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DOUG SIMON: Matt, what does coming to grips with the new reality mean for brands and that new reality is changing almost on a moment by moment basis?
MATT KUCHARSKI: Well, thanks Doug for having me here and also thanks for doing these series because the industry can learn a lot from these interviews that you’re doing. You know the new reality and coming to grips with it is simply the fact that, you know, while COVID was this unbelievably sort of life changing event for all of us, we can’t have the expectation that things are going to go back to some level of normal there. There is a new reality coming out of this. And by the way, that new reality isn’t just COVID it’s also the racial unrest that we’ve all experienced for the past three weeks. Companies and brands are looking at what this is all going to be like from here forward and have to get out of the mindset of returning to normal.
DOUG SIMON: Yeah, Mark Cuban even called it the new abnormal and while we’re on the brand side, you’re actually doing what your team calls an ethnography study of the C-Suite. Can you maybe explain a little bit and share some of what you’re finding.
MATT KUCHARSKI: Yeah, it’s really interesting. What we are doing is we’re actually interviewing and serving a group of senior executives at our clients and also at other companies that we know throughout the entire last several months to understand how their mindsets are changing and evolving going through COVID, and now going through the George Floyd racial unrest situation, and how this is going to affect things long term and that ethnography study really is just about essentially shadowing them to a certain extent as much as you can do that in a virtual environment. And we’re looking at really two different things. One is we’re looking at how that’s going to change the customer experience because we’re seeing a whole different set of customer expectations as a result of what’s going on. But also, it’s about employee experience too. What are the expectations that employees are going to have of their employers and what can employers expect from their employees, and you know you said that, I can’t remember what Cuban’s words were, but we’ve been talking about a rolling normal because you’re going to see a constant this constant change.
DOUG SIMON: He called it the new abnormal and you mentioned changing expectations among employees, among customers, is that changing the role of the agency? And how are you giving different guidance to your team? And what are you learning from them about how you need to do things differently in other agencies as well?
MATT KUCHARSKI: Well for one thing, it’s heightening senior leadership appreciation of the role of strategic communications which is a great thing. Well, you know, “we” the collective “we” are getting a seat at the table, now it’s up to us to keep that seat at the table. And what I think has been one of the silver linings out of this is that it hasn’t just been using the strategic communications team to go say this or to go communicate. In many cases, the strategic communications team and agencies are being called upon to provide advice on what to do not just what to say. How does an organization conduct itself. And as we all know in this field it’s how you conduct yourself that is the foundation for the communications. So, I see that as one of the positives for our field coming out of it not just relying on the agency and the internal comms team to go and say a bunch of stuff but how do we conduct ourselves, how do we act in a way that supports corporate character and then how do we communicate.
DOUG SIMON: And there is also a big issue with transparency. We’re actually seeing a significant increase from brands in wanting their spokespeople their leaders interviewed on TV and it’s matched by journalists increased demand to have them. We’re also finding interestingly that that becomes very trusted way to actually communicate with employees as opposed to doing something to internal emails, internal programs, when what you’re saying externally matches what the needs of employees are, it’s very important. Are you seeing a growth in the importance of getting these leaders these executives interviewed on television around the country?
MATT KUCHARSKI: Most certainly, because you know you have to put a face and a voice to the organization and there’s no better way to do that than through senior leadership and obviously video and what we’re doing here is it is a great way to make that happen. You know the funny thing about the transparency side of things is there’s transparent then there’s naked people. What we’ve learned over the past several months is transparency is good. But transparency is really difficult when you don’t know. So, in some cases that transparency is having to be replaced with candor and saying I can’t share with you every last little detail of what we’re going to be doing because I really don’t know but it’s okay to say that I don’t know and that we’re going to work through this. I think that really exposed itself within the discussion of diversity and inclusion and racial justice where these are long long long standing problems and no one has the answer and a lot of us in a leadership position including our clients and us agencies don’t know the answers but our teams want to know that we don’t know the answers and that we’re willing to work on identifying what the potential solutions are.
DOUG SIMON: Sure, and you’ve sort of brought that back to some of the important points, as well as, do you need to grow diversity and make sure that that’s happening to stay with the times and how can agencies do a better job of doing that, especially when some are challenged maybe cutting the more recent hires, who might have brought more diversity to the group. How did they and the companies they represent navigate that?
MATT KUCHARSKI: Yeah, it’s hard and you know we’re all we’re all learning more and understanding more about diversity and inclusion and about the more stark problem of racial injustice now. I grew up in the outdoors, I’m kind of a wildlife guy, and I know that a healthy external wildlife environment is a diverse environment. I also know that in order for that diverse environment to exist sometimes you have to force it and you have to cultivate certain things to make that happen. It doesn’t just happen on its own by letting everything grow. You have to sometimes cultivate that. And I don’t know that we’ve all understood that that’s what needs to happen and how to make that cultivation happen and that’s one of the big learnings that I’ve had out of this whole situation of late.
DOUG SIMON: Sure. And as we get near wrapping up, being that you’re headquartered in Minnesota and you’re there right now, has that also given you a perspective because it’s so raw and so close to home?
MATT KUCHARSKI: Well, like anything else when it happens in your own backyard, you pay more attention to it. I think those of us, who in our firm, who are located in Minnesota you definitely have a heightened understanding. You know, we, I think in some ways, thought we had it figured it out better than other places around the country and what we realized is maybe not as much as we thought we did. And at the same time, it’s been really heartwarming from my perspective is seeing our teams step up and say, ‘we understand this is a problem and we want to do something about it.’ And having this eagerness to get involved and see this is something that maybe we cycle we can finally start to break a little more effectively. So that gives me a lot of hope and a lot of optimism.
DOUG SIMON: And finally, in the article, you talked about PR’s role becoming more important than ever. Can you wrap us up with that. What your take on why and what that added responsibility means?
MATT KUCHARSKI: Well, if you think about COVID and the racial unrest, it has hit pretty much every company and so you want to talk about a level playing field every single organization has had to react to this. So, there is a one to one comparison across all these different companies and brands and seeing how they all react and respond, not just agencies, but about our clients as well. So, employees and customers have this opportunity to look at how each one of these brands is responding to these you know life changing events and determining whether or not their character and their reputation is reflective of that. So, it’s like this huge control group and we get to see how Brand X and Brand Y both responded the same thing that has its foundation and reputation and character and that’s what we all do.
DOUG SIMON: Matt thanks for sharing this great information. We can see how personally you take forward this and the importance of changing with the times and offering great advice to the people you work with. Thanks so much.
MATT KUCHARSKI: Doug thank you and thank you for all you’re doing as well.