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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: MICHAEL KEMPNER
DOUG: Michael, it’s great to be talking with you again. And we’d like to jump right into it with your top advice for communicators in 2021.
MICHAEL: Hi Doug. Well, it’s great to be back. I appreciate it. First off, it’s great to see you healthy, and I hope all and everybody watching this is equally as healthy and getting through this. 2021 is all about agility. We live in a world where a 24-hour news cycle feels like it’s a month. And the ability to be able to throw up your business plan at a moment’s notice to really understand what clients need and how to bring real value to be the people that run to the problem. How do you get it done? How do you have that aim high and deliver spirit will be critical. People will need value and need agility like never before.
DOUG: And you talk about agility, and that’s something you brought to your own agency throughout the year. So, two parts. How are you trying to make your agency even more agile in this environment, and how are you being persuasive to clients about their need for increased agility and reaction, speed, if you will, and also being proactive about it?
MICHAEL: Well, I mean, the first thing is that we have working very hard to make sure we stay true to our entrepreneurial roots. You know, as an entrepreneur, that is what you’re all about. You’re all about the agility. You’re all about seeing around corners, taking advantage of situations, understanding where those holes are and where the white space is. And so how do you stay focused to making sure that you’re taking advantage of those opportunities? Again, you get used to having a business plan. You get used to having a set of rules. And this is the kind of year where you just throw out the rules, you throw out the business plan and you focus on doing what’s right both for your clients and for your people. And if you take care of both, you’ll have a happy client and happy people.
DOUG: Now, you’re obviously very familiar with what goes on at the high level in the political world. And there’s been a change in administration. How is that going to play out, and how are brands going to need to react and respond to the new administration with a hope for action moving forward, but definitely major questions if there’s going to be reduced divisiveness?
MICHAEL: Brands have a much bigger issue than just how you’re going to deal with the new administration. I mean, we live in a very polarized world where I don’t believe Trumpism is going away any time soon, but brands are going to have to decide are they going to do what’s right or not. I mean, people will long remember what you did, or didn’t do during COVID. People will long remember what you did, or didn’t do during the pre insurrection, insurrection and post insurrection of the Capitol. Brands have an important
lane to thread. There are some obvious issues. I mean, there’s going to be more money and more focus on climate. There’s going to be more money and more focus on infrastructure, clearly handling covid and health care in a responsible and proactive fashion. How are you going to be part of all those debates? Social justice will be first and foremost, not as a reactive endeavor, but as a proactive, critical part of the agenda. How are you going to be part of those things? Because remember, not only there’s an obligation to do the right thing, but your employees, your consumers, your customers, your stakeholders, they are not going to stand for companies not taking the right stand, the return of the other return, but the expansion of the social CEO, social justice, how that’s going to impact your shareholders, litigation around climate, how that’s going to impact your investor relations. There are so many issues that are in the forefront. And many of those issues, the emphasis from a negative, divisive rhetoric to a more holistic, proactive, positive, forward looking aspect will be a big part of the change in the rhetoric, the economy and the debate.
DOUG: And I think a key thing also is how your employees feel and is both at the agency level and for the client, you know, keeping them on board because they have different views as well. Are you finding what you’re being asked to do and what you’re recommending that you do on behalf of clients changing? How should agencies be thinking about these types of changes as they move ahead in 2021?
MICHAEL: Well, forward looking clients were always, for the past many years, have been thinking about their employees and understanding they’re their most important stakeholder. Not only is there a fight for the best talent, but one employee with a tweet, one employee with the organizing ability over Facebook or other social media has the ability to have dramatic change to corporate America. So, your employees have a very high level of expectation. If you take a look at our research around the corpsumer, the number one issue on how people judge a company and their corporate reputation, is how they treat their employees. So, today your most important stakeholder, frankly, starts with your employee base. And if you don’t understand that, not only does it impact you internally, but it has a big impact on how people view externally as well.
DOUG: Finally, do you think business has a role, and can it be effective in ending the gridlock that goes on in Washington? Or do you fear that some businesses may feel that it serves their interests not to be able to get anything done? Where are you on those two issues?
MICHAEL: You just have to look at research and talk to consumers. Business has the most important role. The iconic CEO is more important than ever. Social CEO is more important than ever. The success or failure of much of the future of our nation is going to depend upon the actions and the bully pulpit of government. There has been a sea change. People don’t trust government. They don’t trust the clergy. They don’t trust the media. But they used to not trust business. But today, people believe that business is the one institution that can really make positive change. And while companies have a responsibility to make money and to provide for their shareholders, companies also understand that stakeholder capitalism is more and more important. You’re not going to be able to deliver returns for your shareholders, if you don’t deliver returns for society and the stakeholders within your core demographic.
DOUG: that’s a great place to leave it. Thanks so much for contributing and I think it is so important that businesses have this role and can build trust going forward, since they are actually considered now more trustworthy in many circles than other power brokers that are out there.
MICHAEL: And without that trust nothing moves forward. I mean, trust plus relevance will equal success. So, if they don’t trust you, it doesn’t matter how relevant they are to your life. If they trust you, but you have no relevance, your ability to move forward successfully is slim. Nobody has a greater bully pulpit. Nobody has the ability to create greater change than corporate America. But it has to start with the board of directors, the CEO and management. At the same time, it comes from the bottom up. So, we live in both a bottom up and a top down atmosphere, a top down society. But we have the ability to both rise and promote. And you’re seeing more and more CEOs do that. You’re seeing more and more people take responsibility. But at the same time, we have a tremendous number of people who still believe capitalism is all about just the shareholder. Well capitalism today has to be about all stakeholder groups or your shareholders will not benefit.
DOUG: Thanks so much for being with us and congratulations on the growth of your family, that’s huge.
MICHAEL: Thanks, Doug. I appreciate it. It’s wonderful and odd at the same time to be a grandfather, particularly of twins. But it’s a nice time for me and my family, so I appreciate that.