Bob Bailey, CEO of Truth Collective, was interviewed by Parveen Panwar for this feature in Authority Magazine published April 8th, 2021.
Bob’s nearly 30 years in the creative agency business have required many roles and skills. Bob would most like to be known as a driven, empathetic leader. As important as being a great marketer is, the most important job in his mind is making sure everyone at Truth has what they need to be extraordinary for clients and one another. He would rather do a few things really well than try to be everything to everyone — and our clients agree.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It was when I was in 11th grade, taking an English Mini Course on Advertising. I went to see an author speak on the topic using his book “Subliminal Seduction” as the foundation. He talked about how brands would put subliminal messages into ads to influence people, etc. I found the connection between business and psychology fascinating.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
My two partners and I launched our company in a pretty abrupt manner — leaving long standing posts at our prior shop. We lost a lot of friends and the isolation was very real for the first several months. We had no clients, no leads, no income or office. This is challenging enough, but the pressure is magnified when you’re something of a pariah.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
For the first few years, it was about showing that we could do it, and do it well. We created a culture of very high standards and little tolerance for anything average. We ran on honesty, ambition and creativity for a long time and we were rewarded for it in many ways, penalized in others. We also had a ton of belief in one another, like brothers more than partners. We used our relationship of one upmanship to move us in a direction that would make us proud to work here.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going great, thank you. We have ambitious clients, an engaged leadership team and the best staff I’ve ever worked with. Our grit and resilience were key to weathering the storms that come from building a business from scratch — some storms were thrust upon us, some we created all on our own! Having the guts to stand up and stay in the ring when it’s hard, and believe that you’ll be better for it can lead you to a better version of yourself.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t know if this was a “mistake” or not, but I still talk about this story of our first week because it makes me laugh at myself. We were brand new; first time founders and I was responsible for the operations of the company. It quickly dawned on me that we can pay for stuff with our personal cards for a while, but we would need a bank — especially if we got to send invoices. So, I spoke with a few people and got recommendations on a commercial bank. We (my partners and I) rolled in for our meeting, dressed well with a killer creds presentation — complete with a rip-o-matic of all of our prior creative work, set to a Foo Fighters track (it kicked ass). After our big intro, we took our seats at their conference table (not even the good conference room) and I asked for a $250k line of credit to fund our activities. We walked out with our own Truth Collective checking account! A crystal-clear reminder that ambition and intentions are great, but unless you can create a business with revenue and profits, you ain’t shit. After a few months of revenue, they lent us $25k to buy office furnishings, including a signed Sammy Hagar poster which we deemed essential. A smile and pat on the head, we were on our way.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think the thing that makes us stand out is that we value honesty above all else in an industry that is full of lies and sullied reputation. Our name is a really high bar. Our approach in our own brand is that of “the honest friend who has your back” and that means we are going to tell you things that only a friend would. Sometimes this means saying no to a client. One of our most significant clients started by me saying no to an assignment. After the initial no, she called me back a couple weeks later and asked if the new assignment would be a better fit, and I said yes. To this day, she tells me I’m the only person that has told her no, and she values it tremendously.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Self care is a life charger. You can’t be good to other people unless you like yourself enough to be that way. Exercise a few times per week. Get vigorous and get quiet…self-care lives in the polar opposites.
Find the quiet by protecting 15 minutes a day for silent reflection, calming your brain and putting head space between you and the many issues buzzing in your brain is the key to not burning out.
Productivity eats efficiency for lunch every time — efficiency is how many things you do in a day; productivity is how many good ones. Focus on the stuff that matters and delegate/eliminate the stuff that doesn’t. Being “busy” or seen as “so busy” is a waste.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
No one gets there alone, and if we’re lucky after a few decades, we have a dozen or so people that really took an interest in us, taught us and shaped us. I wish I could list them all right here, but I’m going to say my mom, Jean Bailey. All too typical Gen X experience where the parents split, I was 10. It’s young, but old enough to know what’s going on, and see what matters. I saw my mom work a ton as a nurse, and enroll in night classes at community college. From there, her Bachelor’s degree while raising me and my baby sister. Interesting story: her college graduation and mine was on the same day. She of course came to mine, but I remember that for many reasons. She modeled the core idea of “work” for me and what it means to take care of your family at the same time. So impactful every day. I was lucky enough to toast her at her retirement party and it was one of the honors of my life to punctuate the lesson she taught me. Fun fact — we launched Truth Collective on June 7, my mom’s birthday.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Truth Collective has “generosity” as a core value and it’s a part of our business model. Our desire is to do things that are significant, not just give a few bucks to a bunch of causes. We adopted our area’s leading domestic violence agency, Willow, and we help them by shining a light on a very prevalent, dark issue. We started a scholarship fund called Noble Ambitions Scholars that helps cover non tuition costs for BIPOC students, keeping them focused on learning and growing. We also tend to work with clients that are fueled by a purpose, whether that be bringing vision care to the most desolate places on the planet, helping underserved families buy homes, etc.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Having fun isn’t being lazy. I used to see guys playing golf and taking time off and think they were lazy, unfocused people. Truth is, they had the priorities in better shape than I did.
- Your toughest competitor is YOU. All of us have self-beliefs that hold us back and manifest in ways that create issues for others. Focus on understanding yourself and how you make others feel vs. a shiny competitor, and you’ll win every time.
- We control way less than we think we do. Strategy and plans are really important, so don’t take this the wrong way. But if COVID showed us anything, we assume way too much as a basis for them and our businesses look different because of it. The magic is being comfortable adapting and accepting results as long as you are moving forward.
- You own your business. Your business does not own you. -This concept was hard to get for me as the two things are seemingly inseparable. At the same time, if you assess your life by how your business is doing, you and those in your life are in for a long bumpy ride.
- The CEO reports to everyone. The organizational charts we’re taught in business school are old school. The more senior the role, the more you actually work for everyone else. Fact.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is an amazing question! I think it would be around hunger and homelessness. The homeless people we encounter are literally walking billboards for so many of life’s issues — addiction, mental illness, victims of their own career fate — all rolled into one complex outcome of having nowhere to be safe. It’s quite possible that all of us are a few decisions away from these situations. I feel like you just inspired me to think more about this and how I can be of service, thank you for that!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m most present on LinkedIn.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!