Meet Jessica Resler, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of The Participation Agency, an experiential marketing agency based in NYC. As a NYU Stern Alum, Jessica shares with us her tips and tricks for engaging in the creative process, the challenges of growing her agency, and the path she took as an entrepreneur.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I had no idea that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I moved to New York City when I was 18 years old to pursue a career in fashion and to live in New York. I worked in the fashion industry for about eight years and I thought I wanted to work in it forever. However, when I was 25, I decided to go to business school and pursue a MBA at NYU. I gained academic confidence at Stern that I didn’t have before. Going to business school introduced me to a new skill set and tools that inspired me to want to do more with my career and to think about my career trajectory in a different way.
Can you talk about the process of starting your own agency?
When we started the company, neither me nor my co-founder had ever worked at an agency before. We were blessed with being able to jump in head first and take many risks in starting the company. As the Participation Agency grew, I learned that it is crucial to be an extreme optimist and believe that what you are going to do is going to work. If you look at statistics or facts, you have to really intuitively dive into what you think is important work for you to be doing. When facing setbacks, you need to be resilient and try to not focus on the negatives and weaknesses but instead focus on your strengths. One of my biggest assets has been my ability to believe in what I am doing and to let that be the guiding force throughout the journey, rather than letting other people tell me what they think I should be doing act as the guiding force.
What inspired the vision for The Participation Agency?
When we started in 2011, my co-founder and I had both finished business school and we were really interested in doing something in marketing that we could pioneer. We began looking at the marketing landscape and, at that point, there was a sort of growing scene in experiential. We dug deeper into experiential marketing and realized that if we did work in this space, we could actually pioneer something that hadn’t been done before. We wanted to really be able to think about marketing in a very different way. Human connection matched with a digital feedback loop was something we were excited to work on and make an impact in. In the last few years, we have shifted to a purpose-driven focus, since any project that is done for a client ends up touching thousands of people’s lives in different ways. We have been thinking about how we can be mindful and conscious as we do that; for example, we’ve required that our projects have a low carbon footprint and we work to be considerate of diversity and inclusion with our projects and brands.
What are the kinds of brands The Participation Agency works with?
Some of the clients that we do projects with are Audible, Airbnb, Shure, and others. We tend to work with Fortune 50 brands or startups, which is fun, but we also produce our own assets, such as creating projects that brands can buy into at a lower value. One thing we are focusing on is establishing a presence in secondary markets; we want to go into markets where there is more emerging energy to bring resources to those places and inspires people in smaller towns by integrating brands.
How do you engage in the creative process?
I originally thought we were going to hire a creative director when we first started the company because I was not traditionally trained in being a creative. However, the more that we grew the company and my creative ideas were leading the projects, I realized I was the creative leader of the company and that I needed to embrace that. I am someone that doesn’t allow myself to be creatively blocked, because the more creative you are, every second of your day sharpens the creativity muscle. On the weekends, I spend time in an art studio creating; I have a daily meditation practice, and engage in activities that keep my brain sharp and tapped in. I don’t allow myself to be influenced by other people’s projects as well, and it’s important for me that these activities are part of my practice. I want my projects out in the world to be original thinking that stems from the spark of my imagination.
“…power is about listening to people, taking in as much information from others as I can and constantly learning.”
As an entrepreneur, are there any particular tactics you use to achieve a work-life balance?
I actually don’t believe in the concept of a work-life balance. The quest for balance is what causes the most imbalance. The best life is one where you don’t have to separate your life from your work, where your work brings the purpose to your life. When those don’t become intertwined there exists an inner conflict. There is no need to separate work and life when people take risks into doubling down on themselves and do work that they really love. Ideas and passions don’t just “turn off” because you go home.
Do you have advice that you can give to young female entrepreneurs?
The biggest piece of advice that I love to tell young women who are at the start of their careers is to say yes to as much as possible. Even if you don’t think you will like it, you won’t know unless you try. If you’re given an opportunity, just say yes and if you don’t like it, you can quit halfway through but trying as many things as possible to hone what it is that you like is really important.
Also, do not shy away from who you are. Listen to whatever is coming your way and don’t follow anyone else’s path; listening to yourself is really the best way you can find the most amount of joy in your life. One of the best things my dad used to say is that being right is subjective and being flexible with “right” is very important. You must always pivot as things in life aren’t always going to go the right way, so be resilient.
What makes you feel powerful and confident?
Confidence is built in competence. Knowing you have accomplished certain things in the past is always a big confidence builder. Now looking back on the work that my partner and I have done at the agency, I feel really confident going into any room and talking about what I do, the confidence of what we can pull off and truly agree to.
Power is an interesting dynamic. When I was younger, what made me feel powerful isn’t what makes me feel powerful today. I used to feel powerful in a more traditional boss-type role, but I realized that is what makes you weak. Now, I think that power is about listening to people, taking in as much information from others as I can and constantly learning.