Krystal Kinney is a founding partner and Lead Brand Strategist for THR33FOLD, an interactive and digital marketing agency that creates transformative experiences between consumers and brands.
As Lead Brand Strategist, Krystal Kinney has spearheaded the agency's directional growth, creating a fully integrated agency that manages and builds global brands by leveraging digital, grassroots, social and public relations. Since its founding, Kinney has held several key management positions in the agency that include leadership across industry verticals including Finance, Tech, Food and Consumer Products. With 10+ years of experience guiding marketing and brand strategy for both B2C and B2B organizations, Kinney combines vision and insight to help businesses connect with consumers and grow their brands.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I overcame a great deal of adversity in my youth, which I believe had an impact on me as a leader. I grew up Texas, in a household with a mother that battled Lupus and schizophrenia. During a time when most girls are thinking about school and what to be when they grow up, I was a care giver with adult-like responsibilities.
I further battled the culture of my home state, which encouraged women to reach as high as a "MRS." degree, followed by a Masters in shopping. To make matters worse, I had strong opinions. Through this adversity, I learned the value of having a vision for yourself, which has served me well in my career. I realized that holding fast to a vision, allows one to overcome many obstacles -- limitations become a matter of perspective. At THR33FOLD, I feel I lead best when I am able to get teams to come together around a common vision, especially when it comes to client work and the brands we help grow.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at THR33FOLD?
I have worked on many brand strategy projects, and I have learned a lot from each one, but I believe the work I did before moving into the agency side of the industry greatly impacted my approach today. At an early age I began work as a child model and spent ten years as talent in the industry. Working on the production side of the business, I was charged with helping to make ideas come to fruition. The hours were long and the pay was little, but I got to travel, experience different cultures and work with great creative minds. The experience taught me the value of teamwork, uncompromised vision and attention for detail. That awareness prepared me for the highly dynamic and evergreen environment of THR33FOLD, where we constantly push the boundaries of digital and social. It takes a team that believes and is passionately obsessive in order to bring vision to life.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at THR33FOLD?
THR33FOLD is exciting and moves pretty fast. We have grown from a branding agency into a fully integrated interactive and digital agency. Each pivot took a great deal of effort from the entire team and there will be more in the future. Ensuring that everyone pivots together, at the same speed, is always a challenge as the agency grows.
The highlights are always seeing our ideas become reality and seeing our clients' brands grow as a result of our work. That is very gratifying. A more internal highlight is the pride we felt when we moved from a garage office to a Penthouse in prestigious Coral Gables, Florida -- that was pretty exhilarating.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in marketing?
Never make it about you. It should always be about the team, the brand, the goal; but never about you. Marketing is full of ego-centric people. Everyone is talented and vying to get ahead. When you operate in "me" mode you can't see or hear through all the noise, you only hear yourself and worst of all, you will be driven by things like fear and greed. Leadership notices when someone really cares about the goal. At THR33FOLD we look for team players, people that are driven by passion and will work to lift other team members up.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
A leader is only as good as the people she leads. Surrounding yourself with smart, intuitive and passionate people is crucial to the success of any project. Our role as leaders is to set a vision and to create and foster an environment where teams can succeed.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I've never been keen on the expression work/life balance. I believe all of it is life, it's a matter of perspective. I am a woman in the digital frontier of marketing. I am passionate about the work our agency does, and the challenges of our clients keep me up at night. Funny enough, I get just as excited about launching a campaign as I do about vacationing in Europe. As a leader, I am on 24/7, but I choose this role and I have a strong team that supports me. We are all like family. Therefore, I prefer to mix work and life. It feels more natural. If I am running on empty, the team will be low on energy too. We schedule team spa days, we have cocktail hours and team members bring their pets to work. I even bring Muffin, my 22-year-old cat to the office, and we play Rock Band after hours on Fridays. I take vacation when I need to, and we shut the agency down for THR33 weeks in December. The work we do requires us to think and be creative, we therefore strive support our team members as much as possible and foster an environment that allows for magic to happen. Every day we have a chance to impact the way someone experiences life. It's pretty powerful.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I believe there is often a double standard when it comes to women expressing assertiveness in the workplace. On this topic, I have a motto that I try to live by: Think with an iron fist, speak with a velvet glove and always maintain eye contact. Leaders regardless of gender must always lead; still, I often find women often resist following other female leaders. The art of communication can make or break a woman's climb up the ladder. And unfortunately for us, body language, facial expressions, appearance, verbal communication and tone all get factored in. I suffer from what we ladies call RBF (Resting Bi**H Face) whenever I am thinking. When in meetings, people often think I am irritated by what they are saying, but it's just RBF. So, I started getting Botox; you would be shocked, people are much more open in meetings. I actually have girlfriends in very senior positions at other companies that do the same.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I am lucky to have had people in my life that pushed and coached me along throughout the years. I have high expectations of myself, but I am well aware that sometimes I simply don't know what I don't know. I believe that being surrounded by individuals that not only strive to accomplish great things, but also, have high expectations of themselves has helped keep things in perspective for me. My mother was smart enough to tell me every day that I could be anything I wanted. She taught me what it means to never give up, and that life achievement must be worked for. When I was in college, I was mentored by a professor who was working on a book. I would go see him to discuss a paper I as writing and he would say to me, "Here, you read mine." I always took this as his way of saying "don't hand in an assignment, hand in something insightful that contributes something." My husband in particular has been one of my greatest mentors. He always challenges me as an equal in business, even with 15 more years of global business experience. He continually encourages me to think and lead at greater levels.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many amazing women that inspire me, but two in particular stand out for me, my mother-in-law and Pepsi's Indra Nooyi. My mother-in-law because she migrated to the US in her early 20's with four small children and without fully speaking the language. She started and ran a business and managed to raise four intelligent and thoughtful kids -- all successful adults today. She is very strong willed, but with an air of elegance. I definitely gravitate towards women that lead people with finesse, women that can gracefully negotiate a million/billion dollar deal, without letting anyone push their buttons. I think this is a talent that women are able to master.
Indra Nooyi, Chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, is also someone I admire as she strikes me as very genuine. I love how passionate she is about her career, and how realistic she is about work/life balance. I've heard her speak about how women often have unrealistic expectations about being able to it have it all. So many women are afraid to admit to themselves or anyone else that they cannot have it all, and I find it refreshing that a woman with over a decade at the helm of a $66 Billion business is so honest about it.
What do you want THR33FOLD to accomplish in the next year?
THR33FOLD has grown significantly year after year and we are projected to almost double again during 2015. Our team has its sights on greater industry diversification and driving deeper into food retail, tech, financial and non-profit sectors. It will be an exciting year.