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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: MIKE PAUL
DOUG: So, Mike, what’s your most important recommendation for communicators moving into 2021?
MIKE: I think the biggest message that dovetails with what we’re currently still going through in 2020, that will certainly continue as a major need for 2021 is to be held accountable. Which means that you have to be prepared for transparency on all things, and most business leaders, most people that are in politics, most people that are even in sports and entertainment and wealthy individuals, those are many of the sectors that my crisis PR firm works in. They’re very uncomfortable with that. And the way to get them to change some of those habits and get into some new behaviors and for some very strict honesty and accountability for themselves as individuals and leaders is to show them case studies, data and other evidence points of peers that are in their professions, or peers in which they respect or look up to for them to realize I’m not just saying that this is a need that must happen now.
DOUG: And this is something you’ve been aware of, is the way you operate your own business, can you share maybe some of the things that you might be changing because of everything that’s been going on?
MIKE: Well, the biggest thing that that we’re working on here is to deal with patience, to continue to be active listeners, because many times the client needs to just vent and tell us from their view what’s going on before we get into our red pen points of change that’s needed. Everything that we do has a tremendous amount of research, especially analytics these days. And from a digital perspective, we’re trying to stay healthy. Body, mind and soul in the midst of it, and we equate ourselves to some of the caregivers who are the true heroes this year, who are working in the healthcare field, for example, in trying to save all of us from COVID. I talked to my staff, who are all freelancers all over the world that work for the firm, and making sure that we are also taking care of ourselves and reminding our clients that some of the best things that they can do in the midst of all this is to breathe, get good sleep, drink a lot of water, exercise and sometimes they want to roll their eyes at us when we remind them of that, but you’re not going to be your best self if you’re going to have to be held accountable through the media for what you’ve done, or in a courtroom for what you’ve done, and we’re doing that remotely now, with a Zoom call, or a video call. You can’t even sit next to your client in the midst of it, in their home, in their room with safety now. So, the rules have changed as to how we can best, you’re not rubbing their back and you’re not saying good job and handing them a bottle of water, sometimes you’re only prepping them before they’re going to be by themselves, and then you’re doing a review as to how they can improve it for the future afterwards.
DOUG: So much has changed, obviously with COVID and social justice issues becoming, I don’t know if it’s right to even say much more prominent, but much more prominent among a sector of people and business leaders. What do you see changing at the agency level in communications for 2021? And what do you hope will change that may or may not happen?
MIKE: Well, the three big issues for this year, is Trump, COVID and sadly, right behind it is racism. The president didn’t invent racism, the president didn’t invent lying, when we have half the country still looking at him as a hero and a savior, we know we got a lot of work to do. We have an incoming administration in almost about 30 days from now that is going to be very different. They look more like the United States and they look more like the world, quite frankly. It’s not just going to be a room full of white guys. There’s going to be a lot of women participating. If women make up 51 percent of our population, and if people of color currently make up approximately 40 percent of our population, in some cities of which we’ve tipped, like New York City, the capital of our industry, the capital of advertising, the capital of marketing, the capital of having more Fortune 100 corporations headquartered here, every news bureau in the world, I don’t care how large or small you are in the United States, there in New York City. And then realizing, and my friend Joy on MSNBC said this so well, just last night, she said, I have to compare what we’re going through to apartheid South Africa. Doug, you’ve heard me say that before, and people were rolling their eyes at me. New York City has almost three quarters people of color. But what they’re saying is we have to abide by some of the rules by examples like South Africa just to get through this. So, what does it start with? Brutal honesty about where we are and what our history is. People don’t even want to talk about that. So, if you’re a corporation, if you’re an agency, if you’re a leader, some of the messages that I’m giving them going into 2021 are pretty tough. One of them deals with the issue of are you an ageist or are you giving best advice to someone that’s so out of touch, not just because of their age, but because they decided on their own, in their own mind, heart and decision making and paradigms, I don’t need to do that. OK, so I’m not being ageist then if I say, for the last 20 years, you haven’t embraced technology, for the last 10 years, you really haven’t embraced social media as media, for the last five to six years, you haven’t put data and analytics first. You need to go. I care about you. You can be an amazing mentor and sponsor to someone to take your board seat, to take your CEO seat, to take your president and COO seat. But you’re out of touch, you’re going to be miserable over the next five years if I don’t give you this advice because you’re telling me I’m not doing that. Your business, your leadership demands it today, and you better understand and be comfortable with different people who speak different languages, who have different cultures, who are rich, poor, middle class, female, black, and not say, I don’t know anything about that. You can’t say that today and be a leader. So, I think what we’re going to see is more transparency. Some of it forced with a new administration that comes in with lawsuits, with the EEOC being very strong, that businesses are going to have to deal with, with new guidelines for the S.E.C. commission with new accountability from not just stakeholders, but shareholders who are of these populations that are going to say, you don’t get it, I own you. You have to do this. Or else your stock is going to tank, and we’re going to continue to talk about it.
DOUG: Quickly with just a final thought. You’ve mentioned to me that you do have some things that you’ve seen that give you reason for hope and optimism. Maybe if you close with a couple of quick examples.
MIKE: Some of the areas of hope and optimism are with people who are now saying, I get it, I’m frightened to think about these things as a white leader, I know the world has changed. I’m either going to step aside, or I’m going to be the Chief Diversity Officer and CEO of this enterprise. So, when I see a DEI position, the diversity, equality and inclusion position, people get upset at me when I say that, that position shouldn’t exist. You already have a global head of HR, U.S. head of HR, New York office HR, that’s cover. We have people in our industry who even look like me who are cover they’ve gotten away with, why how do you know? How many people of color and senior executives have you hired in your 30 years in that position? None? No one asked you that question? I’m a bully for asking how many? You know the profession has two percent leaders of color in any measure of any kind in a city that’s almost three quarters people of color in a world. Do you do business in Africa? Oh, no. But you tout that you’re in emerging markets. China is safer than Africa? Russia and Eastern Europe and some places in Latin America and the Caribbean are safer and easier than an entire, It’s a continent, not a country. These are the issues that leaders have been pushing to the side that are now in the top three bullet points of anything they do, which is making them uncomfortable, and my answer to that is, we’re all supposed to be uncomfortable. And these changes are not going to come voluntarily. Most of them are going to be forced. What’s going to be, a lawsuit. Your shareholders, a media story. That scares people, but that’s my business. So, my job is to prepare them for that now, because the biggest answer in short, what’s happening in 2021, all of this is coming on a fast train, and if you’re not prepared for it, you personally, as a leader or as an individual are going to be affected by it as well as any organization you’re involved with.
DOUG: I think that’s a perfect spot to leave at. Thanks so much for joining us. Great information, and a good wake up call to a lot of people who probably need it.
MIKE: Thanks Doug.