A decorated Army Veteran for more than a decade, Jason Sunday is now at the helm of Purple Penguin Digital and running a tight ship. Jason uses his keen military training to guide the Purple Penguin Digital team in implementing strategic digital marketing programs for clients. This Q&A blog offers you the opportunity to get to know the leader of our company better.
Jason, how long were you in the military and what was your role?
I enlisted and was active duty in the Army for 11 years as a cannoneer and combat arms. I was deployed to Iraq twice and then Afghanistan, so I was overseas for three years. Then I spent the remaining years in the Reserves.
My job was to shoot cannons, like Howitzers, and other artillery. There are two sides of the military: the Officer’s side is focused on strategy and planning, and we need that, and the Enlisted side executes the strategic plans. I chose to be a soldier who executes the missions.
How have your military experiences and skills impacted the way you run your company today?
It’s the single most integral part of the strategy I use to run the company. And it starts with discipline. There’s an acronym I use often: SAD, which stands for Standards, Accountability, and Discipline and it affects how I run the company from a structural standpoint, with a hierarchy, and the reason everybody has a mission and responsibilities.
It’s important for my team to execute their duties on time and on budget for our clients, making us one cohesive unit. So, my military background does affect my leadership. I also rely on military protocols like, “You can’t expect what you don’t inspect.” I’m certainly not a micro-manager, but I do believe in accountability. I also keep in mind that my family is a priority too.
Do you view your current employees as soldiers, to some degree?
Yes, the message I convey to the Team is that we all have a spoke on the wheel and if we all do our individual jobs, our own individual missions, that wheel goes round and round. So, no one specific job or responsibility is more important than the other. We’ve all signed up for the duties we have, and we need to complete those responsibilities. Like a soldier, everybody has a task to accomplish, and that affects the greater good – which in the military, it’s the mission – in the company, it’s the bottom line, and everybody wins.
It reminds me of dominoes.
Absolutely. You know there’s that old cliché, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” That’s why you really need to bring everybody up around you. That’s why Team Player is one of our Core Values.
What is your company’s mission and how does it set you apart from other digital marketing agencies?
I have a unique response in that many missions revolve around the company. We use a Vision/Traction Organizer, or VTO, and on the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) business model. Our leadership team put a lot of thought into what our Core Focus should be and came up with this: “To provide opportunities for our employees that allow them to live and grow as they desire both personally and professionally.” I’m going to break that down.
I loved that I was able to make the company remote a couple of years ago. And because of that restructuring, we just hired 12 new salespeople from 10 different states across the U.S. We also employ specialists who homeschool their kids and excel in their positions, for example. We don’t require working 9 to 5, because they know they have a mission to do, and a metric to hit. So, we allow our employees to live in a way that makes them happy, within certain parameters. In other words, the flexibility of our company allows people to grow personally and professionally if they’re completing the missions that we establish.
As an IFA (International Franchise Association) supplier, why do you feel franchising is the ideal vertical?
The franchise model is like the military, meaning the franchisor is the Mothership, if you will. They’re the ones who have the processes, the procedures, the standards. They have created something they believe will work across many mediums. Then you have franchisees who are the executors, like non-commissioned officers or enlisted soldiers.
They’re going to the franchisor for guidance on what’s the best way to run the business, but they still have the flexibility to run it individually within their own communities, with their own unique nuances. A franchisee in Montpelier, Vermont, will probably operate a little differently than Temecula, California, but the concept, like Subway, is you’re still selling the same types of sandwiches, with the same breads, with the same meats, and you’re getting the same product, a proven product, but maybe with different marketing messages from one region to the next.
I love the franchise model because you have a system and a process, and it operates similarly to the military, which I relate to. In other words, you have this organized franchisor at the top that is teaching the franchisees to be successful and then they’re growing with the franchise.
You have a new owner, new headquarters and now a new brand, Purple Penguin Digital. Why Purple Penguin Digital?
Our tagline, “Because marketing isn’t black and white,” reinforces the Purple Penguin Digital culture and franchise marketing mantra. A lot of thought went into the choice of animal and color. The penguin was chosen because it is adaptable and also loyal to their partners.
Those are characteristics that embody our employees. Our team is very dedicated, yet adaptable in serving the clients. We have a very strong retention rate among our clients (96%) and our employees. As for the color purple, it is associated with wisdom, creativity, and luxury. Purple is also cheerful, whimsical and magical. That is the feeling we wanted to convey, too.
Our VP of National Accounts loves the color because it’s eye-catching and memorable. He wears a purple blazer or shirt at franchise trade shows, so attendees know he’s affiliated with Purple Penguin Digital and remember his attire. It’s a great marketing tool! We’re happy to have such an extraordinary brand name and logo.
Tell me about your vision for your company in the upcoming year, 5 years, 10 years.
We have been successfully building the businesses of franchisors and their franchisees for 13+ years and want to continue to make our mark in the franchise space with exceptional service and results. We are also expanding the success we’ve had in the B2C space to include Franchise Development.
