Skip to content

Get comfortable with sacrifice — Nothing, and I do mean nothing, comes easy. Anything that is worth having is going to be hard and require sacrifice. Believe me, it’s worth it!

As a part of our series about “dreamers who ignored the naysayers and did what others said was impossible”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Shutt.

Ashley is the President and Co-Founder of ARO Creative Inc. With over seven years of agency experience, her background includes work in creative production, marketing strategy, and content for B2C and Fortune 500 companies. She has also implemented product brand strategies to assist the joint-venture of two Fortune 200 companies and produced content for Clorox, General Electric, Camelbak, Goodwill, and other major brands. Among her professional accomplishments, she has received a prestigious 40 Under 40 award, is featured in “Who’s Who In America, Top Professionals” and has received multiple, regional awards for entrepreneurship and business excellence in Tennessee.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us your ‘backstory’?

I grew up a little bit of everywhere. Texas, Georgia, Southern California, North Carolina, and eventually landed in Tennessee, where I graduated from East Tennessee State University with a degree in Marketing.

From about the time I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a CEO when I grew up. People would ask “CEO of what?” to which I replied, “it doesn’t matter.” Looking back on that now I giggle to think what 8-year-old me naively believed a CEO was….I guess you could just say I’ve always had a determined attitude. Determined to get good grades, determined to make captain of my sports teams, and determined to be successful in life — whatever that looked like.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Everyday is new and exciting in some capacity. Whether it’s signing a new client or designing the next Disney logo (we haven’t gotten that account just yet… but this article IS about dreamers….).

Since day one, we’ve made it our mission to support other entrepreneurs in their endeavors. Working with startups is both a passion, and a creative outlet for us because the future is wide-open for them. There’s no rules or perimeters to follow, no existing brand to work around. It’s full creative freedom to turn someone’s dream into a reality. And we love seeing the look on their face when we do.

In your opinion, what do you think makes your company or organization stand out from the crowd?

Being fearless in our ideas has created a market for us to stand apart from a part of the country that is typically more traditional. I think having a true passion for our work and our clients helps too! People can see through the egotistical agency jargon pretty easily. We hope to be a refreshing change from that.

Ok, thank you for that. I’d like to jump to the main focus of this interview. Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? What was your idea? What was the reaction of the naysayers? And how did you overcome that?

I am a part of the 1%…. Less than 1% of advertising agencies are woman-owned — which is an impossible figure itself. Particularly daunting to a 20-something, first-time entrepreneur… in rural Tennessee, no less! Made even more impossible by the statement I can remember making for most of my adult life: “I would never start a company… it’s too risky.”

In truth, my biggest naysayer has always been the tiny voice in the back of my head listing all of the things that could go wrong. Wrong financially, relationally, personally, and intimidating figures like “less than 1%”. Trying to find my voice and fiercely pursue it was something that I wish I had learned earlier in life. But now we’re 4 years in to ARO and I have traveled more, laughed more, cried more, celebrated more, and been liberated more than I ever had when I listened to that little tiny voice. My best advice to overcome that? Just ignore it.

In the end, how were all the naysayers proven wrong? 🙂

I’ve never really been one to follow the crowd (or even the rules) when it comes to making decisions — always wondering what “could be” instead of what “might be.” My competitive nature makes me stubborn at times, which I suppose lends itself to my relentless pursuit of proving cliches, statistics, and naysayers wrong. Woman or not, I knew when I started ARO that there wouldn’t be any glass ceilings — statistical or otherwise — in my future anytime soon.

In the end, I proved myself wrong. And I think that’s the greatest victory a person can have. In 4 years, we have continually doubled our revenue, our client portfolio, and our national reach. The only voice I listen to now is that one that says “what else can we do.”

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have been incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who are much, much smarter than I am. The person who stands out the most is my business mentor and consultant — Heath Guinn. He’s a serial entrepreneur with master-level skills in connecting dots and accelerating startups. Without his guidance and belief in me, there would be no ARO.

In the same breath, my co-founder, Samantha Culbertson, has been an absolute rock and beacon of light through navigating the stormy waters of starting a business. Her mastery in the art of design continues to leave me (and our clients) speechless. She is everything you need in a best friend and a partner.

It must not have been easy to ignore all the naysayers. Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share the story with us?

Resiliency is developed through failure. Everyone is resilient because everyone experiences failure. The key is how you allow your failures to shape you. There’s always a reason to give up. A bad childhood, poor choices, toxic circumstances…. I just chose to compete with mine and allowed them to make me stronger.

Every single person has to deal with failing at something. Be the one courageous enough to see every obstacle as an opportunity.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 strategies that people can use to harness the sense of tenacity and do what naysayers think is impossible? (Please share a story or an example for each)

Believe in yourself — everything else depends on this

Grow in silence — No one needs to have an opportunity to criticize what you’re doing. Be quiet about it.

Evaluate your circle — Pay attention to who claps when you win… keep those people and get rid of the rest

Get comfortable with sacrifice — Nothing, and I do mean nothing, comes easy. Anything that is worth having is going to be hard and require sacrifice. Believe me, it’s worth it!

SPEAK UP — If you don’t like something, say so. If you love something, say so. Your opinion is unique and important and valued. And if it’s not, have the courage to find something else (see #1 strategy).

What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?

“Whether you think you can, or you cannot… either way, you’re right” — Henry Ford

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Something that encourages bold creativity for the purpose of community impact or promoting ideals that change behaviors for the better. Marketing isn’t just for selling a product. If I could inspire a movement, it would definitely be a campaign for a greater acceptance for people and beliefs, and ideas. That would be awesome.

Can our readers follow you on social media?

Yes! You can follow me personally or ARO Creative Inc. Lots of good tidbits on both channels. We also have an “ARO Vlogs” channel on Youtube that I tend to neglect but am making a conscious effort not to! It shows behind the scenes of our creative adventures, travel, and general happenings.

Thank you for these great stories. We wish you only continued success!

Ashley Shutt of ARO Creative: “They Told Me It Was Impossible And I Did It Anyway” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.