At the heart of Eleanor Kubacki’s multi-million dollar advertising agency is one simple mission: making a difference in the community. “I love the concept that businesses can be a force to make the world a better place,” she said. Even while the company works with global brands like Nike and Princeton Global Sports, she remains committed to the goal of striking a balance “between having higher-end clients and caring about the community.”
Kubacki is the founder and CEO of EFK Group, an 18-year-old advertising agency based at Street at 1027 South Clinton Avenue in Trenton. Last year she was named the Entrepreneur of the Year by the Greater Princeton Chamber of Commerce, and the New Jersey Business Magazine named her one of the top 50 business women in the state. But, she says, it’s not just about business. “It’s about being good at what you do, but also doing good for the community.”
Kubacki will be sharing her experience creating advertising campaigns at an event hosted by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce this Friday, May 15, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Merrill Lynch offices at 7 Roszel Road . For more information, visit www.princetonchamber.org.
When Kubacki first started the EFK Group 18 years ago, she was mostly doing branding for non-profit organizations. Over time, as the company has grown, she has moved towards working more with corporate clients. But, she says, making a difference for the community remains a central mission.
“We’ve always been a progressive company that looks into the future,” she said, because she believes that this is the “right thing to do,” and also because this is what makes the company authentic. “This is what makes us real. This is what makes us part of a larger community.”
As part of her mission to be part of the revitalization effort in Trenton, Kubacki takes on three pro bono clients a year. Currently, the company is working on branding and advertising with Centurion Ministries, a Princeton-based non-profit that works to overturn wrongful convictions; the Trenton Y.M.C.A.; and a food truck fest for children with autism. “We have a financial commitment and an emotional commitment to the community,” Kubacki said.
It was during her college years at Rutgers University that Kubacki got her first exposure to marketing and advertising. There, she founded an organization called `RU for the Homeless,’ which was dedicated to raising money for the homeless and raising awareness of the issue. Kubacki remembers having to raise funds through concerts, and using that money for homeless advocacy programs. She designed posters to brand and advertise the concerts, and marketed them to students. “I was getting kids to pay $5 per head for a concert, which was a lot of money 20 years ago,” she said. But it was through her work at the organization that she grew a passion for advertising.
In the years since Kubacki was first introduced to advertising, much has changed about the industry. EFK Group is going through a process of reinventing itself, Kubacki said, because “the industry is reinventing itself.” Thanks to the disruptive forces of the digital and social media revolutions, newspaper advertising is no longer as effective as before, and Kubacki has had to change the way she reaches out to clients and consumers. But the disruption also brings with it advantages: “The good news is that it’s changing such that it’s more effective for marketers,” she said.
What marketers need now is “fully integrated advertising,” Kubacki said: not just banner ads that customers stare at passively, but rather marketing a brand such that it “becomes part of the a customer’s life.” Kubacki pointed to Apple as a good example of a company that marketed and built their products in such a way that the brand infuses itself into the daily lives of its customers. “You can’t buy one product. You must buy a suite of products,” she said, referring to Apple. “How we sell products has changed. It’s going to be integrated in your life.”
Kubacki has already started to implement this concept in her work. Working with universities like Kean, St. John’s and Rider, she has built websites with specific segments directed towards students and parents. The idea is to speak and connect with them at different places and venues, Kubacki said. “We find where they live online, and talk to them where they’re most comfortable.”
Meanwhile, Kubacki is also trying to redefine the traditional landlord-tenant relationship (U.S. 1, May 8, 2013). She bought a 17,000-square-foot, three-story building eight years ago and transformed it, opening up the internal architecture and creating many communal spaces. In addition to housing her company, Kubacki rents of space to other businesses. “I look at myself as an incubator for companies,” she said. “It’s not so much a black-and-white landlord-tenant relationship,” Kubacki continued, but rather a two-way exchange. “We give people opportunities and they also give me opportunities.” The entire first floor, for example, is now rented out to artists. “It keeps me inspired,” she said.
Kubacki is keen to constantly seek out innovation. Artists are one key source, and so are trends, be they political, social or celebrity. Above all, though, Kubacki finds innovation from “just being inspired by human life:” taking what happens in daily life and converting it into a marketing tool.
She also finds inspiration from her mother, who died several years ago, and calls her “my number one role model.” Kubacki’s mother used to work at AT&T before starting her own company in wealth management. “I loved her business ethic. She encouraged me to make dreams come true,” she said. Her mother taught her an important lesson when Kubacki first decided to start her own business: “On your way up, make sure you bring others with you.”
As Kubacki works towards growing her company — it has already grown by 35 percent so far this year — she also has a larger goal in mind: “Getting to the next level with integrity, creativity, and doing good for the community.”
“You can have a successful company, but if you step on people on the way up, I don’t want it,” she said.