PR’s Top Pros Talk… Making PR a Better Place
Trey Ditto, CEO, Ditto PR
Trey Ditto, CEO, Ditto PR, thinks you should be happier at your PR job. In fact, he’s created his entire business model around employee happiness. Trey’s desire is to teach anyone willing to listen how they can make their business a better place to work. One person at a time, his goal is to improve the PR industry.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: TREY DITTO
DOUG: Trey, you focus quite a bit on making PR a better place. Can you maybe share a little bit of your journey to get to where you are now as CEO to give the viewers some context?
TREY: Yeah, definitely. A lot of how we created Ditto, and how I kind of thought about could I be doing this better than the PR firms I worked at was really based on the experiences I had at other PR firms. There were some good ones, but there were there were some areas that I thought could be improved, to put it lightly. I think, first of all, we were on way too many accounts, and so internally we were burned out, spread thin, never really had an opportunity to go deeper with a client. And it was very like day to day, week to week. So, that was the first thing I saw was like there wasn’t really a kind of a deeper approach to a client’s PR.
DOUG: Yeah, I’d love to jump in on that point, because it’s really such an important point. I try and encourage my team members to share, like hey guys, I don’t want you overwhelmed because you’re not going to do your best work. A lot of times there is hesitancy among people to share when they just like have too much because then they’re worried how they’ll be viewed or they can’t hack it, etc. So, how do you get around that and encourage people to communicate when they need more help? So, to your point, they can do their best work.
TREY: So, the easiest way to succeed isn’t about having good ideas, it’s about having good teams. You can have great intentions and great ideas around establishing a positive work environment, but if you don’t hire the right people, it’s impossible. So, the first step is hiring people that have really bought into a company’s mission and values. And so, for me, it goes beyond being a “PR firm”, I really try not to even use the phrase public relations when I talk to candidates, because it’s really about coming to a company that you believe in and that you see where there’s not only growth, but just a positive work experience. So, having the right team is critical, because if you have the right team, that means that every new employee that starts not only feels welcomed, but they also see that everything we talked about as it relates to Ditto in the interview process was true which creates really just a safe space. I don’t know if I ever felt very safe at any PR firm I worked at, because if I was struggling, I didn’t want to throw my hand up. If I didn’t understand something, I didn’t want my boss to think that maybe I just didn’t get it. And so, we really try to foster an open, honest kind of sharing environment where people can just be honest about where they’re struggling and where they want to improve. And it really goes back to treating employees like humans. Stop treating them like staff and billable hours and warm bodies and treat them like people. Because if you show that you really care about who they are, how they feel, you care about their personal growth, creating that two-way street through transparency will incentivize them to do the same, to go above and beyond, because they see the sacrifices that people are making for them, and they also see that a company is doing things fairly drastically different and better than the place they were at before.
DOUG: Fostering a happiness culture that has a business positive and you’ve alluded to some of those things. How do you make sure that that synergy happens?
TREY: So, I think the first thing is like lots of education. It’s not easy being a boss. It’s not easy to be a supervisor or a senior employee. And it shouldn’t it be. One of the things I’ve always said is some of the problems with supervisors or senior level employees is they get greedy, and they get lazy. It’s hard to mentor people. It’s easy to take care of the high performers. It takes time to either bring up underperformers or mid-level people that that that need a helping hand. And it is a competitive industry. So, you’re probably always kind of like you’d rather talk you’d much rather talk to your boss than a junior staffer. You’d much rather talk to the CEO and show him how smart you are than have to manage someone’s time with them. So, the first thing is just establishing like leaders in the company that are willing to do what I would call, is just expected work of a senior level person. But there is then a level of accountability to that. And that’s kind of where I think I kind of come in, is establishing like best practices for being a leader, and what that means in terms of accountability and being a hands-on leader versus like a passive manager. I always say like just keep going backwards in your search for the root because then you’ll find out that, and like especially Covid, you’ll find out what people are stressed. No one performs good under stress. And you’ll be like, well, why? Why are you stressed? And you find out this person wakes up and checks their phone and their Slack in the morning immediately and starts their day off absolutely stressed with work stuff. So, we keep going back into like let’s start your day off right too. I always tell people I want you to do three things before you check any work-related device, and that could be back in everything from drinking coffee and brushing your teeth to going for a run. I don’t care but start your morning off on your terms.
DOUG: Yeah, and that gets to another challenge in that sometimes you feel that the people who are best at the given job should get the promotion to manager like your best salesperson or your best media person. They should get to manage, but sometimes they’re really great at the job, but they’re not great at managing. So, how do you avoid that sort of natural pitfall? Oh, they are our top seller, they should run the sales team when maybe that’s not their skill set, because that’s another area that can make a huge difference to company satisfaction of individual employees.
TREY: I think the first thing is recognizing that whenever someone gets promoted, they are taking on a new set of skills that they’ve never done before. You could be my best media relations person, and then when I ask you to manage a team, you’ve never really done that before. And so, first of all, never making the assumption that the person you’re giving work to knows how to do it, because they probably don’t. I thought historically, if I say I need you to do this, go, it never gets done the right way. Whereas if I say, hey, here’s what you’re expected to do. Let’s talk about how you do that. Let’s talk about where your concerns are, where you think your strengths are, and like what success looks like. Whether it’s the growth of someone, new responsibilities, an assignment, you want to identify what’s our end goal here and then what’s the what’s the timeline, the process to accomplish that. Again, like moving the ball down the field instead of just saying, hey, you’re responsible for all this work now, go get it.
DOUG: Now being a successful CEO like yourself, that usually combines a lot of different skill sets. You’re good at what the job is. You’re good in helping clients. You are good with people. You’re good at management. Sometimes a trap can be there’s an expectation that everyone else is the same good. Oh, they’re great at one thing, they’ll be good at everything else. It’s a challenge, but are there responsibilities on the employee to make sure that they’re getting the best guidance to put themselves in the best position for success and for happiness and being a positive contributor?
TREY: I think it’s hard for employees to identify throughout their career in real time what they are good and what they aren’t good at. There is this expectation in PR that you just kind of move up the ladder and you manage people and then you manage big accounts. And so, you ask someone who’s going from an SAE to an AD, what do you want to do, and they’re going to they’re going to give the same answer as every other AD, because that’s just what they think. And sometimes you have to do a little trial and error and start testing that stuff out. So, on one hand, though, like knowing when to play the people strengths and also knowing not to give them so much work and that step up that like they can’t handle it. And I think especially in a remote work environment, and even if we were all back to work and happy, it’s about understanding how people learn. If I were to just write something out and say, hey, like this is how you do funding announcement. Some people can read that and be totally fine. Other people like me, I’ll read a page in a book, and I’ll stop and be like, what did I just read? I can’t even remember that. If you want to keep employees and you want them to stay and grow at your company, you have to understand that like you have to teach them, and everybody learns differently. And so, whether that’s audio, visual, experience, group setting, one on one, really thinking about all the different ways that I could teach this person how to do this job. Because it gets back to if I spend more time than most people in the beginning, and I put more thought into how I can train this person, that is going to save me a ton of time in the long term. And especially with remote, I could get on a call with someone and be like, OK, here’s how we’re going to do influencers. And that’s one way to do it, but there’s just no way that person is one, going to internalize it and therefore even remember it when it’s time to actually do it.
DOUG: A lot to dig through in this conversation. Thanks so much, Trey, and continued success.
TREY: Thank you.