December 7, 2022
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Women in Small Business: Laura Rinck of Rinck Advertising

Read Time:6 Minute, 39 Second

This is the last in a three-part series during Women in Small Business Month.

LEWISTON — The glitz and glamour of Madison Avenue still excites Laura Rinck and you can hear it in her voice.

Yet when she and her husband, Peter Rinck, made the decision to start their own advertising agency, the allure of New York City and even Portland lost out to Lewiston, despite the fact they had a solid connection. His father was, as she describes him, “a ‘Mad Man’, he was on Madison Avenue,” a reference to the advertising world centered around the iconic Manhattan street.

Laura Rinck  Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Before taking the plunge into entrepreneurship, Laura Rinck was a teacher at Montello Elementary School for eight years before moving to Turner where she taught gifted and talented students.

Although three out of four teachers in American public schools are women — a statistic that hasn’t changed much since the early 1900s — Rinck said she walked into a male-dominated scenario at Montello but was not intimidated.

There’s little that intimidates the president of Rinck Advertising, who described her teaching style as nontraditional, creating her own curriculum and teaching only math from a textbook.

“I tried hard to never teach the same lesson twice,” she said. “Being the president of an advertising agency is the same job. You create an intellectually challenging but psychologically safe space for geniuses, to inspire courage and unleash their power and watch what happens next.”

THE EARLY DAYS OF RINCK ADVERTISING

Getting there has not been easy. Her first brush with the advertising world came when she was asked to be in a commercial with her two children for a health insurance company to talk about her experiences with cancer. She said she loved the experience, despite the fact that the director, Peter Rinck, made her cry as they filmed.

Bitten by the advertising bug and with her trademark low threshold for boredom, she sought out an internship in her 30s in the creative department at Garrand & Company, a Lewiston-based agency that produced the ad for the insurance company. She never went back to teaching, moving full-time to the agency as a writer.

Fast-forward to 2001 where in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks the nation was in recession and Laura and Peter Rinck made the decision to create their own agency. They ultimately decided to stay in Lewiston for the sake of their children. “We were partners in life and we became partners in business.”

They started the company with no client list and no office in the midst of a economic downturn. Yet, she said, there was hope. “Lewiston was so receptive, they embraced us. We had free office space offered to us.”

Rinck’s first client was not a paying one — L/A Arts. So they built on that one pro bono job, winning their first of many awards for their work.

As the agency has grown and become successful, Rinck said every year has been challenging but now the corporation has become its own entity. She said it’s not just Laura and Peter Rinck. “It’s filled with vibrant, really smart geniuses. It’s amazing to me.”

WORKING IN A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY

Laura Rinck relaxes Tuesday afternoon at her business, Rinck Advertising, in downtown Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Laura Rinck said it didn’t occur to her that advertising was a male-dominated industry when she started her business. But it was, and had a well documented reputation for misogyny and sexism, perhaps most famously portrayed in the award-winning television show “Mad Men.” Set in the 1960s, the critically acclaimed show portrayed an industry rife with smoking, drinking, sexism, adultery, homophobia, feminism and racism.

Women have made strides in the industry over time, but remain in the minority as of 2021, according to employment data crunched by business data website statista.com. It cites 42% of employees in the advertising and promotions industry were women, while 57% were men.

In 2016, a female executive at J. Walter Thompson, perhaps the oldest and most recognized ad agency in the U.S. in the 20th century, filed a lawsuit against the company’s chief executive, accusing him of sexism and racism. The executive resigned within a week.

Rinck said she has been fortunate to never have experienced the kind of sexism and misogyny that so many other women have had to deal with in the advertising world.

“The great thing about owning your own agency is the ability to choose the kind of clients who you want to be your partners,” she explained, and that means partnering with people who hold the same values they hold.

Women outnumber men at Rinck Advertising 3-to-1, with eight of the 10 executives on the team also women.

“We don’t recruit women, we recruit the best humans,” Rinck said pointedly.

There’s a checklist — do they align with the agency’s core values? Are they strategic and smart and are they creative, are they innovative, are they geniuses?

“That’s what I’m looking for — leaders, and also can I empower leadership within them? So, it’s unsurprising that eight out of 10 are women, but they are the best humans for the job,” she said.

Rinck’s advice to women who want to become entrepreneurs, leaders or even an executive reflect much of how she has lived her career.

“Be courageous in your choices, be creative in your vision, aim for happiness,” she said. “Let integrity guide your mindset. Respect yourself and those who come into your life to teach a lesson … know that you are allowed and encouraged to change your course and change your mind at any moment on your path.”

MORE WORK TO BE DONE FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS

Asked about pay equality and gender equality, Rinck’s focus intensified.

“There are thousands of women who don’t have bodily autonomy and that is unacceptable,” Rinck said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this year to overturn a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. “So, when we talk about things like pay autonomy, how can we even get there when we’re facing the battles that we’re facing?”

Statistics on women in business certainly point to progress in owning businesses and gaining pay equity in the past 50 years, a point not lost on Rinck, with a caveat.

“We have (come a long way) but we’ve got a long way to go,” she said, “and we cannot rest at all. We fight every day, and not only that, we stand up and speak out. Look at what’s happening in Iran,” she offered. “Women’s rights are human rights, and we do not all enjoy the same rights. I feel strongly about that.”

Rinck also thinks there is a child care crisis in this country. She said people need to remember that every vote counts as the midterm elections approach, and women need to understand where every candidate stands on women’s issues and women’s rights, like child care and health care. Her advice to women struggling to deal with the challenges of being a woman today is straightforward.

“Take advantage of education — especially community college in Maine — many programs are free,” she said. “To have a growth mindset is to be willing to learn. It absolutely can improve your life,” she offered. “We are very fortunate to be in a state with our first woman governor Janet Mills, and I think what she did with community colleges and tuition will lift young women and young men.”


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