how and why to be active In your community | ashley pullen

Ashley Pullen | SFW Agency

Hannah: Hello everyone and welcome back to DWGTV, I’m Hannah, and today I’m joined by Ashley Pullen, who is an account executive with SFW Agency. Today we’re going to be talking about community and what that really means to get involved and how that benefits you from both a personal and professional perspective. So, we’re really excited to have Ashley here today. And to start off can you introduce yourself and kind of share a little bit about your role at SFW, and what y’all do as an agency? 

Ashley: Yeah of course. I am 2015 graduate of the University of South Carolina and my major was Public Relations, and minor was in Hospitality. I stayed in Columbia for I think about 4 years after I graduated and did marketing for the nonprofit world. Now I’m in agency life and it is a total 180 but I love it. I still love the nonprofit world but I also love the agency life. Here at the agency what I do specifically, I kind of call myself like a middle man. I am in direct contact with our clients but I’m also in direct contact with our research team, with our creative team, with really everyone here at the agency and so I get to touch all different types of projects, which I love. I get to use my creative side when I’m meeting with the creative team. But then I get to do stuff with numbers, which maybe isn’t always my forte, but I get to learn and I get to grow when I’m dealing with the research team because I feel like they’re way smarter than I am and so they really provide a lot of insight to me. 

I do spend a lot of time on the computer and emails and on project management sites, but I love what I do and I love being that middle man and trying to relay the information from the client to the rest to the agency or whoever is dealing with that project internally. 

Hannah: Cool. So how do you think that your background in PR and working in the nonprofit world, how has that really helped you in agency life? 

Ashley: So, background in PR I think helps that at least with the journalism school at USC I felt like I touched a lot of places, as in public relations you have to know how to write, you have to have that creative side or at least part of you has to be creative. You have to know how to think strategically. And all of those have helped me in my role here at the agency. That’s definitely been a helpful thing that I didn’t just major in something that was maybe really specific. I love our graphic designers, but then that’s what their background is: graphic design. But I feel PR is very broad and so that’s definitely helped. 

And then in terms of my nonprofit background, I think I have a soft spot and compassion for others that maybe not everyone does. I think everyone does have a sense of compassion but I like to think that I treat everyone with respect. That’s clients as well as internally; the people we deal with. We can get frustrated, we can get annoyed but I think having that compassion helps and I think that’s part of what came from my nonprofit background. 

Hannah: So, can you walk us through what a day in the life of Ashley looks like? 

Ashley: Oh, my goodness. I drink a lot of coffee. We have a fancy coffee machine, so that helps. We use a project management system called Basecamp. It’s like Slack or any of those; there are probably hundreds of project management systems out there. And so it’s a lot of looking at my To-Do list for the day and looking through Basecamp and seeing what is due this week or this day, or what is due in the future that I could get ahead on if we’re not as busy that day. So I spend a lot of time on Basecamp and a lot of time on Gmail. And then, I’m answering a lot of emails. I’m somebody that I would like to not put it always in an email. I think it’s important to have a chain so you can go back and see like, “Okay what did we say we needed to do?” But I also think it’s important to have face to face conversations. 

Our office has two sides, and so we have the account research side, physically, and then the digital-creative on a different side of the office. So I like to just go over to the creative and digital side and talk through projects or talk through concerns a client may have because I think you can relate things better via word of mouth then you can in text, on a project management system or an email. So I do a lot of that as well. 

But we also like to have a lot of fun here, so we have a lot of snack machines, we eat a lot of snacks, and we drink a lot of coffee, and a lot of water. One of our clients is a water distributor, so there’s water everywhere all over this office. But we like to have fun, and it’s an open office so we get to collaborate a lot as well. The day in the life can look different every day, but it’s pretty much emails, Basecamp and a lot of meetings.

Hannah: So, with all of that going on, how do you stay productive and efficient with everything that’s on your plate? 

Ashley: I like to think I’m a super-organized person. I’ve discovered sticky notes on MacBook, so I have a lot of sticky notes. I have sticky notes for each of my clients and then based on that it’s color-coded on if it’s with the client or if it’s with us, and what date that is, so that really helps. I actually learned that from my supervisor. I was like, “Those sticky notes seem to really help.” That really helps me stay at least on target of dates and where is the project. Also, I think knowing when to slow down and knowing I need to look at those sticky notes like, “Calm down. I need to know when things are due. Some things aren’t as pressing as others.” I think that’s important, is knowing when to slow down as well. And also, if you’re rushing all the time, things can get sent incorrectly to clients or sent to the incorrect people, and so I think you just have to be wary of your time and what you’ve got going on as well. 

