Rachel Tobin Interviews Stacy McCarthy DeRiso, US CEO at Initiative

For Stacy DeRiso, progress isn’t about embracing change. It’s about igniting it. Stacy puts this approach to practice everyday as the CEO for Initiative’s largest market in the US.

As one of the largest media planning and buying companies, Initiative helps drive the marketing strategies of major brands including Amazon, T-Mobile, Liberty Mutual, and Merck. Since taking the helm in 2021, Stacy has been instrumental in driving the agency’s extraordinary transformation.

In 2022, Initiative saw 26% organic revenue growth, 20% revenue growth YOY, and retained ALL of its US clients. Initiative talent have never been more engaged, with near record high NPS scores. Clients also never been happier with TRR scores at the advocacy level.

These results have attracted industry acclaim. In 2022, Initiative was named Agency of the Year by Ad Age, Adweek, and Festival of Media North America. Stacy was also named Adweek’s 2023 Media All-Stars Executive of the Year, a prestigious honor for the industry’s top leaders.

Alongside her pursuit of business results for major brands is creating a best-in-class agency culture that all 1,200 Initiative talent can be proud of. She inaugurated an industry-first program called Marinate Cultureship to nourish peoples’ outside passions so they could bring more passion to work. The agency makes $1,000 grants for talent to pursue any project that brings them joy like powerlifting and organic perfuming. Similar creativity also informed an award-winning talent recruitment campaign that Stacy initiated called “You + A Friend” that invited people to apply for open roles with their work besties.

Stacy’s deep commitment to diversity and inclusion can be seen in Initiative’s programs to attract diverse talent. She initiated new partnerships with She Runs It, The Mom Project, and the Boyd Initiative to open more pathways for women, mothers, and BIPOC talent to join the agency. This has translated into women now comprising two-thirds of Initiative talent overall AND the executive leadership, and more than half of new hires in 2022 being BIPOC.

While creating a best-in-class agency culture, Stacy has also reimagined the client relationship. She introduced the Empathy Charter – a way to establish mutually beneficial client partnerships that will grow and succeed. This charter establishes how Initiative works reflective of shared values, unique needs, and organizational realities, customized by team. The “Walk-A-Mile” component allows agency and clients to swap roles, giving each understanding of what the other goes through.

To stay on top, Initiative upped its game in 2023, introducing a new proposition called Fame & Flow. This framework brings performance marketing into the agency’s approach that has attracted major new clients including Constellation Brands, one of the country’s largest alcoholic beverage producers.

In addition to being named Adweek’s Executive of the Year, Stacy has been named a Campaign US Female Frontier and “AdWeek 50” honoree. She serves on the MediaWeek Council comprised of the world’s leading media and marketing leaders who are working together to transform the ad buying ecosystem.

Connect with Stacy on LinkedIn

Rachel is a seasoned journalist and communications professional who has worked with the leading publications, corporations and nonprofits in the Southeast and nationally. With a passion for helping organizations tell their stories, Rachel works with her clients to craft a public relations plan that meets their strategic business goals to get desired results. From media relations and community affairs to social, paid or owned media, Rachel’s creative ideas will amplify client messages with an efficient and seamless approach. She also loves travel, adventure, yoga and surfing.

Connect with Rachel on LinkedIn

Interview questions:

Q1. As we get started, first off, I’d love to hear about your career journey and why you got into advertising. What are some of the milestones, highlights, and influences on your career? How did you know you were the right leader for Initiative when the opportunity arose?

Q2. That’s a great segue into my next question. You lead the largest market in the Initiative network with more than 1200 employees and nearly $10 billion in annual billings the US. What does Initiative do? (Tip: Describe media buying as if explaining it to a 10-year-old.)

Q3. Talk about the # of offices & employees and clients.
– Talk about your growth. (fastest growing, etc.…)
– Why does this matter to people watching this video?

Q4. What do you think differentiates Initiative from other media planning and buying companies?

Q5. How is your talent part of your winning formula?

Q6. You’re working with some of the world’s most ambitious brands including Amazon, T-Mobile, and Merck. Why do you think these brands are coming to Initiative?

Q7. The economic outlook continues to be uncertain. What is your take on how a potential recession might affect your industry — which essentially means advertising and advertisers in general? What are you seeing in media planning and buying that gives you a sense that the industry is doing well and what are some potential headwinds? (Another way to say this is who will be the winners and losers? What are you advising your clients?)

Q8. What does the rest of the year look like for you and Initiative? What are some things on the horizon?

Initiative unlocks business growth for the world’s most ambitious brands. We believe in the power of media to reshape our industry and orchestrate a brand’s entire consumer experience, by balancing both what unites people and what makes them different. When brands unite people in culture, they build Fame, and when brands connect individuals to their unique journeys, they build customer Flow. Initiative builds Fame & Flow for brands like Nike, Amazon, Merck, LEGO, and T-Mobile. Media responsibility is at the forefront of everything we do, whether it’s creating media plans that reflect the diversity of our communities, promote brand safety, and foster sustainability. Our agency celebrates diversity in an inclusive environment where all of our 1,200+ strong talent feel seen, heard, and valued. Our vision is to create not only a better media company, but also a better media industry, and maybe even a better world.

Connect with Initiative on LinkedIn.

Edwin Warfield, CEO of citybiz.co, conducts CEO Interviews.

If you’re interested in a citybiz CEO Interview, please contact
Edwin Warfield – edwin.warfield@citybizlist.com