October 16, 2019 4:00 am Published by

Episode 28:

Donna Robinson serves as CEO at Nina Hale, a Minneapolis-based performance digital agency. Since joining Nina Hale in 2012, Donna has been the brain behind successful revenue growth year after year. She has successfully set the agency’s vision, oversees business strategy and execution while balancing growth, but her commitment to the role goes well beyond the listed job duties. Donna teaches that following is an important part of leadership when running your business. From social media trends to performance-based digital strategy, Donna looks to those around her, including peers and her own three daughters, to keep on top of what’s trending.

Prior to Nina Hale, Donna was VP of client services at space150, a full-service digital advertising agency. In this role, Donna was responsible for all client service and new business acquisition, and during her eight years there helped grow the agency from a niche marketing firm into a nationally renowned agency. Before space150, she began her career in traditional advertising. Throughout her career, she has worked on iconic brands like American Express, Coca Cola, The Discovery Channel, General Mills, Land O’Lakes, Red Bull, Pillsbury, Target, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo.

What You Will Learn:

  • How Donna’s company stays niched in its industry
  • What Nina Hale does to build its culture of curiosity
  • Avoiding overworked employees while still challenging them
  • The special considerations when working with millennials
  • Running your business as an ESOP
  • Getting buy-in and engagement from a whole organization
  • What it’s like to hire overachievers
  • The future of the media industry


Running Your Business | Strong Leadership in a Crazy Industry, with Donna Robinson

A Culture of Curiosity

Donna Robinson has witnessed firsthand the lightning-fast changes technology has made to all kinds of industries, including her own. Donna is the CEO of Nina Hale, a performance digital media agency that specializes in helping businesses use data to target very specific audiences. If you want left-handed civil engineers in St. Louis, Nina Hale can find them! Donna’s company deals in privacy and data and knows how to keep that information safe in this age of data breaches and leaks.Running Your Business | A Culture of Curiosity and Challenge, with Donna Robinson

With the data and digital industries constantly in flux, hiring the right people is crucial to Nina Hale’s success. Donna emphasized a “culture of curiosity” at their company that attracts high-performing people who have an insatiable desire to keep learning as they go. This curious attitude comes to the forefront in the weekly company meetings and newsletters, where Nina Hale employees get to dig deeper into relevant topics and stay abreast of all kinds of trends in their industry. With so much going on, that desire to learn is just what they need to stay afloat. It’s something that can be critical to growth and adaptability when running your business.

Nina Hale values the relentless pursuit of excellence in its employees while simultaneously striving to keep them from overworking themselves and burning out. Donna and her leadership team keep very good track of their employees in this regard. If there is a trend of someone working too much or too hard, her team takes notice. High-performing people tend to get more work, and that’s a good thing, but too much of a good thing is no good for anyone. Nina Hale’s leadership recognizes when it’s time to shift a project off of an employee or hire more people to cover the workload. This delicate balance is especially important to strike with millennial employees.

Employing the New Generation

You can’t escape the news media talking about millennials, for good or for ill. As more millennials begin to occupy the industry, those of us from Generation X and earlier have to determine how exactly to manage them and why it’s so different. Like I mentioned above, millennials seem especially susceptible to burnout. But that’s because they’re overachievers, right? Well, yes, but that’s not always a good thing. Managing these people means making sure they work hard without working themselves into the ground.

Millennials really love remote work, flexible schedules, and summer hours. Nina Hale implements these (within reason) to keep these employees happy and on-track at all times. To evaluate how well things are going, Nina Hale gives quarterly evaluations, which satisfies a common millennial desire for consistent, frequent feedback. This feedback can be given directly or in writing; frequency and immediacy are key. If your employee is killing it? Let them know. If they could improve? Be sure to deliver suggestions. Just because millennial employees like to give their feedback in writing (and they do) doesn’t mean you have to.

Donna reminds all of us to meet our millennial employees where they are at. Some are introverts who like to communicate via email. That’s fine; communicate via email. Many have a hard time finding their niche or setting up long-term goals. These employees would do well to meet with leadership and plan out their growth and development with the company. This collaboration can also encourage positive change in the leadership team as it learns to be more constructive and accommodating to the changing needs of its workforce. Millennials are special, but running your business through these employees can be extremely rewarding.

The Value of Strong Leadership

Strong leaders are essential to running your business. I know that’s not news, but it always bears repeating. Donna and the leadership team of Nina Hale embody this ideal and are always adapting to the shifting needs of their clients and employees. Empowered by their culture of curiosity, Donna and her fellow leaders open every issue up for discussion, debate, and further education. Everyone gets a voice on issues they want to have a voice on, and the air of openness and cooperation means people share their authentic feelings.

Communication is once again the key here. The feedback, critiques, and discussions all contribute to Nina Hale’s hard-working, high-achieving environment. The company has a ton of high-potential people who challenge themselves and each other to work harder. This can be great, but again, there can be too much of a good thing. Luckily, Nina Hale’s strong leadership can help all of its employees feel accomplished without overworking them or having them always running 24/7. If you can find that equilibrium with Donna’s advice, I guarantee the best people will come running to work for you.

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