Hannah: Yeah. That’s a good idea because it is easy to get in kind of the hustle mode and be super productive, but something’s going to fall through the cracks if you’re always rushing. I like that. 

So, I was stalking SFW in preparation for this chat. I checked your website, all your social platforms and it looks like a super fun company to work for. And so on your Instagram bio, it says, “We’re a different kind of marketing company that’s rewriting the old agency rules.” And I just kind of wanted to see what that meant to you, and kind of break it down to more practical terms. 

Ashley: Yeah. So, like I said, I haven’t worked at another agency so there’s not so much I can compare to, “When I used to work somewhere else.” But what I can tell from our senior leadership is great, and they love to think outside of the box, and they have worked at other agencies. We actually do this thing called SFWU, and the ‘U’ stands for University, and it’s really just like a class. We have different classes every week; it’s like a series. I did it back in January. We had just hired some interns and so they’re going through it right now. And so, we get to see every part of the business if that’s research, accounts, the digital team, how SFW came to be about, which is led by our CEO. I think that gives a good glimpse into our agency when you’re a new employee, and that helps us all be on the same page. I think that’s where I learned a lot about how we were different from other agencies. 

Here we have core teams. I am on an account team with an account director, and then there’s myself, the account executive. And then we get to kind of have our own team within the agency. We have two creatives that are on our accounts with us. We have somebody from the research department that’s on our accounts. We have a copywriter that’s on our accounts, and so that makes up our core team. And so I think that is a neat thing of SFW is that we have these teams and so we really get to learn how each other’s works. It’s not like, “Oh I need this logo to change color…like I need to just find a creative.” Like I know who my core team is, and they know our brands and they know our brands well. I think that’s super important is that we’re not just pulling people all over the agency into our client’s brands. They know the brand as well, so they know what is expected. 

We also have a thing called the four-part process, which is what we do with all of our clients. We figure out who the prime prospect is, what the prime prospect’s problem is. A lot of P’s. And then we know the brand, and then we break the boredom barrier. And so we follow that process with every single one of our clients, and so I think kind of the most fun part of that whole process is breaking the boredom barrier, which I guess is another term for thinking outside of the box. What is something we can do that is unlike something any other agency would think about or think about doing? I think that process really helps us. And it also helps us all have the same goals. So we may have different clients, but with every client, every project that’s the four-part process that we would follow. We always have that ingrained in the back of our minds as that four-part process. I think that kind of makes us unique as well, so it’s a great place to work. It’s super fun. 

Hannah: Yeah that sounds awesome. So how would you say SFW has really set itself apart from the competition and built an audience for itself? And really just connected with its clients? 

Ashley: We focus a lot on home improvement; that’s kind of our space. A lot of our clients fall into something that you would find at a Home Depot, a Lowes, so that’s kind of our bread and butter; that’s what we are known for. We have some of our senior leadership that comes from backgrounds of that home improvement space, and so I think that really helps us. They can say, with the knowledge that I have, if it’s one of those big-box retailers, or if it’s working for somebody that was in one of those big-box retailers, we have that knowledge and experience. I think that’s definitely something we are like different from is that we really focus on one type of industry. And then I think the core teams that I talked about, that’s something that helps us stand out. 

Each of our divisions are really good at what they do. I think all agencies would say that, and all agencies are really good at what they do, but I just think that the teams that we have here, we all think and have the same goals in mind, and so I think that that really helps us when we are maybe pitching new business ideas is that we have that four-part process, we have those core teams and we have the knowledge and experience that we can help you win. ‘Where brands win’ is like our tagline. We like to win and we know how to win and so that I think also really helps us as well. 

Hannah: Yeah definitely. And I’m sure it helps to with the SFWU. Just being on the same page about the culture from day one really, I’m sure that shows through to the clients. 

Ashley: Yeah it does. And that we all have the same knowledge of how the company works. I think if you don’t know how different departments work or you don’t know how the business model is run, I think that’s important for all your employees. I mean we teach our interns that, and they’re here for 9 weeks. I mean it’s something that is important to our senior leadership team and I am appreciative that they value and they’re okay with opening up and being transparent about the business model, about how we run things, how our operations run, why we do core teams. I think it’s important and that transparency is something that I value and I think a lot of people here value as well. 

Hannah: When I was pursuing y’alls website, social media, I found that something that it seems that SFW is really passionate about is the community. I found that really interesting and I just wanted to kind of hear from your perspective. What makes y’alls leadership and just the agency as a whole so passionate about community involvement? 

