Rauxa is the full-service agency that is rooted in data, enabled by technology, inspired by creativity and orchestrated to perform for Verizon, Alaska Airlines, Vans, TGI Fridays, and more than 20 other leading brands. As America’s largest independent woman-owned advertising agency, Rauxa is powered by a team of over 300 creators, technologists, scientists and practitioners with locations in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Orange County and Atlanta. Rauxa is certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise through the WBENC.
Q&A with Jill Gwaltney, Rauxa’s Founder, and Gina Smith, President and CEO
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Rauxa and how did it all start?
Jill: When my father and I sold our printing business to a publicly held company in 1996, even though I was contracted to keep running the business, I soon learned that I had no authority to make decisions. So I retired for a few months but I was losing a sense of myself. Our company had printed a lot of direct mail and I could see there was a need for a smart agency in Southern California that specialized in DM, so we followed the MVP approach. We did creative and production only. We grew the business from four people initially to over 300 employees today, and now offer all marketing services with an emphasis on digital, data, tech, creative and CRM. We have followed my father’s mantra of “figure out what customers need and help them get it done,” which has been the impetus for our success.
Q: How has Rauxa risen from a direct mail company to digital marketing powerhouse? How were you able to transform?
Gina: It started by not denying the transformation that was happening all around us. First and foremost, we went out and hired the absolute best and brightest to help us evolve - Ian Baer, Lincoln Bjorkman, Rita Ku - to name a few. Then, we started pushing ourselves in terms of the thinking we brought to clients. We piqued interest, took risks, clients gave more work and we grew from there. We are constantly evolving the solutions we bring to clients - you will never get a canned answer from Rauxa. Everything is bespoke to the challenges a client faces. We stay at the edge of what's technologically possible yet apply the data-driven fundamentals to support the investments we recommend for our clients.
Q: What is the Rauxa brand?
Gina: Bold. Results. Those words describe so well who we are, how we do things, and the level of rigor and discipline it takes to make everyone successful. We are able to make big things happen for our people and our clients because of a unique combination of rigor, talent and drive that sets our work apart. We promise our employees that we will give them the resources and opportunity to do the best work of their careers here at Rauxa, and when they do everybody wins. The proof of concept is in the extraordinary results we produce across categories and marketing disciplines. We move fast, we move with intelligence, and we aren’t afraid to do things differently.
What attracts people to Rauxa?
Gina: The people – 100 percent. Jill and our former president Johanna Bracken are two powerhouse women. Jill brought the business in and Jo helped get the work out the door. The energy and passion people brought into the work and the client relationships every day was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Everyone wanted to be there, for the work, the clients and each other.
Jill: Even though we’ve added all of these capabilities and incredible talent over the past 20 years, we’ve maintained our core principles and values throughout. We focus on giving our clients what they need, and we like to say the DNA of a Rauxan is embodied in the words “Head. Heart. Hustle.
What does “head. heart. hustle.” mean?
Jill: It means something different to each Rauxan - and that's actually the point. So, to me, head means you will get the smartest, most impactful solutions from Rauxa, heart means you can count on us, always. And hustle means we will work hard, move fast, and never give up until we achieve your goal.
Gina: It all starts with honest feedback. There are plenty of compliments to go around on a job well done, but really digging into the challenges people face and helping them work through it - that's when trust is built and great mentorship occurs. You have to spend the time getting to know people. I want to understand what makes them tick, how they think, how they approach problems, what they seek in life. Spending the time to connect, in the moment and on a deeper level, often provides the best opportunity for mentoring.
How important is it for Rauxa to still be a woman owned company?
Gina: Frankly, I think it's less about ownership structure and more about "how" we lead. We are empathetic to our clients and our employees. We take the time to mentor each other and grow. And unlike a lot of agencies, we don’t come from “agency DNA.” Our roots are in solving client problems, applying the latest technology and data capabilities to develop the right solution, and doing what it takes to meet the needs of as many people as possible: our employees, our clients and the customers they serve. The fact that we have always been woman-led also means we’re inclusive by nature. We didn’t have to break through glass ceilings or create initiatives to make sure people are treated fairly. Inclusion is second-nature to us.
What has been the biggest success and biggest failure stories you went through?
Jill: Our biggest success has been winning and retaining our role as Verizon’s CRM agency of record. They have been a top client of ours for 19 years, and over that time our role has never stopped growing and expanding. In fact, over the past nine years we’ve increased direct response customer acquisition through our programs by 9X and reduced the cost by 93 percent. I am also very proud that three years ago we became the largest woman-owned advertising agency in the US. As for our biggest failure? I really don’t like using the word “failure.” I think of everything, good and bad, more as a learning experience. I love the Teddy Roosevelt quote: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.” I consider it a success to be in the arena! That said, the biggest “learning experience” was the acquisition of a digital design and development firm several years back. They were the wrong culture fit and we ended up losing all of their employees. Basically, I picked the wrong company, the wrong leader and the wrong deal. But it did get us the right building blocks to add tech/digital to our services, and today that represents one of our core strengths.
Q: What are your growth plans for the near future?
Jill: We are always looking to grow and improve. How do we serve our clients even better? Improve their results? What are the newest innovations in marketing technology? And even though we have grown over 20 percent year over year since our inception, the emphasis has always been about helping our client succeed versus revenue growth. That will never change.
Gina: Up! We continue to adopt new ways to reach people and connect them to brands, to drive business forward for our clients. We embrace new technologies, that will change daily. We attract new talent that forces us to think differently. We grow. We take it all head-on. And....we have fun on the wild ride together!