Selena Pepe has had to fight much harder than most to get to where she is today.
The owner of a successful advertising and design agency in Las Vegas, Selena has faced a lot of hardship while building her business. A pregnancy at the age of 16 and a messy fallout with a former business partner are just two of the potential setbacks that she’s managed to triumph over – and she wants you to know that she has no intention of slowing down! I have to say, I loved to hear about Selena’s determination in following her entrepreneurial dreams and I think you’ll dig her story too!
Check out our interview below!
Tell us about your business in as much detail as you can. What is it that you do and who are your customers?
What is 3 Martini Lunch? We’re an award-winning, boutique advertising and design agency living in the City of Sin. I co-founded 3ML in 2009 along with my former business partner, whom I later bought out in 2013. Initially, we began as a two-man crew working out of our homes but were quickly able to grow and move into an office less than a year after starting the company. This was largely due to securing accounts such as MGM Resorts International, Treasure Island, Terry Fator (America’s Got Talent Winner), Carrot Top, The Mirage Hotel & Casino, UNLV, Boys Town of Nevada, CityCenter, City of Henderson, D2 Urban Art, and many start-ups and mom ’n’ pop shops as well. As I tell my clients, we don’t discriminate and always try to offer everyone fair pricing by keeping the business boutique-y with little overhead.
Many people don’t really understand what an ad agency is or does, so allow me to elaborate: We’re an agency of creative thinkers. We let our strategy direct our vision, then let our imaginations run amok by unleashing what most are afraid to explore. By doing that, we develop unique and engaging creative.
We’ve done everything from developing brands and identity, creating ad campaigns and product packaging, to offering ideas and unorthodox approaches to branding businesses, products, entertainers, and events.
Brands are a lot like people. They’re either interesting or they’re not. So, how do you get people interested in your brand? By telling your story in unexpected ways. Our creative is designed to intrigue as well as sell. It’s not just ads or logos. It’s communication that captures people’s attention and makes a real connection. Sure, we create effective campaigns, but we also focus on creating new opportunities for people to connect with the brand, grow to love it, and even tell others about it.
What made you choose this path? Is it a family legacy or are you a pioneer? Did you go to school for it or are you learning as you go?
The path wasn’t my original choice but, after getting pregnant at 16, my career choice quickly took a new direction. Creative has always been in my blood so it was a natural fit – I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil. I stumbled into art school shortly after completing high school in three years, due to a postcard my grandma got in the mail. After completing my AA at the ripe age of 18, I hit the ground running and never looked back.
Right out of school, I was able to convince a manager at AlphaGraphics (a quick-print shop) to hire me for a position that they weren’t even hiring for. There, I learned the fundamentals of design and print in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment. Being an adrenaline junkie myself, there was something about the rush of just barely making a deadline that I loved – that’s when I knew I was hooked.
They say that to be successful you have to be passionate, so share what drives you every day. Why do you love what you do?
I’m a perfectionist and, in this line of work, you have to be good to stand out. I provide a service that is unmatched by most. That sounds narcissistic, I know. In this day and age, everybody and their momma think that if they have a computer, they can make their own logos, ads, marketing materials, etc. They don’t realize that there’s strategy behind brands. Sure, you can half-ass it like 90% of the businesses out there, but how memorable will that be? We focus on the 10% that are serious about their brands – those are the ones we bust our asses for. I’ll personally analyze their competition to see what they’re doing and make sure we do it better and different. Why do you want to look like everyone else if you’re trying to stand out from your competition? That’s what drives me – making my clients’ businesses better than their competitors. Something about giving their competition the middle finger makes me smile inside.
Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?
Hahaha … smooth sailing? I’m an entrepreneur, not a receptionist (although I do cover that position too from time to time.) Unless you’re a trust fund baby, owning your own business is never smooth sailing. There are a lot of highs and lows, but they’re all very gratifying. The advertising world is a male-dominated industry. This poses challenges at times, but I’m not the type to let my gender dictate how I handle myself. Growing up with boys may have helped too.