Ashley: Yeah, so I think all of us would probably say that we do love the community that we live in and that we are passionate about giving back to that community and so I think a lot of times different companies will push employees to get involved in things. I think it’s great that we as an agency are involved as a collective whole in giving back to the community. I think that drives down from the senior leadership the importance of giving back to our community and taking some of our passions and being able to turn that into giving back to the community. 

We are a company full of bikers. Road biking is something that if you were to ever walk into our agency we have bikes, like real bikes on the walls all over the agency. Anyone’s welcome, and we go on bike rides at lunch, we go on bike rides on the weekends, we have helmets everywhere. A few weeks ago, maybe it’s been a month now, but a few weeks ago we had a bike to work week and so they decided back in January that they were going to do a 100-mile bike ride in October for JDRF. For the bike to work week we decided that we would also be raising money for JDFR and for that bike ride we raised, I think it was $8000 during bike to work week and we as a company biked 3,309 miles. So we kind of take the passions of, even if you’re not passionate about bike riding, you’re around a lot of bikes. I can’t say that I’m an expert bike rider like some of these guys are, but we take it and we can turn that into giving back to the community. 

We reached out to people to see if they would sponsor miles, so for one mile, they’d give 5 cents or something like that. We reach out to people. There are people in the agency who maybe don’t like bike riding or who maybe just didn’t want to participate, that they pledged to give X amount of cents per mile. We really get involved even if maybe it’s not your passion, there are other ways of getting involved in the community too. 

Hannah: That’s so fun. I really like that. 

Ashley: It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of bike rides. And we did cycle classes too. And then a group of, it was either 7 or 9 of them, rode their bikes starting here at the agency and then they rode all the way to Raleigh. It was like 99 miles, so pretty much 100 miles. They rode from 8 am until 5 pm and they ended at the JDRF office in Raleigh. So that was a day of tracking them on apps and seeing how they were doing. I did not participate in the 100-mile bike ride. But we cheered them on from here. But yeah it was a pretty cool week. 

Hannah: Awesome. So from what I know about you, I know you from college and you’ve always been super involved and kind of plugged into your community wherever you’re living. How has that really benefited you from both a personal and a professional perspective? 

Ashley: I think to get involved in the community, I tell people everywhere that I move that I think it’s important to give back to the city that you live in. Maybe you don’t think the city gives so much to you, but it really does. I mean you live there, you work there, you play there and so I think it’s super important to give back. And through giving back to the community, if that’s volunteering hours, or if that’s just servicing on boards that better communities or bring communities together. It’s helped me meet some super cool people that I probably wouldn’t have met in my day to day life. They could be doctors or they could be architects where I don’t cross paths with them on a daily basis. 

I think meeting people, and you also get to hear different perspectives and different ideas that maybe you otherwise wouldn’t have. I think that it’s just kept me open-minded where I go, which I think that’s something you can take from your professional life or your personal life. There are different things that I’ve learned, and keeping an open mind. And then by meeting other people I’ve just learned the importance of giving back and seeing what organizations can do to make a community better. 

I moved here, I don’t think I said this is in Greensboro, NC, but that’s where I am. I moved here back in January, so I’ve been here six month-ish. And it’s been a lot of trying to learn like what are those organizations that I want to become a part of? I mean I think all organizations do good, but what’s something that I’m passionate about, and I am passionate about the community. There’s a downtown Greensboro association that I’ve become involved with, and they try to better the downtown area if that’s by safety, beautification, or just connecting the small businesses and local businesses and promoting those businesses. And so that’s something because I live downtown, so that’s something important to me is promoting the downtown area. 

There’s also an organization called Future Fund here, which is for young professionals and you give X amount of money per year and it goes into an endowed fund and then they give those funds out to nonprofits throughout Greensboro. And they’ve had just some cool events and some pitch competitions which I was involved in 1 Million Cups back in Columbia so I love a good small business pitch. It’s been finding those organizations and finding out if the things I value align with the things that they value. Our agency has a lot of recent graduates, that graduated in 2019-2018, so I try to drag them along with me too to get involved which has been fun because some of them are native of Greensboro and so they get to experience some new things that maybe they wouldn’t have because I didn’t force them to come to events with me, so I didn’t look like a loner. That’s been neat in experiencing the city that I live in through volunteerism. 

Hannah: Yeah, that’s really cool. So what have you learned about yourself through your experience, like being involved in your community, and how has that kind of transferred into your career? How do you kind of apply those learnings and experiences into your day to day work? 

