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Profile of Cheryl Benton
Cheryl Benton

September 7, 2007

Part 1: Profile

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Why did you choose marketing as a career?
Actually, I didn’t choose it as a career. It chose me. I started out thinking I was going to be a high school English teacher. I believe John Lennon said, “Life happens when you’re making other plans.”

I was substitute teaching, because there was such a glut of English teachers. I was there until the end of the school year, and I thought, “I’ll have to go back to substituting in the fall.” I thought, “I’ll get some kind of summer job.” But, if you told businesses you were going back to teaching in the fall, they wouldn’t pay anything.

So, I thought, “The next place I go, I’ll act like I’ll stay here forever.” And, that turned out to be a 10 year summer job in a technology firm. I got into advertising there. I became the Ad Director, and then the Marketing Director. After 10 years, I left there and started my own ad agency on Long Island. I had that for 10 years, and it was acquired.

What made you decide to start your own agency?
I was on the client side, and we were working with agencies. I was at a point where I wanted to try the agency side. It would be more interesting and challenging. And, ironically, people were saying, “Even though you’ve been a marketing person for 10 years, you haven’t had experience on the agency side.”

So, I was finding that the agency door was tough. At that time, some of the big agencies had training programs, but my time for that had long since gone by. I thought, “At this point, I don’t want to start all over in my career.” So, I said, “I’m going to start my own agency and figure it out along the way.”

Did you find it fairly easy to pick things up, or was it challenging, or stressful?
Yes, all of the above. Whenever you’re starting something new -- and especially when you’re going from something very secure -- all of a sudden, you take this giant leap into uncharted waters. This is particularly true when it’s an entrepreneurial project. But, there’s a lot of adrenaline, and you have to believe you can do it.

My first client was the firm I was working for, and then I had a couple of clients. That was terrific, because they all believed enough in me to allow me to do that. They were enormously helpful.

I learned, and part of growing and doing anything is making mistakes. And, saying, “OK, what did I learn from that?” Then, you pick up and move ahead.

For example, when you’re starting up something, any client who came your way, you say, “Oh, I can do that,” or, “I’ll take that on.” Then, you start to realize that you have to focus your effort more.

I found that it took as much time, if not more time, to handle a very small client with a very tiny budget, than it did to pursue clients with bigger budgets. That was a big lesson: When to say no, and when to say, “OK, I’m not going to say yes to this kind of client -- even if it would provide some short-term income. I need to focus on the bigger things that will ultimately be more beneficial.”

You’ve worked in Manhattan most of your career. What strengths are required to succeed in this competitive environment?
You’ve got to be willing to accept failures, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start over again. In Manhattan or Boise, if you love what you do, and you keep at it, you will succeed.

The Manhattan work world has changed since you started. Tell us a change that affected you, and how you adapted.
Now, with computers and the Blackberry, it’s the total commingling of your business and personal life. You’re always on 24/7 call, even on vacation. You’re getting off a plane and checking your Blackberry.

And, there’s a good and bad side to that. The good side is: you can work remotely and you can handle certain business things a lot easier than you could 20 years ago, when you had to physically be in the office to do something. The downside is: You’re never free! (Laughs.)

You’ve been active in many associations and groups. Did they help you with transitions?
Yes, it’s been great to be in them. I’ve been involved in advertising industry associations. They’ve been great for a number of reasons. Early on in your career it’s fantastic because you can reach out to other people. It expands your network. I’ve been in the B/PAA (Business and Professional Advertising Association) and the BMA (Business Marketing Association). Some of my very closest friends are from those organizations. We’re friends to this day.

You find you have a nationwide network. And that is so critical because when you’re ready to do something new, you sit down and say, “Who is in my network?” I would say to anyone at any stage: Get involved with groups in your industry. In your younger days you’re taking from those groups. And, when you get more experienced in whatever you do, you will give back to those groups.

You continue to have a very successful career. To you, what is career success?
I think it’s loving what you’re doing. I’ve always felt very fortunate that I’ve always loved what I was getting paid to do. I always loved advertising, I loved marketing, and I love what I do now at The Three Tomatoes.

I think that’s the key to anyone’s success. I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who has been successful in an endeavor who has hated what they do. It doesn’t mean every day you get up saying, “Oh, my gosh, this is great.” Obviously, there are lots of days you get up and say, “Oh, gosh, I have to face this client or that challenge.” But overall, it was loving the business I was in, and the people in that business, and feeling that adrenaline. And yes, I loved doing that.

What’s next for you?
Who knows! (Laughs.) I have no idea. I love The Three Tomatoes. That’s the thing I’m having the most fun with these days. I’m spending a lot of time on it, and we’ll see where that takes me.

I started out teaching, so kids and education have always been very important to me. So, I’ve become very involved with a couple of non-profit groups that work with New York kids and education. That has fulfilled that other piece of me. And, that goes back to figuring out what has been important to you all along. Look at what you are passionate about.

Cheryl Benton has 30 years of marketing experience. She has spearheaded successful marketing solutions for start-ups and for Fortune 500 companies. Cheryl is the creator, editor and publisher of The Three Tomatoes [www.TheThreeTomatoes.com], a fun and free e-newsletter dedicated to fabulous ladies in the prime of their lives.


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