Our franchisors have been asking us to build their pipeline of franchise candidates as we’ve done with their customers, so we now offer that service and are demonstrating excellent results. My vision is that we can keep making a difference in the franchise community with B2C and FranDev marketing for the franchisors, while supporting the local marketing for franchisees. We want to become the go-to brand for those wanting to grow their franchises.
How does managing a mostly virtual agency affect you, your employees, and clients?
Let’s start with the employees. Working remotely has been an amazing opportunity for us to grow our talent. There is certainly talent in one specific area, but you’re restricted by a radius if you have a corporate office. We recently had 108 resumes for New Business Development Representatives and were able to pick 12 of the very best from across the country, grow more quickly and become more diverse. This includes being more culturally diverse, as well as diversity in their backgrounds and experience.
On the flip side, training of new employees, as well as ongoing employee education can be challenging. When you are in an office, training often comes from face-to-face interactions and demonstrations, along with conversations over cubicles and watercoolers—and you learn from “osmosis.” Now we need to be more mindful of how to organize virtual training, keep employees motivated and inspired and then support them when they are offline, so they don’t feel isolated.
The good news is that it provides employees with flexibility to accomplish their professional and personal responsibilities. On the client side, it’s a significant benefit for us to work remotely. Since Covid, people expect that jobs can be done remotely and, in fact, almost prefer it. Our Account Managers arrange their schedules to meet the needs of the clients. And sometimes that is not the usual 9-5p. Working remotely has allowed us to become more efficient and flexible. It has allowed us to open our minds to the client and say, “How and when do you want to communicate? We continue to meet them at events like the IFA conference, Springboard, and Franchise Tailgates, as well as weekly or monthly via Zoom, text, and/or emails. Just like our “penguin” brand implies, we are very adaptable.
How does your faith impact your management and day-to-day decision-making?
I believe faith is at the core of everything. Faith allows you to understand that it’s not “all about you.” There is a greater purpose than what we’re doing. Having God at the center of my life and being married to my wife for 22 years, I understand that what we’re doing right now is just temporary and we need to be doing everything to glorify God on a daily basis – our actions, our thoughts, our words.
I have a Vice President that is aligned with me on this, which really helps the company move in a direction that is sound. At the end of the day, we know all companies need a healthy bottom line to survive and thrive; however, you can’t be consumed by profitability, the cost of goods sold, and all of that. When you break it down, we’re working to help people.
Twenty years from now, nobody’s going to care what this company did, they will care what our values were and how we interacted. In fact, this is only a granule of salt in one saltshaker. From time-to-time, if you find yourself stumbling, you can usually backtrack to not doing what you’re doing for the right reasons, and you can take a step back and realign with your faith.
I agree with what you’re saying that it’s not about your career, but about who you are as a person.
I think faith allows you to have a human aspect. Some businesses can become so business-oriented that they take out the human element and then it becomes all about the tasks; all about completing the mission; all about getting the number or the metric and those things are important. That’s why we’re in business and things must be measured, but it’s not the only thing that matters. It matters how you get those as well. You want to make sure that you’re doing business with integrity.
Tell me about your family and the hobbies you enjoy.
I’ve been married for nearly 23 years to my wife Emily. We have 3 kids – Thatcher lives in Brooklyn, NY, my middle daughter, Macy, is a sophomore at Winona State in Minnesota, and I have a junior in high school, Kenzie. And we have a doodle dog, Bruno, who we love. I’m very family focused. Golf is my passion – I love most sports; whether I’m playing or watching. And not many people know this about me, but I’m a massive foodie! So when I travel, it’s all about the restaurants. There isn’t a food I won’t try. And I’m grateful that Covid required us to work remotely and allowed me to move back to Nebraska, which is our new headquarters, and we can now be much closer to family.
What’s a fun fact that few people know about you?
I’m a beach person and love warm weather. I would like to live in the Bahamas or have a home on a coast. Of course, I live in Omaha, so that’s not possible right now!
VetFran and Purple Penguin: Strategic Partnership
As a Veteran, Purple Penguin Digital’s President, Jason Sunday, recognizes the importance of the work and support VetFran is providing today’s Veterans. Here’s what he has to say about the organization.
Why is VetFran an ideal organization to support?
VetFran is an organization dedicated to identifying and supporting Veterans as franchise owners. This is important for a few reasons. Sometimes, when Veterans get out of the service, their tangible skillsets don’t correlate into civilian society. When I came out of the military, I knew how to shoot Howitzers and cannons well, but didn’t know immediately how that translated into a career?
VetFran has a proven process and model to help Vets find the right fit in franchising for their skillset, which oftentimes is intangible: discipline, attention to detail, conflict resolution, those things that are needed to run a business. I think the two marry well. Meaning, you have somebody that understands processes and procedures and knows how to follow guidelines and that’s exactly what a franchise model is. So, it’s a win-win.
What is your relationship with them?
We had been a partner to VetFran and helped them to promote their messaging. Now, we are talking to them about putting together a sponsorship to fully support their work with Veterans.