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Step into the world of Carrianne Polo, a visionary whose indomitable spirit and unparalleled creativity have driven her agency, New Park Creative, to remarkable heights. In 2023, she is celebrating a significant milestone: ten years of business. A relentless pursuit of excellence was the driving force that enabled her to defy the odds and carve her own path in a highly competitive and ever-changing market.
We recently sat down with the mastermind behind our agency to explore Carrianne’s remarkable journey as a founder, CEO, and Creative Director, unveiling the secrets behind her success in business and life.
Q: What key strategies have contributed to your success as a business owner for the last 10 years?
CP: The most beneficial thing you can do as a business owner is to understand where your strengths and passions lie so that you can build a team with the skills to fill any gaps. Hire people who are better at your job than you; this will give you the confidence and expertise you need to succeed.
Additionally, seeking advisory support from people outside the organization is incredibly helpful; having someone look at your strategy from an outside perspective is immeasurably impactful. Getting comfortable with failure is also essential. Most importantly, seek mentorship and have a tribe of friends, mentors, and advisors who genuinely support your success.
Q: What challenges did you face in the early years of starting your business, and how did you overcome them to ensure this long-term success?
CP: One of the early challenges I faced was building the right team of people. It took some time to clarify my values and what values I wanted the business to embody. In addition to simply hiring top talent, finding the right mix of people to support our vision was essential. Bringing in a CMO I could trust and lean on for leadership support was pivotal for our growth.
Another challenge was designing a portfolio to bring to market. When starting your business, you should be prepared to experiment often to develop best practices. Identifying what to showcase in a portfolio takes time and a discerning eye. In our early years, we had the opportunity to work across many different markets and take on various projects. Eventually, we identified the areas and types of work we were exceptionally good at, allowing us to tighten up our offerings and focus on growth.
Q: How do you maintain a competitive edge in the market, especially with the rapid pace of technological advance?
CP: In the early years, I probably spent too much time looking at what the people and agencies around me were doing, but observing them in admiration has enabled me to carve a unique path for New Park. While having a competitive edge is essential, our success exists beyond comparing our performance to others and simply doing it well for ourselves. Having a learning mindset and fostering an environment focused on growth has allowed our team to constantly stay current in this rapidly changing market and find new ways of doing things.
Building a culture that has an open mindset and embraces change as part of the process is the best thing you can do to maintain an innovative and forward-thinking perspective. We also do a lot of listening and responding to fully understand what our clients need from us to be successful. We have changed our business model to serve the way that today’s market functions, especially with content being produced in real-time and jumping on trending keywords.
Q: What role do you believe innovation and adaptability play in sustaining the business for 10 years, and how have you fostered these qualities within the team?
CP: It would be impossible to maintain a business for ten years and not be flexible and adaptable. Continuously listening and remapping offerings and approach is vital. How have we developed an innovative and sustainable model? By living uncomfortably. They say that if you become complacent or comfortable, it means you’re not learning, but it also means that you’re not innovating. I can’t recall a time in our history when we have felt overly comfortable because we are constantly pushing the boundaries. It’s one thing to talk about being adaptable and forward-thinking; in reality, it’s an uncomfortable way to live and operate as a business. In terms of my personal business philosophy, I see a strong correlation between discomfort, change, and innovation. I like saying yes to scary things.
Q: How do you approach risk-taking and decision-making, especially when faced with an uncertain or variable business environment?
CP: “Delusional Optimism” – that’s my favorite phrase. To be an entrepreneur, you must be highly optimistic and maintain a healthy appetite for calculated risk-taking. You must be willing to let things roll off your back with grace, poise, and perspective, which can be difficult.
Find incredible mentors and advisory support. Those mentors and their counsel will be invaluable as you rely on their experience to make intelligent, informed decisions in your work.
It comes down to what your gut is telling you. No matter how much support you surround yourself with, you ultimately need to rely on and feel confident in your own decision-making. There is always that risk of whether or not your gut is telling you the truth. Follow your heart.
Q: What strategies or approaches have you employed to build a strong, cohesive team to align with your business’s goals and values?
CP: I have built a strong team by treating people with respect and giving them a deep level of trust and autonomy. Treating your team like the adults they are, valuing performance, the ability to build candor, and having good judgment are far more critical than hard skills. Shifting our portfolio to work with purpose-driven brands and working with other teams who prioritize people and value human relationships has been pivotal. Ambitious, talented, and creative people want to feel connected to their work. Building the portfolio in service of the team has been a game-changer for us.
Q: How have you leveraged emerging trends and market opportunities to drive growth and maintain relevance?
CP: Getting hyper-tuned into social media, understanding algorithms, and keeping up-to-date with the evolution of SEO and natural language processing are some of the ways we’ve leveraged emerging trends to maintain relevance and drive performance in our work. Our understanding of social media for B2B is a massive differentiator for us. While there are many different technical variables (that change constantly), at the end of the day, we’re still designing for human behavior- psychology and emotion. Additionally, deepening our understanding of inbound marketing for a service business with business customers has helped maintain relevance amongst our client base.
Q: Can you share any important lessons or failures you’ve experienced as a CEO and how they have shaped your leadership style?
CP: An important lesson is not to put all your eggs into one basket. Continuously prioritize business development. Another lesson is to be bold, ask for help, and seek mentorship early on. The strongest leaders seek help often. Lean into difficult conversations when things aren’t going according to plan. Whether with a team member or client, face the hard stuff in the most respectful, diplomatic, and productive way. Through embracing those challenging times, I’ve become a much more competent and assertive leader.
Q: What are one or two words you would use to define yourself as a leader?
CP: Thoughtful & authentic.
I wear my heart on my sleeve and try to be my most authentic self at all times; with me, what you see is what you get. Embracing life like this gives me the confidence to know who I am and what I am not. That confidence allows me to succeed in my work and as a leader.
Q: How do you prioritize work-life balance as a working mom, a business owner, and a CEO? What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking to maintain their well-being while growing a business?
CP: For any working mom, this balance is tricky to navigate. As a business owner and a parent, there might always be a challenging balance, but you can always work on it. Prioritize what you need to, and fit in the fun when you can. I don’t think it’s a matter of finding an exact “balance,” but instead choosing and dedicating to what you’re prioritizing at any given moment and accepting the fact that you can’t be in all places at once—and that’s okay. Figure out your non-negotiables in life and commit to drawing a line in the sand to protect them. For me, it’s time with my kids.
Q: What do you envision for the future of New Park Creative, and what steps are you taking to ensure continued success?
CP: We plan to continue developing relationships with purpose-driven brands that align with our values. As we celebrate 10 years in business, we’re on the cusp of exciting work, taking on larger, more complex campaigns and digital experience design projects. With this traction comes the opportunity to positively impact more people and become an even more significant contributor to economic development in Connecticut. Our vision is to reach more people through work, build a flourishing community, and deliver innovative solutions to our clients.