get emails every day from PR professionals at every level who have read about us and are genuinely inspired by what we are building.
It’s all about making smart hires and bringing in new team members who are pulling in the same direction to take us to the next level. We’re going to double down on recruiting to make this happen.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Experimentation has been the biggest key to success. We are always willing to experiment as a business and try new things out. New customer service initiatives, new company perks and programs, new measurement approaches, and so on. Some of them work, some of them don’t. But we wouldn’t be where we are today if we hadn’t been willing to experiment in the first place. Experiment and be smart enough to cut bait on ones that aren’t effective. I’m a big believer that companies who don’t innovate die.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
I’m amazed by how much I learn from our team every day. Through the years I’ve found that my worst mistakes have been the result of not listening as closely as I should have. The art of listening has helped me make more lucid decisions, understand what’s most important to our people, where I need to improve as a leader, and has made us a better company today. This is a symbiotic relationship where you need a team that is equally as driven as you are. I’m lucky to have an incredibly intelligent and driven team, and as a result, I have no problem listening to our people and making adjustments according to their feedback.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
We work tirelessly to differentiate the customer experience for our clients compared to what they’re used to experiencing in their agency relationships. Beyond media results and relationships, we want clients to view their service experience with N6A as unique and different in every sense. We’ve spent countless hours figuring out new ways to drive innovation. Whether it’s with proprietary KPI and data systems, or unique customer service practices, our goal is to bring the same experience to an agency-client relationship that a customer would experience when they think of the best customer service brands in the world.
How do you motivate others?
I believe that motivation comes down to energy and trust. If you can create an energy in the office that is uplifting and inspires others, and you can get everyone to trust in the vision the company is building then you’ve found a winning combination. We have reminders of this everywhere in our office and in the fabric of our culture – what do we stand for, what are our mottos, what motivates us, what is our philosophy.
One of our philosophies at N6A is the concept of living for our “eulogy”, modeled after a Ted Talk I heard David Brooks give several years back. I think this describes our vision best. We are thinking today about how we are going to be remembered decades from now, not days from now. All of our decisions are based on how we will be remembered during our “eulogy”. It’s an entirely different mindset and approach from convention, but if you can get everyone behind it and to trust that it will be worth it in the end, it can be an incredibly motivational movement.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Take foul shots. We have a practice at N6A called “Foul Shots” based on the concept of staying after practice every day to improve your game. Every day we encourage our team members to step outside of their comfort zone and make a new connection; whether it’s with someone in the media, a decision maker at an event or speaker’s bureau, a social media influencer, or someone else. It’s all about making a new connection every day and doing one thing to make us better at our jobs. I’ve done this for my entire career, and some of the most valuable and long-lasting relationships I’ve built stemmed from me taking a “Foul Shot” when I was younger.