How 2 BU Sydney Internships Led to Launching, Growing, and Exiting Australia’s Leading Social Media Agency
For 11 years, Gina Lednyak and Elena Fullerton have built a successful business abroad together
Something indescribable and intangible gripped Gina Lednyak (CAS ’07) and Elena Fullerton (CAS ’13) when they studied abroad in Sydney, Australia – each going abroad during their senior year. They both felt a strong pull to this new, beautiful place and that Sydney was where they would end up long term, despite studying abroad during different years.
“From the moment I landed in Sydney, I knew,” recalls Lednyak. “I remember being on a bus with the facilitator at the time and he said, ‘there’s always one person who falls in love with this place and moves back.’ I remember turning to my flat mate and saying that’s going to be me…I’m going to be the one who moves back. I had no logical reason to think that, but I had a feeling that I just would fall in love with it.”
Turns out she was right.
For Fullerton, she had visited Australia with her family when she was young, and she realized during her senior year that she wanted to visit again. “I got this spark and thought I need to go back.”
At the time, Fullerton was studying political science and thought she may be interested in becoming a lawyer in the future or go into public policy. But when Sydney Internship Specialist Kerry Seymour-Smith told Fullerton about an internship opportunity in which she thought Fullerton would excel, Fullerton dove right in.
The internship was with Lednyak’s nascent social media agency, L&A Social, in communications and social media marketing.
“I went for it, and it was pretty much just me and Gina,” recalls Fullerton. “I got tons of experience and was able to still help L&A when I came back to Boston to finish my degree. I actually added a minor in communications after I interned with Gina because I loved the work so much.”
In many ways, Lednyak knew what Fullerton was interested in getting out of the experience, as Lednyak had also completed an academic internship during her time studying abroad in Sydney. Lednyak, who was born in Belarus and escaped with her family to New York City when the Soviet Union broke up, was keen to study and intern abroad during her time at BU. Studying psychology and having an interest in the law, Lednyak had told BU Sydney’s Seymour-Smith, “I don’t want to be a normal intern; I want to intern somewhere where I can change the world a little bit.”
Lednyak recalls with a laugh, “I was probably a bit of a pain in the butt. I didn’t want to just sit behind a computer…I wanted to do things differently.”
With her entrepreneurial spirit and drive clearly shining through and just a few days remaining to secure an internship, Lednyak decided she would take Seymour-Smith’s advice and go for the internship BU Sydney had found Lednyak with a children’s charity in marketing and events.
“I had such a good experience,” Lednyak says. “The team was really lovely, and this was my first time being exposed to marketing and events. They showed me around Sydney, took me out to see what life was like living and working in Sydney, and it was during this time that I started to think I could really live here.”
She ended up moving to Sydney after graduating, when Australia released the working holiday visa. Upon landing back in Australia, Lednyak knew she wanted to reconnect with BU Sydney.
“Boston is so far from Sydney but especially in those first few years right out of college, there are so many people connected through the BU program. We had a great group going and would do all sorts of things together. It was a really nice community and it kept you feeling connected,” Lednyak recalls.
The Origins of L&A Social
On the work front – before launching L&A Social – Lednyak had a brief contract at a market research company working in positive psychology and, after that, started an adventure dating company. Soon, she realized that the social media marketing she was using to promote her dating company was proving to be a highly valuable skillset.
“I started to get companies asking me to help them with their social media because no one else was doing it at the time,” she says. “And that’s how it all started with L&A. I took on a few clients and just figured it all out as I went. We were the first social media agency to launch in Sydney, and the reason why I even knew about social media was because Boston University was one of the first universities to trial Facebook when it launched. Then, when I moved to Sydney and was using social media, I felt years ahead of anyone else – I had more experience in a new industry.”
Early on, Lednyak knew she wanted to tap BU Sydney for interns for her new agency and was thrilled to have Sydney Internship program students join her firm during their time there. Seymour-Smith, who has led the internship program for 28 years, encouraged Fullerton to pursue an internship with L&A Social, sensing that Fullerton and Lednyak would have a connection and that they would create interesting work together.
“That ended up changing both of our lives completely,” Lednyak says. “We were a startup at the time and we needed people like Elena who would jump in headfirst. Then when Elena said she would move back and work with us full-time it was amazing. She had no hesitations. We’ve worked side-by-side for almost 11 years now!”
Fullerton remembers when Lednyak asked her if she wanted to make the leap and move back to Sydney to work at L&A Social full-time. “I pretty much didn’t ask any questions and just said yes,” Fullerton recalls. “I loved the clients and loved working there, so I knew it was the right move.”
Fullerton started at L&A working in partnerships with Lednyak, building the framework for each department and filling the role hands-on as they scaled and grew the need for more departments and systems.
“Due to the speed of growth that the business saw, I was able to move up through seven roles in under ten years, which was a representation of our high-scale business growth as well as the evolving landscape on social,” Fullerton says. “We had to build out departments as the social landscape evolved and the agency needed them. This gave me a huge opportunity to work with Gina to build out our roadmap and fill the roles of different departments as we developed our offering as one of Australia’s first and leading social media agencies.”
Growing Their Friendship & the Business
Just as the social media industry has evolved over the years, so too has their friendship, which first started inside the business but quickly grew and developed outside of the agency. “As we grew together and worked more closely on opportunities together, we found an incredibly strong sense of friendship which made the entire process not only rewarding but incredibly fun,” Fullerton says.
A sense of fun and belonging are critical elements of L&A’s culture, things that Fullerton and Lednyak instill in the company and they believe have been key ingredients in their success.
“Gina is the guiding light for sure, she’s got the vision and the big picture thinking,” Fullerton says. “I am more of a planner, good at rolling out the vision. At this point, we are more like sisters than we are friends. We’ve been through so much – so many amazing, tough, transformative, powerful, and fun times, and our friendship has been as much a part of my journey as the social media.”
As L&A Social’s third hire, it is clear Fullerton made an immediate impact in the trajectory of the agency. Today, as Managing Director Fullerton focuses on strategy, business development, and agency growth. Both Fullerton and Lednyak are proud of the agency recently being acquired by global marketing firm, Tag, and L&A Social becoming part of a larger agency holding.
“This means we can take the business truly global and can have a lot more growth,” Lednyak says.
Being able to grow your business alongside a dear friend is a gift, and both women know the rarity of this opportunity. They also express gratitude for the experience and the wealth of knowledge they’ve acquired – and contributed to – by being surrounded by strong female leaders along the way.
“We have grown L&A to 75% female leadership…I have learned so much from the powerful women in my life, not only Gina but also my mom who is a business founder & CEO and from our L&A leaders,” Fullerton says. “As we have broadened our team with the acquisition into Tag, we have had the opportunity to work with more females in global leadership positions and have also become mentors to young women in the business across developing markets.”
Another woman who has been steadfast in her support of Fullerton and Lednyak is BU Sydney’s Kerry Seymour-Smith.
“Kerry was absolutely instrumental,” Lednyak says. “She has so much wisdom, and I think she tries to look under the surface of what people are asking for and sees what students are really good at – as she had done with me.”
They’ve won “Best Place to Work” awards and have top-tier clients in many different countries. They’ve grown the business together and now offer a full suite of marketing services to renowned, global brands. But perhaps one of the most meaningful accomplishments is L&A Social’s ability to sponsor work visas for people who want to move to Sydney.
“When I first came here I had trouble getting sponsorship and becoming a citizen because I had my own business,” Lednyak says. “When we started sponsoring people and helping them gain citizenship that was really rewarding for me. It made me really happy to help bring people to this beautiful place.”