Marketing

Ilona Selina

Influencers, Media Relations, Social Media Management & Strategy

Ilona Selina

Location: Toolsy Headquarters
Date: 8/17/2020
Profession: Founder, Route Marketing

Q & A

Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do for a living?

My name is Ilona Selina and I’m 26 years old. I was born in Ukraine, and grew up in Vienna, Austria. I lived and studied in London, New York and L.A. 

I am the Founder of Route Marketing – a boutique communications agency providing strategic marketing initiatives tailored to meet the needs and goals of female founded businesses. We specialize in Influencer and Media Relations, Social Media Management and Strategy. My experience in digital communications spans across lifestyle, beauty, and fashion sectors – both in-house and at agencies.

What’s your backstory and what led you to marketing and focusing on female founded businesses? What drives you?

Looking back, everything seems to have happened organically. Route Marketing began after a search for an agency providing a portfolio of all relevant digital services to strategize in a creative, authentic direction. Our creative aesthetic and tailored approach to our clients, attracted a predominantly female client base. 

The reason why I ended up in marketing was definitely a big push from my dad. My dad is my biggest inspiration and role model – when it comes to business and being a leader, I learned everything from him. 

Growing up, I loved arts & crafts, I was always drawing, painting and creating. I wanted to become an artist, but for obvious reasons, that wasn’t something my parents wanted me to pursue full-time. 

My dad is an entrepreneur and always wanted me to have more of a business mindset, but he was also conscious of the fact that I didn’t want to sacrifice my creative spirit. So, he masterfully connected the dots and was like “Why don’t you look into marketing?”. 

I think this must’ve been in seventh or eighth grade when he planted this seed. I was like “What on earth is marketing? I don’t even know what that is.” He explained how marketing can be a stimulating job where you can bridge the business world with the creative and also incorporate your personal interests. It stuck with me since. I started paying attention to ad campaigns, consumer behavior and different marketing channels, and I knew I wanted to be a part of this world.

Ilona Selina Graduation From CollegeGraduating NYU 2016

Back in middle school, I was traveling a lot, and I loved exploring different places through the local food scene. I’d regularly share my food experiences on social media and I remember my friends always saying  “Where is this?” “What’s good here?” “Where should I go when I’m in [insert city]?”.  Every time someone in my circle went on a trip, they’d ask me for recommendations, so I was like you know what? I’m going to start a blog. 

In 2013 (shortly after my freshman year in college), I started blogging. I think I started on Blogspot, initially sharing my travel experiences, followed by my interest in fashion, beauty and restaurants. As my blog grew, I had the opportunity to work with a handful of household name brands, and seeing as I was living in London and New York, I was also attending fashion week, where I became involved in street style photography. There was a lot of that going on for me at that time! 

Ilona Selina NYFWNYFW

My professional career began in the e-commerce startup world in New York, working for a fashion company.  The company’s business model was similar to Net-a-Porter, except they featured up and coming designers from Japan, China, India and Korea. Our team was small, but mighty! They brought me on as a marketing intern, and I was ready to roll up my sleeves. Only half a year later, I was working part-time. I was involved in all areas of marketing and promotion, where I was able to experience everything from start to finish. I quickly realized what I really enjoyed and what I didn’t like doing so much. 

When I graduated NYU and moved to LA a few years later, I wanted to pursue PR. I remember I was struggling and I think it took me five months until I finally got my first offer at a big U.S. beauty brand. I started working as an Influencer Manager, handling all of their influencer partnerships on the West Coast and even managing my first international “influencer trip” in St.Barts only after a few months on the job. I think we launched 20 new products that week. It was a huge undertaking. I was working with Make Up Artists and YouTubers with over 5M followers – straight out of college! Life was exciting! 

Ilona Selina St. Barts
St. Barts with Sona Gasparian and Melissa Alatorre

Fast forward to 2017, I felt like I reached my full potential and needed a challenge. I started job searching again and I found a Content Manager position at a CPG company. Even though the industry wasn’t exactly my thing or something that I was particularly passionate about, I was drawn to the position by the exhaustive interview process. I was interviewed by the hiring manager, then the CMO, the CFO, and CEO. I was talking to all of these important people and everybody was asking me really challenging questions. I knew I would learn a lot here. I decided to accept the offer and apply myself as best I could!

Since our marketing team was very small, everyone got to sit at the big boys table and reap the benefits of an open door policy. You’re always in the same room as the CEO and in direct contact with higher ups. You alone were responsible for your work, your wins and your mistakes – no one else. I loved that about the management style, but unfortunately I didn’t stay at the company for long.

