Happy FUEL Anniversary to… Christina Strayer
On her 5th FUEL Anniversary, Production Manager and fierce meme queen Christina Strayer sat down to discuss her FUEL journey, why she feels it deserves so much of her loyalty, and what she predicts for its future. (Things get crazy sappy, but most of that has been edited for our audience.)
Hello, dear! So your 5th Anniversary with FUEL is just around the corner! When exactly?
So you joined around 2015. And was your role the same as now, at that time?
Yes, Production Manager.
I know you’re technically a Production Manager, but don’t you do lots of other random things, too?
I do! I was juggling Traffic and Production Manager for about two years or so. I also do Production Design, not Graphic Design. Production Designers take something that is already established, like established brand standards or look and feel, an existing file of some sort, and then make the changes to the set up. The best way to know a good Production Designer is… ask them to do a logo, and if they run screaming from the room, you’ve got a good Production Designer.
Yes, they DO NOT want to do logos – that is the worst possible scenario. A Graphic Designer wants to do logos, and they’re good at it.
I also help with training. I helped integrate Advantage and researched that system to bring the whole team on board. And the same goes for training anyone new. I don’t like to be idle. I would rather be doing something, I don’t care what it is.
And how does it feel to be one of the longest-standing employees?
Well, Meredith (our Senior VP and COO) precedes me by like two months, and Sandra (Financial Controller) even longer. But it’s weird because all of my co-workers now, I feel like I’ve worked with them forever. In my head, this is the team I’ve always worked with.
How has FUEL evolved the past five years?
No more growing pains! We’ve expanded, introduced new roles, and moved away from one-off projects to long-term partnerships. The agency has found its stride under Warren’s vision. He said this is what I want to do and how I want to run it. And every day since then, he has been building towards that same goal.
Can you be more specific about what some of those goals were?
One, being a place that people actually wanted to work at. It wasn’t about having bragging rights per se, like ‘You’re the best place in town to work,’ but it was just nice to know that that reputation was actually a kind of by-product because of the way he wanted to treat his employees and the kind of people he wanted to hire.
Two is work-life balance. We don’t just pay that lip service. We work on really great clients and a wide range of them. I’ve never worked at a place that was more accommodating to its employees as FUEL is.
Not to interrupt you, but I 100% agree. I came from big agencies where the way you were treated was never anyone’s consideration, and meeting people like Warren and Meredith (and Mary!) was a complete shock to my system.
And I so appreciate how Warren used his own personal experience to have empathy for people who are even working below him. He created the kind of place he wanted to work at.
I truly believe you gain loyalty by showing people that you get it; you’re not above it. He’s not driving up in a flashy car or above doing the work. He’s in the trenches. Even during the recent move, he was in the office doing manual labor. There’s nothing beneath him, and I think that instills a lot of loyalty. It makes the employees that much more motivated to work for him.
100%. I don’t think I’ve had a boss with the same degree of integrity.
Right, integrity is a great word you highlighted. There’s you know, we’ve all worked somewhere where management or individuals did something that just felt ‘icky,’ you know? And I’ve never once had that experience at FUEL, never had to do a gut check. He has integrity while still protecting his people. He cares about and appreciates his employees. Btw! As I’m hearing these words come out of my mouth [laughs] I’ve been accused of being a ‘company person’ [laughs], and I am, I am probably the least objective person who could be talking to about FUEL. I drank the Kool-Aid, I’m 110% pro-FUEL, so maybe I’m not the most objective person to ask these questions…
Well, you don’t have to be, it’s your anniversary and your perspective, so…
Which also leads me to my next question. What do you enjoy most about working at FUEL?
I’ve never been one of those people who could work somewhere and not have work friends. Most of my friends I’ve met through a job. So I really enjoy the fact that I like all of my co-workers enough that I would go and have a one-on-one lunch or dinner with any of them. I consider some of them close friends. I mean, work is a third of your life, and if you’re not enjoying it and if you’re not enjoying the people you work with, what the hell are you doing?
Well, that also speaks a lot to their hiring strategy. Like I’ve never worked someplace where I didn’t hate at least one person [laughs]. Do you know what I mean? There’s aaaalways someone. Which is not the case at FUEL, and that’s kind of insane.
[Laughs] Well, I agree. There may have been those in the past, but they didn’t last. That speaks volumes because if they kept toxic people on, employees could lose faith in their ability to see how that person is affecting the entire company. But their ability to identify and remove a problem is so good, it’s healthy. It shows the employees they’re listening. It’s cliche, but they’re not allowing one rotten apple to spoil the bunch.
