REP Digital’s Judy Gatena shares her entrepreneurial wisdom.
Judy Gatena knows the challenges and misconceptions that come with growing a “small, bootstrapping, family-owned business” into a media powerhouse. As CEO of creative video marketing agency REP Digital, Gatena has endured them all: sleepless nights, demanding schedules, and the difficulty of keeping clients delighted while still leaving time for family and friends.
REP Digital is an award-winning, woman-owned corporate video agency that provides full-service video marketing to help clients solve issues related to business, brand, marketing, and strategy. Her team excels at finding creative approaches to video marketing campaigns for all audiences, both B2B and B2C. Since it was founded in 2009, REP Digital (formerly REP Interactive) has provided marketing expertise to franchise businesses, Fortune 500 companies, and government organizations, primarily in healthcare, real estate, and manufacturing. The REP Digital team was honored in 2019 for their documentary work with the National Institutes of Health by the National Association of Government Communicators. They have won dozens of awards over the past decade for their video marketing campaigns, including Telly Awards, Communicator Awards, W3 Awards, and more.
The road to success hasn’t always been easy for Gatena though. Her professional journey has included going from being a single parent on welfare and living in public housing to building several companies that have allowed her the luxury of mentoring up-and-coming professionals. From her new office in Nashville, Tennessee, Gatena shares a few lessons she has learned since starting the company with her son Steve, who is now the CEO and founder of top prayer and faith app Pray.com. Though her son has moved on to other successful career ventures, Gatena has continued to grow the agency while developing a diverse team of professionals and leaders.
Training Aspiring Leaders
Gatena believes everyone must work their way up, including her own kids. While her son had to work through the challenges of starting his own career as an entrepreneur, Gatena expected the same work ethic from her younger daughter, Kate. When she graduated from the University of Southern California (after attending community college to gain admission), there was no cushy leadership position with a corner office awaiting her at REP Digital.
“My kids have had to earn their way through the ranks,” says Gatena, noting the importance of life experience and professionals paying their dues. Her daughter went on to find her own career path and is now regional sales manager for Regal Wine Company, owned by Jackson Family wines in California, handling its northern wine market. Gatena shares, “I’m so happy for her. I think letting young professionals struggle is so important. Parents almost disable their kids by giving them things too easy. Trust must be earned over time through adversity.”
Developing leaders, she says, is also about providing an environment where they can be allowed to fail. Making mistakes can be important for growth.
“It’s my job to teach, help, support, and assist with course correction,” she says. “It’s not my job to shame or blame. It doesn’t help anyone when they’re too scared to take risks. Innovation takes risk.”
Gatena knows that different perspectives add value to an organization. On Mondays, during her company’s regular operations meeting, team members have an opportunity to provide feedback.
“We leave time at the end of the meeting where anybody can talk,” she says. “It’s part of being on a unified, collaborative team. A diverse voice does add tremendous value, a totally different perspective. I love seeing women in leadership moving up the ranks, or people diverse in nature getting opportunities that they might not have had in years gone by. I think the playing field is not necessarily level, yet it needs to be, and I will do my part to make sure we all excel.”
Simply earning a degree doesn’t necessarily mean that person is the best for a position, Gatena adds. Experience and overcoming adversity are key to a successful team member.
“I don’t believe that you have to check a box to hire someone,” she says. “The guy who bootstrapped on his own and picked up a camera at 8 years old or got an opportunity to create amazing content, might be way better than the guy who got a four-year degree.”
Leave the Fluff Out
Good communication is also vital to a successful organization. Don’t waste a client’s time with long emails or texts, says Gatena, noting her “three-email rule.”
“If we go back and forth three times and something seems unclear, I’ll pick up the phone and call. May sound old school, but you don’t want things to be misconstrued and at the end of the day, my job is to solve problems. Communication is so important.”
Also consider how the client prefers to communicate, she adds. The key to successful negotiations is to answer all of the client’s questions, keeping communication super succinct, where possible.
Gatena shares, “I really like my time to be respected and I like to do that for others as well. You don’t want to create more work for people and you certainly don’t want to disrespect one of their most valuable assets: time.”