Matt Zachowski – CEO, Intermarket Communications

Matt Zachowski is the CEO of Intermarket Communications. Based in Manhattan, Intermarket focuses largely on financial and technology clients. In prior years, Matt had an eclectic career as a financial marketing executive at a leading commodity exchange, as a precious metals analyst at a large brokerage house, as an associate at the ACLU charged with developing policies on First Amendment issues, and as an associate editor for Chief Executive magazine. Matt holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from New York University and a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College.

How did the concept for Intermarket come about?
When the company was founded, financial services firms were highly regulated and most avoided PR and advertising, other than advertising closed deals. As the marketing head for the NY Commodity Exchange, I found it nearly impossible to find a PR firm that understood our business and had the requisite media contacts for success. So, I decided to start one myself. Together with my head of PR, Martin Mosbacher, I founded Intermarket.

How was the first year in business?
The first year was reasonably successful, but our focus on the commodity market proved too narrow to allow for outsized growth. We realized fairly quickly that we’d need to broaden our client base to encompass other players in the capital markets space. It sounds cliché, but we sketched out a plan on a napkin at Sarabeth’s Kitchen on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and, remarkably, we executed the plan to perfection.

What was your marketing strategy?
In a word, networking. Early on, we were not big enough or established enough to get on people’s shortlists, so we had to work our industry contacts in order to worm our way into pitches. We emphasized our market knowledge as ex-insiders rather than PR professionals, as well as our familiarity with technology, which at the time was emerging as a differentiator. We also expanded our client base into the vastly larger securities side of the street by signing up vendors and then targeting their customers. By our third year in business, Intermarket was a well-diversified financial and corporate PR firm with a global tilt by virtue of relationships we had established with firms in London and Continental Europe.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Early on, we were growing about 30% per year on average, though growth was ultimately limited by our business model, which was more of a consulting model than an agency model. Eventually, we decided to go the agency route. We scaled up our staffing and made growth a priority rather than a happy accident.

How do you define success?
Success to me is not about money, although the money that comes with success is nice too. To me, you’ve achieved success when you are happy doing what you are doing and spending your days with bright, ethical people who appreciate your commitment. One reason we succeed is that we “tell it like it is,” both to clients and prospective clients. We don’t promise unrealistic things that can’t be delivered just to get, or please, a client. Not every company will get coverage on page 1 of the Wall Street Journal, or on page 40 for that matter.

What is the key to success?
That’s simple. We succeed when our clients succeed.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
That your people are your most valuable assets. Hire the best people you can find, even if you have to stretch. And treat them well. At the end of the day, your assets walk out the door every night. You want them to come back in the morning.

What are some quotes that you live by?
I’m not sure I live by anyone’s quotes but these are some of my favorites:

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” – Yogi Berra

“I would never belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” – Groucho Marx

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

What are some of your favorite books?
I haven’t had much time to read books lately but my favorites among those I’ve read recently are:

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli (amazingly well-researched and told)

Hidden Treasures by The Keno Brothers (because I’m a collector)

The Story of a Bad Boy by TB Aldrich (because I’m still a kid at heart)

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I think the first day was the toughest. It got easier from there. We had set up shop on 25th Street in Manhattan in beautiful offices on a cheap sublet. We were ready to go, except the entire morning the phones didn’t ring. Having come from in-house positions where the phones rang constantly, it was quite a comedown. “What the hell did we just do?” we asked ourselves, only half factiously. It was then that we realized we would need to make things happen to succeed as entrepreneurs, rather than sit back on our laurels or reputation and wait for people to come to us. Of course, we were young and naive back then.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I hate to lose, be it in business, fantasy sports, or against the obstacles I face in my personal life. I always want to win.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t be afraid of failure or underperformance; learn from it. We rejiggered our business model when things flattened out for us and it was the smartest thing we ever did. We emerged from obscurity to become one of the top 10 financial PR and IR firms by revenue for 17 straight years…and we don’t even do IR!

Who else should we interview? Nominate someone!

Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

Check out the Books most recommended by successful entrepreneurs and executives!