PR’s Top Pros Talk…Ideation – Jason Mudd
Jason Mudd, Managing Partner and CEO at Axia Public Relations
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: JASON MUDD
DOUG: Jason, you’ve talked a lot about the importance of going big in 2021 for both agencies and organizations. Let’s start with organizations first. What does that mean for them?
JASON: Yeah, so I think the biggest challenge that I see in corporate America, whether you’re an agency or an organization, is the lack of BHAG – big, hairy, audacious goals and going big. I think people have kind of been trained or whatever to think smaller and set smaller goals and not disrupt the ship and just kind of go along. And I think that’s really holding back some big success stories and accomplishments in public relations and beyond.
DOUG: And you talk about not disrupting. Clearly 2020 and continuing into 2021 with COVID, that’s about the most disruptive event during my lifetime for organizations, for people out there to manage. So, disruption is already there. What’s important, some big ideas in helping to navigate through the disruption?
JASON: I think, yes, the last year has been very disruptive to us as communicators and businesspeople and fathers and mothers and family members, so I think you can really kind of leverage some of that energy and look at ways to reinvent yourself and reinvent your company. I mean, how many companies have had to pivot in 2020 from working from home, identifying new challenges in the marketplace and then responding to them? So, I think those that think creatively and that can think outside the box and be disruptive in their own industry will always be valued and always have a role.
DOUG: In your agency, you’ve got some sort of special systems that you utilize to really sort of force ideation and increase creativity and try and generate the big ideas. What are some best practices within the agency world to try and improve the quality of the ideas that are presented one, and convince your clients to go with them? Because that’s always a challenge.
JASON: Absolutely. You have to practice what you preach, right? And so, in 2016 we set out the beginning of year to say this year we want to start building on creativity and becoming more innovative. One of our core values is ideas. And we as a leadership team felt like that was an area of our core values that we needed to improve upon in 2016. So, we made a big commitment and invested in professional development and training on how to have more productive brainstorming sessions and innovation, ideating and innovating. And ever since then, we have dedicated each employee has at least two hours a week to spend innovating and brainstorming and ideating, whether that’s with a team or individually. And certainly, more time can be issued to them if they just let us know what they’re working on and that it’s something that is valuable to the organization. So, I think a lot of people are saying, look, I’m up to here with work, I have no more time to do more things. And so, what we’ve got to do is help people prioritize and realize that great PR, great marketing comes from a big idea, and if you don’t spend time coming up with ideas and you don’t recharge and invest in your own personal mindfulness and your own wellness, you won’t have opportunities to do that. So, we encourage our employees to take walks, to find time to work out during business hours if they need to, take a call on the go, meaning walking on the beach, or walking on a treadmill during a meeting, but just different ways to help them think different, whether that’s driving a different route to the office when we do that, whether it’s reading a magazine, whether it’s putting your belt on backwards, meaning going through the loops the other direction, whether that’s trying on a different magazine, or spending time with different people. It’s just exposing yourself to newness and freshening things up.
DOUG: For me, I’m just glad I can get my belt through the loops going in one direction, that’s a win. Obviously, you used to do the ideation and meetings in the office, maybe tell us some of the things you did there, and also how is that changing when it’s Zoom brainstorming.
JASON: Absolutely. So, we started this in 2016, and so one of the things we decided to do was rearrange the meeting rooms that we were meeting in and move people’s workstations to, and offices, to new environments and new setups just to freshen things up. And we find that if you do something a little bit different, it just triggers something in your mind that gives you a competitive advantage in many ways. So, we would flip the conference room around and change the way that it looks. We would do walking, brainstorming meetings. We would go to other locations to do our brainstorming. And you really felt the energy in the room rise, which was great. Pivoting and transition to Zoom candidly in some ways was kind of seamless because we have team members all over the US. So, we were used to having some team members on Zoom and some in person, and the team members on Zoom always felt like they had a little bit of a disadvantage, but now that we’re all on Zoom, it really becomes more of a natural conversation and it’s worked really well. In fact, during the pandemic, some agencies have had fewer resources, and some of those agencies have actually hired our agency to help them come up with fresh ideas for their clients. One agency has 100 and something employees in the Midwest, and they’ve said some of our ideas are some of the best ideas their agency has been able to put together for clients in decades. And so, that was a huge compliment for us, and we’re thrilled to keep doing that work for them.
DOUG: So, I’m going to put you on the spot to come up with a really good idea on top of things, for one of the parts of my question that you didn’t get to, probably through too many parts at you once. So, you’ve got the big, great idea at the agency. What’s key to then getting the brand or client to sign off and be willing to go big? Because sometimes the hesitancy can be on their end, how do you overcome it?
JASON: Absolutely. So, in my experience, the hesitancy is almost always with the client, but clients still want agencies that are pushing them, and they have to rein the agency back in a little bit. So, in my experience, one of the best ways to get the client on board with the idea is have them seem like the idea was theirs, or they were part of the idea by including them in your ideation session. And now that Zoom is prevalent, it’s even easier to connect with clients and bring them in. It’s also easier to bring members of their management team, or bring in somebody who’s not involved in marketing, but understands the company well, or maybe doesn’t know anything about what you’re working on at all as a new contributor into the room. And then there are systems that we use to rank the ideas and prioritize the ideas that I think really help with client engagement and involvement. So, we went on site before the pandemic and presented our ideas to one of our clients and their team, but the ideas weren’t finished yet. They were still kind of raw. And so, we used that as an opportunity to have the client kind of plus those ideas. And then we would ask them other questions about the ideas themselves, and suddenly they felt the energy and enthusiasm that we had coming from us because that energy is contagious, but also ideas just start flowing once you let them loose. And so, the client suddenly felt a sense of ownership, like these are our ideas, and I worked with our agency to get them, and now I’m excited to share them with others in our organization.
DOUG: That’s really a great idea, and I know a number of agencies are hesitant, I don’t know if I should use the word scared, to do their brainstorming in front of the client. Bringing the client in demonstrates a confidence in what you’re able to do, and I think another key point is that you really have to understand what the client’s goals and needs are because you can’t do great ideas in a vacuum and expect them to go forward. So, client relationships are key. Any final thoughts you want to leave the audience with?
JASON: Well, I think there’s the challenge of not only prioritizing and finding the time to innovate and innovate, but then, as you mentioned, there’s also the time that’s required to build consensus, and then there’s an operational and implementation time. And I know sometimes one of our challenges is we brainstormed on something great, but the client can’t make themselves available to hear those ideas because they’re so pressured. And so, you’ve really got to almost set that presentation date in advance, so it’s on everyone’s calendar and you have a real deadline, and it just becomes more real. The closing tip I would give is if you’re physically able, we found if you can get on the ground, on the floor, you become more playful. And I know some people physically can’t do that, some people don’t want to do it. But every time we’ve had a brainstorming session, even through Zoom, where people are just casually sitting and maybe you have a few brainstorming toys or things on the ground, some of the most creative thinkers are children, right? And children don’t play sitting at a table, or sitting on a desk. They’re usually on the ground, and they’re doing things, right? And we found that that brings out the childish nature and the exploratory nature. And so, our most profitable and productive brainstorming sessions, believe it or not, happen when the table is removed, and perhaps you’re sitting on the ground playing with Legos, or doodling, or whatever, and the ideas really start to flow. I know that’s very unconventional, and when we mentioned that to clients, they’re very standoffish about it, but those that are brave enough to try it have really benefited.
DOUG: I’m going to take your advice right now, and just thank you so much for participating in the conversation. Really appreciate it.
JASON: I was glad to be here. Thank you for the opportunity.