There was a Christmas morning excitement in the air. We were chugging along 56th Street in a shuttle bus, unplugged from phones and computers, listening to upbeat music on our way to celebrate Founder’s Day – the one year anniversary of our marketing agency, Valve+Meter Performance Marketing.
One year earlier, CEO and Founder Marcia Barnes led 15 brave souls into the unknown. Individuals at all stages of careers, some perhaps risking more than others but united in a common purpose: to be part of a community empowered to take risks, to love, to serve and to transform clients’ businesses.
As the bus lurched into the parking lot at Hotel Tango, we disembarked, giddy and anticipating good times. The evening’s events were a surprise to most.
Hotel Tango ushered us into a private room where we found Valve+Meter swag and a booklet emblazoned with the lyric “Go Your Own Way.” The book included photos from the last year, milestones, contributions from team members and verses exemplifying our core values: Love, Serve, Transform and Be Just.
Marcia stepped to the front of the room, led the first toast, and framed up Founder’s Day in her remarks. She recalled the journey, the turmoil that comes with stepping out of one’s comfort zone and extending a hand to ask others to leap with you.
She spoke with rousing enthusiasm about courage and the rewards bold commitments can generate. She expressed gratitude for the team’s enthusiasm, talent and tenacity when there is no blueprint to follow.
Marcia reflected on her long-standing practice of motivating herself to achieve a goal, by writing it using the “SMART” format and affixing it to a mirror in the bathroom. Every time you brush your teeth or wash your hands, you’re visually reinforcing your mindset to achieve that goal, she explained.
“It works and standing here a year after we opened the doors is a testament.”
Marcia also shared a verse especially meaningful to her. Each season she selects a verse to use as a comfort or encouragement. Last fall, after receiving life-altering news, she chose Proverbs 31:25, “She is clothed in strength and dignity and, she laughs without fear of the future.”
She paused. “This morning I looked at the bowl you all gave me for Mother’s Day last year.” The team had gifted Marcia a glass bowl and filled it with scraps of paper with notes of encouragement, jokes, pick-me-ups and verses. “I knew if I went and chose a paper at random, it would be perfect for today.” She looked around the room. “I stuck my hand in the bowl and the note I chose was written by Ramo,” (Jen Ramo, Chief Operating Officer). “It happened to be the same verse I’d chosen last fall for myself, Proverbs 31:25. So. It was perfect,” she smiled.
We heard from team members, Ashley Heinemeyer and Leslie Stockton, about the quest to find the perfect office space. As they investigated options, a refurbished historical space in the Ft. Ben neighborhood shot to the top of the list. “The neighborhood itself is transforming and it felt right,” said Marcia.
We heard about the process to develop Valve+Meter’s moniker and brand. Valve+Meter reflects the “Performance Marketing” concept – the “Valve” represents the flow of new business into a company and the “Meter” is the measurement of those results.
Chris Ruley, Chief Strategy Officer, spoke about his decision to leave a senior position elsewhere and join Marcia’s Merry Band. He summed it up with,
“When your purpose is combined with your passion and people you love, you are destined to achieve something extraordinary.”
Throughout the evening team members were recognized with fun and/or silly awards, ranging from “Office Pitch-in MVP” to “Cool Cucumber.”
Marcia introduced four major awards into Valve+Meter history – Marketer of the Year, MVP, Culture and the Founder’s Award. The titles of the awards were chosen with the theme of “delivering results.” As a performance marketing agency, awards were determined based on specific people delivering results in a meaningful and visible way within his or her job.
Ryan Melby, Director of Marketing Analytics, was recognized as “Marketer of the Year.” Ryan’s job involves a lot of spreadsheets, minutia and analysis. He was characteristically humble, admitting later,
“Winning an award for my work was actually pretty embarrassing, especially when I knew didn’t accomplish it alone. I couldn’t have been recognized without the help of my teammates because while what I was doing could have direct attribution assigned to it, I couldn’t have put my ads, etc. out there without development help, design help, account management help, sales help, leadership team help…pretty much the entire organization.”
“So while I may have won the award individually, I’m kind of like the Queen of England…I’m just a figurehead for all the people doing the work around me. Ok, I suppose I do help out a little bit. In all sincerity, despite shunning accolades, it is occasionally nice to be recognized for working hard and producing…even if the spotlight is uncomfortable.”
“Regardless, despite all the obstacles we’ve run into, both learning curve and typical start-up company issues, we’ve persevered and produced marketing generating results for our clients. It’s a win for all of Valve+Meter, not just a win for me…I’m just a very small part of that. The overall company win is momentum we can take forward as we grow each year and continue to highlight others as they knock it out of the park.”
