IdeaMensch Jeff Snyder Interview

Jeff Snyder is the chief inspiration officer and founder of Inspira Marketing, an experiential marketing agency based in Norwalk, Connecticut. Jeff has more than 20 years of marketing experience and has previously worked at GMR Marketing and RedPeg Marketing. He is passionate about finding a cure for pediatric spinal cancer, and Inspira donates a portion of its profits to fund cancer research.

Where did the idea for Inspira Marketing Group come from?

I began my experiential marketing career with GMR Marketing and hired Kim Lawton in 1996 to work as a field ambassador for client Jim Beam. We connected over a shared mindset, innate passion for business, and a desire to strive for more. We wanted to succeed by being the “good guys,” and we knew the bottom line wasn’t always the true measure of success.

At that time, my young daughter Kennedy was undergoing cancer treatments, so I was conscious of the consequences of losing health insurance and a guaranteed income. But she inspired me to push forward with my dream of a different kind of agency. Even as Kennedy faced a life-threatening illness, she woke up each day with a spirit that was fully alive and ready to tackle any obstacle.

In 2008, five years after my daughter was first diagnosed, I knew it was time to start my own agency. Kim eagerly agreed to found the new agency, Inspira, alongside me. More than a decade later, Kennedy is thriving despite the odds, and her will to fight inspires the Inspira team, and me, every day.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

My average day is crazy in the best ways. It starts with an espresso and ends with a beer — both from the various coffee bars and beers taps we keep at the ready.

I begin the day by connecting with staff with a walk around to check in and say, “Good morning.” After these rounds, my day might include a companywide meeting to communicate corporate directives and vision, creative brainstorming sessions for a new pitch, or careful study of activation plans, metrics, and budgets to make any strategic adjustments necessary to enhance the impact and increase ROI for our clients.

How do you bring ideas to life?

My job is bringing ideas to life through experiences that deliver inspiration, meaning, and authentic connections that resonate with brands’ audiences. Unlike advertising or promotions, experiential marketing enables us to live in the moment with consumers, and we share in the excitement of a “live” engagement or touchpoint.

My team members and I have one-on-one interactions with consumers in the field and on the ground. We can see, hear and capture their experiences with the marketing programs we design — capturing the energy, harnessing insights, and seeing and feeling the human response to each and every element. Leading-edge creativity, sensible execution strategies, and a deep well of industry experience allow us to plan big, build big, and inspire.

We bring it home by measuring key metrics every step of the way to inform and optimize campaigns. We help brands build long-term relationships with their consumers. The long-term relationships we enjoy with our clients are wonderful byproducts of that work.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

So many of today’s technology trends excite me: drones, virtual reality, and deep space exploration, just to name a few.

In my own industry, I love that the technology to track connection and impact is getting stronger and more integrated every day. We can predict target customers’ behaviors with a deep understanding of their attributes, and we can now track customers’ pathways of connection and their relationships with our clients’ brands.

What is one habit that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I thrive on helping people connect — not just brands and consumers, but professionals and opportunities. We make it a habit of helping new agencies, vendors, and young professionals get plugged in and hooked up. Heck, we just believe in helping people. We look at every interaction as a way to give back, do more, and make a difference.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

I was a strawberry picker. I rode my bike four miles each way to earn $2 an hour. At the end of each week, my paycheck minus taxes was about $26. On the flip side, I had all the strawberries I could eat, and I learned what it’s like to literally work “in the field.” Appreciating hard work at 12 years old is a real gift.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I don’t think I’d do anything differently; I just would have done it sooner. It’s never too early or too late to pursue your vision. Oh, and I probably wouldn’t begin in the midst of a financial meltdown like we did in 2008.

As an entrepreneur, what is one thing you do repeatedly and recommend others do, too?

Get inspired. Every. Day. You don’t get big by thinking little. Aim high, think big, and find meaning in your work. I do great work to fund my dream of finding a cure for pediatric spinal cancer. What’s your inspiration? If you can’t answer that question every day, you’re doing something wrong.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

It might sound obvious, but I’ve found building trust with clients is the best way to grow.

Take a step back and look at your business holistically to understand what will drive results. The ability to entertain an idea that might be beyond your core offering takes tremendous discipline, but it has enabled us to serve as a trusted partner for our clients year after year. Our clients understand that we have their best interests in mind and will tackle each challenge with passion, energy, and enthusiasm.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

At the end of our first year of business, we were really struggling. We won a massive mobile tour experience for a fortune 100 client and, with that, staffed and hired for the program, only to lose it 30 days later due to the client’s budget cuts.

This was it. I’d already taken a second mortgage on my house, maxed out my loans, and tapped out my lines of credit — I was at the brink of bankruptcy. But, instead of folding, I took one more shot, used it as a rally cry, leveraged the spirit and resources of our new team as motivation and that was it — win after win after win started to roll in.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I think it would be interesting to start an agency where the creative department is made up entirely of children. We, adults, talk about “out of the box” ideas, but no matter what we say, we are limited by our past experiences, what our competition is doing, and the restraints of our world.

Children are incredibly creative because there is nothing purer, honest and, random than children’s ideas (and their infectious enthusiasm). Child labor laws would probably frown upon it, but we can dream.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What, and why?

I recently attended a white truffle dinner. Each plate in the five-course meal was a work of art. The chef spoke about the creative inspiration behind each dish — the sights, smells, and tastes were all carefully thought out. Between the ambiance, music, good friends, and storytelling, it was a night I’m still salivating over. If you want to understand how to build experiences, you need to submerse yourself in moving experiences regularly.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

We use some off-the-shelf software, but we much prefer to design our own. Our in-house team assesses the needs of our clients and the desired experiences of our target audiences and then creates custom solutions to connect our brands with their consumers. So what software and web services do we use? We could tell you, but then we’d have to…well, you know.

What is one book you recommend our community should read, and why?

One book that I go back to time and time again is “Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends” by Tim Sanders. Although written more than a decade ago, the book demonstrates that there’s tremendous power in becoming a “lovecat” and constantly connecting great people with other great people without hidden motives. It’s a great read.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Seth Godin and Richard Branson are my top picks, but check out Andy Stefanovich. Stefanovich is one of today’s greatest thought leaders on creativity, innovation and culture. And Max Lenderman, who serves as the voice of experiential marketing while staying true to his beliefs in making the world a better place.


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