The reason being, quite frankly, was because I felt like I wasn’t being valued. Two months into my job, our Social Media Director quit and his responsibilities were passed on to me – to handle on top of my existing duties. My to-do list kept growing and growing, but it was not reflected in my title or my salary. 

I addressed my issues to management multiple times, but was not heard, even though I was handling a lot more than anyone else on my team. I was like, you know what? This is not for me. If I’m not appreciated here, I need to leave, and I think I left the same week. 

About two years before I decided to start my own company, I was working at Be Social – a full service creative and talent agency specializing in Digital, Influencer Relations, PR and Experiential.

Ilona Selina with Influencers
With former co-worker Jessica Yoo, and influencers Linda Kang, Maryam Ghafarinia. 

What led you to starting Route Marketing?

It was scary, I’m not going to lie! Starting my own company whether it was an agency or launching a product was always the goal. However, I didn’t expect it to happen so soon!

During my time at Be Social, I actually started freelancing for a friend of mine. She was building her own company from scratch and needed someone that would support her with digital marketing strategy. I worked on developing their creative and social media and marketing content, overseeing key social media platforms, and identifying opportunities within paid social media channels.

After completing this project, I was approached by another friend who was launching a home decor line and needed support with managing their social channels. Little by little I started building up my roster of freelance clients without even really realizing what I was doing or why. I just knew I enjoyed working freelance, away from the restrictions of full-time.

I was figuring it all out as I went along. I was asking other freelancers how to invoice someone, how to write off taxes, what tools are best to manage clients, etc. I was learning on the job, and spent hours Googling and reading articles.

When I finally left Be Social (I think I was managing three clients at the time), I was like, wait a minute, I can make something of this. I can actually build an agency, and collaborate with other talented experts in my industry, instead of just doing this on my own.

Without much hesitation, I registered Route Marketing. But I didn’t do any self-promotion just yet. I didn’t have a website, or an Instagram account, or even a business card. My first 10 clients found me through word of mouth – the best type of marketing there is.

People in my network, friends of friends, past colleagues, individuals I met throughout the years living in L.A., were all reaching out to me for Influencer Relations, PR and Social Media Management services.

I got this influx of new clients without even really doing anything and I was like, ok, this is amazing! I felt like I’ve made the right decision. You could say it was luck, but in reality, it was an accumulation of all the work I have done in the past and the people I have met. It certainly didn’t happen overnight.

Route Marketing Ilona Selina

Why women specifically? Why is that so important to you?

I don’t discriminate! We’ve definitely worked with male-led brands as well. However, I feel like our aesthetic attracts a predominantly female clientele. 

It wasn’t a sudden decision of “Okay, we are going to champion only working with female founders” It happened organically, and we don’t mind it!

I also believe that women tend to be more comfortable around other females, especially in the corporate/business world. Working woman to woman is a different kind of dynamic, which I was keen on cultivating with our clients. This is also reflected in our core values – we want to make our clients feel comfortable, heard, respected and supported.

Ilona Selina Baby Ball 2019
With former client Shannon de Laat, Founder of The Virtue Project at AdoptTogether Baby Ball 2019

Where are you in the life cycle of running your business?

Route Marketing is officially 1 year old! We celebrated our birthday in August and are happy to say that we have built a solid foundation of systems designed to scale. We are a remote, international agency and plan to keep this culture alive. Our main priorities right now is new business development, specifically in the U.K. market and growing our team. Until now we were working with independent contractors, but I am really thinking of that next stage of potentially hiring somebody to be in-house for day-to-day support.

What are some lessons you’ve learned along this journey with Route Marketing?

 I think the most important and most valuable lesson (and luckily something I learned very early in my career), is to never pass up on a relationship-building opportunity. It’s not groundbreaking advice, and it’s so simple, but it is useful, and something that has opened a lot of doors for me.

When you’re networking and building relationships, even if you don’t have a set goal in mind, or don’t know how you can potentially collaborate or work together, there is certainly going to be some kind of opportunity manifest itself later down the line that you may not have initially seen. 

Networking is something that’s been really valuable to me because I’ve received offers and signed agreements just based on a former relationship. So making sure your network is strong, and constantly evolving, is a crucial element to anyone’s career. 

I’ve been doing a lot of cold emailing and networking virtually in the past months during quarantine. I can say that I’ve “met” some of the most incredible people by doing this in the past couple months than I have in my entire life.

I’ve actually reached out to a couple of other freelancers, PR agencies, web development agencies and some really impressive female founders that I look up to. Every single person has been very open to connecting with me and just hopping on the phone and chatting, which is incredible because I’ve learned a lot just from one phone conversation.

So, just make sure that you allocate enough time to really nurture your network and never pass up on a relationship-building opportunity, even if it’s just a coffee date!

