This is the last of a three part series during Women in Small Business Month.
LEWISTON – The glitz and glamor of Madison Avenue still excites Laura Rinck, and you can hear it in her voice.
But when she and her husband, Peter Rinck, made the decision to start their own advertising agency, Lewiston lost the appeal of New York City and even Portland, despite having a solid connection. His father was, as she describes him, “a ‘crazy guy’, he was on Madison Avenue,” a nod to the advertising world centered around Manhattan’s iconic street.
Before taking the leap into entrepreneurship, Laura Rinck was a teacher at Montello Elementary School for eight years before joining Turner, where she taught gifted and talented students.
Although three out of four teachers in American public schools are women — a statistic that hasn’t changed much since the early 1900s — Rinck said she was thrown into a male-dominated scenario at Montello, but wasn’t intimidated.
There is little that intimidates the President of Rinck Advertising, who has described her teaching style as non-traditional, creating her own curriculum and teaching only math from a textbook.
“I’ve tried very hard not to teach the same lesson twice,” she said. “Being the president of an advertising agency is the same job. They create an intellectually challenging yet psychologically safe space for geniuses to inspire courage and unleash their power and watch what happens next.”
THE EARLY DAYS OF RINCK ADVERTISING
It wasn’t easy to get there. Her first exposure to advertising came when she was asked to speak to her two children about her experience with cancer in a health insurance commercial. She said she loved the experience, although director Peter Rinck made her cry while filming it.
Caught on advertising fever and with her typically low threshold for boredom, in her 30s she sought an internship in the creative department of Garrand & Company, a Lewiston-based agency that produced the ad for the insurance company. She never went back to teaching and joined the agency as a full-time writer.
Fast forward to 2001, where the nation was in recession after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Laura and Peter Rinck made the decision to start their own agency. They eventually decided to remain in Lewiston for the sake of their children. “We were partners in life and we became partners in business.”
They started the company with no client list and no office in the midst of an economic downturn. Still, she said, there is hope. “Lewiston was so receptive, they hugged us. We were offered free office space.”
Rinck’s first client was not a paying one – L/A Arts. So they built on that one pro bono job and won their first of many awards for their work.
As the agency has grown and become successful, Rinck said each year has been challenging, but now the company has become its own entity. She said it wasn’t just Laura and Peter Rinck. “It’s full of vivacious, really smart geniuses. It’s amazing to me.”
WORKING IN A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY
Laura Rinck said it never occurred to her that advertising was a male-dominated industry when she started her company. But it was and has had a well-documented reputation for misogyny and sexism, perhaps most famously on the award-winning television show Mad Men. Set in the 1960s, the critically acclaimed show portrayed an industry teeming with smoking, drinking, sexism, adultery, homophobia, feminism and racism.
Women have made strides in the industry over time but remain in the minority as of 2021, according to employment data compiled by business data website statista.com. It states that 42% of employees in the advertising and promotions industry were women, while 57% were men.
In 2016, a female executive at J. Walter Thompson, perhaps the oldest and best-known advertising agency in the United States of the 20th century, filed a lawsuit against the company’s CEO, accusing him of sexism and racism. The executive resigned within a week.
Rinck said she’s fortunate to have never experienced the kind of sexism and misogyny that so many other women in the advertising world have struggled with.
“The great thing about owning your own agency is the ability to choose the type of clients you want to partner with,” she explained, and that means working with people who share the same values as her.
Women outnumber men at Rinck Advertising 3 to 1, with eight of the 10 leaders on the team also being women.
“We don’t recruit women, we recruit the best people,” said Rinck pointedly.
There is a checklist – do they align with the agency’s core values? Are they strategic and smart and are they creative, are they innovative, are they geniuses?
“This is what I’m looking for – leaders, and can I strengthen the leadership in them as well? So it’s not surprising that eight out of ten are women, but they are the best people for the job,” she said.
Rinck’s advice for women who want to become entrepreneurs, leaders, or even an executive reflects much of how she’s lived her career.
“Be bold in your choices, be creative in your vision, strive for happiness,” she said. “Let integrity guide you in your thinking. Respect yourself and those who come into your life to teach a lesson… know that you are allowed and encouraged to change course and mind at every moment along the way.”
MORE WORK FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS
Rinck’s focus increased on the question of equal pay and gender equality.
“There are thousands of women who don’t have physical autonomy, and that’s unacceptable,” Rinck said, referring to the US Supreme Court’s decision this year to overturn a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. “So if we’re talking about things like wage autonomy, how can we even get there given the struggles we’re facing?”
Statistics on women in business certainly point to advances in owning businesses and achieving equal pay over the past 50 years, a point Rinck has not missed, with one caveat.
“We’ve (come a long way) but we still have a long way to go,” she said, “and we can’t rest at all. We fight every day, and not only that, we stand up and speak out. Look at what is happening in Iran,” she offered. “Women’s rights are human rights and we don’t all enjoy the same rights. That is very close to my heart.”
Rinck also believes there is a child care crisis in this country. She said people need to remember that every vote counts as the midterm election approaches and that women need to understand where each candidate stands on women’s issues and rights, such as childcare and health care. Her advice to women struggling with the challenges of being a woman today is straightforward.
“Take advantage of education — especially the community college in Maine — many programs are free,” she said. “Having a growth mindset means being willing to learn. It can absolutely improve your life,” she offered. “We’re very fortunate to be in state with our first governor, Janet Mills, and I think what she’s done with community colleges and tuition will lift young women and young men up.”
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