In the last week of my internship I sat down with French West Vaughan’s president, David Gwyn, to ask some questions about the industry as a whole. In the short 20 minute interview it was easy to peg Mr. Gwyn’s values as a leader – transparency, empathy, and hard work. I was expecting to learn some interesting facts about FWV and get some helpful advice on how to navigate the industry as a rookie, which I did. But more than that, I realized Mr. Gwyn’s humble attitude and genuine care for his employees and clients is what sets him apart.
From the time you graduated college to now, what’s been your career path?
Well I went to school for business, and then right out of school I moved to New York. I immediately got into the advertising space with the New York University for sports and special event marketing, and never looked back. I love the agency business, I love the diversity, the pace of it. I don’t have ADD, but I get bored very easily, so that’s the main reason I’ve stayed in an agency versus going the corporate route.
Did you know you wanted to do this growing up?
It just kind of happened. Kids today are a lot more focused on their career direction earlier. I started pre-med because I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. My dad was a surgeon so that was kinda what I knew, but it was pretty quickly realized that I wanted to be in the event marketing space. I’m not a traditional PR person, which is good. I’m very much a marketing generalist. I think where I really started focus was business school. What I like about business school is every day in your marketing class you’re working on a different marketing assignment. One day you’re working on yield management for hospital beds and the next day you’re working on a new product for Coca-Cola. You literally read a case study every week where you’re dissecting and analyzing an industry and that’s kind of how the agency business is. I work on 25 different things a day, from travel and tourism to consumer products, to crisis management. I think once I went to business school I realized that’s what I wanted to do.
That’s why I’m more interested in working on the agency side of things later on, I like the sound of working on a bunch of different things everyday versus one product or brand all the time.
Yeah, and you meet so many different people. Just this week for instance, I had a presentation to the National Junior League in New York and I had a presentation to New York Auto Show. Our team went to Pendleton Oregon and put on a Pendleton Music Fest with Maroon 5, I was at the Paralyzed Veterans of America National Wheelchair games this week. It’s just very interesting to learn about the world through clients. It’s just enjoyable.
So you can describe to me your main role as the president of French West Vaughan?
It’s really two fold. 50% internal – making sure our people are set up to succeed in the right positions, in the right intellectual categories. My philosophy is that I work for them. I work for every person out there from the lowest account executive to the highest managers here. The other 50% is definitely the clients. Making sure they are satisfied, asking the tough questions, making sure the right people are on the business, and the emotional quotient part of the business. That’s a big part of a senior management position in an agency, is being able to read people and form relationships.
What’s the hardest part of being president, and the most rewarding?
The people have been the most rewarding. The people I’ve met in this business as clients and employees. I like that part of the business and you have to like that part of the business in an agency. If you don’t, you’re gonna have some frustrating times. Every time someone comes to my office, if it’s important enough for them to come up here and talk to me about it, I’m gonna stop everything and treat like it’s just as important to me and resolve it the best way I can, sincerely and transparently. That’s not a compliment to myself — you have to do that. You have to be empathetic to every situation, no if’s and’s or but’s. To get in this business you have to ask yourself “Can I do that?”, with everything else going on your life, like your family, your kids. That’s the most rewarding but also requires the most patience.
(As if on cue, “everything else” going on in his life rang. The doctor’s office called about his daughter’s appointment and kept him on hold for the remainder of the interview, but Mr. Gwyn didn’t miss a beat.)
Changing gears, do you see this industry totally moving digital in the coming years, and do you think there will still be value in traditional advertising?
The convergence of traditional public relations and digital has already happened, so that’s here. But I think there will always be a role for traditional media. I think word of mouth is still the most powerful. Always has been, always will be. So we do whatever we can to get those conversations happening, whether it’s through traditional media or experiential marketing. Technology is here to stay, but there’s gonna be something next, whatever that is. It’s ever changing too, and that’s exciting about the agency business. 21 year old kids coming out of college can teach me things I’ve never learned. My daughter teaches me things. Like “did you see this new thing you can do on Snapchat” and so on.
Where do you hope to see French West Vaughan in the next 10 or so years?
That’s a good question…I think just continue the path we’re on. We’re consumer lifestyle experts, we’re really highly regarded in the industry, especially nationally. A lot of the folks in this building don’t even realize our national reputation. I think it’s something to be proud of and grow upon and for our younger associates to be apart of, going forward. There’s a few us that get to feel that recognition and satisfaction on a national and international level, but I hope all the other folks that put in all the hard work and help us get to where we are can feel that too and can feel apart of something bigger.
What’s made French West Vaughan so successful?
I think it starts at the top with Rick. Letting and trusting people to do their jobs, hiring smart people, creating relationships with clients. We spend a lot of time nurturing those relationships, positioning our people so that their relationships are deep. It’s not just a job to come in here and get your media hits. We want to buy into what our clients are doing.
Lastly, what advice do you have for recent graduates that are pursuing a career in this industry?
Work hard. That’s the old cliche, but outwork everybody. If you outwork people and you show the passion, attitude and interest, you’re gonna succeed in this business. 50% of this job is effort and attitude. Maybe more. You have to have the intellectual stimulation and capability and curiosity. You have to be resourceful. You’re gonna hear “no” a lot in marketing because marketing is intangible and there’s no right answer in many cases. You’re gonna have to use your gut and make good decisions but those decisions are based on asking the right questions and knowing who you’re dealing with – all the intangibles go into making good decisions and people forget that. They think it’s a black and white industry and this couldn’t be farther from the truth. This is an intangible, relationship based, industry. But it’s still results based. So you gotta deliver. People forget sometimes – we’re here to sell jeans.
Written by Isabel Herring, FWV Digital Intern