When Paola Schifino and Ben Lee founded an agency in 1993, they had no idea that it would be a thriving, vital part of the Tampa Bay ad community a quarter century later. Likewise, they never could have envisioned working with high-profile national clients like AT&T, American Express, and the New York Yankees. To gain insight into what made it all possible, we sat down with Ben and Paola for an impromptu Q&A.
How did you two meet?
Paola: Ben and his brother grew up with my husband, Billy. Jeff and Billy both became lawyers, so Ben and I would run into each other at these attorney gatherings. While everyone else talked law, we connected over our common passion for marketing.
From the beginning, did you share a similar philosophy?
Paola: Yeah, we had similar beliefs in the power of smart brand strategy. Most firms in Tampa Bay were mainly design-focused at the time. They weren’t offering creative solutions that were tied to real strategic thinking.
Ben: It was obvious there was a big gap in the local ad community, and we knew we could fill it.
So where and how did Schifino Lee get its start?
Paola: Ben had a guest bedroom in his house that we worked out of at first. We just spent a lot of time hustling around meeting people, grabbing lunches with prospects, and networking.
Ben: We snagged a couple of $500 projects out of the gate, and then drafted a $1,500 business plan that fell through, but we didn’t lose hope. We knew we were onto something special. We even answered a classified ad that led to a decade-long client relationship! You never know which opportunity will blossom into something bigger.
What are some traits of the agency that have allowed you to survive and thrive for 25 years?
Paola: Staying up on trends and ahead of the curve. Studying what the best players in the business are doing and putting our spin on it.
Ben: We never let ourselves get complacent. We’ve always been quick to take advantage of any opportunities that come along.
Of all the things that Schifino Lee has accomplished, what are you most proud of?
Ben: How we’ve helped hundreds of companies grow their brands from good to great. Seeing so many different clients reach their goals and achieve the success they’ve always dreamed of is a daily source of pride for me.
Paola: And we’re able to enjoy those things so much because of the close relationships we’ve maintained with clients, business partners, and our alumni over the years. Even though many have moved on to different places, they’re still part of the Schifino Lee family.
For the full interview, check out Ben & Paola’s 25th Anniversary video (Coming Soon).