By Algernon D’Ammassa
Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Media entrepreneur Leah Messina shares her journey to launching her media and marketing company “Sinuate Media.”
At an early age, Leah Messina made a vow to open her own business before she turned 25.
Sinuate Media, the business she incorporated months before her 25th birthday, has endured 12 years through the recession of 2008, rapid changes in the marketing industry, and a move from the east coast to New Mexico in 2010.
During an interview at her company’s new colonial-style headquarters in Old Mesilla, Messina recalled the promise she made to herself.
“I come from a long line of entrepreneurs,” she said. “I always knew it was something I wanted to do, and it was just kind of getting real work to experience to see what I was most interested in and where I felt I could make a difference.”
She made her deadline, filing the paperwork to create Sinuate Media in 2006 just one month before her 25th birthday, while she was in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Messina said she found her niche after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University and taking a job at a marketing firm in New York City, not far from her childhood home in New Rochelle.
Finding a niche
On walks around Times Square near her office, Messina said she would see billboards for television shows her company was marketing, noting stark differences between print advertising and what was being done with newly emerging digital media. “Blogs and podcasts were new technologies, and clients had to learn what the marketing applications were,” she said.
She began to think about “organic marketing,” which she describes as “a holistic vision where we look at the big picture of what’s happening in public relations, what’s happening on the web and search results, and how we can influence our marketing to integrate those together.”
“It was so new, what this digital space could be,” she said, recalling a time before Facebook and Twitter where media monoliths and smartphones were not as ubiquitous.
Seeing a need to integrate messages and branding across traditional and digital media, Messina moved quickly, enrolling in business school at Johns Hopkins to delve deeper into marketing, and starting her business early in her second semester. Her office was also her Baltimore apartment.
Sinuate’s first client was the unnamed marketing firm Messina had just left. Within months, she had netted contracts with Virgin Mobile, media company Westwood One, candy company Mars, Inc., and the Major League Baseball organization.
By 2008, before the Great Recession, Sinuate employed a staff of 10, its enterprise powered by the digital media explosion. National companies needed savvy marketers to establish their identity on the social media frontier.
Sinuate landed contracts with older companies, such as DeWalt and the Tour de France, that were new to online marketing and helped them keep pace with the rapid innovation of technology and growing expectations of consumers.
After the recession
When the economy went sour in 2008, Messina recalled losing clients as companies lowered overhead and took their marketing in-house. She also married, and moved with her husband to Las Cruces, where he worked at New Mexico State University and she continued to work from their apartment.
“I could really do this anywhere,” she said. “I just need an internet connection, a phone, and a place to put my laptop down.”
The couple has since split, but with a son in school and a growing local base, Messina remains; and in its new home in Old Mesilla, Sinuate has expanded its mission.
While continuing to provide a full range of marketing services to large and small businesses, Messina and her staff now offer training for businesses with limited advertising budgets.
“If you can’t afford to hire a marketing firm, then you’re going to do it yourself,” she said. “Let’s make sure you know what you’re doing, and at least have the background and tools to do it effectively.”
Sinuate’s new offices include a function room for workshops open to all, with 35 different classes in the works ranging from website design, how to use Facebook’s newer tools, how to cultivate a larger audience on social media, and more.
Adapting in a changing market
Messina has been offering such training at client sites for years, but bringing the classes to Sinuate’s location gets people in the door — including smaller local enterprises.
“I’m very interested in helping New Mexico companies market their business nationally, how to get businesses here out into the world in a more effective way,” Messina said.
In addition to local enterprises, Sinuate continues to serve national companies, staying in touch with clients through video conferences and email. Besides her staff, Sinuate trains interns, one of whom recently became a permanent employee.
When she first opened Sinuate in Baltimore, Messina had to travel by train to the New York metro area every other week. In 2018, she says a couple of commercial flights per year to meet clients is all that is required, so much has the marketing industry changed.
Sinuate’s office has a landline telephone, but it doesn’t ring often — which would have been cause to panic in the marketing world of 2006. Not so, in the era of digital communications.
“You don’t hear that phone ringing,” Messina said, “and I tell people it’s OK, the phone doesn’t necessarily have to ring as long as your texts are buzzing, and you’re getting email. You’re good to go.”