Lori Russo, President of Stanton Communications, describes the benefits of working for an independent agency versus a large agency. Lori also explains the valuable lessons she has learned from traveling including the importance of understanding cultural expectations. Lori also shares an exciting announcement.
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DOUG: Lori, what are the top benefits of being at an independent agency versus a larger agency?
LORI: I think the number one benefit is that we only answer to our clients and ourselves. We don’t have shareholders who are kind of breathing down our necks about revenue and profit and you know, how and where we spend our money. So, we put our people first and our clients first, and we take care of them in a way that makes sense to us.
DOUG: Yeah and obviously as a leader for nearly seven years at that firm, what do you see are some of the other benefits of the way that you’re structured?
LORI: I think access to leadership is really important. I have a colleague who worked at another agency for several years who never even met the CEO of the agency, and it wasn’t one of the big globals, it was a midsize firm. And our CEO is accessible to every single person on the team every single day and I try really hard to model that.
DOUG: Yeah. You’re also part of a global network and travel partner agencies around the world. How do you navigate working with those teams?
LORI: Well, first of all, it’s a real privilege to be able to do that. We’ve always had global programs at Stanton, but the last few years have been really transformational, and we’ve been relying a lot on our partners in the countries where we’re working to help us understand not just the business environment, but also the culture. You know, there’s a lot of differences in how meetings are run and decisions are made in different countries and going into any project or campaign really understanding how to navigate those cultural differences is really, really important, not just for our own business, but for how we represent our clients.
DOUG: Yeah, and obviously and DENI has grown so much in importance here. Internationally, there’s even different cultural sensitivities. You maybe have an example of a recent trip you took and how you navigated that.
LORI: So, I learned a lot by participating in a forum in Iceland in November, and I’ll be going back again this November. And I learned a lot about gender equity and how they handle it in Iceland. And, you know, they look at other parts of the world and say, what are you doing? You know, there’s so advanced when it comes to equity and normalizing women in leadership. And that’s something that I’ve really valued is just kind of learning how they think about that and how we can apply that here and in other parts of the world.
DOUG: Yeah. And that also affects when you’re traveling to meet clients around the world. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned there?
LORI: I think, again, just going back to cultural sensitivity, you know, there’s certain expectations about how you behave and think in in different cultures, sometimes being a woman, there’s expectations about your role versus the role of someone else. I’ve just started reading this book called The Culture Map, and if anyone does international business works with global teams, I highly recommend reading this book so that you can understand, if you’re doing work with a partner in China, how a meeting runs and how people behave in a meeting is very different than what it might be in Sweden, where there’s less hierarchy and more engagement. So just understanding what the expectations are. I think as Americans we have a bit of a reputation and I think some of it is earned for just coming in and doing things our way and not bothering to understand how other cultures approach different aspects of business. So, I think just being a student of that is really valuable.
DOUG: Yeah, and I’d alluded to it before that you’ve been president of the firm since 2016. Any lessons that you’ve learned? Sometimes we learn from mistakes or other opportunities. Are there any lessons that you’ve learned that you’d love to impart to others?
LORI: Yes, I think being intentional about what kind of team member you are is really, really important. You know, I never want to be the one that other people have to compensate for. I want to be pulling my weight, you know, really present listening, contributing, learning solutions oriented. So, I think no matter what your role is, being intentional about how you show up as part of your team is really important. And also, you know, being able to find your way to. Yes, I really value that in my team members instead of coming to a problem or an opportunity with, you know, what if like, well, what if we tried it this way? What if we could make it work this way rather than why not? As in, you know, here’s all the reasons. This is not going to work. The world is full of those people, and I really value the people who find their way to Yes.
DOUG: Yeah, that’s great. Any final thoughts that you’d like to leave the audience with?
LORI: Yes. I think in terms of leadership, which is something, you know, at every level. People should be learning about leadership and how to lead. I think there are a lot of great examples in our own industry as well as like Simon Sinek and Brené Brown. You know, everybody values them. I also like looking outside of the PR world. For example, I just had the privilege of being with the commandant of the Marine Corps at a National Press Club luncheon, and he’s doing a lot of things to modernize the Marine Corps. There’s a lot to learn from how he’s doing things, as well as Abraham Lincoln and his team of rivals. I love learning about how he brought in his rivals to build his cabinet and make better decisions that way. So, looking outside of the obvious.
DOUG: That raises actually another question, because team of rivals, you know, now it seems like it’s so separated that you only work with people who are completely like minded to you in politics. And there’s all the political change around the world. It’s great that you work with local organizations, but how do you work with those sort of different views of how things should be that can take place in, say, areas of the US as well as other countries?
LORI: I think we tend to assume that our way of thinking is the right way and that we have all the answers. And I think opening your mind a little bit to other perspectives and really listening, it’s hard to do, especially here in the US, you know, when people are so entrenched in their thinking. But it, you know, I think it’s really important to at least listen and try to understand, whether that’s here, whether that’s in a culture that does things differently than we do and just be a little more open minded.
DOUGL Lori, your team is part of two global consortiums, which gives you access to partners around the world. You’re also looking at individual partnerships.
LORI: That’s right. In 2019, we launched a transatlantic firm with our partner in Germany. That firm is called the Public. We sort of had a baby together and we named him Joe. So, we have a new agency called Joe that is based in Stuttgart in Germany, and we support clients in Germany, in the US and other parts of Europe. And I’m going to break a little bit of news here for you. We haven’t really talked about this publicly, but we just signed papers in Buenos Aires to start another agency called Melius, which is the Latin word for better. And as with Joe, we started Melius with a partner that we met through one of our agency consortiums, and that agency is Minerva. So together with Minerva, Stanton created Melius. So, we’re, we have a full schedule of meetings this week and next week in Miami to talk to companies that have interest in the US and Latin America. So, we’re really, really excited about that.
DOUG: What are some tips you have to make those relationships work and successful and what are some of the pitfalls to avoid?
LORI: The key to success is finding the right partner. You know, that has the same sort of culture that you have and the same commitment to independence. I think we’ve been really lucky with Joe and Melius finding the right partners because and also you need to be able to have fun together, right? So, we really enjoy working together. We have a similar way of working, but we also enjoy each other and then think pitfalls is, you know, not being culturally aware and not learning from those partners about the best way to do business and to interact with people within their culture.
DOUG: Yeah, well, clearly you play such an emphasis on listening, and I know that the people who listen to this discussion are going to get a lot of value out of it. Thanks so much for being with us.
LORI: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.