Founder and CEO of Media Bridge Advertising®
When I started my business in 2010, I soon noticed an interesting pattern: It was easy to get a first meeting with a potential client, but it was nearly impossible to get a second one.
Was it because I was young and inexperienced?
I was in my early 30s. I had bought and sold media for a decade. And I had a roster of big national clients.
Yet men in these new-business meetings didn’t give me their full attention or respect.
I was still at a loss to solve this mystery when I lost my watch. Actually, it was stolen from a bag in my car one night while I was playing rugby (I chased the thieves in my cleats — and in vain — for over a mile, as my Achilles still reminds me).
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And then a strange thing happened that changed my business and my life: When I mentioned to one of my clients that I was in the market for a new watch, he said, “If you want to get a male client’s attention, get a Rolex.”
Wait, what? I thought. You think men will change their attitudes toward me based on something that superficial?
I didn’t want to buy into that “old boy” stereotype. Plus, I could barely afford a mattress for my son at that time, let alone a watch that cost as much as a car. But the advice stayed with me. Heck, I’ve always loved nice watches. So I made a deal with myself: I would buy a Rolex when I hit my first million in revenue.
A year later, it was time.
Without overthinking it, I bought myself a beautiful Rolex — a men’s version, because I felt the women’s models were too dainty. And I have to admit: From the moment I slid it on my wrist, I fell for it hard. I even took it to bed with me because Rolexes wind themselves when you’re in motion, and I was afraid mine would stop if I ever took it off. At least that’s what I told myself.
For my next pitch meeting, I framed the watch with a three-quarter-sleeved jacket. And as soon as I entered the conference room, I saw it: The men looked at my watch, looked at me and their body language changed.
It was like no other meeting I’d ever experienced. No one looked at their phone. People hung on my every word. I got the second meeting, and I got the business.
Media Bridge is nearly 50 times bigger today, and this pattern repeats itself all the time.
Before a new-business meeting, my director of business development will text: “Don’t forget the Rolly!” The men in the meeting will glance at my wrist, then lean forward to hear me better or backward in that “you’re in” kind of way.
After that initial meeting, I never have to wear the watch again. It’s a passport that gets me over an invisible hurdle and allows me to be judged on performance.
Naturally, people have different reactions to this story. Most are surprised. Some totally get it and share similar experiences of assimilation and survival. Others think I’m enabling a sexist situation and accuse me of selling out to The Man.
I get it.
But at the very least, it brings up an important issue: The “second meeting” challenge symbolizes the tougher time women entrepreneurs face across the board in getting their businesses off the ground. That sucks. But if we’re honest, we all judge people based on their hair, teeth and tats.
As a fellow business owner, I understand why a CMO might seek someone who’s no stranger to money to manage their multi-million-dollar media budget. Would a man also benefit from wearing a Rolex? A male colleague of mine just started wearing expensive suits to meetings because he realized that other men take him more seriously when he does. It’s complicated.
The truth is, every situation you face as an entrepreneur requires you to adapt or resist. In this case, I chose — and continue to choose — to adapt. I’m in marketing, after all, and marketing starts with knowing your audience.
That’s the bigger takeaway. I’m not telling you to go out and buy a Rolex and all your problems will be solved. It’s really about finding the intersection between what holds symbolic value for your audience and what’s authentic to you. In my case, the men in a male-dominated industry see expensive watches as a seal of approval, and I like watches. Perfect.
In a different industry, the equation will be the same, but the numbers will change. In the nonprofit or education world, it might be more important to dress down instead of up. You might find a particular culture where your dry sense of humor plays well, or the fact that you’re a vegetarian or a hunter. The point is, sometimes, to get to a level playing field — to secure that second meeting and beyond — you need to do a little marketing.
The key is to keep everything aligned with your core values — not against them. Trust me, I have no problem firing clients when their values conflict with mine. I’ve done it many times.
Does my example expose some sexism? Yes. The Rolex trick shines a spotlight on the pressure women feel to avoid the appearance of “splurging” in any way. I’ve always felt an expectation to be totally devoted to my family at the expense of myself as if it’s a zero-sum game. Many women I know feel the same way. For my female colleagues out there, it’s time to reject that idea and invest in ourselves in any way that gives us an edge.
There’s also another strategy at play here. Now that some of my women employees are taking new-business meetings themselves, I loan my Rolex out to them. Why? Because the more women do this, the more likely they’ll end up sitting on the other sides of all those tables.
And then we won’t need so many Rolexes.
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Author: Tracy Call, Forbes Councils Member