Ashley: I think a lot of nonprofits, I mean working with nonprofits but then also just being involved I think being a part of your community I think takes a lot of patience. Patience within an organization or patience with working with other people and I think that that’s a skill that can definitely be translated to your professional life as well. And also I think the volunteering that I’ve done and given back to the community, like I’ve talked about earlier, it’s made me a more compassionate person and has made me keep an open mind about other people and other people’s ideas and other people’s thoughts and knowing that people have different backgrounds and different experiences that I do. Just because somebody has a different background experience doesn’t mean that they’re ideas aren’t valued as much as somebody else’s. I try to take that and apply it to my professional world if that’s with a client in a meeting or if that’s just internally with people here at the agency. 

I think when you give back to a community you learn a lot about the people in that community and the different experiences that they have and that makes you just more fortunate to hear those. I love hearing other people’s ideas and backgrounds and why they do what they do, and so I think that’s really helped and translated into my professional life as well. 

Hannah: So, for someone who wants to get involved in their community, whether it be in a professional, volunteer, whatever capacity, where would you recommend they start? 

Ashley: Google. Just kidding. I mean when I first moved here I didn’t know anyone and I really didn’t know anything. I didn’t know about organizations here, but I knew that I wanted to be involved. I really, honestly, took to Instagram and was like, “Okay, let me look up downtown Greensboro,” and then you kind of do that spiral rabbit hole.  And then I started getting onto like newsletters, “Okay let me see what they do weekly, or what they’re working on.” So first it was just researching a whole lot and then I think I’m a very extroverted person, so I don’t know if this would be the best advice for somebody that doesn’t like to do this, but I reached out to the person that I found on the website that was in charge of the young professional’s group here in Greensboro, and I was like, “Do you want to get lunch? Like I’m new here. I really want to get involved. I’d like to get lunch or coffee with you.” That probably would be a little intimidating for somebody that doesn’t to do things like that. I got a lot of good meals and coffee with people to just talk through what I was involved in in Columbia and how I can maybe translate some of that work that I did in Columbia here in Greensboro. 

I also, maybe if that’s a little too much for somebody, I think just getting a group of friends or if that’s just you and one other person or maybe a colleague and just going to volunteer somewhere or going to an event that is hosted by a group that maybe you’re interested in becoming a part of. I think it’s easier and not as intimidating when you’re with somebody you know because then you don’t have to go talk to a group of people because you’re all by yourself. I think that helps. Especially if there’s an organization that you think you want to be a part of and they host events, just going to those events they’re usually not these members-only events. 

Just going and seeing how the events are held, seeing how they talk about the organization, I think you can learn a lot from that as well and so that’s probably a less intimidating is going with a friend and going to something, and then finding out how you can get involved. Most of the people that serve on the boards of organizations or committees, they love talking about why they love that organization. It’s not a bad thing to go up to somebody that is on the board or works there and being like, “Hey I am interested in maybe becoming part of this organization.” They will love to talk to you, I promise. But I think that is another way that you can go about getting involved as well. 

Hannah: Those are some good tips. And I like that you included something for the extrovert and the introvert. 

Ashley: That may even be too much for an introvert; I don’t really know. But you can probably ask anyone of my friends in Columbia and they will probably vouch that I’ve dragged them to something in Columbia that they might have not else gone by themselves.  

Hannah: That’s good though. I’m very introverted and we need people like you to push us out of our comfort zones. 

Next, I like to ask some rapid-fire questions. I do this with everyone that I interview just to get to know them better and some really cool little facts come out of these questions. My first one is, what is your favorite thing about your career? 

Ashley: My favorite thing about my career is probably seeing work come to fruition. When it was nonprofit life, that was seeing the dollars raise and then seeing the dollars go out the door helping another nonprofit. In agency life, on a much bigger scale, is seeing a product in a store. I’ve never gotten so excited about going into a Home Depot and being like, “Look! Look! My agency did that artwork,” because it’s a team effort because I definitely did not design any of it. I think just getting excited about seeing a finished product is something that I love about the career path that I’ve chosen. 

Hannah: What motivates you? 

Ashley: Oh goodness, what motivates me? It’s probably seeing those finished products that motivates me and knowing that I am hopefully making a client’s life a little bit easier, helping them and challenging them to think in a different way that maybe they haven’t. Some of the people we deal with, in the clients’ sense, have been with their company for years, some may be new, but challenging them to think strategically, think maybe a different way than they usually do. I think it’s a fun thing and also motivates the work that we do is knowing that our clients are going to be able to go to their bosses and be like, “Look at this awesome work that we did,” or me getting giddy about going to a Lowes or a Home Depot so I think that seeing that finished product and knowing that there’s a finished product or goal always motivates me. I always want to reach those goals, so that’s probably what motivates me the most. 

