The Path Less Taken: Creating Growth by Staying Put

By Kelli Flores, Managing Director

I have now been with 104 West Partners for 12 years. Even writing that, it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be true. Time does fly, as they say, but I haven’t stayed at the agency this long by accident. It has been intentional. It had to be, because let’s be honest, it’s pretty uncommon these days to stay with one agency for so long. And if you’re going to pursue a different path, both in life and in your career, you need to have a “why.”

I started at 104 West as an Account Executive, and, at the time, I figured I could do good work and grow. And I assumed that at some point, as many people do, I’d eventually move on, and do good work and grow someplace else.

But, like most, I wanted to feel fulfilled by my work and know I was at the right place, so I created mile markers along my path. Because, depending on what you’re looking for, mile markers can either be your signal that you should keep going, or they can indicate that your exit is coming soon.

My mile markers are:

1. Love the work you’re doing,
2. Love the people you work with, and
3. Always have some challenge to tackle, something that makes your heart pound a little: that’s where growth happens.

When someone asks what’s kept me at the agency for over a decade, these priorities are the simplest way I can explain my journey with 104. It is unique, but it has also been incredibly rewarding — growing within the agency, finding my voice in it, helping to shape it, weathering its challenges, and celebrating its successes.

I realized over time that, by staying in one place, I was seeing opportunities to grow that might not otherwise. I realized how much trust develops with your long-time colleagues, and how much of a difference that trust makes in the big – and little — things. I realized how much you’re able to lean into the work you love most, to create and grow something important.

This last Spring, I was promoted to Managing Director, and it was a great moment to pause and reflect on my time here, and how grateful I am for my unique path with this agency.

For those who may be also looking for a different career path and want to take advantage of the opportunity to grow within their companies, these are the opportunities I took advantage of that have led to continued growth for me, all while staying put.

Know what you bring to every table
I give this advice all the time to people who are looking to grow and bring value — find your voice by knowing what you bring to every table. In every meeting, every Slack discussion, you have a unique set of knowledge, unique experience, even unique questions. Don’t try to be someone else at that table, because what’s needed is what you bring. Even if what you bring feels small, bring it consistently. Your experience is growing all the time, so what you bring to the table will be growing all the time.

Lean into your talent
Just like knowing the unique voice you have in every discussion, know your talents and strengths and lean into them every chance you get. What experience do you have, what do you know how to do, what skill set do you have that others don’t? Our content process is my biggest focus at 104, but I didn’t walk in one day and announce I’d specialize in content. I knew how important content was to the agency, and that I had ideas for how to leverage it, so I leaned into it and did it really well. I voiced the ideas I had and tried new things. And it set me on a growth path that’s taken me far beyond my expectations. Lean into your talents because that force starts to carve a path in front of you.

Spread the knowledge
Never let a successful idea live in isolation. When you try something and it works, quickly figure out what worked about it (and possibly what didn’t) and then find an opportunity to try it again, in different circumstances and across different clients. Then, when you do it even better, share that knowledge among your entire team. Again, whether it’s in the little things or the big things, when you make your team or your agency better at what it does, that gets noticed.

Know the bigger picture
Another thing I encourage people to do continually is to be invested in the agency’s success, not just their own, and to realize how connected those things are. Know what your agency is trying to accomplish as a business, and understand the role you play in it. Real growth comes when an agency’s leadership sees you as a critical piece of their growth. And it’s difficult to demonstrate that kind of value if you don’t know the vision for growth.

Be open about what you want
When you know how your agency is trying to grow, then you should think about what role you want to have in that growth — the role you want to have in its future. And when you know what that role is, communicate it. It is important for a leadership team to know that you care about its success, but it is a game changer for them to know specifically how you want to help them accomplish it. If it’s a role that’s beyond your current experience, good! Leadership teams love knowing when a team member sees a future there, and they’ll be invested in you gaining the experience needed to fulfill that role.

Whether you work to grow within one agency or not, these simple goals have always served me well and I’ve watched them create growth for so many others.

At the end of the day, I still come back to the same mile markers: love what you do, love the people you work with, always be reaching for a new challenge, and one more… don’t be afraid to head down the path less taken. You never know what it could lead to.