Q&A With Salt Branding's Co-Founders
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Q&A With Salt Branding's Co-Founders

January 7, 2020

Hear from David Neugebauer, Paul Parkin, and Rick Herrick on what it took to start their own agency — and why they're so excited for the future of Salt Branding.

  1. When was Salt founded? What motivated you to create the company?

Paul: We had been working together for a number of years and it got to the point where we felt that each of our ways of looking at things together was really different.

Rick: It was an opportunity to hang out our own shingle and open our own shop.

David: We saw agencies didn’t do a good job of connecting dots between strategy and creative. It was piecemeal, the client would be handed off to these different teams, and something in the quality would be lost. So we started our company with the intention of connecting business strategy, branding, and creative in a unified way where the product was better and the client experience was, from start to finish, seamless.

Salt Branding, Day 1 on 01/01/01 (left to right: David Neugebauer, Paul Parkin, Rick Herrick)

 

  1. What previous work experience did you bring to the table?

Rick: My background is in direct marketing and advertising. I came from Chiat/Day and Saatchi & Saatchi. I remember looking in a trashcan in New York and seeing the campaign I had been working on for the last 4 months. With brand strategy consulting, you get to create something that lasts 5-10 years, and work on critical issues with more senior clients.

David: Before branding, I was in commercial real estate for a year! Then I wanted something more creative. At Interbrand, it was a global agency but they were growing their West Coast presence. It was super small and I was thrown into the deep end.

Paul: As an individual, I had a pretty good idea of what I was interested in early on. My background is design, so it’s a pretty linear path. But we each had a different path and the combination of our differences has made Salt more interesting.

  1. What surprised you the most about founding your own company?

Paul: How easy it was! You hear horror stories that 70% of all small businesses collapse in two years, fallouts between the partners, you don’t win business. We’ve been really lucky.

Rick: All the unseen requirements and tasks that I previously had taken for granted.

David: Absolutely, the fact that we had to do everything.

  1. What challenges did you face as you grew your company, and how did you overcome them?

Rick: The biggest challenge has been the economy. Over our history we’ve been through two major recessions. One we survived without layoffs, one we didn’t. It’s taught me that your destiny is tied to larger events that are out of your control, but also that’s not an excuse. Learn what you can control, and then control it.

Paul: Growing the business into areas we don’t want to be in, either because it’s not our core competency or not what we want to do. Just because a client wants you to do that, that doesn’t mean you’ll be good at or that you’ll like it. So, at a certain point a while back we had a conversation and refocused on brand, and got rid of a lot. It made our quality go up and made it clearly what we excel at.

  1. What’s one thing a lot of people don’t know about you?

Paul: I verbally rehearse and have been caught talking to myself in my car. I’m not at the point yet where I’m answering myself.

Rick: I spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about music! I always have a song in my head.

David: After college, I moved to Japan with enough cash for two weeks. I made it work, found a job, and lived there for a year.

  1. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned that has made you a better leader?

Rick: Learning to let go and let people grow into themselves.

David: When you do that, you sometimes have to let people kind of struggle so they can stretch and do what they haven’t done before. But that’s how they learn.

Paul: The result is people step up to the challenge and it gives them more confidence. They don’t solve it the way I would have solved it, but I know it’s still a good solution.

  1. What do you think makes a strong company culture and why?

Paul: You can steer a culture, but you can’t make a culture. Companies organically develop the culture and the question is how to accentuate the good things and curb the bad. It’s always about authenticity.

Rick: And a degree of fun and camaraderie, combined with a commitment to the work.

David: Openness. People should be able to ask questions and collaborate.

Rick: If you do that, the days fly by.

  1. What’s your favorite thing about working with the brands you partner with?

David: Thinking about the corporate brand work that we do, the impact that branding can have to help internal culture and the way that it can literally shift the energy about where employees go to work. The external impact is great, but the internal impact can be tangible and really amazing. The buzz and energy of KLA after the rebrand is totally palpable. It’s completely different and the employee base is so excited.

Rick: I love working in an agency environment because you work with new clients and learn about their business. It’s never monotonous. It’s stimulating and thought-provoking and fun.

  1. What are some of the challenges you see brands face during a rebrand or in the process of launching a new marketing campaign?

Rick: As we’ve grown, we’ve taken on more complicated problems. To move the culture of a brand requires great strategy and creative, but also socialization and internal communications. We want to create brand ambassadors.

Paul: When companies allow that to happen, they get the best results.

David: Rebranding is most often about simplifying and breaking down silos. While leadership conceptually loves that idea, it often has deeper implications in organizational change that are underestimated.

  1. What are you most proud of about what Salt Branding has accomplished?

Paul: We kept a business going for 20 years, we did great work, and we’re all still friends.

David: That, and the number of people that we’ve worked with and employed over that period. We’ve met tons of fantastic people. They’re either still at Salt or they moved on and are doing amazing things.

  1. What are you most excited about for Salt in the next year?

Rick: The partnership and integration opportunities with Kelton are really exciting. Playing on a bigger stage with bigger clients, working on bigger projects with more impact.

Paul: That is going to take us to the next level.

David: There’s a ton of synergy between the best of what we bring to the table and the best of what Kelton brings to the table, so we’ll only bring out the best in each other.

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