Diverse in risk and experience, Sway Media’s very own Leigh Dow has a uniquely fascinating trajectory into the world of media. Sway Media is an exclusive global lifestyle and entertainment company of internationally acclaimed talent, taste makers, brand ambassadors, trendsetters and influencers. Founded by the award-winning marketing team of 48 West Agency, Sway Media enables talent to learn from each other and succeed.
We had the opportunity to tap in for a deep dive with Leigh during a phone interview, giving the city of Dallas an introduction to who we know will be a true force in the field. This is only the beginning for Leigh and her team over at Sway Media!
Who was the first person that COSIGN’d you?
I started my career in politics, working in the U.S. Senate. It was one of the most incredible learning experiences of my life to see how our political system works from the inside. When I was in college my roommate worked at the Capital in Tallahassee and referred me for a student roll in the Governor’s press office, which led to an internship and then staff roll in the US Senate. And of course, my parents, never let me believe there was anything I couldn’t do with the right combination of education and work ethic.
How did you get your start in the industry?
My undergraduate degree is in geopolitics. In my first post-college role, I drafted legislation related to Immigration, Department of State and Department of Labor issues. It taught me a lot about research and strategy and built my critical thinking skills. After a couple of years, I moved into lobbying and it was that experience that led me to my job in Silicon Valley. Lobbying taught me about influence. In my Fortune 100 career, I was able to go back to school for my MBA and I was given incredible latitude to chart my own path. The executive who originally hired me retired, and a few years later we reconnected. He encouraged me to start my own agency because he thought I had the right mix of marketing expertise and entrepreneurial spirit.
What are some memorable memories you have?
In 2018, the Phoenix Business Journal awarded me as one of their 25 Outstanding Women in Business, a recognition chosen from 270 nominations. Our parent company, 48 West Agency, has had an exceptional 2019. We were finalists for 19 out of 25 American Marketing Association Spectrum Awards and won 12 awards including five of six “Best Of” categories. (Best of Integrated Marketing Campaign, Best of Interactive / Online Category, Best of Video Category, Best of Collateral Category, Best of Content Category).
Most recently, I was invited to join the Phoenix Business Journal Leadership Trust, an exclusive community for influential business leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs in Greater Phoenix. This group also networks with the Dallas Business Journal Leadership Trust, and I’ve made some great connections through the Leadership Trust network.
Our success at 48 West has allowed us to launch Sway Media this year, and we have made significant investments in Dallas and in technology that talent and influencers can use to build their personal brand and make the right partnership connections.
What are some of the principles that you embody?
Leave your comfort zone at the door and take more risks. I learned at Intel that risk-taking recognizes sometimes there is a favorable outcome and sometimes failures are unavoidable. If you channel your energy correctly, those disappointments can be some of the inflection points that lead to the biggest gains. The only people who don’t make mistakes are the ones not doing anything. I reward informed risk-taking.
I also operate with a growth mindset in everything I do (another Intel value). It’s important to me that our organization is known for innovative and creative thinking and the ability to challenge the status quo.
And lastly, I love to win AND have fun. Some people forget that if you don’t love what you do and find a way to have fun, it’s not worth the effort.
Can you discuss the reasons why you started?
The reason we started our subsidiary, Sway Media, is because of most influencers and talent struggle with packaging themselves to build branded partnerships or leverage technology to the fullest advantage in building their personal brand. The two most important factors in personal branding right now are data and brand partnerships.
If they approach a larger agency, even if they get signed, they will get the C team. The A team is busy with the more established celebrity. Overhead at those agencies is huge and they take a large percentage of income for someone who isn’t quite “celebrity” status yet. They tend to sign a lot of developmental talent banking on one or two becoming stars. Their №1 priority is making money and making it fast.
We take a different approach. We only work with people who are genuinely excited about their future. For influencers, they tend to operate in very niche markets, and it may be wiser to be a big fish in a small pond instead of a guppy in a shark-infested ocean. They may not have millions of followers but the followers they have are hyper-engaged. For talent, we work with them on the big picture of where they want to take their careers, not just breaking one song. We help them figure that out. Having worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, we excel at data science and building brand collaborations, which is what the new world of marketing and publicity is all about.
What major lesson has your path taught you?
Can you discuss the most difficult part of the journey?
Entrepreneurship is best suited to people who are good at handling their emotions and can suppress them by putting them in a box to the left when they need to make decisions that are best for the company. I’m not saying don’t feel them, just deal with them privately later. You need to be able to let go of your emotions and do what is necessary to move your company forward. I’ve also hired people I really like and then had to fire them because they are not performing.
Another difficult part of the journey is learning to let areas of your life slide in order to devote the energy to growing your company and succeeding. Professionally you need to surround yourself with people who buy into your goals and help you succeed. Personally, you have to surround yourself with people who are strong enough to give you that space and understand when your priority is not them.
What are some mantras you use within your endeavors?
I took three years of Latin in middle school, and my mantras came from those lessons:
Acta non verba (my favorite)
“Actions, not words.”
Sine qua non
An absolutely necessary component or ingredient. Determination is the sine qua non of entrepreneurship.
Audentes fortuna iuvat
“Fortune favors the bold.” People who think things can’t be done are often interrupted by others who are actually doing them.
What would be one question you would like to ask someone if you were interviewing them?
What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
What are things that you do within your company that make you “you” and that reaches the community, and how does it tie into you who are as a brand, etc?
I have always been deeply passionate about being a part of organizations that advocate for helping people live better and dream bigger dreams. I am currently on the Board of Trustees, National MS Society, Arizona Chapter and a board member of Public Relations Society of American Phoenix, Challenger Space Center of Arizona, USTA Southwest Tennis Foundation and Phoenix Conservatory of Music (PCM). PCM partners with the prestigious Berklee College of Music where students have the opportunity to work with Grammy Award-winning artists and clinicians.
I recently joined the board of the Cambridge-based Loop Lab, a non-profit social enterprise specializing in media arts internships and digital storytelling. Our mission is to empower underrepresented groups in the media arts, like women and people of color, to develop careers in audio/video through job training and job placement. As an organization, we are committed to ending inequality and racism through digital storytelling.
To wrap up, what can we expect from Sway Media moving forward?
After spending 2019 getting the Sway Media subsidiary up and running. Now we are focused on continuously scouting influencers and talent we want to work with and building relationships with brands who want to partner with them. We also have been working on some exciting new collaborations across music, sports, and fashion. 2020 should be a really exciting year for our team.
As you can tell, Leigh is phenomenal in a plethora of avenues and she’s barely scratched the surface! Sway Media is set to make major strides in 2020 and we’re here for it!
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