Q&A with Adam Japko, Founder & CEO Esteem Media


Adam Japko is paving the way and carving new connections between luxury and a sense of community. Adam is the founder of Esteem Media, home to leading national and local media brands in the luxury home design, gardening, fine wine and multifamily property management communities. If you read publications like New England Home and Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, then you'll already be aware of how Adam and his team are nurturing this niche.

Adam has a fascinating story to tell, and his commitment to community engagement, quality content and meaningful networking is inspiring to those of us who professionally use social media, blog or create content. Check out my Q&A with Adam below to find out more about his personal style, his design inspirations and his thoughts on the future of digital.

How would you describe your personal style? 

I love life, live it for all of its sensual pleasures, and above all, love people and the connections we make together.  Over a 30+ year career in media, I ran large businesses in corporate environments, having to navigate complex structures and relationships.  I was consistently inclined to connect with our people in ways that felt meaningful to them and me. Somehow, it was natural for me to understand that people bring themselves and their personal values to work and not another version conjured up for the workplace.  Honoring everyone's unique life priorities was a simple way to connect and motivate, and for me to feel like something more important than making money was going in in our companies.

I live in fear of things getting stale.  That's probably a branch of my need for the excitement all the time. I mistakenly think that everyone around me has at least a piece of that same reality in their DNA. I walk around knowing that the status quo has a shelf life. It drives teams a bit crazy, sometimes I get ahead of our stakeholder communities' level of urgency, but folks who get to know me know my need to evolve always relies on practical common sense combined with a dash of informed instinct.

I have never been good at inventing the next great thing, instead just seeing initial signs of resonant strategies take shape while everyone else is wrapped around their routines.  Building media businesses that help professionals anticipate and leverage new imperatives is immensely rewarding and exciting to me.

Tell us about your brand and portfolio.

My company brand is Esteem Media.  I named it that because the filter I use to acquire or launch businesses leads me to opportunities with highly engaged professional communities where content sharing and human connection make people feel good about themselves. It may sound presumptuous, but I like to think our products play a role in building personal "esteem" for members of our communities  That is why social media is such a strong component in everything we do.

My personal brand is a bit schizophrenic because I have too many interests. My two main interests are fine wine and interior design.  I geeked out on wine in 1986 and never stopped tasting, drinking, and collecting; starting to write about wine at WineZag.com in 2009. The power of creating and sharing wine content on the web and across the social graph convinced me that anyone with a passion and a point of view could become more important, even famous and authoritative, in their extended communities.  At the same time, we were helping interior design professionals navigate through social media and content marketing to build their own personal brands. So, sometimes I felt like a drummer, kicking my bass drum and and controlling my high hat pedal simultaneously.

I have mainly settled, and happily so, into the design and wine industries publishing magazines like New England Home and Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, producing conferences like the Design Bloggers Conference and the Home Design Digital Marketing Summit, writing about fine wine and organizing luxury design & wine tours to places like the Veneto.  We run blog tours in the design industry and organize a social media conference in a total different market. But again, we only launch or acquire when we know we can play a central role enhancing community connection.

What do you enjoy most about the industry?

Wine makers, interior design professionals, and bloggers are people.  When I stopped working with companies and started working with people my enthusiasm for helping clients turned steroidal.  I did not understand exactly why until later when I realized that clients were no longer companies; they were people.  And they were creative people, using fruit from a specific patch of land they selected and applying their personal perspective in the farm and during elevage to produce something uniquely beautiful.  Designers are the same, curating product with a uniquely creative plan for producing living spaces that inspire and make people feel good about themselves.

What do you love most about blogging? 

Blogging took me from twenty buddies who I tasted and talked wine with to hundreds, then thousands, of people I engaged with.  On top of that, it gave me access to people I otherwise would have never met.  These are the people that make the wine industry go.  I love the membership pass it gave me to an influential and authoritative community of like minded people.

How is WineZag transforming the industry?

WineZag does not, nor was it ever intended to, transform the industry.  I always wrote for myself.  I figured if it resonated with someone, they would like to read what I wrote for myself.  Honestly, over the last year due to building a new company, launching our wine and design travel business, and endless elder care my family has been providing, I have not written much.  I will begin again, it is just a matter of priority and motivation.

How has travel inspired your work?

I have traveled all over the world and constantly for at least half my life.  Everywhere I go, I am more interested in people, food,, wine and culture than guidebook sightseeing. I am taken by places like Swartland in South Africa's western cape where a bunch of revolutionary high quality winemakers reclaimed aging vines to make the best wines the country and southern hemisphere has ever seen.  I love people like Ivo Cubi of Cumar Marble, who started as a marble craftsman in Verona and now runs the largest marble business in the US.  Ivo inspired me and helped me travel throughout Friuli and Verona and introduced me to his sister Valentina Cubi, a retired school teacher, who is making some of the best wines in Valpolicella today and to Brummel who crafts some of the most amazing furniture you can find in Italy. Spending a day with Josko Gravner and his daughter on their Slovenian border town and tasting his unique wines made in ancient fashion in buried amphoras big enough to fit a couple people in when empty are the inspirations that push me to discover more about what makes great creative trailblazers tick. Traveling directly to Asia for a dozen years totally blew my mind, and the friends I made there twenty years ago are collaborating with me now on Asian design travel tours e and of all things, a wine and music festival under the Great Wall.  I like travel the most because it twists reality, landing me in places that force me to think about what is going on, always leading to another fresh path for me to follow.

Who are your design inspirations?

Interesting question.  My first powerful reaction to great visual art was studying William Blake as a young man.  His idiosyncratic etchings force you to see beyond the apparent.  That tickled my brain in delightful ways. It may sound strange, but the Grateful Dead grabbed my attention and never let go through their easy approach to electronic improvisation that relied on classic American music styles from jazz to bluegrass to rock and roll.  They also helped me understand that apparent reality needs to be stretched and tested.  On a more grounded level, and In terms of today and the interior design industry, I am inspired by Stacey Bewkes who writes about design at quintessenceblog.com.  Always excellent content using any measure, she does it her way and has refused to let any financial or trendy development interfere with her personal vision and commitment to inspired original content.  I learn about design, writing, and personal values from her in ways I can not access elsewhere.

What do you think are the key techniques for effective community engagement?

That's a simple one.  Quality, passion, AUTHENTICITY, and a willingness to listen and treat people the way you want to be treated.

What do you think the future of digital will look like? 

That's a big question that I chase all the time in geeky detail, so I need to boil to down to the lowest common denominator. Important disruption is never really disruption.  They are just solutions to challenges in doing the things we already do better, faster, easier. If something makes it simpler and easier for people to do the things they already prioritize in their lives, then it will shape the future. There is no need to invent technology for things you think people might want to do.  We already have defined priorities and when digital innovation leans into that, making addressing them simpler, faster, and more fun...only then are you picturing the future of the digital world.  An example of this is social media becoming a powerful tool for baby boomers because they are networking social animals to begin with, and most want to naturally help other people. Social media helps boomers easily accomplish something they have been doing all their lives.

What are your plans for the future of WineZag/Esteem Media?

Whatever they are, they will mildly surprise me.  There is no five year nor strategic operating plan codified in a manual somewhere.  I look at new businesses to buy and start all the time, but our filter has very tight mesh, so I pass 90% of the time. Only when an opportunity has to do with design or wine, or feels like we can play a meaningful central role in connecting a new professional luxury community to power their business results, or when I meet someone that inspires me and I want to work with them,  will I know what the future will really look like for WineZag and Esteem Media.
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