'Drive separates the good from the great': Independent Insights featuring Terri & Sandy's Sandy Greenberg

Sandy Greenberg, co-founder of Terri & Sandy

Welcome to Independent Insights, a regular series that features interviews with independent agency leaders across the country. This week we’re featuring a Q&A with Sandy Greenberg, co-founder of Terri & Sandy.

Terri & Sandy is a small, woman-owned creative agency that bears little resemblance to the holding company agencies its founders climbed the ranks in before setting up shop on their own.

Even so, the 50-person New York-based shop's client roster and output certainly rivals its larger counterparts. In the past year alone, the agency has created campaigns for household names like Gerber and Peeps, all the while picking up agency of record status for brands including Sunny D.

Longtime creative partners Sandy Greenberg and Terri Meyer founded the agency seven years ago after a long stint at FCB, where the two worked on accounts including Oreo, Planters and American Standard.

In the years since they started Terri & Sandy, the pair have built an agency that prioritizes client relationships and employee happiness, both of which Greenberg believes have largely contributed to the shop’s nascent success.

The Drum caught up with Greenberg to find out more about what it’s like to run an ad agency, what advice she’d give to those just starting out, qualities she looks for when hiring talent and more.

What role does independence play at your agency?

Being independent is probably one of the defining elements of our company and our culture. Obviously there are a lot of benefits of being independent, but the basic one is that Terri and I are in control. Unlike the holding companies, bankers don't control us, so no one demands the clients that we work with or who we fire or anything. Those decisions are ours and ours alone. As you can imagine, there’s a ton of stress and responsibility that comes with being in control, but we would choose it any day of the week.

You’ve experienced a great deal of success since you founded the agency seven years ago. Why do you think the shop has had so much momentum?

A few reasons. Clients are certainly craving a different model. If you talk to any CEO or CMO, the level of competition is so fierce. There's so much redefining of whole industries. Terri and I have worked a lot in food, and the food industry has changed so much. And even if you're not one of those businesses that's being totally redefined, it's still brutal, and I think clients are looking for new models. The fact that we've eliminated the bureaucracy in our company and work faster and smarter and more efficiently is one reason we have experienced the success that we have.

When we were in the big agency world, we really fostered our relationships with our clients, so some of our clients go back 20 years. They keep coming back to us - that was true when we were in the big agency world, and now many of those clients are here. And I think they're here because we lead to success in the marketplace, and that success makes them want to come back. The Effie Awards named us the fourth most effective independent agency in North America, so I think the fact that our work works is actually the single most important thing about our company.

On top of it all, we’re just passionate people. We're very passionate about the brands we work on and the clients that we work with. I think people appreciate that level of commitment and energy.

How would you describe the culture at Terri & Sandy?

Our culture is very unique. Coming from the big agency world where we were surrounded by a lot of unhappiness, including in ourselves, we really set out to form a different kind of culture. We describe our culture as very ambitious and very driven - we have no tolerance for losing, and we will not tolerate mediocrity. But at the same time, we want people who work here to be decent people, to treat each other with respect and to be into collaboration.

We have this motto that is, ‘two founders, 48 entrepreneurs.’ When we interview people, we're really looking for a person with an entrepreneurial instinct. We find that we've attracted a lot of talent from the big agency world because people felt that they couldn't control their own destiny. They felt that they were cogs in a wheel and that they were limited by their level. So what we say when we hire people is, 'you should become what you want to be. Nobody needs to know or be limited by your title. You take charge and become who you want to be.' We encourage everyone to be creative. We encourage everyone to be involved with new business.

What do you look for when hiring talent?

Somebody once said to us ‘hire a mosaic,’ which means don't expect to hire everybody that's like you. It's difficult advice to follow, but it's very good. Everybody should be their own unique individual, and it adds up into a whole. So we try to hire all different kinds of people with different strengths.

One [other] thing I would say, which I don't hear enough talk about lately, is just grit, desire and passion for the business. When I was coming up in the business, I loved it so much and I really wanted to work hard at it. I think drive separates the good from the great. Most people who are great work really, really hard for it. And so that's a quality we're always looking for.

What advice would you give to young people who are just starting out in the industry?

For women, I would say advocate for yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't expect that anybody is going to give you a raise without you asking for it. We do it here, but I’ve almost never seen it. I think you need to stand up for yourself. Know your worth.

For men and women, honestly, I would say work harder. Don't be a whiner. Go out there and make it happen for yourself. Put a little bit more effort in. If you have to get up early, get up early. If you have to do it at night, do it at night. Get it done and show people around you your drive and talent. Make it happen for yourself.

Indie Influence is supported by Choozle, an independent digital advertising platform.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.