Chief Administrative Officer Shannon Ruanto, who helped plan most of the event, was caught by surprise with the announcement of her MVP award. Unlike a “most valuable player” award, V+M’s MVP stands for “Magnificent VP” and is specifically awarded to a member of the Leadership team.
“I am so lucky to have Shannon on my team,” said Marcia. “I’ve worked with her for several years and as our CAO, she’s done an amazing job of moving through marketing on behalf of the agency, human resources, finance and culture. She is always prepared and has an innate sense to prioritize, to adapt and leave space for meaningful discussions and coaching.”
“Shannon can take a complex subject such as health insurance benefits, for example, and put our core values into action. She could go for the bare minimum, the legal obligation, instead she puts in the effort to exemplify the care we have for our team members by finding the best solution for the team we can afford.”
Joshua Cook, Director of Brand Strategy, was called to the stage for the Culture Award. Marcia spoke of her appreciation of Joshua’s ability to interpret the Valve+Meter mission, brand and cultural identity in a beautiful and arresting way.
“I had a mix of emotions when she announced my name,” said Joshua. “Shocked, humbled, grateful for our team. Company culture determines how employees are treated, the services that are created, the partnerships that are established, and even how our team gets the jobs done. In no way can I take sole credit for the culture we have today. The spirit of Copper Culture is nurtured every day by our team’s unwavering commitment to our core values. Our values are the bedrock of this organization and will be the determining factor in our long-term success.”
Finally, Marcia introduced the Founder’s Award.
“This award is intended to recognize the individual who has delivered the most valuable evolution and change for the organization. I feel so privileged to have witnessed this person openly receive the opportunities for leadership and coaching presented to her.” She then asked Business Strategist Ashton Searcy to join her at the front of the room.
“Ashton is an amazing communicator. When she stepped into the role of Business Strategist and began presenting to clients and delivering our ThinkFIRST products, the business shifted. She and Chief Strategy Officer Chris Ruley have complimented each other so well it has dramatically enhanced our ability to onboard new clients and transform their businesses.”
Everyone in the room was recognized as a member of the “Founding Class,” those who joined the company prior to the March 1st anniversary. Those who’d been on the team since Day One were recognized for One Year Anniversaries.
To finish up at Hotel Tango Whiskey, celebrants broke into small groups to compete in Valve+Meter trivia before moving across the street for dinner at Bluebeard. Marcia kicked off the dinner portion of the evening and led the group in a champagne toast gifted to us by an outside partner. Well wishes and gift baskets had arrived throughout the day, from clients and partners, congratulating Valve+Meter’s success in the past year.
After a prayer led by Marketing Performance Manager Sophia Burns, we enjoyed fellowship and an amazing meal.
Director of Brand Strategy Joshua Cook stepped forward to share additional thoughts on the inclusion of “copper” in our palette and brand.
“Our Copper Culture is the byproduct of our core values in action; a measure of how well we are loving, serving, transforming, and advocating for justice. Since Valve+Meter’s inception, Copper has been a core color of ours and the shared properties between copper and Valve+Meter create a synergy that works well for our team and our clients.
Both are malleable, or able to be pressed or reshaped without breaking or cracking, requiring us to perform beyond our self-perceived limits. Both are conductors, or vehicles, to quickly and effectively achieve results. In a beautiful coincidence, Copper’s atomic number is 29 – the exact number of employees at Valve+Meter at the end of year one.”
As Joshua spoke, symbolic bars of copper were distributed to all present.
Because we are storytellers at heart, Marcia also invited various team members to step up and entertain us. Lots of laughter and happy tears ensued as memories were re-lived and made.
A few weeks later, in a morning all-team meeting, Marcia shared recent reflections…
“I’ve thought a lot about family and business. I know a lot of companies refer to themselves as a ‘family’ or ‘like family.’ I’ve never felt that exactly. I want your family to be ‘your family.’ Work is something else. Last Friday, however, I saw Matt’s (Matt Tyner, VP of Marketing) family, his wife and two and half year old daughter visiting and everyone happy to see them.”
“Later I was leaving and met Sam’s (Samantha Morey, Business Strategist) mom and dad. They shared with me how happy they were Sam had found a company and job she was excited to come to each day.”
“At Sophia’s bridal shower Sophia mentioned her fiance ‘loves us, and is happy she’s a part of Valve+Meter.’ It made me so grateful to know we’ve created this place where we care about and support each other and where our families can be glad we are here. The opportunity to grow is such a blessing. Thank you for being part of the journey.”
Congratulations to all – Year One is in the books. We’re on our way.