This Female Leader Shares the Power of Mistakes and Living Without Regrets
Samantha Plue, the president of a creative agency, shares when to walk away and when to stay on the current path.
Editor’s note: Builders Series features no-holds-barred in-depth interviews with female leaders in different industries to give you insight into what successful women have done to push through feeling stuck, frustrated and uncreative in order to build incredible brands and businesses.
This month I spoke with Samantha Plue, president of D3 NYC, a strategic creative agency that works with clients to align their brand through cross-channel marketing communications in order to drive business.
Plue breaks down making big moves and even bigger asks -- and the fact that a traditional education isn’t always the best path.
I’m sure you’ll be just as inspired as I was to shake things up and forge incredible progress after reading her interview.
What have you built, and what inspired you to build it?
I built an amazing creative agency with extremely talented and driven humans. I wanted to create a space where individuals are free to be themselves and give them room to explore, learn, and grow, while delivering great creative work to our clients. We operate under the principles that everyone has a valid perspective and that we work to one standard: the best imaginable. Fostering this type of encouraging and collaborative environment allows us grow as a team and to deliver the best work to our clients.
Were you born a builder or did you have to learn to be one?
I was born a leader but had to learn to build. I’ve always had the desire to create and lead, but it took some time to learn how to put ideas into action. I’ve had the chance to work with a great career coach and a few mentors (one of whom is the founder of D3 NYC) that have provided me with the tools and skills to implement those ideas. Working in marketing I quickly learned that no matter how great the idea, the key to success lies in the execution. It’s all about how you take that idea, outline your vision, create a plan and then put it into motion.
Who was the first woman you looked up to, and why did you want to be like her?
One of my earliest memories is of My granny. She was one of the first “career women” that I had in my life. She worked for Blue Cross for over 30 years. I can remember visiting her and looking in her closet and seeing this intense collection of 80s power suits and high heels and thinking how she was just a total badass. She’d been through a lot in her life, but was tough as nails and a fierce, independent woman. She made sure my sister and I understood the importance of education and hard work and how no matter what happens you keep pushing forward.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?
Moving to New York. I put my things in storage, packed a (very large) suitcase and booked a one-way flight from South Carolina. That was six years ago in April. I can remember my friends saying “ok, we’ll see you when you get back” and me thinking, I’m not coming back. I knew that if I wanted to develop my career and run an agency, I had to make the move. The first few months were hard and at one point I almost went back to Charleston. This is the greatest city in the world, but it will chew you up and spit you out. If you don’t stay focused and really want to be here, it’s very easy to lose your way. I knew what I wanted to build, I just needed to get my plan in place to make it happen.
When have you broken down, personally or professionally? How did you break through?
The year before I turned 30 was a hard year for me. Everything that was stable in my life fell apart in about a month. Relationships that were important to me weren’t there anymore. I realized my identity had been tied to those around me, and I had never took the time to be alone and figure out what makes me happy. I moved into a new apartment and for the first time in my life lived alone. I spent a lot of time thinking about what makes me happy outside of making other people happy and how I was going to build a life I want, not what someone else wants. It was a huge lesson in “put your oxygen mask on before assisting others,” and I wouldn’t have been able to have the confidence to make the moves I did without this time.
What makes you doubt yourself, and how do you manage it?
New York is full of very smart and talented people and can be an incredibly intimidating city. There was a moment a few years back when I was insecure about not having attended an Ivy League school or having an MBA. I remember having dinner with some friends and them telling them I was thinking about getting an MBA, and they all told me I was insane. That there was nothing business school would teach me that I hadn’t learned firsthand over the last 15 years. There are times when I think to myself, do I even know what I’m doing? Then I look out at our team and realize I must be doing something right. Our CEO and I take pride in the fact that our agency is open to hiring people with less traditional educations. Every time we get to promote one of these people, it reminds us it’s the person not the piece of paper, and that feels great.
How do you know when to leave someone or something?
I get invested in people and projects and view failure as my fault, so walking away can be hard for me. I’ve learned over the past few years it’s about setting boundaries. There’s so much talk about work-life balance, but balance implies there is constant instability. When people talk about work-life balance, I have this mental image of one of those late night TV show acts where someone is spinning a bunch of plates on sticks. At some point, one of the plates falls. Boundaries allow you to be stable, in your center. You define where you want to be, no one else. Setting them early in relationships and projects help you to know when to walk away. I also like to set clear processes and goals. Then I have something to reference and say to myself, ok, I did everything I could, I set the goals, I remove the obstacles and this didn’t work so now I can walk away feeling like I did all I could.
When was your bravest moment? How do you practice being brave?
About two years ago, I had dinner with our CEO and told her I had some radical ideas for the business, some of which included changing the fundamental business model, naming and a promotion to run the show. At that time, we were a consulting agency and had about six employees. I want to bring everything in-house and build a full-service agency. She fully supported me on making this transition, and we worked together to craft the blueprint for what the agency is today. It was one of the first moments where I asked for what I wanted, instead of just working hard and waiting for someone to notice. I read somewhere you should work to get 10 nos before you stop asking. I try to not be scared of the nos, and instead work to understand why it was a no. Then I adjust and move on to find the yes.
Knowing what you know now, was it worth it?
Absolutely. To quote James Murphy, “I wouldn't trade one stupid decision for another five years of life.” My mistakes have lead me here just as much as my successes, and I’m really happy with where I am in my life, personally and professionally. Looking back at the moments where I thought it was the worst time in my life, they don’t seem so dark now.
What can you see yourself building next?
Right now, I’m focused on continuing to grow the agency. Over the next eight to 14 months, I’d like to see us add on a few key capabilities, including developing a content studio. I’m working with my coach on a workshop for our team that focuses on self-awareness and helps individuals understand more about their needs and behavior. It’s designed to improve communication between individuals and cross-functional teams, so they can work better with each other, as well as with our clients. The more we understand ourselves, the stronger we can grow together.