Phil Johnson CEO and Founder of PJA Advertising + Marketing Interviewed by Victoria Solomon How did you found PJA Advertising + Marketing? I had no plans to start a company. I didn’t study business. I was an English and Philosophy student. I was really not at all career-driven in the early part of my life; I was interested in communications in film and publishing. I liked writing and that was how I got into the business world was as a writer. When I was in my early 20s, I started working as a writer for ad agencies and some film companies and I did a lot of script writing for education films. I began writing speeches for people and developed a niche as a speech writer for corporate executives, presidents and CEOs for companies. That was my business education: hanging out with those people and writing speeches for them. I learned how they thought and what was important to them. In working with other agencies, I noticed that they shied away from anything complex and hard. Agencies are most excited with consumer products that they understand. Through working with corporate executives I worked with healthcare and technology companies. They had rally complicated stories. It wasn't like selling soft drinks or sneakers. My observation was that a lot of agencies weren’t interested in this stuff but I liked it and I thought it was interesting. That was the original insight for PJA: an agency that wasn’t afraid to work with companies that had complicated stories. What was difficult about being an entrepreneur in the beginning? Ignorance is bliss. The nice thing about not knowing anything is you’re not afraid of anything. I didn’t think about, “I need to go get clients or how you build a management team.” I thought, “Hey, gee, I have some clients, some work and we’ll find some people to help get it done and see what happens. I rented space in this building and it was no bigger than this room. It was one room and had a couple of desks. A couple people I knew that I thought were talented and that came in and worked with me. No one had titles or defined job. We have some work; lets hang out, get it done, and make a little money. You learn as you go. Oh wait, who’s going to pay the bills? How are we going to get new business? I was one of those people.
I'm not the product of a business school. I had a really simple idea and I figured it out as I went a long and enjoyed each stage of it. I didn’t even know what it meant to be a boss or manage other people. I didn’t understand the sales and marketing part of the business. I learned that all on the job. What is the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur? Yes, there are some really difficult parts of it. It’s up to me to figure out what direction the company is going to go in and to make sure we have people who can get us there. At various times in the company, you recognize that you might need to make changes in your strategy or need a different kind of management team to get you there. Those are hard decisions you have to make. The hardest part is driving change and getting people to make changes and do things differently, to see that the world is changing. When you decide to do something different it’s hard. What is the best part of being an entrepreneur? The best part is when you get the right team of people assembled and they’re running the business day to day. It’s just a wonderful experience to be surrounded by really bright talented people who you’ve brought into the company and see the way they’ve been able to transform the company in ways that you couldn’t do on your own. When I started the company, I could do pretty much everything that needed to be done. I could do creative and management. When I look around now, I couldn’t get hired here. I don’t even qualify to have a job here. There are so many talented people and new and different skills. Its kind of liberating and frightening to see that. Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? Don’t be afraid. The only people who fail are the people who quit and if it was easy everybody would do it. Pick people who you absolutely trust and believe in. They’re going to drive the success.