We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?
I’m a little crazy so it always happens.
The single event that really stands out in my head is when we were still a two-man crew and just finished developing the new ad campaign for Terry Fator – All Hits. No Lips.
We were scheduling the photo shoot to wrap on the project when a gnarly storm ripped through Vegas, demolishing The Strip and ripping down the vinyl on the largest back-lit display in the world – which also happened to be the old creative for the Terry Fator marquee at The Mirage. Because these marquees cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce, they didn’t have it in their budget to reproduce the old one only to have it replaced in a few weeks. Instead, we were asked to rush the photo shoot and post-production to have the marquee back up with new creative in one week.
Immediately after directing the shoot, I had the photographer provide all the raw images to me on a drive. I proceeded to work on editing and compositing these Photoshop files for the next four days straight – sans the assistance of chemicals, if you know what I mean. I took naps in between saving the massive file, which was usually about 15-30 minutes, then just kept on keepin’ on. By the time day four came around, I could barely talk or function and I’m pretty sure the shadow monsters were chasing me.
My former business partner came to pick up the disc with the final file burned to it (yeah, it was that long ago) because it was too large to upload or email to the vendor. They quickly turned and installed the new creative just a few days later, meeting our deadline. Success!
I continued to sleep for the next day and a half.
What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?
For a great majority of my life, I’ve run full-force and I’ve never really considered time off until recently. Eventually, someone wanders into your life that makes you take the time to stop and smell the roses. My evenings and weekends used to be preoccupied with growing the business and expanding our client base, with an occasional adoption event for whatever foster dog I had at the time. Now, that time is spent with family and friends.
Last year, we had a company retreat in Bali, Indonesia to force a vacation on everyone, which worked out well. I probably worked more than I played, but it was worth the experience. I’m still a workaholic; I don’t think that will ever change, but I try to limit that to office hours with fewer nights and weekends.
This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?
This is one of those questions that I hate to answer because I’m like a mechanic with a crappy car that leaves oil stains the size of a football field, and it’s being held together with duct tape and J-B Weld.
Social media is extremely important to most businesses that need that engagement for their client base, which is probably 98% of companies. I’ve always taken the backseat on our own social media efforts because we’ve always had plenty of work to go around without the engagement. I’m looking to improve that in 2017 though … just don’t hold me to it.
How are you involved in your community?
With the agency, we do our best to donate services to many local charities – Boys Town of Nevada, UNLV Summit on Education, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and a handful of dog rescues. We also try to remain engaged in our local industry-related non-profit organizations and networking groups.
On a personal level, I enjoy dedicating some of my time to speaking to troubled youth about my personal challenges as a single teenage mother, growing up on welfare, and overcoming adversity. I’ve done a lot of things in my past that I’m not particularly proud of, but there’s always hope with strong will and perseverance – that’s the message I want to convey to these kids. Never give up and always believe in yourself even if no one else does.
What does supporting local mean to you?
It means that I hit the local coffee shop instead of stopping at Starbucks. I use vendors that aren’t affiliated with a franchise. Buying produce from the farmers market instead of Trader Joe’s. I support the little guys at any expense. Supporting local sustains the community – it’s important. So many people don’t bother to really think that through.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
Promising! We’ve hit a few bumps in the road over the years, but we offer a solid product with a great reputation backing it. I’ve been very fortunate to have had the exposure and been blessed with the clients we’ve had the opportunity to provide services to.
Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
Don’t give up! Things will get difficult at some point but, if you believe in yourself and stay focused, the possibilities are endless.
Be careful with who you partner with. Unfortunately, having a business partner is a lot like a marriage; you need to make sure you and your partner are on the same page at all times and have some common ground to stand on. This is one lesson I learned the hard way and it got ugly quick.
Work hard. Don’t let anyone working a 9-5 tell you that you’re working too hard and need to take some time off. They’re not the ones building an empire or following their dreams. It’ll be challenging at first and you might be working more hours than an ER doctor, but it will all pay off in the long run!