Ilona Selina TestimonialWith former client Anna Holzbauer, founder of Artisans Net at their pop-up in West Hollywood.

How do you differentiate yourself in this field with so many other digital marketers?

 I think it’s a matter of personal touch and attention to every single client project. Even though I have a team of talented individuals helping me, I always like to be the first touchpoint for everything.

We believe in an authentic, no bullshit, approach – where every creative solution is tailored to our client, from budget to strategy to implementation.

I wanted to create something that wasn’t going to be another corporate big player with inflated fees, distracted employees and untraceable results. I’ve seen all the bullshit and to me, it didn’t make sense. I didn’t want to rival existing agencies, I wanted to offer competitive pricing and remain true to what it means to be “boutique” – working with smaller brands that don’t necessarily have big budgets, but they have the passion and drive. Which is so important. They believe in their products and they want to work with someone who cares about their mission just as much as they do. Queue, Route Marketing!

What’s your definition of success? What would you attribute your success to thus far?

It depends. I think personal success is something different from professional success.

Professionally, when I’m working with clients and we reach a certain goal or we score a big press hit, that feels like success to me. Client success, is our success! 

It’s those little things that I’m like “Yes! We actually did it!” and here’s proof.

Personally, I mean, I think I’m living it. Honestly, I think waking up and actually enjoying what you do every single day and doing it with passion and motivation, that is success to me. 

When I started Route Marketing a year ago, I remember the financial struggle in the beginning, trying to pay for all the startup expenses, it was frightening. My dad, despite the sudden decrease in my salary said,  “You know what? The financial struggle is one thing, but you’ve actually taken the step to start your own thing and for that I’m really proud of you.”

I think that was the first time I’ve heard my dad say that, and I couldn’t be happier. Having the guts to do your own thing, truly loving what you do, making your family and friends proud – that’s success.

What’s your advice to those people that want to be doing what they love but just haven’t gotten there yet?

I think it’s about starting small. You don’t have to jump in the water right away. Just dip your toes. You don’t need to quit your full time job and start your own thing today, but don’t be afraid to experiment either. 

Work pro bono if you have to. You don’t necessarily have to put a price tag on your labor in the beginning, but make time for the work that you are passionate about and see if it goes anywhere. Your passion project may suddenly bloom and lead you in a completely different direction. If not, you have your answer. If you don’t try something, you’re never going to know if it would’ve worked out.

However, definitely don’t overthink it and go with your gut. Always trust your instincts.

What’s an accomplishment you’re proud of so far in your career?

I think the answer is as simple as starting my company. 

I moved to L.A. four years ago, without any real goals or a career path in mind, didn’t know anyone there, except my now ex-boyfriend. At the time I was like you know what? I’m in love, I’m gonna follow my heart and I just packed my bags and moved.

Typically that’s how I do everything in my life. Especially in my career. I’m impulsive, but determined. If I feel it, I’m going to go for it. I’ve made approximately five big cross-country, cross-continent moves in my life, and never looked back.

Within four years of living in L.A., I managed to build a home there. I built a close knit circle of friends, I worked at several distinguished companies, built a professional network and started my own company. So I consider all those things a huge accomplishment.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like? What’s your ultimate goal?

I feel recharged and ready to take on the next chapter of my life and my company in the U.K. The lockdown was oddly the best reset I could’ve asked for. It’s allowed me to focus more on my business and allowed me to build internal structures that I was consistently putting on hold.

My ultimate goal is to see Route Marketing take off and be recognized as the go-to agency for lifestyle brands seeking effective and targeted marketing solutions.

Software & Tools:

What platform/tools/software do you use for your business?

Trello: Trello helps us oversee tasks and project activity. Even though I prefer to use pen & paper, this is a practical way to keep track of all our to-do’s digitally.

Later:  Later allows us to schedule social media content ahead of time. It also lets us manage multiple accounts, schedule video, reposting and gives access to analytics & uploading tools.

People Map: Peoplemap is an Instagram marketing tool, with influencer campaign tracking, and Instagrams stats all in one.

Google Drive: We use Google Drive to keep all of our files in one place, easily accessible to the entire team.

Squarespace: An all-in-one solution for anyone looking to create a beautiful website. We built our website on squarespace and are taking advantage of the many tools they integrated into the platform, for instance, email marketing and subscriber management. 

Slack: We use slack for internal communication, but also use it to tune in to conversations with communities and networks we are a part of, for instance the Female Founder Collective

Canva: A very easy to use, online graphics and template tool that we consistently use for our social media graphics.

Square: We use Square for invoicing and secure credit card processing – however, they offer a ton of other useful solutions to grow your business.