What is your favorite FUEL memory? You don’t have to say just one.
I love how a working agency is like no other world, and it’s hard to explain to someone who has never worked at another agency. Or when you see a new employee come in without that experience, you always have to be like ‘So this is a little different.’ The fact that dogs were welcomed and allowed. On Fridays, we wrap things up at noon, so we can all start the weekend early! FUEL isn’t corporate. It’s about clients AND employees. . Yes, I’m getting paid to be here, but it’s the kind of place I would want to be in anyway. Does that make sense?
Yes, for sure. It fits your personality and what you would be looking for in a job.
Yes, the relaxed environment. The fact that we can play and have fun, but we also do good, serious work. You can do both, not just one or the other.
How has your experience been working remotely with FUEL?
Honestly, the first couple of weeks I didn’t like it. I didn’t have everything I needed, and I was having to figure out a new way to do everything. And I was just missing the interaction and going from seeing coworkers 40 hours a week to not seeing anyone at all. I was missing my friends and colleagues, but now… Like, now I don’t see anyone because I’m staying at home, so it’s not such a glaring thing that I’m not seeing you, or Georgia, or Meredith, because I’m not seeing anyone.
But working from home, you know I can wake up, shower, brush my teeth, and walk downstairs and be ready to work in 10 minutes. I can throw a little laundry in. I can make my lunch instead of eating out every day. I can be with my cats! That makes me sound crazy, you know? But I rescued a kitten during quarantine and I would not have been able to give him the attention needed if I were working full-time in the office, attention to acclimate him to my home and the other cats, as I can now, being here all the time.
I think it has worked out. I’ve found new ways I can work. And even before, when I was in the office, I was a paper hoarder. I printed everything. And now, since I don’t have a printer, I’ve learned to work without paper. That’s huge!
But when it comes to working from home, I hope the world really understands from this experience that you can trust your employees to work from home and not abuse it–to trust them to decide that they don’t need to be in the office everyday, I can do it from here. We’re fortunate to work in the kind of industry that allows that, and I’m really enjoying that now, that we get that flexibility.
What are FUEL’s key selling points for clients that another conventional agency wouldn’t necessarily provide?
It seems like with every client, we’re starting from scratch. We’re creating or rebranding or repositioning first, not just picking up where they left off with their previous work. It’s a good and a hard thing. And I know this is a trendy word, but I think of ‘bespoke.’ Everything we do for the client is bespoke. We don’t just pull something off the shelf. So that’s great for the client – they’re receiving something unique and tailored to them.
We have standard processes, but we listen carefully and tailor everything to the client’s needs. A lot of agencies say that, but we actually do that at FUEL. And because everyone comes from such a different background, that’s also so important. You know, Zach owned his own company and comes from the tech world, so he looks at things a bit differently. And you know, Meredith was a small business owner and has her background in retail, and she looks at things a bit differently. So everybody brings something different to the table, and their minds aren’t fixated on how traditional agencies do everything. It’s a great thing we don’t all come from agencies. We have different backgrounds from various industries and that’s what informs the work we do for clients.
I agree with that, it’s a very nice mix of experiences for sure. So what would you like to see in FUEL’s future?
Hmm, I don’t know if you want to put this in the article [laughs]. I want FUEL to grow, but I don’t want it to get too much bigger [laughs], because I really feel like it would change the dynamic.
Right, there’s a huge difference between 25 people and under and 50+.
Exactly, I want us to grow, just not … double.
Your secret’s safe with me. Do you have any closing remarks?
Pleeeeease don’t make me sound like a brown noser, company suck up!
[Laughs] Oh my God, don’t worry.
I just want to do my job. I’ve had a goal for a while of retiring at a certain age, and I would be happy to be here every day until then. Maybe even after I retire come in a few days a week, like Sandra. I want to be an asset every day, and if I’m not, you can put me on the curb.
Oh, please. You are and always will be.
I don’t see a reason why I wouldn’t always work for FUEL. After my diagnosis, I had such a small percentage of surviving at one point, and it really helped me prioritize what I do and do not want to spend my time doing. What’s worth it. And this is where I want to be and what I want to do.
Well, that’s a great closing. FUEL’s not just a job, but a choice.
Exactly. What matters to me is time. Time to travel. Do things. That’s more important than titles and raises. Before cancer, I was on the fast-track to being a manager, making a certain salary, even thoughts of moving to a big city. I went from being very career-driven and defined by my career and title, to believing you should never introduce yourself by your job title, you’re so much more than that. The same way FUEL is so much more than an agency.
Honeeey. That was quite touching.
[Laughs] And that’s a wrap!