Hannah: What are you currently reading or listening to? 

Ashley: I’m reading the book called The Perfect Couple, it’s like a total summer read. And I’m listening to a podcast called In The Dark. I’m a big true crime kind of person. My boss told me, “I’m not going to tell you what happens but you may or may not want to finish the podcast by next Monday because something may be happening.” So I’m trying to get through it because I don’t want to Google it and spoil the ending but it’s another true crime. So, I’m listening to that and hoping to get through it by next Monday. 

Hannah: What is the best career advice you’ve ever received? 

Ashley: This is probably something that it may not be whole career-wise, but something that I think about almost every day because I do so much writing emails is one time a boss of mine told me that we as women like to write emails and say, “I was just wondering.” We like to use the word ‘just’ a lot, and it’s usually not needed. You can take away the word ‘just.’ I catch myself a lot, writing the word ‘just’ and then I’m like, “Backspace, backspace.” I don’t need that word. “I just wanted to know if you had seen that?” No. “I wanted to know if you had seen that.” That’s something that I use on a daily basis and a shout-out to Katherine Swotshill [00:31:55] (sp?) because she’s the one that told me that. So that’s something that I use every day. 

And then I think something career advice that I’ve received that’s been on a larger scale, is probably not to fret over the little things and knowing that it is not the end of the world most of the time. I’m a pretty anxious person so maybe if I misspell a word wrong in an email I’m like, “OH MY GOSH!” Like, let it go. It’s not on a print ad, it’s not on a product, because that would be a big deal. But it’s okay, move on from the little things and it’s going to be okay. It’s just going to be okay. 

Hannah: I can totally relate to both of those. 

My last question is who inspires you? 

Ashley: Oh man, a lot of people inspire me. I mean my mom. That’s probably everyone’s go-to answer. I think I really do look up to the people that I like to say I have the privilege of working under. My supervisors that I’ve always been with motivate me, they inspire me and they challenge me. I think when you interview for a job it’s important to not just think, “Am I going to fit in here? Is this somewhere that I want to work?” But the person that you interview with, not only do you connect with them, but are they going to make you want to be a better professional, and a better person? 

I’ve had the pleasure of serving under so many great people and I think all of those women; they’ve also always been women, so I think that helps as well. They’ve been really powerful women, they know who they are, they know what their mission is, they know the organization but then they also are there to be mentors to people that work for them. I have had that in the past two careers that I had in Columbia. I have that now with my core team. Here at the agency my direct supervisor is not much older than me but she’s so smart and she’s been at the agency for a while and so she knows the ins and outs and knows the ins and outs of clients. Especially this being my first agency job, I can’t imagine working with anyone else. Everyone here is great but there’s just something about the way that she works that motivates me to do better, to be a better person and to be better for our clients. 

I know that’s not like, “Who motivates you?” and it’s not these big, powerful women, but I think these women that I’ve worked with and these people that I’ve worked with are just attainable people that I look up to and that inspire me to work harder and to be a better person. I believe that everyone comes into your life for a reason and that could be somebody that you literally just pass on the street but everybody that I’ve learned from, that I’ve worked with and then I mean, of course, shout out to Michelle Obama, and I love those people and they’re so powerful and so cool. But I think it’s also the people you interact with daily that inspire me to be a better professional and be a better person. 

Hannah: Just before we go I wanted to give you a chance to share where we can follow along with SFW and you if you want to plug your social, website, all that good stuff. 

Ashley: SFW is on Instagram and Facebook at SFWagency is the handle for Instagram and then if you just search that in Facebook we are also there. I like to think our Instagram is pretty fun. We have a lot of nerf gun fights so those usually show up on our Instagram. And then I am on all platforms but my Twitter is @ashley_pullen and then I know it’s bad, but I don’t even know if I know my Instagram one. I think it’s aepullen because for some reason I couldn’t get all the same username because there must be another Ashley Pullen out there trying to take my name. But I’m probably the most active on Twitter. 

Hannah: Well thank-you so much for being here! This was a really fun conversation and I know I got some good takeaways from it and I hope our audience did as well. Thank you for your insight and for sharing more about the agency you work at and also how you’re involved in the community and how that’s benefited you. I think that’s some really valuable advice for anyone, no matter their career path. 

Ashley: Yeah of course. I gave at least one good bit of advice for somebody watching.

Hannah: Yep, you definitely did. Alright, that’s all we have today y’all. Thank you for being here, and just follow along with us on social media and see when we’re going live next. Until next time we hope you have a great day and just keep up with us online. Thanks, guys, bye.

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