What social strategies do you see working on different platforms?

This is a difficult question to answer succinctly, as it entirely depends on the brand, product and target audience. A successful multi-platform strategy is like a Rubik’s cube – each platform requires its unique strategy and presents its own challenges.

Route Marketing strategy guides are built following an in depth conversation with our client about their goals and objectives. Without understanding what the client goals are, who their target audience is, and what they want, it’ll be hard to achieve the results they’re looking for. 

Are you looking to increase your brand awareness, generate leads, drive traffic to your website or increase mentions in the press? Generally it is best to focus on 1-2 goals to drive measurable results.  

Then we work backwards and figure out how to best achieve these goals. Based on what type of service we are offering, we get into the nitty gritty of targeting and implementation.

Resources:

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources you’ve learned from along your journey? Why?

Books:
Radical Candor by Kim Scott A management book, where author Kim Scott often takes examples from Apple, Google and other big players in the Silicon Valley. It’s very practical and encourages a leadership style based on “caring personally and challenging directly”.

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi This book is all about networking! Ferrazzi details how you can take specific steps and control your inner mindset to connect with colleagues, friends, associates and complete strangers! He distinguishes highly successful people from everyone else in the way they use the power of relationships.

Podcasts:
A Drink With James (now renamed to Fohrcast): A weekly podcast with Founder & CEO of Fohr James Nord – one of the largest influencer marketing platforms in the world today. James candidly discusses influencer marketing and influencer industry trends. 

 

Newsletters: I’m subscribed to an absurd amount of industry newsletters – that’s how I stay on top of everything in the social media world! Things change every minute. Here’s a few of them:

Chloe Digital: Weekly newsletter highlighting influencer industry trends, small business guides, SEO tips and more.

Social Media Today: The latest news, trends, and tips in social media.

Hootsuite: Insights, practical tips, and resources on social media marketing.

The Latest by IMPACT: An oasis for both the basics and latest in inbound marketing, HubSpot, inbound sales, and UX/UI design, as well as staying on top of industry news, or even having a laugh.

Tribe Dynamics: Data-powered research and publications spotlight the most relevant activations, products, and brands that are driving earned media and moving the landscape.

Later: Latest social media news, guides and tips.

Talking Influence: Influencer marketing trends and case studies.

Sprout Social: Social media resources, guides, case studies.

BIZZIE: Covers podcast, books and video content in digestible format. Bizzie listens/watches/reads the content and grabs all the links to send in a bite-sized summary of the most important notes.

PRCouture: Industry-leading platform for lifestyle PR and marketing professionals shares monthly newsletter on PR news and trends.

What courses have you taken that have been beneficial to you?

I started watching MasterClass a few months ago, which doesn’t offer any series on Social Media & PR at the moment, however, it has been a very valuable resource and provides insight into a leaders mind and how they approach their work. I would definitely recommend subscribing!

Where would you steer someone looking to learn more about your field?

Google! Nowadays you can find a course on anything online. Find courses, read books, listen to podcasts. Connect with people that work in this field. Or hey, just send me an e-mail! I’d be happy to answer any questions and offer advice. 

If you’re still in high school, make sure you are applying to colleges that offer classes based on your interests and are constantly updating their course offerings. I think I started properly learning about marketing, business and branding when I started my undergraduate programme at NYU.

What are you doing to continue learning and growing in your business as well as personally?

I’m networking, using online resources, signing up for webinars, reading articles, joining conferences. I am also on a continuous search for communities I can join in my industry. In L.A. I was part of The PR Net – a members network of influencers, entrepreneurs, marketers, publicists, event planners and media, working at leading brands and agencies within the lifestyle industries. Most recently we joined The Female Founder Collective – a network of businesses led by women, supporting women. In London, I discovered and subscribed to The Coven – an online platform designed to bring female founders and freelancers together in a virtual space to make connections and seek support.

Final Question:

What is one thing you’d like to share with people based on your experience?

Just have the balls to follow your gut and don’t be afraid of judgement or challenges along the way. Let’s be honest, we can only grow from a lesson or a challenge. You’re never going to thrive if you’re feeling comfortable. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, guidance, or help. Make sure you are meeting as many people as possible to be able to ask for said guidance.

And never stop learning. I think that’s something that I really miss about college, just being able to go into class everyday and consume knowledge. Sitting behind a desk and listening to my professors or even my peers is something I’m probably going to miss for the rest of my life. I’m always trying to replicate that in my life by joining communities, seminars, summits or speaker events. I have also started hosting interviews on my IGTV channel and am looking forward to unwrapping a ton of exciting topics!  

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