Photos of Venanzio Ciampa by Donnell Culver
The world works in mysterious ways. Sometimes when you think you have a handle on life, it throws you a curveball that you weren't ready for. Some complain about the pitch and have it ruin their game while others just keep swinging and aim for the fences. Venanzio Ciampa is the latter. Ex-championship boxer, Ciampa rolled with the punches that life dealt him, which resulted in career changes that has made him the well-rounded Owner and President of his company, The Promotion Factory. His journey is proof that even though you may have plans, goals and dreams for yourself, the universe has a different and much greater plan for you. We chatted with Mr. Ciampa about what makes his business work and how it continues to get better.
This interview was recorded on October 29, 2013.
So you're born in Italy, what led you to America and up to this point in your career?
I came to America to be a professional boxer. In a very short period of time, I realized that I didnt have the skills. I ended up, by chance due to my linguistics, working for Italian Television and after working there several years as a Production Assistant they made me a Roving Reporter and then an Anchorman. I decided to enter the world of sales and marketing (though I didnt realize it was at the time) a few years later when I sold Italian films in Hollywood, and I also began creating big events here in New York that were attended by Martin Scorcese, Francis Ford Coppola, Spike Lee and others. It was fantastic! One of my events was noticed by someone who worked for the accessory and watch group called Swatch where I was in charge of the marketing behind the relaunch of the brand, Omega. Afterwards, I worked on Swatch where I tackled the fashion part of the company and then I finished my career there as the head of communications here in the United States. I then went to LVMH where I lived in Paris. The business side of the experience was quite interesting. A few years after, I decided to create my own company.
I wanted to create an agency that was different than the agencies I had worked with. The Promotion Factory is very niche, very connected to the brands, we still work with many of the brands we started the company with 10 years ago. Also, I began to notice long before social media that communication was changing so I instill in the staff skills that will make them a well-rounded person. Today, you need to be able to write, create an event, know what goes into a media plan and know the latest trends that are happening.
What are some of the brands that The Promotion Factory represents and what was the process like picking the brands you work with?
Its always very challenging. Its less of the agency wanting to choose and more of the brand wanting to choose you. I think the brands we work with are a huge variety. Were very fortunate to work with Gucci, Girard-Perregaux, Etienne Aigner, Shinola, Creed, 1884 Jewelry, Carrera & Carrera and more. Its really about finding kindred spirits at the brand that understand youre not looking for another client and that you want to really learn about the brand and get inside. We try to get into the souls of these brands.
For us its a lot about how we can have an impact, thats key. We love to work with brands that have a lot of history, but we also work with a brand that has a great idea and we generally merge the two. We say no to more clients than we say yes. First, were a niche agency so we cant say yes to everyone, we have to be selective. The second reason is that we all sit together and decide, its a very democratic process. I may be the owner, but everyone is involved. Everyone feels a part ownership of this company. I cant say better because its not right
So boxing and soccer are both in your blood. Are sports in any way related to the agency?
Absolutely. I love both. Im involved, for the agency, in two charities. One is Street Soccer USA, which helps homeless people get out of homelessness through soccer, and the other is the Steve Nash Foundation who holds a game every summer called Showdown in Chinatown, a game where thousands of people run to see every year. Sports is a lot like life in the motivation to run faster, jump higher and punch better and this is like what we do in marketing. We want to find the best idea, we want to find the best placement for the brand. There are a lot of parallels with sports and, if you apply it well, business.
How do you manage to stay committed to each brand despite issues that may arise in budgeting and maintaining the top dollar?
People are constantly worried about money, but my feeling is also why constantly remind people of that? Its already an issue and people are worried about that especially the profit after taxes and its correct, but at the same time its useless to constantly hit that point. Youre reminding us of a need and not the pleasure. We dont need to be reminded of it nor the people working here need to be reminded of it. I try to approach it that way and it doesnt mean take things less seriously. You take it quite seriously, but just in a different way.
In the process of creating the agency were there any roadblocks that you hit?
Im not the typical business, Im not a good one in the traditional sense of the word but thats also my advantage. I came into this very loose, very cool and in the moment. I didnt try to control anything dramatically, I let the first few years happen. People liked me when I was working with LVMH and Swatch and we continued our relationship. From that I built a team and a philosophy, and building a philosophy is the hardest part. Its also hard to build the team, but in building the philosophy everyone that joins the team has to be guided by that. That I think was the hardest thing, discovering who we wanted to be. That is to me a struggle to anyone opening a business in communication. You really need to strongly focus on who you want to be but you also have to be authentic. If I had to be just a PR agency I probably wouldnt have done a very good job, because Im not the prototypical PR person, Im more focused on being well rounded. So you have to be very authentic especially.
Whats the Promotion Factorys philosophy?
I can sum it up with two things: 360, we believe that communication is integrated and believing that we need to be prepared. Emotion is another, we actually thrive on emotion, we dont think its a defect we think its a positive. We try to connect with the brands and with people. Were constantly doing things for the people because we understand the work has changed. One year we left our terrace open to bloggers to work so instead of going from a meeting and back to Brooklyn they could stop here. Its simple, easy ideas that really have an effect on peoples lives and I think that has strengthened our philosophy.
Businesses are usually emotionless, or rather, have a reputation for being void of emotion. Do you feel that this is what makes today so different from past business relationships and practices?
I couldve built this company a different way. I couldve taken on several clients and opened more offices with cubicles, but we went in a different direction. I think theres a place for both, personally I am not guided by money. I believe money is helpful, but that does not guide me. I could have made more money thinking practically like a businessman probably because I had the opportunity to do that, but would I have received the same enjoyment every day? I doubt it. Ive worked at an agency that moved four times in one year because they were getting bigger but to me that wasnt cool.
What would be some advice you would give anyone starting their own business?
I think the easiest thing for me to say is making sure its something that your passion can sustain. Perfect example, last night I went out to eat and the assistant chef was a former employee of mine. Very talented young man, but I always knew that he did not have a passion for what we do. I pushed him to start new and go to the kitchen and he was a very talented guy! He probably could have been in communications his entire life, but would he have been happy?
So how your passion sustains you I think is key. For me it wasnt easy to find what my passion was, like I had mentioned I wanted to box so I had to learn my passion. The other thing is look for people that are better than you. Look for people that you can learn from. I teach a lot, which is great, but I also learn a lot, which is fantastic and gives me even more. Never be afraid to be challenged. The third thing is to really look into the field and do your research. Figure out who your competitors will be and find your differentiating points. You really have to always analyze.