The Dish on a Formidable Female CEO From Inc.‘s List of Fastest Growing Companies

LunchAtMichaelsWith much of Manhattan tied up in the nightmare traffic scenario that comes courtesy of the spate of diplomats and politicians in town for the United Nations General Assembly this week, we were happy to make it to Michael’s for our regular Wednesday confab with this week’s movers and shakers and, boy, are we glad we did. While much of the excitement during our weekly trips to 55th and Fifth comes courtesy of the steady stream of famous faces, talking heads and random celebrity sightings, every once in a while, I’m introduced to influencers whose faces might not be familiar but whose accomplishments and goals clearly set them apart. Today’s headliner Monica Smith was no exception. As CEO and founder of Marketsmith, a New-Jersey-based marketing firm that recently scored a spot on Inc.’s annual list of the Fastest Growing Companies in America for the second time, she presides over a company whose mission is to provide direct response omni-channel marketing strategies to companies that focus on fostering strong connections to customers through differentiated product. The company posted $72 million in revenue last year. She is also the founder and CEO of i.Predictus, an on-demand television platform with built-in analytics and customer data warehousing with capabilities used to manage large television campaigns. “I think i.Predictus will be as transformative for omni-channel marketing as Bloomberg was to the financial markets.”

Diane Clehane and Monica Smith
Diane Clehane and Monica Smith

Monica’s success is a true testament to perseverance and believing in your own abilities. The New Jersey native grew up in an Irish Catholic home as the only girl with six brothers and was sent to Catholic school because that’s what her mother wanted for all her children. “I had no say in the matter,” she recalls with a laugh. Self-described as “severely learning disabled,” Monica endured years of an undiagnosed condition of celiac disease, which resulted in getting less than stellar grades. She struggled though school but says, “I understood vocabulary at a very high level and I was one of those kids that could do a Rubik’s Cube. I had a chip on my shoulder about those people who always got A’s.” An accomplished athlete, she went all the way to college (“My parents knew how to work the system”) before a teacher gave her a D on her first paper and asked  ‘Do you speak English at home?’

After teaching herself to read while attending The College of Mount St. Vincent, she went on to land jobs at Novus Marketing and RR Donnelly before striking out on her own 15 years ago. Today, according to Inc., Marketsmith is among the top growing women-owned marketing agencies in the country. So what is the competitive difference in having a woman-owned and operated business? “I think women really understand the complexity of content,” Monica told me. “They understand how differently content is consumed today and are comfortable in that space.” Marketsmith’s client roster has included Tumi, La Perla and Ralph Lauren. The fashion giant hired her firm eight years ago to create a cohesive marketing strategy for the company. “They had so many different marketing campaigns in so many different silos and no central repository. When we came in there were over 3,000 files that needed to be organized,” says Monica.

“I fell into tech,” she recalls. In 2011, she found yet another opportunity to funnel her passion for media and discovering new ways to analyze and deliver data to clients and founded i.Predictus, an end-to-end demand-side platform, which recommends the specific television buys to constantly improve client’s media ROI. “Data was scattered across multiple media channels, trapped in numerous databases and spreadsheets, so the first step was to create a framework for a new age of accountability,” she told me. There were no shortage of investors. “Five people wanted to give me half a million dollars; I picked three and got more from one,” she told me. “I look back now and realize Marketsmith was an incubator for i.Predictus.”

As much as Monica’s professional life is perfect fodder for the television treatment, it’s her personal life that is truly ready made for television. (As a matter of fact, she was asked to consult on the ABC Family hit, The Fosters, but couldn’t find the time.) She and her wife, Amy Smith, are parents to five children (four of whom have special needs) and their path to parenthood has been far from smooth. In 2008, Monica felt she was finally ready to take motherhood on and she and Amy contacted the foster care system in New Jersey. Soon after, they found themselves mothers, an “instant family,” to five African-American children born to the same mother in Newark ranging in ages from 5 months to 5 years. A year and a half later, the couple lost custody of the children when there was a court battle to return them to their biological mother. “It was like having your heart ripped out,” says Monica, who was determined to get the children back. After penning an impassioned letter to then Governor Jon Corzine, chastising the state’s broken foster care system (which wound up on the Internet), the children were returned to Monica and Amy within 30 days and one year ago, they added another baby to their brood. “The kids are our life,” she says. Monica and Amy along with Kim Ricketts, New Jersey’s former Commissioner of Human Services, are penning a book about building families through foster care. “There is such a huge need for the over 50,000 kids in the system in this country to find homes,” says Monica.

Monica and Amy have taken the plight of local children in need to heart and have “adopted” 500 families from the Camden Street School in Newark, to which they provide Thanksgiving meals and enough money for a week’s worth of groceries as well as school supplies, warm coats and other essentials. Now in its third year, the search is on for corporate sponsors to help expand the program. “There are so many children and their families who go without food and walk around hungry. We need to do more.” Monica’s story is one of the most dramatic examples of “paying it forward” I’ve come across in quite a while. “It always seemed that any time I was feeling down, someone was there to lift me up,” she says simply.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Adria De Haume being feted on the occasion of her new book, featuring her stunning sculpted crosses by accessories maven Mickey Ateyeh (Loved those pants!) and some other fabulous friends

2. Michael Holtzman

3. “Mayor” Joe Armstrong and David Zinczenko

4. Former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly and Mitch Rosenthal; Act Two: Star Jones

5. Armando Ruiz. Nice hat.

6. Rikki Klieman rocking a black all-leather ensemble with Nikki Haskell and Eva Mohr

7. Monica Smith, Lisa Wells and yours truly

8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia and a silver-haired gal, who we’re told, is author of note. Anyone?

9. Fashionista Fern Mallis

11. Agent Wayne Kabak

12. Former Hudson News honcho James S. Cohen

14. Simon & Schuster’s Alice Mayhew and Google Idea’s Jared Cohen

15. TIVO’s Tom Rogers

16. Andrew Stein, who was introducing his son, Ben, around the dining room

17. Jonathan Wald and Yahoo’s new-ish news and finance anchor Bianna Golodryga.

18. Legendary lensman Harry Benson and Vanity Fair‘s David Friend

20. Discovery ID’s Henry Schleiff, looking downright collegiate in his V-neck sweater

22. Kal Goldberg

23. Larry Spangler

24. Producer Beverly Camhe

25. Politico David Brock

27. 3 Labs Cosmetic’s David Chung with, so we’re told, a bigwig from Benefit cosmetics

Diane Clehane is a contributor to FishbowlNY. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Please send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.

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@DianeClehane lunch@adweek.com Diane Clehane is Adweek's weekly 'Lunch' columnist.
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