Shaking Things Up
Starting a business while earning an online MBA is not for the faint of heart, but Hannah Best is off to an explosive start.
Like many good business ideas, the concept for Firecracker Marketing took shape around a kitchen table during an all-night brainstorming session. Over wine and nachos, Hannah Best and Sarah Archer, Hannah’s friend and former boss, began to envision a social media consultancy that operated differently from the norm. In the morning, they filed the paperwork to create Firecracker Marketing and never looked back.
Choosing the Third Option
Over the past decade, working in a variety of communications, public relations and digital marketing roles solidified Hannah’s passion for the art and science of marketing.
“What I love most about marketing is that it requires you to be a jack of all trades,” she said. “You have to be strategic and creative, both big picture and detail oriented. You do a little bit of everything, and everything you do drives sales."
While Hannah embraced the challenge of distinguishing her clients from their competition in the hospitality and lifestyle industries, she struggled to envision a long-term future in the notoriously grueling environment of a marketing agency.
“I loved what I did for a living, but I didn’t love the lack of work-life balance,” she said. “The other option was working in-house, which didn’t seem like it would provide enough variety to keep me engaged. So, I took the hidden third route, the riskiest of the three options.”
Hannah and Sarah founded Firecracker Marketing with modest ambitions. They expected to run a two-woman firm with a handful of steady clients. In retrospect, Hannah reflects, that vision seems laughable. In only a year and a half in business, they have built a 12-person team serving more than 50 well-known clients. Firecracker’s portfolio ranges from well-known food brands like Häagen-Dazs, Mountain Valley Water and Parmigiano Reggiano to luxury hotels and beloved bars, restaurants and chefs across the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic was like jet fuel for digital marketing, and an increasing number of brands were looking beyond standard public relations firms for consultants with higher levels of specialization. Firecracker Marketing was in the right place at the right time with the right strategy. Rather than spreading themselves thin, they decided to excel in four distinct areas: social media marketing, influencer management, digital advertising and marketing strategy.
Filling In the Gaps
Earlier in 2020, Hannah had started an online MBA program at Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. “I knew the creative part of marketing, but I didn’t know as much about business areas like sales, operations and finance,” she said. “There was a missing piece there, so an MBA was the obvious next step.”
She was intent on finding a program with a marketing concentration, and Baylor’s program fit the bill. Hannah credits her MBA experience with imparting skills in finance, accounting and negotiation that have served her well in the early stages of building a business.
“Everything I have learned in my MBA classes has made me more effective at doing what I do and assured me that I am on the right track,” she said. “There have been so many times when I learned something new even just from participating in discussion posts with classmates. Having so many resources at my fingertips has been huge for a new business owner.”
Hannah has found her management classes particularly useful in cultivating a more supportive, uplifting environment than the typical marketing firm. “It will always be challenging to do things like re-engage an unmotivated employee or communicate in a way that is effective but non-confrontational, so it has been helpful to learn strategies for handling these kinds of situations,” she said.
Firecracker Marketing’s emphasis on making employees feel valued and appreciated has created a vibrant, close-knit team. Hannah and the leadership team have implemented Summer Fridays, monthly mental health days and unlimited PTO to promote wellness. Even though employees work remotely, they maintain strong ties through Zoom happy hours, trips to visit each other and a steady stream of conversation on Slack.
Classes in marketing analytics have also added value to Hannah’s efforts given the relentless pace of change in the industry. “Social media changes every day,” she said. “That is the good and bad of my job. We are working against an algorithm that we can’t see, but we know it is always evolving.” And, as social media becomes more of a political battleground, her clients increasingly rely on her expertise to navigate sensitive issues. Moving forward, Hannah will continue to leverage her MBA skill set to pursue measured, sustainable growth.
“Growth is important, but we want to do it in a strategic way,” she said. “Most of us know what it feels like to work in an environment where people are overworked and underappreciated. If we can scale our business in a way that lets our team members live the kind of lives they want, we will have done something right. At the end of the day, we are striving to do things differently. That is how we shake up an industry.”
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